UCLan (University of Central Lancashire) provides some excellent advice and tutorials on how to prepare and format assignments for submission. But of course, being the techie that I am, I thought there must be a better way.
In a nutshell, the UCLan way is to prepare and submit your assignments using Microsoft Word, either on a Mac or a PC. I have a Mac personally, but the uni provides access to both through the library.
One of the key aspects of assignment writing is to avoid plagiarism by making sure I fully reference any source material I use, and the uni helps in this by providing an online referencing software called RefWorks, which has direct links to the library catalogue, making it simple to build up a list of reference material. Then, what is supposed to happen, is that when you need to cite a reference in Word, you install a free add-on from RefWorks that allows a one-click insertion. Only problem is that, at least on my Mac, it crashes every time I try.
That is one issue, the other one for me is that Word, whilst a great word-processor is not ideal when working on longer documents. Enter two pieces of software from Literature and Latte; Scrivener and Scapple.
Scrivener is, in essence, a document layout product. As they put it, “Scrivener is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. While it gives you complete control of the formatting, its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft.”
And, that is an accurate description, it allows me to concentrate on getting my ideas down in writing and leave the formatting and presentation to later, which it can either do itself or it can export to other products, including Word.
Scapple is, to my mind, a brainstorming tool, allowing me to ‘jot down’ ideas as and when they occur and decide on the links (if any) later. Again, the companies description sums it up well, “Scapple is an easy-to-use tool for getting ideas down as quickly as possible and making connections between them. It isn’t exactly mind-mapping software—it’s more like a freeform text editor that allows you to make notes anywhere on the page and to connect them using straight dotted lines or arrows. If you’ve ever scribbled down ideas all over a piece of paper and drawn lines between related thoughts, then you already know what Scapple does.”
It is the sum of the two products that works especially well for me, as I enter the layout of my assignments in Scrivener, then jump into Scapple to brainstorm, place the Scapple document into the reference section of Scrivener, before starting to properly draft my answers in Scrivener.
How does this all work with RefWorks? Directly it doesn’t. However, RefWorks allows me to click a button which generates an appropriate (we use Harvard) reference for insertion into Scrivener. Then once finished, I can quickly generate a bibliography from RefWorks and paste this into a section of Scrivener, which will then compile the finished document.
If this seems complicated, it isn’t, because once setup the same format can be used for every assignment saving work in future.