Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Damn You, Microsoft Word

This post can help you avoid the tears and/or pure fury
associated with some problems in Microsoft Word.

Since we've been talking about revamping CVs, the next logical step would be discussing what happens when you try to make neat little columns in Word. You know, you have the job that you had on the left of the line, all neatly lined up, and then you want the date you worked all the way on the right.

Something like this....

Research Assistant for Dr. Joe Schmoe, "Intro to Brain Surgery"

Fall 2008Research Assistant for Dr. Jane Main, "Underwater Basketweaving"

Spring 2008

(ironically, in blogger, I can't put them on the same line...but you get the idea)

You'll want "Research Assistant" flush against the left margin, and "Fall 2008" on the same line, flush right.

So you manually space the date all the way to the right margin, and it looks great!

Until you print it out. And for some reason, all the dates are slightly off, so it looks something like this:

Fall 2008


Spring 2009

And it is maddening.

And then you try to make columns, and suddenly, words are jumping all over the page in every place but where you want them...

Research Assistant for Dr. Joe Schmoe, "Intro to Brain Surgery"

Fall 2008

Research Assistant for Dr. Jane Main, "Underwater Basketweaving"

Spring 2008

You start fiddling around with it, get evil messages like "The number must be between 1 and 45," and the stuff you want on the right column is still on the left no matter how many times you hit return, and you scream,


So here's help.

How to Make Columns

If you need one thing on the line to be justified left, and one thing on the line to be justified right, the solution you need is to put the text into columns.

Highlight the text, then go up to "Format" and select "Columns." From there, you can choose if you want 2 or 3 columns. But what if your left hand column needs to be bigger, to fit more text, and your right hand column just tiny, for dates only? Well, funny you should ask...

How to Make Columns Different Sizes

1) Go up to the top of the screen, where it says "Format." Open the pull-down box.

2) Click on "Columns."

3) Deselect the check box that says "Equal Columns Width."

4) Now you can change the width of the boxes.

Formatting problems can seem so meaningless and small...
and yet insanely frustrating

How to Get the Stupid Column Things to Work

When the Words Are Bouncing All Over the Place

1) Put everything into 1 column first. Highlight the body of the text that you want in columns. Don’t highlight empty lines above or below text.

2) Go up to "Format."

3) Click on "Columns."

4) Choose either 1, 2, or 3 columns, or Left (2 different sized columns, with the one on the left being shorter / thinner than the one on the right) or Right (shorter on right)

5) Now once your text is in columns, put the cursor where you want the first column to end.

6) Go up to "Insert."

7) Get the pulldown menu and select "Break..."

8) Click on "Column Break"

9) Put the Column Break in at the end of Column 1!

Work-Arounds for the Problem of Merging Files

Recently, a dissertator wrote to the Writing Center, desperate for help:

"This is a formatting problem: when I put all my chapters together into one document, I got some dotted lines which, no matter how hard I try, I can not remove. They look like page breaks or something. Please help!"

The matter of whether or not to save individual chapters as individual word document files or to merge them into one big file has come up in the Dissertation Workshop before. Because this problem happens from time to time, here are some suggestions that might be useful:

1) You might consider not merging all the files into one file. One woman in the Dissertation Workshop who just passed her defense mentioned that she never merged her files into one file. What she did was save all the chapters as their own files, then she used the page function in Microsoft Word to get the pagination correct.

For example, say Chapter 1 is 32 pages long. Then you'd go into Chapter 2 and tell Microsoft Word to number the pages, starting with 33. It may be a little cumbersome, but if you're pulling your hair out over

2) Try talking to someone in IT at the Help Desk. Help Desk -, or toll free at (800) 630-8893, local number (909) 621-8174 or 18174 on campus. Sunny (Training Manager, is really helpful!

3) Have you talked to Edris Stuebner, the Registrar? Even if she can't help you specifically with this problem, you'll have to meet her anyway when you're ready to submit, so may as well stop by. She might be able to refer you to someone else who can help.

