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WriteCast Episode 20: Favorite Apps to Save You Time When You Write

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WriteCast Episode 20: Favorite Apps to Save You Time When You Write

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© Walden University Writing Center 2015


[Introduction music]


BETH: Welcome to WriteCast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers. I’m Beth Nastachowski from the Walden University Writing Center.

Today we’re talking with Brian Timmerman, the director of the Writing Center, about technologies and strategies to help manage time to write.

Thanks, Brian, for being on the podcast.


BRIAN: Thank you for having me.


BETH: Could you start us off by introducing yourself a little bit and talk about your role with the Writing Center and what you are going to be talking about today?


BRIAN: Sure. As Beth mentioned, I’m the director of the Writing Center. I’ve been with the Writing Center for eight years, and one of my favorite things is exploring apps that are available to students that can help them with their studying, help them with their writing, help keep them on task, and, as I understand it, that’s something we’re going to talk about today.


BETH: Yeah. I think one of the things that a lot of Walden writers struggle with is finding time to write as a student. Walden writers have a lot going on with family and work priorities, as well as school, and so I think a lot of the times when I’m talking with students, one of the main issues that they come to me with is just finding time to write. So, hopefully what we will do today is come up with some strategies and some apps that will help Walden writers find more time to write and make that writing time more productive.

So, we’re going to hear from Brian about his favorite apps or technologies that can help students manage their time. Now, as I understand it, all of these apps are online programs, so they are all accessible online, and they are all free, correct Brian?


BRIAN: That’s right.


BETH: All right. So, before we get into talking about the particular apps, we wanted to just let everyone know that these are some of the apps that Brian has found helpful and that he’s recommending everyone check out, but they are not endorsed by Walden University, and it’s very possible that in the future some of their URLs or their functionality might change.


BRIAN: And, to add to that, Beth, it’s important to note that, while we don’t provide direct support to any of these apps or technologies, we’re certainly interested in finding out from others about how they use them, and you are welcome to comment about that in our blog post.


BETH: Great, thanks Brian. So, to start us off, it sounds like you have some apps that students can use in a more practical sense or they are more general use apps. What’s the first one that you have for us?


BRIAN: The first one that comes to mind is just simply Google Drive. For those of you that don’t use that tool, it’s a great way to ensure that all your work is put on the cloud. The reason that that’s important is if, God forbid, anything happens to your computer, or if you receive the “blue screen of death,” you want to make sure that your material is backed up, particularly if you are working on your capstone or your dissertation.

You can learn more about Google Drive at There you will find out how to upload your materials, be able to work in Google Docs. But that’s the first one that comes to mind, Beth. I’ve been on the receiving end of losing material before when I was in my master’s program and had to rewrite something at the very last minute, and, man, that’s a big pain. So I’d want to make sure that everyone makes sure not to make my mistake.

In fact, as I understand it, one of our writing instructors accidentally dropped his computer the other day, and it “blue screened” on him, and he ended up losing everything. And, of course, one of the things that Google Drive can provide him with – or could have provided him with – is backed up material, so, even if he had to get a new computer, or had to have his computer reformatted, he would have been able to pull all that information, get it back on the new computer or the refurbished computer.


BETH: Yeah, that’s a great example, and it makes me think of my own example a couple of years ago. My laptop was actually stolen, and I lost all of my documents that way because, of course, we couldn’t retrieve them, and so from that instance on I’ve always made sure to back up all my documents in the cloud, so that, if, heaven forbid, that would happen again, I have access to them.

And, with Google Drive, another advantage of that is you can access it from anywhere, right Brian?


BRIAN: That’s correct, so long as you have your username and password. If you go to your local library and put that in and want to work from the library that day, you don’t have to have a thumb drive. You just go in, pull it from the cloud, and continue working on the document. Make sure to upload it back to the cloud when you are done.


BETH: And, similarly, I suppose, Google Drive also has an app, so if you had an iPad or any sort of mobile device, you’d be able to access your documents there, too.


BRIAN: That’s correct.


BETH: All right. So the second app that you wanted to talk about, Brian, I believe, is Timewarp. Could you talk about that a little bit?


BRIAN: Sure. Timewarp’s pretty cool. What is does is you can download it from the Google App Store, and it’s an extension. While you are working on your paper or whatever sort of material for class, what it will do is it will actually block you from accessing social media sites. So, if you are like me, and you start working on a draft, and five minutes you are wondering what your friend’s BBQ like from the weekend, it will actually prevent you from going to that site.

