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Publish, don't perish – Instalment 31


Online tools you can use

In an increasingly connected, Web 2.0 world, librarian writers can choose from a number of online tools to help them do everything from become better organized to collaborate with coauthors across the country – or the globe. While many of us already use online resources to connect with our patrons or communicate professionally, we can also investigate ways to use Web 2.0 tools to become more efficient, organized, and collaborative writers.

Online tools help us brainstorm, research, organize, collaborate, communicate, create, and otherwise improve our productivity as authors. Many do have more advanced options available for a fee, but most of the tools discussed in the following sections can be accessed for free. Online options are discussed here; software applications that librarian authors can download and install on their own machines will be discussed in next month's column.

Get it… together

Web 2.0 tools inherently enable communication and collaboration, and can be a boon to those working on a collaborative work, especially to co-authors from different physical locations.

Begin your Web 2.0 tour with online word processing applications, which include Google Docs and Zoho Writer. Tired of carrying your Flash drive everywhere and remembering to keep files updated in multiple locations? Frustrated with corrupted files and data loss? Online document storage and retrieval allows you to create, access, and edit documents from any location with Internet access, and these tools include the ability to roll documents back to previous versions. This revert or rollback feature can be incredibly useful to those working on group projects or coauthoring articles and other documents.

Dealing with deadlines

You might already be used to organizing your tasks and calendar through tools like Microsoft Outlook, but online options provide additional flexibility. These range from lightweight "to-do lists" to wannabe Outlook replacements.

Ta-da List offers simple, shareable, online "to-do" lists. This can be useful as a simple reminder service for yourself, especially if you're a to-do list kind of person but tired of tracking down scraps of paper. The ability to assign lists to other people and to subscribe via RSS makes this a useful tool for coauthors, letting them break down the tasks involved in their collaboration and keep track of each other's progress.

Those needing more powerful tools can upgrade to the company's Basecamp product, which offers a number of more advanced features. See this review to compare leading project management and collaboration apps like Wrike and Slack.

Google and Zoho both weigh in here as well. Zoho Planner offers dated to-do lists, reminders, appointment lists, and notes pages. You can share your planner pages with everyone or with selected friends; additional features include the ability to update your Zoho Planner page via e-mail and import info into iCalendar-supported calendars.

Google Calendar also offers easy ways to coordinate your calendar with others, as well as automatic event reminders via e-mail or SMS. Easily add events announced in Google e-mail or on other web pages, a nice way to keep track of continuing education opportunities in which you might be interested. Google Calendar shines in its built-in search features, the ability to create multiple calendars for multiple purposes, and ability to import events from applications like Microsoft Outlook.

Organization and findability

Nothing makes a librarian's heart beat faster than a collection of well-organized and findable information, and online tools offer us a range of options for organizing our own thoughts, notes, and research. One of the simplest of these tools is Jotcloud, which lets users scribble free-form Internet-accessible notes. Your "cloud" of notes in Jotcloud is searchable, giving you a place to jot down and easily retrieve article ideas, notes, citations, contacts or any other information.

LIS students working on papers or group projects might investigate mynoteIT, "an online note-taking tool for students." mynoteIT offers to-do lists, note taking, a calendar, collaboration tools for groups, and ways to organize student-specific information like assignments, grades and teachers' contact information.

If you're just looking for a way to organize bookmarks or groups of Internet sites, bookmark managers like del.icio.us can be invaluable. When researching an article or other work, use del.icio.us to collect online resources on your topic and assign the same tag, or keyword, to every site you want to refer to while writing. You can then use these tags to easily retrieve the entire group of references, and can share them with co-authors by making your del.icio.us bookmarks public or by creating a joint account for use on a particular project.

CiteULike offers a similar but more heavy-duty service targeted towards academics and researchers, allowing them to "share, store, and organize the academic papers they are reading". CiteULike automatically extracts citation details from online papers in a given list of archives and databases (and allows users to type manual citations for any site), allowing users to export their "libraries" to BibTex or EndNote in order to build bibliographies. Like del.icio.us, CiteULike lets users share data about the sites they are bookmarking, and to tag papers and cites with relevant keywords. Both del.icio.us and CiteULike enable librarian authors to discover new resources by looking at what others are tagging with relevant keywords, but CiteULike gives prominence to peer-reviewed articles from supported journals.

Connotea, targeted to "scientists and clinicians", works in a similar fashion, automatically building citations when possible from sources like PubMed. It lets users share their references with everyone, keep them private, or share them with selected others, and its import/export feature allows users to easily move references between Connotea and desktop reference managers.

Especially if you work in an academic institution, also investigate reference or citation managers your institution may have licensed. Popular choices here include RefWorks, an "online research management, writing and collaboration tool" that enables researchers to store and organize information and generate citations and bibliographies.

Creating connections

Mind mapping/outlining sites allow you to organize your thoughts visually and to see the relationships between various sections, characters, plot elements, or ideas. One useful online mind mapper is bubbl.us – brainstorming made simple. You can share your sheets, or mind maps, with "friends" in read-only or edit mode; if your friend lacks a bubbl.us account, an e-mail invitation will be sent.

NetVibes offers a feed reader, customized start page, to-do lists, notes, and a place for organizing other user-customizable and created information. This can get cluttered quickly, but does allow you to organize multiple types of information under "tabs" on a per-project basis. You might want, for example, to create keyword-based feeds and display them all on a project page along with your to-do list and other project notes, helping you organize your thoughts and bringing in a constant flow of new ideas and information.

Just for fun… or inspiration

If you want to keep track of your own progress, and you write online at a web page or blog, check out Writertopia Progress Meters. Add their little widget to your page, and it will track your progress towards your goal, creating a visual representation of the number of words you've finished compared with your target word count (along with an optional cartoon showing your current "mood").

Want more? Start your search with "Useful software for writers", Part 1 and Part 2.

Play with some of these tools, add some of these options to your own writerly toolbox, and see what effect they have on your productivity. The right mix will vary depending on your needs and your work habits, but any librarian author can benefit from exploring the plethora of options available.