10 Practical Tips for Improving Workflow and Connecting Ideas in Writing

From a recent M.S. Graduate!

When trying to write and connect the contents of your thesis or research to concrete ideas and conclusions, sometimes the task is easier said than done. In your head you might feel that you have all of the links sorted out between your work and the relevant concepts, but when it comes to bringing those ideas onto paper, you simply cannot decipher the best way to make your message clear.

Writer typing on a laptop

If you’ve felt this way in your writing workflow, I can tell you that you’re not alone. Becoming clear and concise in your writing is something every professional has struggled with at some point in their career.

Connecting abstract thoughts to definitive conclusions is a process that simply takes time and experience. However, with the right fundamentals to become a better writer, this task can start to feel a lot less frustrating and a bit more intuitive. Here are a few useful tips that will help improve your ideation process and writing workflow.

1. Understand your topic’s purpose

Before even starting the actual writing, it’s important to connect a topic for your paper that is relevant to the purpose or goal you are trying to achieve. Ask yourself questions that will help guide your work from ideation to final completion. For example:

What is the purpose of this topic?

Who is the intended audience?

What impact is this paper meant to create once it has been completed?

Is the topic too narrow or too broad?

Understanding the context of the topic in which you are writing will help provide a clearer message to start researching and writing. It’s important to consider that when writing out and connecting your ideas, the content should fulfil a specific purpose and reach the intended audience in a meaningful way. If you think your idea for your topic is too broad, consider narrowing it down to a more specific situation or example. If it is too narrow, try to look for ways to expand the content to cover more aspects.

2. Utilize the Scholarcy Plugin for Summarizing Potential Sources

Once you have formulated your research or paper topic into a concrete idea, the next step is to begin searching for applicable sources. When looking for sources for academic research and writing, the most common approach is to search for relevant information on either Google Scholar or a university/research institution library catalog. With this approach it’s easy to identify potential sources that will support the message of your writing.

The area where this search for sources becomes painful is the process of sifting through the countless research articles, journal publications, and reports that could potentially support your message. This process can take HOURS, but luckily there is a plugin to aid in this! The Scholarcy chrome extension is a free tool that quickly summarizes research articles, identifies key points and concepts, generates an abstract, and depicts article highlights. Using this tool has saved countless hours of literature review research, assisting in quick identification of the most useful sources for academic writing.

Scholarcy plugin for research paper summarization
Scholarcy plugin for research paper summarization

3. Organize your sources

For many researchers, once great sources have been identified, it can become easy to lose track of what ideas from other literature are relevant for your work. Throughout the research or literature review stage of your writing, it’s important to take notes of relevant concepts, sort sources into categories for later reference, and keep track of the titles and authors of the papers you are reviewing.

One useful method for organizing your sources is to create a specific folder broken down into subcategories to sort out and save your research papers as a pdf by relevance.

To give a simple example, let’s say I am writing about the topic of climate change mitigation and adaptation in cities. Within this topic, there are many different aspects that could be considered, such as transportation, circular economy, construction, and water resources to name just a few. Each time I find a paper relevant to one of these topics, I’ll save this as a pdf in sorted folders. under a larger folder for the whole project.

Source Organization in File Explorer
Source Organization in File Explorer
Source Organization in File Explorer
Source Organization in File Explorer

This process allows me to easily go back and access sources that were relevant for the different topics in my research paper.

4. Utilize the comment feature in Adobe Acrobat Reader

Another added benefit of saving your sources as a pdf, is that if you are using Adobe Acrobat Reader, you can use the comment function to annotate and highlight your source for relevant information as you read it. This is a free tool with the service!

Editing text in Adobe Acrobat Reader
Editing text in Adobe Acrobat Reader

When clicking on “Comment” on the right hand side, the comment section pulls up a toolbar in Adobe Acrobat Reader. Here at the top you have the option to highlight, annotate freely on the document, and add comments directly onto the text. When looking back through your sources again, you’ll find your thoughts laid out with the important aspects of the papers in clear sight.

5. Plan out the content first

Before getting started writing and after finishing your source research and literature, it’s always useful to plan out the skeleton of the paper first. A logical layout for your paper prior to writing will allow you to follow a plan that makes greater sense of the content you are providing, connecting introductory paragraphs, main body text, and final messages and conclusions.