Additionally, if you really chose to get into the weeds with the program, rather than just blocking you from the site, it will actually show text that reminds you of what you are supposed to be doing at the time. So it’s kind of a neat little app. Of course you can turn this off and turn it on. It’s not like you are going to download Timewarp and you’ll never be able to access Facebook, or Twitter, or your other social media feeds, but it does help keep you focused. And, if you are anything like me, where focus can sometimes be a bit of a struggle, it helps kind of streamline what you are setting out to do in the perhaps limited amount of time that you have.


BETH: I think that would also be helpful for people who unconsciously go to those sites so they don’t even think about it, but they are automatically opening up Facebook or Twitter, or something, and they don’t even realize it until the Timewarp app blocks them from doing so.


BRIAN: Absolutely. And I think particularly for students that are working on a limited time. A lot of students just got back from a 40-hour job, just fed their families, put their kids to bed, and they’re working in the evenings. And, if you only have a limited amount of time, you’ve got to try to make the most of that as you possibly can.


BETH: Right. So make that time as productive as possible.


BRIAN: Exactly.


BETH: All right. So the next apps we are going to talk about are less general-use and focus more on organization and ways to help you think about your writing and writing a paper specifically, right Brian?


BRIAN: That’s correct. Yeah.


BETH: So what’s the first one you have for us?


BRIAN: The one that I think is really interesting is Instagrok.


BETH: What does that help students do?


BRIAN: Well it’s a really cool tool to kind of help understand what’s related to your topic, at least initially. So, for instance, you can go to Instagrok (it’s at I N S T A G R O K .com, It will provide a little search prompt for you. You can type in something like “public education,” and “public education” will show up in this little bubble. Then outside of this bubble other sorts of topics or related interests will kind of float around this bubble of “public education,” which is really kind of neat because it gets you to understand what topics are related to what you are interested in writing about. It might help you kind of brainstorm as far as how you want to proceed. One thing, certainly, that I’d like to point out is this isn’t a scholarly resource, by any means. You are not going to be doing research via Instagrok, certainly. But it will kind of help you start generating ideas of what’s related to your interests.


BETH: So students who might be having trouble starting a paper or not even knowing what to write about, what topic to look at, or sort of what angle to look at for a particular topic, they might use Instagrok to generate ideas and brainstorm and things like that.


BRIAN: Absolutely. And the other thing that’s really cool about it is that, for instance, when I said that, let’s say, your searching for “public education,” let’s say, that one of the bubbles that gets highlighted after you type in “public education” is “principals.” Well you can go ahead and click on “principals,” and that will open up another sort of mind map. What are the topics related to “principals?” So you can kind of dig around, play around, and figure out what you want to write about, what holds your interest, and what other things you might want to explore about that particular subject.


BETH: And does Instagrok let you create your own mind map, or does it just create mind maps for you?


BRIAN: It just generates its own mind map. I will say that there is a lot of mind-mapping software out there, so if you just, even, do a simple Google search looking for mind-mapping software, you’ll find it pretty easily, and then you can create your own mind maps once you have a better idea of what you are looking to explore.


BETH: I can imagine the visual aspect of having Instagrok create that mind map for you would be really helpful for visual learners and the people who, you know, see things very spatially.


BRIAN: Oh, I would think so. I would think so, definitely. Great point.


BETH: So, besides Instagrok, do you have any other organizational apps or tools that students can use?


BRIAN: I do! Probably the best recommendation I can give is Evernote. I really, really like Evernote. I started using it about a year-and-a-half ago. You can easily sign up for a free account on Evernote. And I’d also just suggest the Google extension, Evernote Clipper. What’s really, really nice about it is while you are searching the Internet, trying to find resources or really anything online, you can “clip” it, and it will save it to a larger personal database. So, it’s a little bit like bookmarking, but with bookmarking, of course, you just kind of end up with this laundry list of resources that you’ve bookmarked. With Evernote, you can actually search through anything that you’ve “clipped,” which is great. So, I could collect a handful of resources and if I remember, you know, one of the resources I remember saying “X, Y, and Z.” I can type in “X, Y, and Z” into the search engine, and it will actually find all the articles that happen to mention it, which is fabulous. It’s a great way to take notes.

You can also tag some of your notes that you put on there as well. So, for instance, if you were doing a search for a particular subject, and you knew that it was going to go in your first paragraph, maybe, of your current assignment, you could “tag” it as “first paragraph” and tag other resources as “first paragraph,” and make sure that when you search for “first paragraph” in Evernote that only those are the resources that come up. So it’s a nice way to kind of organize everything and keep it all collectively together and searchable.