4) Have you tried printing out a dotted-line section to see if it only appears on-screen? It's possible that they're just showing on screen but won't print.

Still Need Help?

If you're still having a problem, please don't e-mail the Writing Center about tech issues. We don't know either!

You might try posting your tech problem on Yahoo Answers. Surprisingly, tech questions on there are often answered within minutes.

If any of you have run across solutions that have helped you in Microsoft Word, please post 'em!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Interfolio Planetary, Planetary Interfolio!

Mailbox in front of the Claremont Post Office

(If the title of this entry makes you need to hear the Beastie Boys, here's the link!)

Now that hiring season is upon several of us, it is a good time to start thinking about ways to organize your application documents and promote yourself as a candidate.

When she came and talked to our group, Jackee Engles from Career Management mentioned Interfolio as one option for preparing your job applications. And with Philip Clayton returning to speak to our group about CVs next meeting, it seems like an appropriate time to discuss Interfolio.

So what is Interfolio? What does it do? What does it cost? Should you try it?

That's what today's post is all about!

I joined Interfolio last night to gather information for the group and see how I like its functionality. It's too soon for me to know yet how much I like it, but here is the initial information you might want to get started.

The breakdown:

Where do I find it?

How much does it cost? $19 for 1 year, $40 for 3 years, $57 for 5 years. Fees for sending individual documents based on pages and mailing (priority, overnight, overnight express)

Doesn't our school offer a free service? Nope. The service our school recommends is Interfolio.

Why would I need it for more than a year? In case you don't find a job during this round, in case you go on the market again, or in case you get a good "starter" job, but want to move on to something else.

What's it do? Holds all of your documents in one place (letters of rec, transcripts, statements of teaching philosophy, etc.) and will mail them or e-mail them for you when you ask it to! (for a cost, of course)

Of course, you could store your documents yourself...

Does it do anything else? It currently has an online portfolio webpage system in beta testing, which is sort of like your own website where you can advertise whatever you do. Because it is in beta testing, it has some quirks (for example, not being able to change font size, links to enlarge pictures not working). But it's also FREE at the moment (when you subscribe to interfolio's dossier service)

Click here to see a sample portfolio page to see what it looks like.

It's a little buggy at the moment, but once they get the kinks ironed out, it should be a really fantastic tool. When it goes live, they will charge for it, so it would be advantageous to get on and try it now while its free.

How does it work? You upload your documents and you send requests to your letter writers to upload their docs. When you're ready to send off applications, you click on which documents get sent where, in what form, and how fast you want them to go (you can pay for expedited service, tracking, etc. if you need to.)

What if I'm a technophobe? What if my letter writers are computer illiterate? You can send documents to interfolio by mail as well. The interface on the system (so far as I can tell) is very basic - only a few buttons to choose from, very clearly designed.

Will it look as nice as it would if I did it myself? What about university letterhead? This is something I'm still waiting to see. Since your letter writers can still send interfolio letters by mail, it would seem that the letterhead would be scanned as well. And at the end of the day, the weight of paper or the precision paperclipping that you do probably does not matter that much - certainly not as much as having all of your applications materials in order, presented together, and submitted on time. If you are particularly paranoid about paper, you could use interfolio for most of your applications, and then do the most important, long-shot application by hand. Interfolio could save you a lot of time on applications, allowing you to just focus on your #1 job.

What if I still have more questions? Their help page is here.

If you have any experiences with Interfolio or tips that you'd like to share, please leave a comment. Happy job hunting!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Boot Camps for the Fall

Come on by the Writing Center on Tuesday, Sept. 15, from 3-6 for our Open House!

Due to the overwhelming success of the Dissertation Boot Camp, the CGU Writing Center is proud to offer not one, but two more Boot Camps for the fall semester!

That's right! More coffee, more yoga, more real-determined-people-typing-like-demons on a weekend morning!

