A Simple, Effective Academic Writing Workflow

During the past several months I have written a couple of papers, a literature review, and several short essays. I wanted to share my current workflow that is working for me. I need to place emphasis on the word current, because as you might see from my previous posts these processes can change hour-to-hour, day-to-day, and week-to-week. I do, however, believe this is also important to writing. While many might argue that having a sustainable workflow is more productive, I would argue that a system that works for you, the individual, is the most important attribute in creating a writing workflow.

This is just a simple overview of the two main parts to my writing workflow – writing and exporting.

Software Needed:

  • A text editor of your choice (many to choose from – I recommend Sublime Text or TextEdit)
  • Pandoc – a document converter

Phase One – Writing

My writing begins with a text file and I write using markdown syntax. Doing this allows me to focus strictly on research and the writing process. I am not worried about the numerous formatting issues that come with writing in APA format. I solely am focused on writing. It is my plan to also author my dissertation using one single text file. Using a mac there are two programs that are able to handle this much text at once with minimal chance of unexpected computer crashes. They are TextEdit, which comes bundled with a Mac, and, the most powerful text editor I have ever used – Sublime Text. ST is by far my favorite writing tool at the moment. I can have multiple tabs open at the same time, I can see my word count, it checks spelling (even though I usually have this turned off until the end of my writing), and it allows me to control my entered data however I so desire. This is step two in my workflow.

Phase Two – Exporting

Once my writing is complete. I use Pandoc to export my work to either a docx or pdf file depending on who will receive my work. For example, my professors expect my work to be turned in a docx file format, and most publishers want to see a pdf version.

I very recently discovered pandoc, quite simply the best document converter available in the world. I simply open up ‘terminal’ and type in a simple command such as:

pandoc myessay.md -o nichols_essay.docx

And like magic I am given a document that I can submit. Yes, of course, you will still need to take a few minutes proofreading the final product and ensuring that all formatting is complete before final submission, but this is pretty straightforward – quick and painless. Oh, and use spell check, always, always use spell check.

This is a very simplified explanation of my writing workflow, but I would encourage you to google some of the key words in this post such as ‘text editors for mac’ and ‘pandoc’ to explore the immense amount of documentation about combining this workflow for your writing needs. I don’t have much time to write blogs, although I immensely enjoy it. Therefore, when I do have time they will probably be brief in nature and/or weeks/months apart.

If you have a method that works best for you let me know through the contact link or in the comments section below. I feel like there is always something better that I haven’t experienced.

I'm a psychology and educational psychology graduate now pursuing a PhD in Education at Ball State University. I am passionate with the idea that all students, no matter their background, are able to learn and be successful during their academic career and beyond.

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