BETH: So it sounds like Evernote works as both a bookmarking tool to keep track of useful resources, but also a way to take notes and keep track of the research you are doing for your different, you know, assignments and things like that. Does that sound accurate?


BRIAN: That is accurate, and I’m really glad you brought that up. Occasionally, when I go to national faculty meetings – Beth, I know you’ve been to the national faculty meeting a handful of times – I’ll keep all my notes from the national faculty meeting in Evernote. That way I don’t have a sheet of paper that I’m going to inevitably lose. But it will keep it in Evernote, and anytime that I am searching for something, again, it will not only pull up, let’s say, articles that are related, but my own personal notes, which is great. I can start seeing kind of ways that my notes interact with maybe some article that I recently read from the Chronicle of Higher Education.


BETH: And, one other thing I think that I saw—I was looking up Evernote online—was that Evernote is also cloud-based. You can download it to your computer, but you can also access it through a browser or on your mobile devices, right?


BRIAN: That’s right. I bring my phone everywhere with me, and I will write a few notes, let’s say, if I am in a meeting and didn’t bring my laptop. Or if I’m just kind of out and about and have an idea, I will put it on my iPhone on Evernote, and then when I’m back in the office here in Minneapolis, when I open up my laptop, sure enough, that note is still part of that same searchable database that we have both been referencing.


BETH: So I can imagine that would be really helpful for students who might be taking notes or writing or doing research at work on their lunch break, or once they get home, or maybe when they are travelling, or even when they are out at residency or something like that.


BRIAN: Yeah, great point. I mean it’s an immediate go-to. Any time you have an idea, you go ahead and put it in Evernote, and you know exactly where it is later – it’s just in one, central place.


BETH: And do you know, can you attach or include pdf’s, pictures, hyperlinks, those kinds of things in Evernote? Or is it just text-based?


BRIAN: No, you can even, like you said, any sort of attachment that you can think of, you can link it. I just recently linked it with my Microsoft Outlook, so I can actually “Evernote”—if this makes sense— “Evernote” my e-mails. So any sort of e-mail that I might have that I want to save in later reference, I can put that in Evernote, and, again, still part of the same searchable database.


BETH: Evernote as a verb. Yeah, let’s do it.

So, I think we have time for one last app. What would be your suggestion, Brian?


BRIAN: You know, we’ve talked about some very practical apps. We’ve also talked about some apps that are for kind of organizing maybe before writing or something that you are going to pull from in order to start writing. But one of the apps, or, I guess more specifically, websites, that I think students would find useful is called the OneLook Reverse Dictionary. What the OneLook Reverse Dictionary is, if you can’t find the right word, but you know how to describe it in a potentially very length way, and you find that kind of cumbersome to put into your paper, what you can do is describe what the thing is you are trying to talk about. Put it right into OneLook Reverse Dictionary, and OneLook Reverse Dictionary will actually spit out a number of suggestions as to how you could refer to perhaps this very complicated, basically what you are trying to describe. So it helps you with your clarity. It helps with your brevity. You can make sure that you are not rambling. Perhaps as I am doing right now.


BETH: That makes a lot of sense, Brian, because sometimes I think we know what we want to talk about, or we know that there is a word that we are looking for, but we can’t quite grab that word. And I think, particularly for students who are maybe new to the field, they maybe have heard the word, and they know it’s out there, but they are not sure what it is. That may be a useful tool for them and in their writing.


BRIAN: Yeah, I would think so.


BETH: All right. So, Brian, do you have any last thoughts? It looks like we are out of time for the podcast today. So, anything that you would like to leave our listeners with?


BRIAN: I don’t think so, Beth. I mean, the only thing that I would say is just another reminder that, while we’d love to be able to support these sorts of apps and tools, we just aren’t able to. But, of course, we are always interested in learning from students what are their sort of time management tools. What sort of apps do they use for writing? That’s always really exciting to me, especially as things pop up almost on a daily basis.


BETH: Yeah. So, if you have used these apps or have other suggestions for time-saving apps that help you in your writing, make sure to let us know in the comments of the blog post for the podcast.

Thanks, Brian, for joining us today.


BRIAN: Thanks. This has been really fun.


BETH: Thanks for listening, everyone. We hope that these apps will help save you time in your writing and make that writing time more productive.

Tune in May 1st for our next episode.


[Closing music]


BETH: This podcast is a production of the Walden University Writing Center. This episode was produced by Beth Nastachowski, Brian Timmerman, and Anne Shiell.