Tag Archives: academic writing

The Inadequacy of Word Processors for Academic Writing

There are more than 130 million students and faculty in Higher Education worldwide. Every one of these individuals needs to write academic papers and articles. However, the tools we have for academic writing are extremely limited (see Table 1):

  • Microsoft Word is, primarily, desktop with a wide range of features making it difficult to learn and demands too much time to manage the formatting, and also causes version control issues
  • Google docs is a cloud-based product with excellent collaboration features, but is limited for most academic work
  • Scrivener is a Mac product that has some nice note features, but has a very confusing user interface
  • Authorea is a relatively new cloud-based word processor, but it is a latex product that requires knowledge of this technical language

The top 5 limitations are:

1. Reference data must be interfaced with a third-party tool (e.g., Mendeley, Endnote, Zotero)

Integrating third party tools to manage reference data often causes issues, and the limitations of these tools is also problematic. Google docs enables footnote citing with Google Scholar and web searches, but its inability to produce in-text citations renders it useless for most undergraduate writing.

2. Formatting often takes up more time than writing (i.e., it is difficult to get consistency)

What-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) editors are great for visualizing the end product and generally offer a wide range of tools to achieve most things. The disadvantage, however, is that it becomes difficult to get consistency, and more time is often spent on formatting  rather than on content development. Frustration with formatting is generally the end result.

3. Functionality is missing (e.g., a list of images, image captions, equation editing)

When writing academic reports there is the need for a list of figures and tables. Google docs is inadequate in this regard, and MS Word requires that you update image numbers before the list is generated, making it a tedious time-waster if you have a lot of images.

4. Notes and comment need to be deleted before printing

In line comments and notes are very useful for keeping track of what is required to be done or for recording feedback. However, all these tools require inline comments to be deleted before output can be created, thereby losing valuable information.

5. Collaboration requires control over different versions

While Google docs has excellent collaboration features, it becomes ineffective due to its other limitations for academic writing. MS Word has no history functionality, so the only way to manage collaboration is to share files with your collaborations. Sharing files has been made easier with products like DropBox, but this generally causes the need to maintain different versions of the same document, which can be a nightmare.

Compare Writing Products

Table 1: Comparison of Word Processing tools

 

ComWriter is a cloud-based writing tool dedicated to the needs of students and faculty. Here are five reasons to make the switch:

1. Formatting (headings, text, captions) is contained in pre-defined styles ensuring everything is formatted consistently and quickly based on academic standards (or customize your own style)

2. Numbering is done as you export allowing you to make as many changes as you like without the need to re-format (image numbers, page numbers, heading numbers)

3. Cut-and-paste is replaced with drop-n-drag making it easier to restructure writing

4. History is saved allowing you to go back in time to see changes

5. Templates are structural rather than design-based providing a head start on writing that next paper

Future functions include notes & comments that do not need to be deleted, collaboration, automated glossary, history slider, and more.

 

About the author: Dr Linda Glassop is a published author and the founder of ComWriter, a cloud-based writing application for students and researchers. Linda has made it her mission to make writing to academic standards easy.

 

 

 

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The Limitations of Mendeley for Academic Writing

Mendeley is a reference manager and academic social network. While this platform has been extremely successful for research collaboration, it is woefully inadequate as a referencing tool. One of the first activities undertaken in the peer review process is to check article submissions for accurate referencing. If references are not cited correctly, the article is rejected without any content being examined. Thus, accurate referencing is a pre-cursor to having publications accepted.

Here are the top five reasons why it is time to find a new reference manager:

1. Reference types do not relate to today’s resources

Mendeley has 16 reference types (see image below) which are inadequate for accurate referencing. For example, many authors cite articles forthcoming, but there is no template provided.

2. CSL Style library is inadequate

Mendeley uses the CSL style library to format. There are around 7,000 CSL styles for various journal titles. While this sounds impressive, most styles have only 4-5 templates available, therefore, the 16 reference types, in reality, turn into 4-5! Also, these templates treat reference data as the same for every kind of resource and often led to inaccuracies. For example, a journal article is assumed to have a volume and issue number. There are many instances when issue numbers are not used, and volume numbers get replaced with a season (e.g., Spring). The format for these different kinds of journal numbering causes errors.

3. First, Consecutive and Subsequent not catered for

All CSL styles have the first template and a ‘Short’ template. This shortened template is used for both consecutive and subsequent formatting. This creates errors for many styles where consecutive citations differ to subsequent citations.

4. Multi-volume titles and abbreviations are missing

A range of styles require the need to include multi-volume titles and abbreviations. There is no field to capture this data, rendering such references inaccurate.