The next boot camp will be:

Saturday, October 3rd and Sund
ay, October 4th

You can come for one or both days. To register for the boot camp, please stop by the Writing Center and bring a $50 deposit check, which will be returned to you when you come to the boot camp.

Due to the size of the Writing Center and to help foster a tight-knit sense of community over the weekend, the boot camp is limited to 12 people. Because there are far more people who want to participate than we have room for, it is really important that those who sign up come - which is why this time we are requesting a deposit to hold your place.

If for some reason you cannot attend either day, as long as you notify the Writing Center by 9 a.m. Friday, October 2nd, you will receive your deposit check back. Otherwise, your $50 will be used to buy more giant pencils for the Writing Center. (kidding?)

The Writing Center's entry in Claremont's 2009 4th of July parade

If you can't come to this boot camp or it fills up before you can sign up, don't worry! There's another one scheduled for the winter:

Saturday, December 12th and Sunday, December 13th

Hope to see you there!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Conducting Interviews

In addition to his many talents, Bennett McClellan is a raw food chef
and has shared his delectable creations with our workshop.
Photo courtesy of Raw Food Chef.

Today's guest blogger is Bennett McClellan, member of our workshop and soon-to-be CGU Ph.D. in Management. Bennett was kind enough to type up his thoughts and processes for conducting interviews for his dissertation research:

Tips for Getting Interviews Done

Here are some of the ideas I’m using to complete the 40 interviews I need as primary research for my dissertation:

1. Get a big (wall) calendar and decide how much time you need to get all of the interviews done. I need to complete forty interviews. If I do one interview per weekday, I will need 8 weeks total. I decided I needed about two months. August and September. I will try to compress my interviews, front load them into August so that September becomes a safety month. But my goal is one interview per day for eight weeks. The math works.

2. Block out a period for each day you intend to work that you will commit to the interview process. Let’s say you committed Mondays through Wednesdays, 9 am to 1 pm, for interviews. Even If you do not book an interview in this time, you will work on some aspect of interviewing during this period. This will include looking for contacts, sending out emails, making phone calls to schedule interviews, editing notes, abstracting data, or sending thank you letters. Something. For the entire period you have committed. No carving around the edges. Potty breaks only!

3. Draft all the solicitation materials and thank you materials you need to set up and follow up with the interviews. This includes an abstract of your proposal, a consent form, a brief email summary of what you want, a thank you letter, etc. (Some of this needs to go to IRB as well.) You will simply cut and paste these materials as you need them. Resist the temptation to edit or modify each message for your intended recipient.

4. Enlist a “lap coach” to whom you will report progress daily. This person is not your academic advisor and is NOT your spouse. Just someone who kind of understands what you are trying to do and who can say “why not?” if you don’t get it done or “good job!” if you do. And whose nudging will not piss you off after 5 weeks of interviews.

* * * * *

“Enlist a 'lap coach' to whom you will report progress daily.”

- Bennett McClellan on accountability

* * * * *

5. Make a report each day at the end of the day to your lap coach. What did you get DONE that day? Don’t go into what you did not get done. Do not mention excuses. The reports look like this: “Dear Lap Coach: 5 people called, 1 interview completed, two interviews scheduled, 1 note edited. Thank you for keeping me honest!” That’s it.

6. If you have a friend, spouse, research assistant, or someone willing to take on the task of scheduling interviews, this will save you an ENORMOUS amount of time. You provide the contact list, the texts for solicitation, and the windows of opportunity on your interview schedule. It helps to set up a separate email address so that interview scheduling is the only thing that comes and goes to this address. Then you give your scheduler control of your interview schedule. You do NOT change the interview schedule to accommodate your whimsy. That privilege is reserved for those you interview. Your scheduler must feel in control of your time. Otherwise, it’s why bother?

