Top Tools for Supporting Dissertations

Last week we looked at tips for managing the dissertation advising process for online PhDs. This week, let’s look at a variety of tools for supporting the dissertation process.

Collecting and Formatting References

  • A reference manager. First and foremost, you absolutely must start using a  reference manager, if you haven’t already. While it takes a bit to set up, it will save you hours in the long run, making sure that all references are properly cited. The top tools are listed below. The Barnard Library has created a useful comparison of the three.
  • Tutorials. I created this collection of tutorials when I was starting my PhD. While the software specifics might have changed slightly over time, the principles of how to organize yourself for reference collection are still useful.
  • Smart use of Google Scholar. Have you noticed that if you’re on campus at your university, and you use Google Scholar, all the references link to databases subscribed to by your library? What if you’re off campus though? Here are a couple of tips.
    • Check your Google Scholar settings. Select your university’s library under Libraries.
    • Set it to automatically save to your reference software, such as EndNote while you’re there. This will provide a direct link to import in the GoogleScholar results, as shown below.
    • Collect references and PDFs as you work. Here’s a tutorial I did for my graduate social media class in the fall of 2015 on how to find the PDFs after doing a Google Scholar search. Be a good researcher, and don’t just read the abstracts! Read, collect, and cite the full article!

Note Taking

Next, it’s a good idea to create a habit of taking notes on your reading. It could be scribbles, bullet points, short bits. But be writing in your own words about your literature reading.

  • Evernote. I’m a huge Evernote fan. The point of Evernote is to clip EVERYTHING you might want to remember. Yyu can grab pictures, pieces of websites, snapshots of text that is then searchable, etc. You can search it at any time for whatever you need. It’s like having a second brain. My Evernote is a huge searchable collection bin – interesting articles, random thoughts I scribble down, results from SPSS with scribbled thinking, etc. Keeping a research notebook is a good habit to establish. It will help with your academic publishing as well. And dissertation advisors, you can use it to keep notes on the dissertations you’re supporting!
  • Blogging. I am one who likes to learn publicly. Depending on your audience and your dissertation topic, you may find this strategy helpful as well. This page has my collection of PhD blog posts – on my dissertation, my literature review, and other topics I studied. I have always found writing to learn helps cement new knowledge in my brain. Tools for blogging include:
  • Writing Daily. There are some interesting tools out there to help you get in the habit of writing daily. You should be generating text on a regular basis, even if it is draft thinking, prewriting, or outlining. If you don’t want to write publicly, like on a blog, another great option is 750Words. This tool motivates and tracks your regular writing habit. Wondering what to write daily? Try these tips for applying the 750-1000 words-a-day habit to your dissertation.

Notifications

How are you keeping tabs on your topic or field? Here are some notifications you should have set up already:

  • Subscribing to journals. Almost every journal has a way to subscribe to the Table of Contents updates. Sign up for your favorites to keep tabs on the field. Read titles quickly, don’t get distracted!
  • Google Alerts. Did you know you can set up alerts to monitor the web, your reputation, your topic? Google Scholar has alerts also. Let the web come to you!
  • Academic social networks also provide alerts and notifications on topics and researchers:

Tracking Progress

How are you tracking your progress? One of my favorite books on writing is How to Write a Lot. One of the excellent suggestions there is to track your progress. Count:

  • Time spent writing
  • Words generated
  • Note the topic/task/project you were working on

Note how my spreadsheet for writing tracking looks:


Or, you can try one of many goal setting apps to track your progress. Set goals and track them.

What gets measured gets done!


Editing

Finally, a few tools for editing your writing:

  • Grammarly. This free grammar checker can assist you in creating academic prose.
  • TurnItIn. Find out from your university ed tech tool helpdesk how you can use TurnItIn to check your ability to cite your sources well. Or your university may provide resources in the dissertation preparation courses.
  • Color edits. Another of my favorite writing books is Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks. This book has an awesome section on using colors to edit your writing. I’ve found it incredibly helpful.

Your Turn

What would you add? Are there other tasks or components of the dissertation process that you use another tool to support? Do any of these tools also work for you? Please comment!

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