5.  All independent reference managers must interface with MS Word

Interfacing any two solutions is always problematic. Recent posts on Mendeley’s facebook page suggest that their support for integration is lacking. Researchers waste extensive amounts of time formatting, reformatting and correcting reference data. Technology advances have been fantastic over the past 10 years, yet the solutions fail to deliver modern tools to researchers.

Compare reference types

 

ComWriter has pledged ‘to eliminate referencing hurdles‘. Here are five resons to make the switch:

1. A broad range of reference types including articles forthcoming and books with mult-volume titles (see image)

2. Reference data is examined and alternate outputs provided; especially for journal articles

3. Footnote references provided for first, consecutive and subsequent

4. Write-and-cite in the one platform

5. The entire article (text & citations) is formatted automatically (using a pre-defined style guide), leaving authors more time to concentrate on content and argument

 

About the author: Dr Linda Glassop is a published author and the founder of ComWriter, a cloud-based writing application for students and researchers. Linda has made it her mission to make writing to academic standards easy.

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ComWriter delivers a Grammarly sandwich!

Grammarly sandwich

  • Write content: ComWriter enables you to focus on writing content without worrying about formatting
  • Grammarly: the world’s leading grammar checker (available FREE online) is compatible with ComWriter to check your work
  • Auto format: all your writing is automatically formatted using our pre-defined style guides (or customize your own)

You can then export your writing to Word, Pdf or HTML with just one click

export tp Pdf, Word or HTMLGet writing now

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ComWriter has more theology journal styles than Endnote or Zotero

Theology journal style guides

Australia, 5 June, 2015

Today ComWriter released 21 theology journal style guides to their bank of styles, making it a more robust site for theology writing than either Endnote or Zotero. Of special interest is the ability of ComWriter to style references and footnotes to biblical literary standards.

Dr Glassop, founder & CEO of ComWriter said “Theology writing is complex given its historic origins”, “nonetheless, biblical literature deserves the support of modern technology”.

Other features unique to ComWriter include the use of biblical fonts (Greek, Hebrew and Lit), enabling Old Testament researchers, and other specialty fields, to compile accurate text online.

Dr Glassop said there were ten other journal style guides under development that would be released shortly. Currently, ComWriter supports:

  • AJS Review (Association for Jewish Studies)
  • Australian Biblical Review
  • Australian Ejournal of Theology
  • Church History
  • Communio: International Catholic Review
  • Harvard Theological Review
  • Heythrop Journal
  • History of Religions
  • International Journal of Practical Theology
  • International Journal of Systematic Theology
  • Irish Theological Quarterly
  • Journal of Beliefs and Values: Studies in religion and education
  • Journal of Biblical Literature
  • Journal of Early Christian Studies
  • Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
  • Journal of Ecclesiastical History
  • Pacifica: Australasian theological studies
  • Review of Biblical Literature
  • Semeia Studies
  • TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism
  • Theological Studies

These styles are primarily based on Chicago footnotes or the style developed by the Society for Biblical Literature (USA).

ComWriter is a cloud-based writing application for Faculty and students: write, reference, manage your library online, search more than 2 billion records for ready-made referencing. ComWriter is re-writing the way we write in Higher Education.

For more information visit: comwriter.com  or theology.comwriter.com

 

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Writing Proficiency Threatens the Success of Every Student

By Dr Linda Glassop, Composeright Pty Ltd

Academic writing is a critical success factor for University because it relates to assignment work. While many assignments might include other activities (e.g., presentations, demonstrations, or the development of physical items), writing is the predominant mode of communication for assignment work. To lack proficiency in academic writing threatens the success of every student.

Stressed student

Most Australian universities provide little support to students for academic writing. It would appear that Universities assume students have the skills when they arrive, or will figure it out on their own. Typically, University support is provided thus:

  • The library: Librarians are an excellent resource for helping students find research material, and for assisting with referencing. However, students generally need to take advantage of this resource on-campus during library hours
  • Style guides and other help sheets: the libraries at most universities provide a number of online help sheets for reference styles, writing tips and other issues related to writing. However, in this modern technology era, the idea that students will read a help sheet or indeed come on campus during library hours, is ill-informed
  • Study Skills: Most universities offer some sort of study or academic skills support. A student can make a booking with an advisor, attend a short course or seek out help sheets.

