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A Challenge: Google Docs

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the last decade, you will have heard about Google. You might even have come across Google Docs. If you have a Gmail account, you’ll be able to find it in the top bar, the third item. Residing under the oh-so-many-syllables name of Documents (Docs sounds cooler anyway, don’t you think?), Google Docs is Microsoft’s Office Suite without the hefty price tag and incompatibility.

I’m quite sure you know how a word processor works, and how you can use it as a student. I mean, you’re not monkeys. But why go with Google? Don’t they have enough information about you, without being able to access your school assignments as well? Well, you don’t need to worry, because Google’s privacy policy is sufficient, so don’t worry. So your concerns are folly, now what?

Google offers a multitude of advantages over its opposition. For a start it’s Google. They aren’t going to go bankrupt tomorrow, and leave you stranded without your assignments. And your documents are going to disappear off the face of the earth either. In fact, if half of the earth just fell away from the rest, you’d still be able to view your documents.

One of the other benefits of being online is that regardless of where you are, you can collaborate with anyone, anywhere in the world. It doesn’t matter if they’re down the street, or on the other side of the world. You can have their thoughts at your fingertips.

It’s not just text documents. You can upload images, and videos, or create spreadsheets, presentations, drawings or PDF files. What you can do in Google Docs depends on what you need to do. Your whole assignment can fit inside this single window.

Hang on a second, I can hear you say. All of my documents are online, in .doc files. Not a problem. Google have implemented an import function for .doc, .docx, .odt, .swx, .rtf, .txt, .html, .htm, .ppt, .pps, .xls, .xlsx, .ods, .csv, .wmf, ,jpg, .png, .gif, and .pdf. Don’t worry if you don’t know what all of them are, because it really doesn’t matter.

So Google Docs is awesome, right? Just give it a try. For two weeks, that’s all I’m asking. And so will I (Yes, despite what I’ve been saying,  I’ve never used it properly). We have a deal? For the next two weeks, we will only use Google Docs, and banish other office suites to the closet. Good. I will see you soon.

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Scrivener: Organise that Essay

My first encounter with Scrivener came in 2008, my inaugural year of NaNoWriMo. At that point, there was no Windows version, so I was unable to use it. I searched and searched for an alternative than was even half as useful in comparison, but alas there was none. In 2010, Literature and Latte released their Windows Beta. I downloaded it with the pretext that it would help me write my NaNo Novel (I was to write 400 words on the first day and leave it at that). In a more fruitful venture, I used Scrivener to write this month’s freebie, Knowledge and Control of Process.

While it is a writing tool, Scrivener was built with students, and many others. This is from their website:

While traditional word processors effectively penalise experimentation by treating all writing as though it is as simple and linear as composing a letter or memo, Scrivener’s feature-set encourages you to find the best structure for your arguments and ideas. Used for writing essays, research papers, dissertations, textbooks, and even planning whole courses, Scrivener is useful for academics at all stages of their careers. Refer to information from online journals, PDF documents or media files as you write; arrange and rearrange your thesis in the outliner or on the corkboard; use Project Statistics to check word, character, and page counts; create footnotes, endnotes and annotations as you write; and choose from several common essay format templates such as APA and MLA to help format your work for submission.

Who Uses Scrivener, http://www.literatureandlatte.com/whousesscrivener.php

On opening Scrivener, you will see three sections: the Binder(left), the Inspector(right), and one of four possible views(center). If you can’t see any of these, you can reveal them in the View > Layout menu. These are pretty much all you will work with when you’re writing, and indeed editing.

Binder

If you’re on a Mac, you will be familiar with the Binder, and the Inspector. Windows users may take some time to grasp the concept. The Binder is essentially all your files in a linear format. You can arrange each item in any way you want, and the overall document will change accordingly. To begin with, there will be three folders: Draft, Research, Trash. They’re pretty self-explanatory. The Research folder will allow you to keep multimedia files, websites and text in one organised place. You can also refer to them in your other folders. You can also create new folders, in the main branch, or as a sub-folder of the others. For instance, if you are writing a novel, you might wish to create folders for Characters and Settings. You might be asking why this isn’t included in Scrivener by default, but L&L have designed it so that any writer, whether academic, non-fiction or fiction can come in, do what they need, and get out, without worrying about any extra stuff.