7. Give your interview schedule lots of room at the edges. I’m happy if I complete one interview a day. I’m in heaven if I complete two. And I’m in hell if I complete three. Really! Each interview takes about a dozen email exchanges to set up, moves about 2.5 times, and takes about 6 hours from “Hello” filed as “Interview Complete”. You need to leave room at the margins.

* * * * *

“I'm happy if I complete one interview a day. I'm in heaven if I complete two. And I'm in hell if I complete three.”

- Bennett McClellan, on the need to build time into your schedule

* * * * *

8. Finish each interview note the day you have the interview. Yes, I know you will remember every detail of every conversation for the rest of your life. But you won’t remember much of anything about the last interview once you finish the next interview. Get each note done NOW! And if not NOW, then at 5 am the next morning before you take the next interview.

9. Make a completion chart for your wall. Like a big grid. Make a column for each of the important items you need to track (you can do this in Excel as well). Like Name, organization, phone number, email address, date you first contacted them, date & time the interview is scheduled, when you interview was actually completed, when the note was completed. This chart will help you track your progress. It’s also a great kick to see it fill up!

10. Plan celebrations at key milestones. One fourth of the way there. Half way there. Three fourths of the way there. Do this for interviews scheduled as well as for interviews completed. You have to do something to keep yourself going. This helps!

11. Buy a gift for your lap coach. Buy a gift for your scheduler. Thank these people profusely for helping you complete your interviews.

* * * * *

“Thank these people profusely for helping you complete your interviews.”

- Bennett McClellan

* * * * *

12. You now have the interviews in a binder (or electronic file, or whatever). Congratulations! Now get to work analyzing the data. You may want to keep your lap coach on the team for to keep your process on track as you report pages completed, chapters completed, etc. Having to be accountable to someone for your actions is a great way to keep yourself on track.

Thank you for the helpful tips, Bennett!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Writing 5 Pages a Week

Recently, my dissertation chair advised that I make 5 pages a week my writing goal. It's a pretty feasible number, so when you sit down to do it, you don't feel overwhelmed. At the same time, each time I set out to do it, I always end up writing beyond the 5 pages. So it's been a successful guide, so far.

I shared this with the group a few weeks ago, and now several others decided to give this a try as well.

Depending on what type of dissertation you are writing and what stage you are in, the "5 pages a week" goal can be modified to fit whatever you need. Tanya, for example, is reading many, many pages of testimony for her dissertation, so she suggested she might make a goal of how many witnesses a week to finish, or how many pages of testimony to read a week.

Another goal might be a time frame, for example, "I will write for 2 hours every day."

Try it out - pick a number of hours, or a number of pages, or even a number of paragraphs if you're really struggling.

How do you keep writing a certain amount consistently?

You say to yourself, "Every day, let's pretend like I know what I'm doing!" Jumping around to different parts of your dissertation is fine - there's no rule that says you have to write sequentially, and just about no one does.

You might start with an introduction, just to get your mind started. John started off with a fascinating quote to get himself motivated. You can always cut and paste it and put it elsewhere.

You might also try outlining to get started - outline section by section the whole dissertation, or just the particular chapter you want to work on.

John said that he recently met with his chair, who said, "No more outlines! Put it in writing!" So he wrote 5 pages at once, then used the rest of the week to tweak them.

Soomi also worked on a schedule, but used data sets as her measurement instead of pages.

So if you're at a stuck place and need to make some fake deadlines for yourself, try 5 pages a week and see what happens!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Your Questions, Problems, and Solutions

For today's post, the pictures speak for themselves. We had each group member write on the board a problem they've been wrestling with this week and then as a group we offered possible solutions.

Whether it's killing time on the internet, chowing down on chocolate, or struggling to organize chapters, you'd be surprised how much dissertators have in common.

Question: How do I stop playing internets? (grin)

  • Stop beating yourself up. The more you beat yourself up for killing time on the internet, the worse you'll feel, and the harder it will be to focus on your dissertation again.

  • Go to a cafe where there's no wireless.

  • Find the button on your laptop that turns the wireless off. TURN IT OFF!