What is sadly lacking, however, is access to:

  • tutoring; specifically targeting academic writing, during the hours a student needs it (more often than not, in the evening or week-end)
  • online support, for seeking assistance (e.g., how to search the library databases)
  • tools that assist with writing, such as bibliographic software

On this last point, most Australian Universities do provide some bibliographic software support (e.g., EndNote), but this tool is primarily geared towards seasoned researchers (rendering it complex for an undergraduate to use) or not provided to undergraduates at all. Also, referencing is only one aspect of the complex process related to academic writing:

  1. Understanding the assignment (i.e., what is being asked)
  2. Finding research material related to the assignment task
  3. Knowing the difference between a thesis, a proposition and an assertion
  4. Structuring a story relevant to the assignment question
  5. Understanding the essentials of writing structure (e.g., introductions, conclusions)
  6. Quoting and paraphrasing to avoid plagiarism
  7. Providing a grammatically correct communique
  8. Referencing research material appropriate to the discipline (citations, footnotes, bibliography and image captions)
  9. Formatting a document relevant to the task (e.g., preparing an essay versus a report)

1. Understanding the assignment (i.e., what is being asked)

If you fail to clearly understand what is being asked, then the answer a student provides will miss the mark. Work done will go for naught. Examining a research question involves unpacking the keywords and identifying the aim or purpose of the question (i.e., getting to the heart of the matter).

Tools available: None that I am aware of, except blogs, help sheets and books explaining ‘how to’

2. Finding research material related to the assignment task

Libraries themselves and library databases have a wealth of information. Sorting through all that data requires knowledge of researching using keywords, understanding the value of current information compared with older information, constructing a review of the literature in the field of inquiry and knowing how to manage what you find, so it doesn’t get lost.

Tools available: None that I am aware of, except blogs, help sheets and books explaining ‘how to’

3. Knowing the difference between a thesis, a proposition and an assertion

The ability to convey meaning is indeed a craft rather than a science. But, the ability to carefully build a story around a central theme requires intimate understanding of the role of language. To make an ill-found claim is an assertion, to suggest something is to make a proposition, to state how something might behave is to posit a theory. Research work is important to our world. It helps us understand what is going on and our position in that world. A lack of understanding about the fundamentals of our own thoughts fails to provide the skills that will challenge beliefs. Challenging our beliefs constitutes progress, but it must be done in a thoughtful manner if anyone is to take notice. Beliefs that have evidence are theories we can all subscribe to. Beliefs that are forced upon us tend to get rejected outright.

Tools available: None that I am aware of, except blogs, help sheets and books explaining ‘how to’

4. Structuring a story relevant to the assignment question

Education was founded on philosophy. The great philosophers had an intimate understanding of the art of forging an argument. Politicians are also great orators, but the difference is that Politicians tend to ignore the question, speaking of what they want you to hear rather than what is being asked about. Great orators know how to stay on task, and weave their story into a convincing argument supported by good evidence.

Tools available: Some templates can be found in various word processors; ComWriter has more structured templates; otherwise it is blogs, help sheets and books explaining ‘how to’

5. Understanding the essentials of writing structure (e.g., introductions, conclusions)

Starting and finishing your story can is like welcoming your guests and bidding them farewell; it is not something you would ignore or overlook. But the customs of welcome and farewell are learned from our peers and mentors.

Tools available: None that I am aware of, except blogs, help sheets and books explaining ‘how to’. ComWriter templates have a structured approach.

6. Quoting and paraphrasing to avoid plagiarism

Many people have said many things. It is important to acknowledge the great writers in our field and use them (politely) to support our arguments. The ability to weave another’s words into our story is quite challenging. I once heard a well qualified Professor say “I call this…” I was shocked, because what he claimed was ‘his’ (I) were the words of another well-known author in the field. Plagiarism is theft! Stealing other’s ideas without acknowledgment is appalling. But building on what has gone before is evolution. Evolution is founded on history (previous knowledge that we must acknowledge).

Tools available: TurnitIn, Grammarly

7. Providing a grammatically correct communique

English is fast becoming a generic language, but there are different flavors (or is that flavours)! For many students undertaking study in the English language poses a real problem when it is not their native language. I have my regular grammar mistakes that seem to haunt me, but trying to make sure our words can be understood is the central goal to communication.

Tools available: Grammarly, can be used in any word processor but is free for online product like ComWriter

8. Referencing research material appropriate to the discipline (citations, footnotes, images, bibliography)

Acknowledging our resource sources is something we learn at University or College. The rules are complex and, quite frankly, antiquated. But rules are there for a reason and we must try and obey. There are many tools available to support referencing, but they are generally antiquated and complex to use. Further, they must be integrated with our word processors or use copy-cut-and-paste. Writing is central to academic work, so it is crazy that we have not a single tool to assist with this. Although ComWriter is one such new tool working towards this goal.

