Using Technology for More Efficient and Effective Paper Writing

Technological advancement has changed the writing process throughout the years. Just think about how different writing a paper on a modern computer is compared to writing a paper on an early generation computer, or a word processor, or a typewriter, or even by hand.

We are lucky to live in an age of rapid innovation, and we can and should utilize these advancements to make our writing more efficient and effective. Included below are some new and useful tools to aid you through the writing process—from gathering sources all the way to editing and revising.

Organize Your Research
The first step to writing any research paper should be gathering sources. This can often be a tedious process of copying and pasting or even handwriting references, but a free research tool called Zotero simplifies the task. This program works on Mac, Windows, and Linux computer systems, and includes browser plugins for Chrome, Safari and Firefox. These browser plugins allow you to easily add content to your Zotero library that you find via your school’s library, JSTOR (Journal Storage), or anywhere on the web. The content you add to Zotero can easily be organized into folders, and you can even assign tags to help quickly find information in your research. If you are working on multiple computers to assemble your sources, Zotero makes it easy to sync your data to multiple devices. If you’re working with others, you can create research groups where you can share your Zotero library, complete with your files and notes. Collaboration has been made easy!

Zotero also includes plugins for Word and LibreOffice that allow you to easily create footnotes, endnotes, and citations as you write the paper. For many students, assembling and correctly formatting a references list can be a time-consuming and complex task. Zotero makes it easy to dynamically assemble a bibliography in a variety of different styles and formats, including APA, MLA, and Chicago style.

Dictate Your Writing
We all have different writing styles, and some people may find it easier to speak their thoughts rather than type or hand-write them. Humans are social beings, and many of us process thoughts auditorily; so, it makes sense that writing might be easier if we simply speak our thoughts in conversational form (typing is not a natural human trait after all). Technology allows us to do this easily through speech-to-text recognition applications and software. Let the computer do the typing while you do the talking! It is that easy. This strategy allows you to easily capture your thoughts and natural speech patterns quickly and accurately when speaking.

In the past, the technology behind speech-to-text recognition did not produce high rates of accuracy, and it was cost prohibitive. Today, speech recognition software is built into both Macs and PCs. This means you do not have to purchase additional software to use this writing strategy.

On a Mac you can enable dictation in system preferences, in the dictation and speech pane. On the newest versions of OSX, enable “enhanced dictation” which allows for continuous dictation, with live feedback and offline use.

If you’re on a PC, you can use the Windows Speech Recognition tool to convert your speech into text. To enable this tool, go to all programs, select accessories, then click ease of access, and select Windows Speech Recognition.

Of course, there are also a number of speech-to-text programs on the marketplace that, in some cases, are more accurate than the solutions provided by Apple and Microsoft. One of the most popular is Dragon NaturallySpeaking, which advertises itself as the best-selling and most accurate dictation solution.

If you’re on a mobile device, you can utilize the built-in speech-to-text on Android and Apple devices. There are also a number of apps, in their respective app stores, that allow for dictation as well. One to try is the Dragon Dictation app for iOS. The app is quite accurate, and best of all, it’s free!

Edit Using Text-to-Speech
Students who use text-to-speech to have their writing read back to them are often better able to recognize proper sentence structure, content flow, and word choice. Hearing your writing will make it easier to find errors and make corrections. Also, you can often “hear” structural issues with your paper when you can’t always “see” them.

In Windows 8, Microsoft has included text-to-speech capabilities that make this process easy. If you’re using a Mac with the latest version of OSX, the text-to-speech feature is built into your operating system. You can simply highlight text anywhere on your computer, press the pre-selected key, and your computer will begin reading the text aloud. What’s more, from the system preferences Dictation and Speech pane, you can select “Samantha” from the system voice choice menu. Samantha is a voice that is very similar to Apple’s Siri, and this voice reads in a natural and easy-to-comprehend manner. You can even customize Samantha’s reading speed to your liking by changing the speaking rate on the slider bar from slow to fast.

Give It a Try!
Organizing your sources, dictating ideas, and hearing your writing aloud will enhance your writing skills and increase your efficiency. Writing can be a fun, collaborative affair using these tools. Try writing a collaborative paper or article with peers, just as we have done here, using dictation, speech-to-text, and Zotero. Writing becomes a conversation among colleagues with these tools, and group work becomes interactive. These tools not only reduce writing time, they help your brain focus, so your writing can stand out and be heard!


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