How to handwrite your papers and get type in response

I write using Word, Google docs and Scrivener. But when I want to get away from the screen and keyboard I use my Livescribe pen. I have had a series of them and used them extensively for many years. I write in a Livescribe notebook then my handwriting is transcribed to text and I can copy it straight into my documents.

As a visual thinker it’s great because I can sketch and make diagrams that immediately become PDFs that are to share or refer to later, whether or not I have my actual physical notebook with me. It’s also useful for field notes and research journals. You have the physical journal afterwards as PhD evidence. I’ve noticed that people are less intimidated by me writing in a notebook than audio or video recording them, so it’s good in ‘first meeting’ situations. I also feel that I am more engaged with people I’m interviewing when I jot down notes.

An unexpected side effect is that my handwriting has got neater! If I write too messily I get back Dada poetry from the transcription tool, so I’m encouraged to write more clearly (at least at the level of forming my letters  – it can’t help me with grammar etc.)

The pens record audio and I sometimes use that at conferences. I’ve also used it to make animations but that’s another story. I’ve had 3 pens over the years.

Things I love:

  • Getting away from the screen
  • Choice between lined and plain paper note books

Things I loath:

  • The LED displays always stop working, now I can only tell if it’s on or off by a quick record and stop tap, that lets me know with the ‘beep’ that the power is on. But that only takes a second or two and for me is much better than the ridiculously expensive LED display repair.
  • I bought a wifi version and it didn’t translate to type, probably does now but I’m sticking with my “Echo” model until it dies.

Click to see what the handwriting looks like auto transcribed with no corrections by me


I have no connection to the Livescribe company

Capti: how to do the laundry and read papers at the same time

I’m always on the lookout for ways to bring some variety to my reading and writing. For example, I’m committed to the pomodoro technique and break every 20-25 minutes when I’m reading, writing and lecturing. Even though I take a break to look out of the window and rest my eyes by focussing long distance, I still get fed up and headachey when I’m reading and writing on screen for many hours a day.

So, recently I’ve been using the free app, Capti Narrator. It reads any document or ebook to me. I get a break from the screen and can do laundry while hearing a text read to me. I’ve found it useful for first ‘reads’ and  I like the way I can switch from iPad to iPhone and it knows where I left off.

I have no connection to the Capti Narrator company

How to keep the thesis writing on track with thanks to @GradHacker

Based on another useful post from GradHacker. My comments in italic

A list of due dates help you to keep on track. Break the reading and writing down, set dates and note how you keep to them. I suggest that you agree dates to send new texts to your supervisor. Be proactive about this – do not wait for your supervisor to set dates.

@GradHacker notes that you might not keep all the deadlines. Good point, however, PhD researcher, Know Thyself! If you have to keep adjusting them back, then take note of that and make a more realistic schedule. Or add more writing and reading times into your week in order to meet the deadlines.

Set early deadlines, this allows you to move things around without throwing off your schedule. Or to take some time out. No supervisor is ever upset about getting some text early! Just don’t expect the return of that ext to be sooner than previously agreed.

@GradHacker reminds you to Communicate with your committee/supervisor about your writing, the smoother your editing stages will go. The sooner the better. I expect researchers to this from the start of their PhD and make it a habit.

Do rough chapter outlines. Sit with your advisor with just a rough outline of the chapter and find out if it works. I ask you to develop an outline of your thesis early in year one. I suggest you develop chapter structures using bullet points based on this. It is a ‘living’ document that changes over time and is useful to take to supervisory meetings from time to time and revisit.

@GradHacker advises Get others to read your writing. Send drafts to anyone willing to read them. It will also help prevent situations where you have to rewrite entire chapters. I recommend that you find a writing buddy this year and stick with them. Read one another’s writing. Join AcWriMo and take part very year. Don’t wait to send the ‘perfect’ version to your supervisor. 

@GradHacker Love feedback, loath feedback: know yourself and get the timing right. There may be times when you don’t need actual criticism, and instead just need to write. If you struggle after receiving negative feedback on a chapter and it hurts your productivity decide how often to ask for feedback. BUT keep writing and don’t always avid feedback because it’s essential if you are to improve your reasoning and writing. If you need someone to say “yay, good job!” find someone to say that to you. I would add, “Tell your supervisor you’d like to focus on something other than critical feedback for the specified meeting and offer an agenda.” Talk about method, reading, whatever, but give them a heads up in advance via email.

@GradHacker What kind of writing does your supervisor expect? One reason you need feedback, and should start with rough chapter structures, is to ask your supervisor what expectations they have for your chapters, and your project: what kinds of sources, how footnotes get used, the structure of chapters, how they feel about headings, and more.  I would add: don’t just go empty-handed and ask loads of broad questions, take a chapter plan and start the conversation that way.

@GradHacker Learn when to stand your ground and when to take advice. At the end of the day, this is your work. Stand up for what you think is important, for what you want to say. It might be impossible to please everyone on your qualifying panel/committee.

I also note that it might demotivate you to drop something you feel passionately about. Think through the ‘deal breakers’ for you and your PhD research (and note that these often change over time!) In cases of conflict make some notes about why a disputed area is important, or why you think is is not important. Argue your case through in writing, to yourself, and see how you feel afterwards. Then decide whether or not to stand your ground or let it go. 

@GradHacker wisely reminds you to Take time off when you need it. As Katy Meyers mentioned in her post, taking time off is important to personal happiness, and you should do so as guilt free as possible. Dissertations take time, and you will need to take breaks and recharge at some point.

There will be times where you have to focus your energies elsewhere: teaching, the job market, writing publishable articles, sitting on committees, taking care of your family, watching cartoons. It is important to understand that short breaks in writing will happen, and you can take those breaks without feeling guilty.