Tools available: EndNote, Zotero, Mendeley, Papers, BibMe, ComWriter

9. Formatting a document relevant to the profession and the task (e.g., essay versus report)

Word Processors all work the same and have endless features and menus. It requires a significant amount of time to become acquainted with these tools, let alone become an expert. Students can spend endless hours formatting documents rather than concentrating on structuring their story.

Tools available: There is only one tool that I am aware of that will automatically format text: ComWriter

A happy stundet concentrating on writing good content

Conclusion 

Students enter education for one purpose: skill development. Our role as teachers is to evaluate their skills. Written communication is still the primary mode for evaluating a student’s skill development. Yet we provide little by way of innovative support in this area. Tools are fragmented and old, the rules are complex and difficult to understand, support is lacking, and stress is high. Student Evaluation Surveys tell us about these problems over-and-over again. ComWriter is an innovative new writing platform dedicating itself to enhancing academic writing proficiency. Imagine: a library that acts like a google search, a word processor that has modern tools, the absence of formatting, and the ability to get assistance online. Imagine a learning environment where the pain of evaluation has been eliminated and I am free to explore my own ideas and creativity. Imagine no longer, compose right with ComWriter: NOW AVAILABLE.

 

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ComWriter automatically overcomes 50% of common APA problems

Common APA Errors

EndNote has published an infographic to help students avoid the pitfalls of formatting to APA. So, we took a look and found that ComWriter can automatically overcome 50% of these problems.

The most common APA errors [ComWriter’s style automates more than 50%]

  • No running head / incorrectly formatted head (86.3%)
    • the running head has been placed in the template [included in the ComWriter’s style]
    • save style as new to customize the running head
    • the running head is a short title
    • add the running head in capitals
  • Errors with in-text citations (84%)
    • multiple citations of the same author are managed automatically  [included in the ComWriter’s style]
    • make sure to order multiple citations with different Author names alphabetically (as they would appear in the bibliography)
    • incorrect use of ‘et al’  [included in the ComWriter’s style]
    • incorrect use of commas and ampersands (&) [included in the ComWriter’s style]
    • incorrect use of double-spacing between lines [included in the ComWriter’s style]
  • Did not have page numbers / page numbers weren’t properly formatted (75%) [included in the ComWriter’s style]
    • page numbering has been added to the ComWriter APA style, so they will be accurate
  • Abstract was missing or heading wasn’t properly formatted (72.7%)
    • add your abstract to the Preliminaries, and it will be formatted properly
    • add a Heading 1, and it will be formatted properly [included in the ComWriter’s style]
    • make sure your abstract is no more then 120 words
  • Did not include keywords (61.3%)
    • add keywords in a Long quote (to ensure it is indented and block) in the Preliminaries
    • italicize the word Keywords, but do not bold
  • Incorrect margin format (52.2%) [included in the ComWriter’s style]
    • The margin is formatted automatically to 1 inch
  • Incorrect quotations (50%)
    • short quotes should be added in-text with quotation  marks at either end “…”
    • quotations of 40 or more words should be placed in a ‘Long Quote’, with no quotation marks at either end
  • First line of paragraphs not indented (43.1%) [included in the ComWriter’s style]
    • APA (6th edition) stipulates that all paragraphs should be indented (APA 2010, p.229)
  • More than 120 words in the abstract (34%)
    • this is a manual task

APA’s 10 Commandments:  [ComWriter’s style automates 50%]

According to the blog, the APA has ten commandments. The following explains how ComWriter can automatically mange these issues.

  1. Font: 12 point font for all text, except tables and figures, which can use 8 point type [included in the ComWriter’s style]
  2. Spacing: doouble line space all text  [included in the ComWriter’s style]
  3. Margins: set to one inch  [included in the ComWriter’s style]
  4. Page numbers: appears in upper right-hand corner [included in the ComWriter’s style]
  5. Running Head: appears in the upper left-hand corner in capitals  [included in the ComWriter’s style, but customize the style to add your short title]
  6. Boldface and Underlines: do not use underline, bold or italics (except for headings)
  7. Punctuation: add a comma (,) at the end of each item in a list that contains three or more items (shorter lists should be added in-text)
  8. Capitalization: Job titles are not capitalized, nor are names of theories, diseases, models or conditions
  9. Numbers: nine and lower are written in full, others are presented as numerals (unless they begin a sentence)
  10. Percentages: always appear as numbers (unless they begin a sentence)

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It’s about time!

