Oct 292015

I am in year two of my PhD program, and am enjoying the process, learning, and exploration so far. Yes, I am only a little over half way with the coursework, but that is a great place. I was thinking, however, about what advice I would give to someone just starting his / her PhD. What books/resources would I recommend?

I came the realization that I would not recommend any books of content at this point, but two books on process. The first book is one that I have used heavily and it has saved me hours (literally, not figuratively) on formatting APA papers. The book is, “Doing your dissertation with Microsoft Word.


Why do I recommend this book to anyone starting a PhD? Because it walks you through step by step on how to create a template in Word that will contain every single element of APA formatting. Have a Header 1? Write the text and click the style for Header 1. It is that easy. It took me several hours and much tweaking to get it finally right, but when I go to write a paper now, I load the template, and BOOM! I am ready to write. I have all the APA formatting done in Styles, I have a page (that I delete before printing) that has definitions of the Styles, and all settings are done. All I worry about is text. This book has saved me so much time over the last three semesters.

The next book I would recommend is “Stylish academic writing” by Helen Sword.


This is a quantitative and qualitative (a mixed methods design) study of good and very bad academic writing made me take a hard look at my own writing, but also not fall into the trap of jargon and technical writing. Write with style, write with intent, and write so other people will want to read your writing.

Finally, I offer one piece of software to use: Zotero.


You can use Mendeley, or Endnote, or any one of the other packages, but use a citation manager ASAP in your studies. I started using Zotero right away, and it has made such a difference in the ease of writing, the ease of citations, and the management of my PDF’s and notes. Best of all, installing and using Zotero is free (unless you use the online storage option and exceed 300 megs of storage. More on that below.)

You can have folders and subfolders for your citations and PDF’s, and a citation can be in many folders at once, or in no folder. It can be tagged, categorized, searched, and using the Word add-in inserted into the inline and bibliographic citation with one click.

zotero2 (click to see full size)

The PDF’s are attached, notes are kept together with the citation (and the notes are searchable as well) and it takes one click to add most citations to the database.

This little piece of software has saved me hours as well. It is not perfect, you have to double check to make sure the Sentence case vs. Title case was done correctly. You have to double check to make sure the PDF was downloaded (sometimes it doesn’t download and you need to save and drag and drop it to be included.)

I ended up paying for the the 2 gig option. This was $20 for 1 year. 6 gigs is $60 and unlimited storage is $120. To give you some idea, I had 330ish citations in my database, probably 300 of them with PDF’s attached when I ran out of room on the free account. I end up hoarding the PDF’s and the citations, so if you are not a digital hoarder, you could probably go longer before needing to pay.

These three items have made being a PhD student enjoyable, fun, and much less work than the first or second time I was a grad student. I don’t stress over citations, I just double check them. I don’t stress over formatting, because I know the Styles I created are correct to the APA version I need.

I DO stress over writing. But isn’t that what I am supposed to stress over?

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