Q: Writing, organizing, and formatting research papers

I’m, finally, after many half-hearted attempts, integrating Scrivener into my writing work flow. For most of my writing, Scrivener does fine–it either gets cut and pasted to the web, exports cleanly to a RTF/DOC file with minimal futzing, or simply never goes anywhere.

The bane to my Scrivener existence is academic research papers, especially ones that call for block quoting of sources. Most of my research papers fall into the “give me 10 pages on …” I’m not working on thesis-level documents.

I’m ok with doing the dog and pony show with Endnote, where it needs to go through Endnote as an RTF file to format the citations properly. Were I less lazy and reliant on tools, I’d just create the bibliography manually, but that’s a different story.

But, it’s the block quotes that make me shudder and what I need help with, and am curious about how other people use Scrivener for this.

Right now, I write my paper using my favorite writing font (Cambria, 12-14pt). It’s my understanding that if I need to use a block quote, I need to: create a separate text doc in binder; type in the quote; apply a block quote style to the text; and make sure on that document I check “preserve formatting.” Now, if I’m wrong on this, correct me and we can write it off.

But having that rogue file is a rock in my stream causing my text to eddy around it.

How do other people write these papers in Scrivener. I’m starting to come to two ways I can make my life easier:

  • Have the entire project formatted in a way the teacher the wants (usually 12pt Times/dbl spaced) and just format the block quotes in-line. I’m ok with this, even if it means I’m looking at 12pt dbl spaced type.
  • Just use Word 2008, which also has a nifty citation manager. Using Word is pretty much a variation of the above, but without needing to mess with running citations through Endnote.

I can’t help but feel I’m taking the hard way on this and could use some guidance.

As a law student, I have to use this strange, bastardized, HORRIFIC citation form called the Blue Book. This means that most citation managers (e.g., EndNote and Word '08) are kind of worthless to me. BUT, I also have to use block quotes sometimes. Here’s how I do it:

I create a separate section for each source I’m going to use in the Research folder. Then, tagged with page number, I extract the quotations I’m going to use. In the “Notes” section, I type in the general citation form for quickie copy/pasting.

For anything that needs to be block-quoted, I stick an extra carriage return above and below the paragraph and bold the whole thing. In Nisus (and Word, too) I have a block quote style pre-defined (with tabs and the like), so it’s a simple matter to skim through after export, highlight the bolded text, and overlay the appropriate style.

If you’re using Nisus, you can make that step even shorter and actually do search/replace by STYLE ELEMENTS. It’s super-cool. I think, though, at the end of the day it comes down to being resigned to the tradeoff of Scrivener. In exchange for separating content from form, and having such a content-oriented environment in which to write, I actually have to put a little time into the post-production stage to make sure the form is right. It’s a price I pay gladly for longer works, but for anything less than, say, three pages, it might not be worth it.

That’s actually not a bad idea, thanks. I was trying to eliminate as much “post-production” as possible, but this is a simple way of working around the issue. If I need to hand in a draft, I can always explain the prof that’s going to be block quotes.

I could write a long paean to the beauties of separating content from form, but it basically boils down to this:

Word (and other WYSIWYG word processors) inflicts upon the user the paralysis of choice. Do I center my title? Left justify? How large should I make it? What font? Line spacing? Do I put an extra 12-point gap between paragraphs? How about margins?

In the end, you can spend so much time tweaking the LOOK of your work that you probably should have spent on its crafting. It’s a distraction, at best, and a catastrophic derailment at worst.

Enter Scrivener (and before it, LaTeX). Instead of worrying about form, just get your ideas down. Learn to embrace the the post-production elements. There, you can totally forget about what you wrote and focus on making it as pretty as you need to. Use a totally separate part of your brain. At worst, it takes a few extra minutes. For me, the longest I ever spent on post was maybe an hour and a half for a sixty-page paper, and that involved making sure all the footnotes were crosslinked right. But I knew, during that process, that all of the real, creative work was done.

Or, to put it another way, it’s not a bug, it’s a feature!

I do a variation on this. Instead of bolding the text, I surround it with “tags” like so:

Various main body text of various interesting sorts. Various main body text of various interesting sorts. Various main body text of various interesting sorts.

Quotation to be block quoted. Quotation to be block quoted. Quotation to be block quoted. Quotation to be block quoted. Quotation to be block quoted. Quotation to be block quoted. Quotation to be block quoted. Quotation to be block quoted. Quotation to be block quoted. Quotation to be block quoted. Quotation to be block quoted.
</ОFFSET>
Various main body text of various interesting sorts. Various main body text of various interesting sorts. Various main body text of various interesting sorts.

Then, when I export to Word for the final formatting and printing, I just do a “find” for the word “offset” and it takes me all of five minutes to format the block quotes, even with a 40 page paper.

Oh, I never thought it was a bug. I just figured I wasn’t doing something the smartest way. I like to keep the post-production to any document to a minimum.

I def. see the advantage to splitting things like that, although I like to break things differently. breaking out a block quote into a separate document to me seems like I’ve got puzzle pieces, breaking up a thought. I’d rather have the entire thought broken into a separate document.

Bolding or setting “tags” works for me.