Leveraging Twitter

First off, I want to welcome everyone back to DIY Ivory Tower. You might have noticed that the blog went on a brief hiatus during the late fall. My dissertation and the job market kept me quite busy during the past few months. Now that I’ve got another chapter drafted and a large pile of letters off to search committees, I have time once again to devote to DiYiT. Now on to the post…

Twitter LogosReturning home from the annual American Historical Association conference a few weeks ago, I found that one of my most important post-conference chores was the addition of dozens of scholars, editors, archivists, and librarians to my Twitter feed. During the conference I used Twitter extensively and for a variety of different purposes. And I wasn’t alone. All tolled, Twitter users sent over 4,200 messages about the AHA meeting to the public micro-blogging service during the conference. And since then another 500 or so tweets have rolled in as conversations begun during the conference have continued on Twitter. Given the value of all that tweeting, I thought it might be a good idea to put together a post describing the basic uses of Twitter by academics.

If you are completely unfamiliar with Twitter, I suggest that you check out this PDF describing the basics of Twitter put together by the Public Policy Group of the London School of Economics and Political Science. If you are familiar enough with the service to understand terminology like “tweeting” and “following,” then we can get right down to business.

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Use an Unfamiliar Font for Better Editing

Mmmmm FontsNot to long ago I read a post over at Lifehacker suggesting that changing the font of a document improves your ability to edit it. The logic being that a new font will give you a fresh look at the document. Having just wrapped up a 60-page dissertation chapter, I thought I’d give it a shot.

Typically when I’ve finished a piece of writing I do an onscreen edit and then a printed edit. Finally, after taking a day or so away from the document if possible, I do another printed edit. Usually there are many more steps in that process, but that is the very simplified version. With the chapter I just finished I changed the font for that final printed edit from Times New Roman to Comic Sans MS because it was different enough from the original without being hard to read.

And I have to say that the change in font seemed to help. Obviously I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t have caught the errors that I did using the original font. But it certainly seemed like some types of problems stood out more clearly because I wasn’t simply running my eyes over text they had seen many times over.

The technique seemed most helpful for the types of errors that hide in plain sight. I caught misplaced or missing apostrophes, words that were supposed to be deleted at some point but managed to hang around, and words left in the wrong order after some earlier edit changed the flow of the sentence.

Most of all, I think the font change highlighted problems with the little ubiquitous words that our brains take for granted. The third sentence of my very first paragraph began with the phrase, “According to President Jefferson’s specific instructions….” In none of my previous edits had I noticed that the sentence actually read, “According President Jefferson’s specific instructions….”  In all previous readings, some of which were done out-loud, my mind simply assumed that a “to” was where it needed to be.

In the end, I’m thankful that I caught the mistakes and I’m happy to recommend this little piece of advice. Happy editing!

Use Your Point-and-Shoot Digital Camera as Document Scanner

Rosie by ((carola)) on flickrDespite the promises made by children’s cartoons and most works of science fiction we continue to endure life without personal jetpacks, flying cars, robotic housemaids named Rosie, and an exhaustive and fully digitized record of human knowledge. And while there’s not much advice I can offer to get you any closer to those first three goals, I’m pretty certain that you’ve got the tools at your disposal to digitize any document or publication you can get your hands on.

You might assume that the proper tool for this kind of work would be a flatbed scanner. For a while that was definitely true. These days, however, your digital camera can almost certainly handle the job. Yes, even that point-and-shoot camera that you bought years ago to take on vacations and photograph your cat for her very own blog. I use my camera all the time to photograph manuscript material at archives and sections of books or articles that I can’t or don’t want to lug home from libraries. Continue reading

Get a Better View of the Web with Readability

Each day we all do a great deal of reading on the web. Along with blog posts like this one, you’ll probably plow through some news articles and maybe even some research publications before turning your attention elsewhere. Unfortunately, much of this content resides on web pages ill-suited for actually conveying information. Many web sites with news content, for instance, have been designed not to show you news, but, instead, to show you advertising. These sites also inundate you with links to their other content in the hopes that you’ll browse around a while. Readability strips away all of that clutter and presents the content you desire in a format designed for one thing, reading. Continue reading