Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Scrivener and Writing

One of the things that has surprised me most about my journey through digital tools this semester is how many tools I'm already using can be repurposed for qualitative research. Scrivener is one such tool. I started using Scrivener as a fan-fiction(!) writer because I liked how I could map out several chapters at a time and block out all of the distractions on my screen. Once I lost time and interest in writing fanfic, I started using it to plan blog posts for my teaching blog. I also used it to transcribe an interview once. I liked that I could split the screen between the audio file and the transcript, and I could use short cuts to pause/play the audio. There's also a feature that automatically rewinds an amount you set when you pause the audio, so you can re-listen to the last few words to check your transcript before you type the next section. It was a good solution for transcription at the time, but I suspect I will use other transcription tools like InqScribe in the future. InqScribe just seems to have better features like inserting timestamps and linking them to the audio.

Still, I haven't played around with Scrivener for a few months, so I'm intrigued to get back to it. I can definitely see how it would be useful for academic writing. I could import many research articles that I've already annotated and map out dissertation chapters or article sections using the tool. And I could certainly use a return the distraction-free mode (I say as I have 14 tabs open on my web browser...). I think the biggest barrier to my more frequent use was portability. I frequently shift between devices (desktop, laptop, and iPad), and I have a hard time remembering to shift my work with me. I think all of the cloud technologies like Google Drive have spoiled me that way. So I would have to get into a better habit with saving and transporting (or commit to a device for writing) before I could really use Scrivener seriously.

My questions about Scrivener are:

  • Are there any plans for a mobile version of the app?
  • What are the best ways to handle moving projects between devices -- especially when the user frequently switches from one computer to another?
As a long-time blogger and someone who plans to write a dissertation centered on teacher blogger practices, I was a big fan of the Powell, Jacob, & Chapman (2012) reading this week. Some parts that stood out for me:

The lines between platforms are blurring. At least among teacher-bloggers, it's not enough to have a presence through a blog alone; bloggers often have to branch out to all of the other major social media platforms, and significant strategizing goes into maintaining presence on those platforms. Whenever I write a blog post for my teaching blog, for example, I immediately schedule posts promoting the blog on Twitter and Facebook and share pictures from the blog on Pinterest and Instagram. It's necessary to increase and maintain readership, and it means that bloggers need to learn about PR skills in order to be successful. I imagine in academia, this is a real shift. Writing and making your research accessible for a global audience requires different skills than just writing for scholarly peers, but it seems that such skills could have a lot of value for universities. Social media like blogs can draw attention to research and invite broader conversations and potentially more funding as people become interested in the research content. 

There's a delicate balance to be had between scholarship and popularity. In my experience, blogs need to be either very useful substantively or highly entertaining (or ideally both) in order for me to read them regularly. If a blog is too "scholarly," it would probably lose readers because it would seem more like journal articles. But at the same time, it's important not to sacrifice credibility and evidence for the sake of becoming more popular. I was reminded of this this morning when I was reading a Gawker article about "Food Babe," a blogger who investigates food ingredients and reports on health issues and hidden toxins. Food Babe is not a scholar by any means, but she has definitely leveraged her blog to become popular, and as the scathing criticism in the Gawker article reveals, she doesn't back up many of her claims with credible scientific evidence. Researchers have to be particularly careful not to be blinded by the prospect of becoming popular at the expense of maintaining credibility for their research. It's a delicate balance for sure, especially once a blog starts to gain readers outside of the academic community, but I think heading toward more effective use of blogging and social media could be very beneficial for academics and the public as a whole. 

1 comment:

  1. I should have had you do our presentation today, Alison!

    "At least among teacher-bloggers, it's not enough to have a presence through a blog alone; bloggers often have to branch out to all of the other major social media platforms, and significant strategizing goes into maintaining presence on those platforms." Yes, so true, and why sometimes I get paralyzed thinking about how to keep up...