Before you write your next paper, write an outline

If you read the subject of this post and thought “oh no, an outline! What a waste of time,” you’re probably not alone.
Many times, we just think it is easer to sit in front of our computers and let the words flow. But having an outline can really save a lot of time and frustration when you’re working on your next essay. An outline is a roadmap to your paper. When you’re sitting in front of the computer and you suddenly can’t figure out what to write next, take a look at your outline for a clue.
An article published at the popular Website Lifehacker advises that we remember to create full outlines. We tend to only create outlines based on topics or questions, but as the article suggests, including answers to your questions will make for a more pleasant writing experience.
Say, for example, we are writing an essay about Braille. One question or topic we might discuss is: how do you form the Braille alphabet. Instead of writing that in our outline and moving onto the next topic, we would first describe how the Braille alphabet is formed. That way, the details are al there, waiting to be worked into our paper.
Here’s the link to the Lifehacker article.

Type notes faster with Fleksy

One of the hurdles people often face when starting to use an iPhone or other touch-screen device is dealing with a slower typing speed. Instead of knowing where each individual key is on the keyboard by touch, you need to do  a little more guess work with the iPhone. As someone who tends to write lengthy text messages and comes up with ideas while out and about, this was one of my concerns when using a touch-screen phone.
A bluetooth keyboard can certainly help, but there are times when it’s easier not to carry a separate device or you’ve just forgotten it. Cases with bluetooth keyboards built-in are understandably a bit more bulky than  the iPhone on its own. Enter Fleksy, a new app aimed to help you type faster. Instead of having to find each key   then either lift your finger or split tap as is done with VoiceOver, with Fleksy, just aim a finger at where you think a  key might be. The system will do its best to figure out what you were typing. More often then not, it will be correct. If it isn’t right, simply swipe down to hear a list of suggestions. The team has even improved the entering of punctuation; you don’t have to switch to a new keyboard just to enter  a comma.
The only drawback to this innovative app is that you need to copy the text you’ve written into other apps, as iOS doesn’t allow the keyboard to be used system-wide. In other words, your keyboard is a separate app, and you need to paste the text you’ve written into apps like Safari or Notes. However, Fleksy makes it easy to copy text, and you can set up favorite email addresses and numbers you frequently text right within the app.
The majority of this post was written using Fleksy, and while I had to correct the system’s guesses approximately  15 times, the word I was looking for was usually the first or second suggestion. I find the words that are most difficult to type are short words whose letters are close together on the keyboard. For example: it, is, if.
Next time you have an idea for a paper, or need to write a quick note about a class, Fleksy might just be able to help you get it done a bit more speedily.
Fleksy costs 14.99 in the App store.

Proofread with Your Ears

Whether you’re writing an email to a professor or polishing that dreaded end-of-semester term-paper, proofreading should be an essential step before you finalize your work. Careful proofreading can help you locate grammar problems and give you an overall picture of the clarity and structure of your writing.
When you think of proofreading, you probably think of reading over your writing with a pen in your hand, or painstakingly going through your paper with your computer, or maybe embossing a copy in Braille and reading it line by line. While you should proofread your work carefully in these ways, there’s another way that involves more than reading. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your ears when proofreading your work:
1. Take your piece of writing and read it out loud. Imagine that it’s someone else’s work; that will help you check that it makes sense.
2. If you’re blind and have access to a Braille display, you can read it from there.
3. Focus on the sound of your voice. Are you noticing that you’re not pausing where there should be sentence breaks? Do you have too many pauses in your sentences? Are you hearing the same words used over and over again?
4. If you’re using a screen-reader, let it read your writing in its entirety first. After reviewing your paper as a whole, then go back and correct errors you may have heard along the way, and examine your paper in more detail.
5. Try changing the voice of your screen-reader. Sometimes, hearing text with a new voice will give you fresh perspective.
5. Create a sound-scheme for editing if your screen-reader allows. This can help clarify where you’ve used (or forgotten to use), different type set.
6. If you have a recorder, record yourself reading your work out loud. Play your work back the next day. Sleeping on your writing can give you fresh perspective, as well. After stepping away from your paper for a while, you might realize that your body paragraphs don’t relate very well to each other and your introduction.
7. Ask someone to read your work out loud. In addition to helping you spot errors, hearing your writing read back in someone else’s voice might cause a lightbulb to go off in your head. Perhaps that sentence really belongs in the previous paragraph…
While proofreading takes time, it might just help you make that A on your next paper, or help you express yourself more clearly when you’re writing an important message.

The Accessible Textbook Finder

Do you ever find yourself visiting multiple websites to locate an accessible copy of a book you need for your up-coming semester? Well, here’s a site that might make your search a little easier.
The Accessible Textbook Finder allows you to search multiple sources for books simultaneously. You can search by title or ISBN. If you search by ISBN, remember not to use dashes when you type in the number.
The Accessible Textbook Finder Searches Bookshare, the National Library Service, CourseSmart, Access Text Network, Learning Ally, the Alternative Media Access Center and Project Gutenberg.
Don’t forget to check other sources you use that aren’t listed heretofore ending your search.
Link to The Accessible Textbook Finder:

Folders: Find Those Freshman Notes Your Senior Year

If you’re preparing for college, you’ve probably heard how important it is to stay organized. From writing down your assignments to time-management, staying organized comes into play in nearly every aspect of college life. And, when you enter the working world, it’s a skill you’ll be glad you have polished well. Here’s just one basic tip that can help you keep track of all of those critical class notes and papers-in-progress–it was very helpful for me.
Once you have your schedule all set, sit down at your computer. Create a folder with the name of the semester. For example, you might have a folder called “Fall 2012.” Then, within each folder, create folders for each of your classes. Remember to make the names of your folders clear and specific. That way, a year later, when you’re studying for that French final, and you want a quick reminder on how to form the negative, you can pull up your notes from Introduction to French as reference.
If you’re taking notes on your laptop in class, remember to save them in the correct folder and with a clear file name for later retrieval. To make your notes even more useful, consider using a service like Dropox for access from just about anywhere. If you’re working on a term project for one of your classes, consider giving that project its own folder. You’ll be able to find it easier, and put all of your research information as well as drafts in progress all in one place.
Most important, come up with an organizational system that works for you, and stick to it. Staying organized can save you a lot of agitation, So next time you’re looking for that paper you started last week, you’ll know exactly where to find it.