  • If you're really serious about it, call your internet service provider and either turn your service off for a "vacation" or cancel it for good. (read: cold turkey)

  • Give yourself a designated time to check e-mail, etc. Then only check then. Stick to it.

  • Use the internet as a treat. "I will go on the net as a reward for finishing Chapter Two."

  • Set a timer with a buzzer. Then work until the timer goes off and you allow yourself some net time.

Question: How do I stop eating chocolate?

  • Figure out what's driving you to the chocolate. What's the payoff for you when you eat chocolate? If you can determine that, then you're more able to replace it with something else.

  • Try substituting gum or other chewy / crunchy foods for the chocolate.

  • Buy bite sizes of the chocolate, so it's easier to eat smaller portions and keep track of how much you are eating.

  • Drink water or tea instead.

  • Don't stop! If you're not gaining tons of weight and your teeth aren't falling out, are you really sure you need to stop the chocolate? Is it really doing you any harm? The dissertation really isn't the best time to make major life changes. You can always give up caffeine, chocolate, etc after you finish. It might be worthwhile for your stress levels and sanity to just let yourself have some vices during this time.

Question: How can I read faster?

  • Judge the book by its introduction. If you really don't like the intro, that can be a real indicator of the style of that author, the argument she is making, or the information in the book. You don't need to read every single page of every single book on your list. Consider moving on if you find a book that doesn't seem to be useful or accessible.

  • Determine what your goal for reading is before you begin.

  • Use the "cheap way" to read the book: Read the index, preface, table of contents, and chapter titles first. This will give you the big picture of the book. Then you can scan for the areas that are most important for your research. Remember, a good scholar knows what not to read. Don't waste time reading items that won't be useful for your purpose.

Question: How can I do the reading and writing at the same time?

  • One idea is to have your laptop out and spread your reading around you. Read for a bit, then go to the laptop to make notes, then read some more. You could do a synopsis of your reading or go into RefWorks and add notes on the material you're reading.
Question: What other verbs can I use?

  • Some professors will advise you to avoid jargon verbs, or recent trendy verbs or phrases, such as "to process" something (try "to reflect upon" instead) or "to unpack" (try "analyze" instead).

  • Use the list of "signal phrases" found in Diana Hacker's A Writer's Reference. You can find the information online, check out a copy at the library, or look at the copies at the CGU Writing Center (also available for checkout).

  • Try declare, explore, further, demonstrate, study, examine, identify, imply, theorize

Question: How do I force myself to write about x?

  • Ask yourself, "What don't I like about x? Why do I think x isn't the main point?" Be critical. This could lead you to the way you're going to talk about x.

  • Take the opposite position of how you feel, defend the opposite side. This can be a great writing exercise to start with.

  • Recognize that critical trends change over time. Maybe writing about x was really important in the past, but is it still that way now?

  • You might be the new Judith Butler or the new Edward Said of your field - meaning, the person who breaks from the critical tradition with a whole new way of looking at the topic. Give x a brief mention or nod in your text, but then go on to what you see as even more important. Create your own brand of critical theory as the scholar who does x...or not!

  • Footnote x.

  • Suck it up and write about x!

  • Eat more chocolate.

Question: I have the big roadmap of my dissertation, but how do I plan out the smaller, more detailed close-up map?

  • Write the subheadings and guides first, then write around them. For example, write your table of contents, list your chapter titles, create your headings and subheadings.

  • Figure out your sequence. Imagine that your dissertation is a short story or a novel. What's the climax of the story? Who's your main character? Then start writing right there. Kill all the backstory - only include what's essential to set up the climax, which is what your dissertation is about.

Question: How do I start writing when I'm stuck on the first chapter?

  • Try starting with your last chapter, which may help clarify where you end up. Once you know the end point, it may be easier to start the beginning.

  • Define the terms that you will be using, or your methodology.

You're Not Alone - Here are some of the members of our group!