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Old 09-01-2017, 04:16 PM   #1
MarjaE
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Research-Heavy Writing

I don't see much advice, here, on research-heavy writing. Any advice?

* If you have to check sources, and input data from these sources, "distraction free" writing tools are probably not an option.

* And similarly, speech-to-text software are probably not an option. I've tried Apple's Dictation and Nuance's Dragon for Mac. I think Dragon for Windows is supposed to be more reliable.

* I'm torn between working on one topic at a time, or working on all the material from one source at a time.

* I'm torn between using one long file for a work, and several short files. I have trouble going back-and-forth in the longer file, but I don't like splicing short files together.

* And of course, how to avoid worsening repetitive strain injuries. In my case, speech-to-text hasn't worked, and due to coordination issues, most typing advice and desktop setup advice won't work.
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Old 09-01-2017, 05:01 PM   #2
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  1. As far as the work file length goes, have you considered using an outliner technique?

    This blogger mentions how it helped him assemble one of his books from all his research notes: How I use Outlines to Write Any Text and his blog specializes in discussing ways to organize and manage information as well as general writing advice.

    As for the actual outliner, OmniOutliner is pretty good and has a few features you might find useful, such as the ability to attach notes to any row of text and automatically or selectively expand and collapse nested rows as well as only show those which contain certain key words upon show (the keywords can be in the notes if you want to keep them out of the actual text), which might be helpful to keep the visible document short so you don't have to do as much scrolling back and forth.

    They have a new low-cost Essentials edition (with 14 day free trial) and the documentation can be read online here. The Pro version has extra niceties like attaching other document files and creating links between rows, plus more export formats.
  2. As far as the RSI keyboard issues go, assuming you haven't already tried a text expander app, maybe that would make it better or worse if you could assign some easy shortcuts for stuff you type a lot?

    Anyway, if you think you might be interested, assuming you're looking beyond what's already built into the Mac OS, I've found AText to be quite good and cheap and flexible, even if the developer apparently no longer responds to comments (though he does keep the direct-buy version of the app updated) and you have to look at the screenshots (or crib the TextExpander user manual) to set the expansions up.
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Old 09-01-2017, 06:23 PM   #3
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OpenOffice, LibreOffice, and NeoOffice don't have an outline view. They have the navigator instead, and I've never been able to get the navigator to work.

Using another app to create a separate outline-- or a mind-map-- wouldn't solve the problem of moving back and forth between the separate outline-- or mind-map-- and the long main text, or of sychronizing them.

aText might be useful, I've never tried text expanders. To be honest, when you mentioned shortcuts, I expected Command-Fn-this doesn't work with Sticky Keys.
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Old 09-01-2017, 07:02 PM   #4
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If you want to try the built-in text expansion for “free” (very limited compared to what one of the specialized apps can do, but useful for giving a taste of how it works), I think it's still under System Preferences -> Keyboard -> Text as of Sierra (I'm still on El Capitan at the moment).

I completely overlooked it as an option for years until some blogger mentioned it as an essential productivity tool, but it turned out to be pretty nice and useful for a lot more than I thought it would be.

As far as a word processor with an outline view goes, maybe you might try Manuscripts? It's designed specially for academics writing research papers, so I don't know how applicable it might be for your own projects. But it's got a nice collapsible outline view for each section, and pre-formatted templates for submission to major journals, alongside other niceties such as importing citations, etc.

It's a little pricey for the full version which can make documents beyond 1500 words (free version makes as many as those as you want, and you get 3 free unlimited length docs as a trial), but every so often the developer has a deep-discount sale, usually around educational (they had a discount for Pi Day this March) and back to school times.

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Old 09-01-2017, 09:52 PM   #5
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Thanks.

Manuscripts doesn't seem to work for me, but it may work for some other people here.

Manuscripts' preferences don't include any way to disable the blinking cursor, and if there are hidden settings, the support site shows a lot of spurious results for "blink" and "blinking," and no results for "flash" or "flashing." I have a severe sensitivity to flashing lights, and mostly use NeoOffice to avoid them.
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Old 09-03-2017, 05:57 AM   #6
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Well, if it's any help at all, it seems you can add Scrivener to the potential pool of writing apps you might be able to use. I just checked, and the cursor doesn't blink at all. At least not once I followed the global Mac OS hidden setting instructions on this page, using the longer settings indicated on this other page at the second post before the end, which you've probably already applied anyway.

If you haven't already tried it, Scrivener has a decent-looking built-in outliner function, and also a lot of other stuff that makes it easy to keep track of and incorporate notes and references and such. This blogpost and this other blogpost (this one uses animated images to illustrate) have a nice look at how the outliner view feature works. Sometimes StackSocial affiliate stores have bundle or deep-discount sales on it (which is how I got my copy for 50% off via BoingBoing's), though if you find it handy after the 30 working days trial, you might want to wait until the anticipated version 3 is out.
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Old 09-03-2017, 03:41 PM   #7
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I have tried Scrivener, and I don't think I'll be able to use Scrivener.

First, can other applications read Scrivener files? I've had trouble after using Word 5, Appleworks, and Pages '08. I'm trying to avoid trouble by using open formats.

Second, Scrivener assumes that users import all their sources into their projects. I'm organizing files in Calibre instead, so I can note issues there, and I can export my sources to my Kindle. Scrivener allows users to use aliases instead of full copies, but if I have to download a new copy of a source pdf, and re-process it for better Kindle compatibility, I'd break the alias to the old now-deleted-and-replaced copy.