Academic writing has been dominated by antiquated ‘legacy’ systems requiring students and faculty to manually integrate a range of software solutions. MS Word is 22 years old, bibliographic tools all work the same and lack the breadth and depth to format correctly (e.g., endnote is 17 years old, and CSL lacks detail to format a range of resources correctly). Today’s users  demand modern tools and features (e.g., something actually engineered for the cloud).

ComWriter is a new breed, cloud-based, writing tool specifically designed for academic work:

  1. Store all your research material in your personal library enabling users to cite resources without having to manage interfaces between applications
  2. Simply select a Style to format all your references AND text, automatically. You can forget formatting entirely!
  3. Write projects in a structured way without having to be plagued by clumsy tools and constant formatting issues
  4. Export your project and let the computer do all the formatting automatically
 
Conceptual image of comwriter

 

It’s about time we had some software purpose-built for academic work!

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Now that is smart!

Academic writing, in fact most writing projects, all have a similar structure:

  • Cover, the first page/s of something. For example, a cover page, cover letter, or the like.
  • Preliminaries, or front matter. For example, an abstract, executive summary, a table of contents, list of figures.
  • Body: the main component that includes an introduction, key points, a conclusion.
  • Addenda, or back matter. For example, a bibliography, a glossary, appendices.

ComWriter, is the first writing tool to actually acknowledge this fundamental writing structure, and provides it as a background template on every writing project.

Structured writing editor

What’s a ‘smart list’ I hear you ask? Writing projects often contain ‘lists’, for example: a table of contents, a list of figures or tables, a bibliography. ComWriter automates these ‘lists’. All you have to do is Add a Smart List marker to tell the computer the location of the list. Now that is Smart!

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5 reasons to get rid of Word if you do academic writing

Academic writing is difficult enough without the ‘tools’ making life harder. MS Word is 22 years old! Any system this old would generally be called a ‘legacy’ system. Here are my top reasons for replacing Word.

1. Referencing does not work

The referencing function in MS word is very simple, and generally does not format to academic standards. If you use bibliographic software (e.g., Zotero, Endnote, Mendeley) then you have to manage a plug in, which often fails. Also, the reference types used in these applications (they are pretty much all the same) are mostly ‘not quite right’ forcing you to have to edit the reference in Word. This means you need to (a) know the intricate details of academic referencing, and (b) allow sufficient time for re-formatting.

2. Contents and captions must be re-numbered constantly

Move an image or add headings requires the user to re-number the caption label (for images), or ‘update’ the table of contents when new headings are added. This constant annoyance means continually checking what you are writing, wasting valuable writing time.

3. Formatting often takes longer than writing

Aside from the above two issues, headers & footers, page numbers, bullet alignment, often can get ‘out of whack’, and if you do not know how to manage Word Styles, then formatting can take longer than actually writing.

4. Collaboration requires cut-and-paste assembly

You cannot write collaboratively using MS Word. Which means if you are working on a group project, someone has to take charge to be the cut-and-paste assembler. This person then ends up with all the formatting to do. When it is finally assembled, the  text can seem disjointed because the members have used different writing language, and  then one person needs to edit to fix it up so that it reads ‘as if’ written by one person.

5. Version control is manual

If you are writing over an extended period of time, or writing a large document, then you need to keep different versions of your history ‘just-in-case’ of a system crash, or a hard-drive fail, or because you want to retrieve something you wrote last week.

ComWriter logoThree reasons to use ComWriter for academic writing:

  1. It is in the cloud, saves every 30 seconds, stores history (3-in-1 reason)
  2. Reference and text formatting are done automatically, including numbering, after you hit ‘export’
  3. I can spend more time on researching and writing content, thereby improving the quality of my work

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5 steps to perfect academic writing with ComWriter

ComWriter makes writing to academic standards easy with these 5 steps:

ComWriter has 5 steps to perfect academic writing

  1. If your favourite reference style isn’t Harvard (ComWriter includes Harvard as the default), then you can find your favourite Style and add it to My Styles (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago, Turabian).
  2. Add a few resources you already have (e.g., an authored book or journal article) using the Research tab.
  3. To get writing: Go to the Write tab an click Start a new project & fill out the form (remember to select your style), then click Start and the writing editor will open. In the writing editor add some existing writing (you can use cut-and-paste from Word) to see how the writing editor works (maybe grab some text from your last essay). Follow these steps:

Add writing objects (e.g., a paragraph, a heading, a list)
Enter text into writing objects
Highlight some text to see the formatting menu

  1. Insert an in-text reference citation or add a reference into a footnote using the resource/s you added.
  2. After you create your first project return to the Write dashboard, and click the PDF export button and your project will be automatically formatted using the style you chose. The file will go into your downloads.

Learn more  in our forums or check out our videos on YouTube.

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