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As the following paper illustrates, Writer's Blocks is useful for all kinds of non-fiction work, including scientific writing.
Using Writer's Blocks for
By Raymond L. Powis, Ph.D. *
writing today ranges from letters to the editor to detailed text books
with a seemingly endless supply of topics. Meanwhile, medical writing
is losing its exclusive medical community readership. Increasingly,
lay people are participating in their own medical decisions, based on
their own readings of the medical literature.
(Click image for full size screen Shot)
Thinking in 3X5s
experience at collecting and correlating information with references
was most likely the traditional high school or college thesis.
Collecting, sorting, and referencing ideas stressed the use of 3X5
inch cards. Each card contains one idea, quote, fact or concept and
its source. Dividing the information onto individual cards lets you
easily shuffle the cards and thereby the ideas to look for the right
combination. If you had multiple ideas from a single source, you could
use a number to identify the source on each card. Using WB you can
electronically do the same thing.
The Functional Organization of Writer's Blocks
screen presentation consists of blocks and columns, just as if you
were organizing cards on a large table. Both blocks and columns can be
labeled independently. The blocks function as electronic 3X5 cards,
which you fill with information. Indeed, the software even permits
printing the contents of each block onto a 3X5 card, a useful output
if you still want to physically shuffle the cards or use them as
presentation notes. The blocks are freely moveable among and within
columns. The program lets you automatically center the display on any
selected block and position any block within any column, which makes
organizing sections of a scientific paper both fast and easy. The
organization begins by setting up the columns as the scientific paper
sections or chapters of a book. For a scientific paper, the column
titles might be: Introduction, Methods and Materials, Experimental
Protocol, Results, Discussion, and finally References.
Clustering Ideas into Groups
often hasten discovering the natural pattern among concepts with a
cluster diagram (1). This technique centers on presenting a graphical
association of concepts rather than a linear list of names that
carries an inherent hierarchy. WB provides a simple means of making
cluster diagrams on the computer. The technique begins by opening a
new file and moving block 1 to the center of the page. You can easily
locate the center of the page by showing the columns in a print
preview and moving the block appropriately. This block contains the
central concept. You can then add a new block for each associated
idea, placing each of these blocks around the central block.
the unique features of scientific writing is the use of references to
establish the connections between the current writing and previous
publications. Whether your references number one or several hundred.
You can set up separate columns just for references or further
organize your references by linking them to specific sections of the
presentation. Again, these links can be expressed with graphic lines,
reference numbers, or colors associated with sections represented in
the column labels. Some simple experimentation will reveal the method
most suitable for you and your task. Once a reference is set up within
a block, that block can be copied from one WB file into another.
Indeed, all of the individual elements and organization can be
transferred from one file to another, which streamlines constructing
secondary or follow up papers.
Blocks is a relatively new software tool that can hasten the
organization and writing of scientific and technical literature. By
using an electronic format that replicates the traditional use of 3X5
cards, Writer's Blocks taps directly into the experience most of us
have had writing scientific and technical articles and books.
* Raymond L. Powis, Ph.D., Fellow of American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, has worked for over 20 years in the diagnostic ultrasound industry, authoring many papers and books focusing on understanding ultrasound science and technology. Dr. Powis has worked for most of the major ultrasound companies and helped develop the first color flow imaging technology. Some of his publications include Ultrasound Physics for the fun of it; A Thinker's Guide to Ultrasonic Imaging; and Practical Doppler Ultrasound for the Clinician.