Inspector

This is the place for all your information, the meta about your topic. Depending on your other settings, you will see things like Document Notes, Project Notes, Document Synopsis, Labels, Status, Document References and Keywords. If you’re even looking for some information about the document you are working on, this is the place to go.

Editor

The editor is where you will do your writing, obviously. But it can also be used for planning, outlining and editing. It comes in one of four views, which can be toggled through using the buttons above the editor: Text, Scrivenings, Corkboard and Outline. There are only three buttons, you say. This is because Text and Scrivenings are combined. You will only be able to view Scrivenings when you have selected a folder or document with sub-documents in the binder. As you might have been able to guess, Scrivenings are a collection of texts from inside the selected document. The Corkboard and Outlining views do not allow you to write, instead they are best used for planning. Depending on your preferences, you can see each document as an index card, or in a list. You can write synopses, titles, and create new documents from these screens.

Snapshots

Snapshots allow you to make drastic changes to a document, without worrying about making a terrible mistake. Simply hit Ctrl+D just before you start editing, and a ‘snapshot’ of the document can be made. Don’t like your changes? Simply navigate to Documents > Snapshots > Load Previous Snapshot, and you’re all good.

Full Screen

Full screen mode is the most useful and productive feature that Scrivener utilises. Unlike most full-screen editors, which fill you screen with a blank white page (pretty daunting, hey?), Scrivener allows you to set the width and position of your page, determine the opacity of the surrounding screen (so you can see your Binder, Inspector, or another file while you work.

Targets and Statistics

Students have word-targets that they have to meet. Set yourself Project, Document and Sessions targets, and with a click of a mouse, you can see where you’re at. See that little target at the bottom right of the editor? When you have a target set, it will turn red, and when you reach it, green.

Why?

You may be thinking, you haven’t really told us about anything important. Aren’t there plenty of other applications that can do this? No, I didn’t think so. Scrivener is in a class of its own when it comes to features, and aesthetics. I chose Scrivener over other applications for its ease of use, and because I like visually appealing applications. I was using yWriter, which shares many of the same features, but looks a millions years old, so Scrivener won.

Just a Note

I normally don’t show you paid tools here on AwesomeStudy, but for Scrivener, I thought I’d make an exception. Scrivener offers two versions: One for Mac ($38.25 student price), and one for Windows (Free in Beta, $35 student price)

Brainstorming: Gap Filling

Gap filling, or gap analysis is a brainstorming method that is commonly used in the business world. That’s not to say that it should be limited to this. The reason that it is so successful in this usage is because it is for solution-based questions. How would you stop global warming? How could BP more effectively treated the oil spill?

This is the third post in series about Brainstorming. This series includes the following:

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Gap filling is based around finding where Point A is, and then judging how to get to Point B. It is best to look for multiple pathways when brainstorming using this method. Unlike others, gap filling can be left at one solution, and still look complete. You can use other brainstorming methods within this, such as mind mapping and outlining. The way you present your brainstorming is totally up to you, because gap filling is a thought process, not an organizational process, like mind mapping.

You will probably use gap filling in humanities subjects, as they are often based around drawing your own conclusions, and developing solutions to problems. Companies have also used them to improve their performance, so you could also incorporate gap filling into your learning journal.

The edge over its competition comes with gap filling’s ability to produce quantifiable solutions: you can track them extremely easily. Quantifiable goals are important in maintaining a workable workload, and confidence about the project. This means that gap filling is useful in your knowledge and control of process.

Pretty much anything can be used to write down your solutions. You don’t even have to write them down. You might like to use a pen and paper, or go for a more digital solution. Whatever your presentation, your solution is sure to be well-thought-out.

That brings us to the end of the post. I’ve never used this method before, so try it out, and let me know how it goes. Don’t be shy, leave a comment in the box below. I won’t bite, I promise.