Person organization thoughts with post it notes and paper
Person organization thoughts with post it notes and paper

There are many different ways to go about this, such as basic outlines of the content, or workflow diagrams that show transitions in the writing. For some writers, this process is simply about creating the words to lead the paper, while for others a more visual representation of the workflow is beneficial.

6. Structure Your Paper

When writing the paper, it is important that the skeleton sections of the paper are created in order for the proper information to be placed in the correct areas. In the majority of research papers, the structure generally follows a simple pattern that can be repeated throughout all writing pieces. This pattern first starts with a title, then moves into the abstract and introduction, followed by a methodology, results section, discussion of results, and a conclusion, as can be seen in the diagram below.

Diagram of paper structure
Diagram of paper structure
  • When considering a title for your paper, it’s important that the title is clear and concise, and briefly summarizes the main subject you are discussing. This should be interesting enough that the audience has enough incentive to keep reading more.
  • When creating the abstract, this section should serve as a summary of the entire paper with clear, to-the-point sentences. Any discussion of the results and conclusions should be brief as to not give away too much information.
  • The introduction should provide background context as to where the paper can be placed in recent trends related to the subject, and more importantly where previous research has led to the topic being addressed.
  • The methodology of the paper serves as a detailed explanation of the procedure followed to obtain the results of the research. The methodology should be sufficiently detailed such that it could be duplicated by another person entirely.
  • The results section is dedicated to describing the results of the research with a completely neutral perspective. What was obtained? Does it make sense according to the methodology?
  • The discussion section should then review the results and discuss the meaning of the results obtained. This is where statements, assumptions, opinions, etc., can be contemplated regarding the results.
  • Finally the conclusion section should revisit briefly all of the sections of the report, with a greater emphasis on the results, discussion, and subsequent conclusions drawn from the research.
  • The references section is a place for all sources utilized in the paper to be listed.

In addition to these main components, other sections such as limitations, literature review, and future works can be included depending on the type of research being conducted or general preference for the structure of the paper. The structure of papers and these corresponding sections are discussed in greater detail in the resource Structure of a Research Paper: Tips to Improve Your Manuscript by enagoacademy.

7. Understand the Relationships Between Ideas that are Being Established

When writing, are the ideas that you are connecting meant to be causation — one idea consequently affecting another? Are they chronological, following sequential order in time? Are the connections written in descending order of importance? These are just a few examples of the types of writing connections that can be established. Identifying the type of concept connections you would like to include is vital to establishing a process to go about writing the text in a way that has flow and logical order.

Person writing on laptop
Person writing on laptop

One great source for understanding this concept comes from the resource page Connecting Ideas Through Transitions by the Writing Center of the University of Wisconsin. Here they describe nine common types of connections that are established among writing ideas. Depending on the type of idea relationship being formed, there are useful methods and connecting words to accommodate the message.

8. Utilize Connecting Words to Write Out Associated Ideas

Once you’ve identified the types of connections between ideas in your writing, the next step is to utilize the best connecting words to portray these associations properly. Connecting words really are the bread and butter of this entire concept, and help portray these associations between ideas in a manner that is logical and supports the argument of the text. To explore all of the potential connecting words at a writer’s arsenal, check out this resource page Connecting Ideas in Writing from the University of Melbourne, which explains and exemplifies all the potential use cases for different types of connecting words. If you need a more detailed explanation with examples, check out the following video.

9. Utilize Citation Generators

If there is one aspect I can suggest the most from this list, it would be to use a citation generator for creating your bibliography. If you are doing this process by hand on your own, you are wasting your time. There are a plethora of great resources to use for creating citations. In many cases when simply providing a URL link or research article title as input, the citation generator auto completes the rest of the information required for the citation.

Library book shelf
Library book shelf

If you are looking for a good list of citation generators to use, check out the article 13 Best Bibliography Maker Tools: Online & Plug-In Citation Generators from Guide2Research. My personal favorite from this list, and something I have sworn by throughout my Master’s and Bachelor’s studies was Easybib, a free and easy-to-use citation generator.

10. Use a Writing Assistant Tool

If you are prone to overwriting and grammatical errors, consider utilizing a writing assistant tool such as Grammarly, Rytr, or Jarvis. With a writing assistant tool, it’s possible to simplify your writing process by avoiding unnecessary mistakes and creating clearer and more concise sentences. This is especially helpful if English is your second language! You can check out some of the best options for writing assistant tools from the resource Best AI Writing Assistant Software from G2.

Thank you for Reading!

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