Third, can I learn to use Scrivener if I can't risk making mistakes? If I screw up too badly in NeoOffice, I can reload, or quit, restart, and reload. If I screw up too badly in Scrivener, and quit to reload, it saves the changes...
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Old 09-03-2017, 04:40 PM   #8
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There's a Backup feature in Scrivener that's quite easy to use.
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Old 09-03-2017, 05:10 PM   #9
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As Dr. Drib mentioned, Scrivener does have an automated backup function which can be customized to make a copy with each manual save, which may or may not help with the learning.

And the file format is basically a bunch of readily-readable open ones (odt, rtf, xml, etc.) within a package wrapper, which Marked2 can read, and Storyist can import and export. Though admittedly that's pretty limited direct support for working with .scriv bundles as-is and I can see how that could be a concern.

As for incorporating research sources, it seems like you've a pretty good setup via Calibre already and wouldn't benefit at all from using the built-in. (Which personally, I don't bother with since I don't like the way the document viewer shows stuff, so for extra note purposes, I just make text files with file:// links to the relevant folders so I can pick whichever external app to open with.)

But yeah, it does sound like Scrivener is unfortunately not suited to your workflow.

It's really too bad the potentially useful-looking plugin extensions for OpenOffice don't seem to be kept up to date, since this one for Author Support Tools looked pretty promising, with an element outliner for existing documents, and notes tools, and reference management. The LibreOffice extensions listings don't seem to have anything like it (though they've a pretty cool-looking ODT to Braille converter).

Last edited by ATDrake; 09-03-2017 at 05:18 PM. Reason: Import and export, not directly edit.
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Old 09-19-2017, 08:29 PM   #10
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Spent hours writing yesterday, but hardly wrote.

I couldn't find my relevant notes in any of my relevant files.

Any idea what helps with disorganization, brain fog, and/or of course rsi?

I have looked for books on writing, but most are oriented towards short papers, and this is already 40,000 words.
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Old 09-20-2017, 02:52 AM   #11
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Organisation is a very personal thing - and your RSI etc. issues are obviously going to limit your choices.

Have you tried any wiki software? There are a few "personal wiki" items listed on this Wikipedia page, and a Google search may find more. And at the bottom is a link to PIM software, some of which may offer helpful features.

For personal Wiki I tried WikiPad and Zim - but didn't like them much, and probably not quite sophisticated enough for what you are looking for.

Or you can search for Mind Map software - these don't float my boat (my mind is full of those places generally marked on maps as "here be dragons"), but maybe you can find something you like.

When evaluating, specifically look for the search features and check out how easy they are to use. It does not matter whether it's an outline, a wiki or mind map or what it is, there will always be stuff that gets misfiled or otherwise lands where not expected, so you need a good search facility. With a good search facility, good organisation becomes optional.

Of course, if your own mind is fairly well organised, just a simple folder structure in which you place your carefully named files can be good enough. I find it convenient too keep simple notes as plain text or HTML files, with only actual documentation in Word/LibreOffice/Whatever format. Then I use Agent Ransack (for Windows, I presume Mac has something similar available) to find by name or content or date etc. It's super fast and easy. And, if you learn how to use regular expressions, it's also very powerful.
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Old 09-20-2017, 06:17 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by MarjaE View Post
Spent hours writing yesterday, but hardly wrote.

I couldn't find my relevant notes in any of my relevant files.

Any idea what helps with disorganization, brain fog, and/or of course rsi?

I have looked for books on writing, but most are oriented towards short papers, and this is already 40,000 words.

Yes.

Buy.

Scrivener.

The.

End.
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Old 09-20-2017, 01:13 PM   #13
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No.

I tried Scrivener. It didn't work for me. It wouldn't have solved this problem, and it would have created its own problems, which I'd discussed above.

The problem is that the notes I was sure I had weren't in the files I was sure I had them in. I didn't have any trouble finding the files. But if I did have trouble finding the files, I'm not sure how having some notes in Scrivener and others elsewhere would be an improvement.

That said, I'm not sure what Scrivener can do. The Scrivener manual is only available in pdf. Something about it hurts my eyes.
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Old 09-20-2017, 01:18 PM   #14
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I considered mind-mapping software, but never got it running.

One advantage of separate files is that I can check when I've updated them. Importing to a wiki or mind-map would lose that.
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Old 09-20-2017, 06:06 PM   #15
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No.

I tried Scrivener. It didn't work for me. It wouldn't have solved this problem, and it would have created its own problems, which I'd discussed above.

The problem is that the notes I was sure I had weren't in the files I was sure I had them in. I didn't have any trouble finding the files. But if I did have trouble finding the files, I'm not sure how having some notes in Scrivener and others elsewhere would be an improvement.

That said, I'm not sure what Scrivener can do. The Scrivener manual is only available in pdf. Something about it hurts my eyes.
If you download a trial copy of Scrivener, you can load the Project file (which is the "manual") and work on it in Scrivener. I'm pretty sure it gives you 21 days (of use) to evaluate.

You can work through the project file (manual) at your own pace - on the forums it's recommended that you don't do it all of a lump because...there's lots in there. It also works as a Scrivener project.

Edited to add: Try the tutorial that comes with Scrivener (it's been a while since I downloaded it ;-) ) People on the forums speak highly of it - I've just checked and someone posted "Go to the Help Menu and choose 'Interactive Tutorial' (or a similar name -- it's obvious). Follow the instructions to save the project, then work your way through it. It will only take a hour ..."

I've been using Scrivener since...forever (10+ years). I used to struggle with Word so much and I just write little short stories! Nowadays I've got everything in Scrivener. I'm using a fraction (like 1% probably) of its capabilities but there's people (who you should probably talk to!) on the forum who do all sorts of stuff (scholars, writers, journalists... the whole bit) - there'll be someone who has recommendations for you, I'm sure.

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