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Tools That Helped Me Write My Research Proposal

Sara General


Last week was hectic. I finished writing a first draft of my research proposal and while there is still more to do (extra reading, revisions, line by line edits of my references), I’m happy with what I have. I’ve learned A LOT. Academic writing is a very different kind of writing than my creative writing. Even so, I can see some similarities in the creation and editing processes. They also both have unique structures that you need to follow to best convey the research story/creative story that you're telling. 

I’m fortunate to have a helpful and experienced supervisor who has provided valuable guidance and support around how these documents are written. It’s certainly helped to clarify the process. It’s also helped that there are other students they've supervised whose work I’ve been able to read and learn from as well. But there are other tools that have been really important for me specifically that I wanted to mention here, for those of my family and friends that are going to be writing their own dissertations in the future. 

The first one is Mendeley. Mendeley is citation management software and wow; I know there are other software programs that you can use—but I can hardly believe I made it through a year and a half of my program without Mendeley. It’s amazing. It allows you to save your references, PDFs of relevant articles, make notes, highlight, and export bibliographies (although you still need to go through it to make sure the bibliography is formatted correctly). It’s incredible. It also has an iOS app and since I work primarily between my Macbook, my iPad and my phone, this was a big part of what motivated me to choose it over other citation management software. I wish I’d had it sooner. Seriously. Students starting your doctoral programs (or master’s programs)—do yourself a favour and choose your citation management software early if you haven't already. I'm also very grateful to my school for creating this table comparing a few other services. It was what helped me decide on Mendeley:

The other tool I’ve found to be invaluable once again, is Scrivener. I used to have folders upon folders of notes for various classes or papers. I still have multiple physical notebooks I use for school. Scrivener allows you to keep all those notes/notebooks in one file. While I actually did my research proposal in Word because Mendeley has a Word plug-in (but not a Scrivener one), I still did a lot of my drafting in and imported my Word files into Scrivener. (And then backed those up onto other storage devices and emailed them to myself. I don’t know how many back-ups you realistically need, but I’m erring on the side of caution because quite honestly, it’s a ton of work to have to repeat if the worst case scenario were to happen). 

And last but not least, something that has helped me so much and which I am so grateful for is other researchers. I’ve chosen to conduct my study using Indigenous research methodology and Indigenous research methods. In some ways, this can still be difficult because other research methods, though grounded in Western ways of thinking, are better known. But my research is interested in exploring how organizations in my community can work together to revitalize Indigenous languages. There were certainly other methods I could have used to explore my research question but this one was the best fit by far and thanks to other researchers building bridges and blazing trails, it is a viable option for me. Here are a few books that helped me work through and gather confidence to choose this research method.


A few weeks ago, I told my husband that I felt like all the reading I was doing was changing how I thought about things. I had a deeper appreciation of the nature and process of collaboration. I had a deeper desire to speak our languages. I was thinking about things more intently. And while this learning is awesome—it’s also been happening amidst a backdrop of stress. Our daughters have had colds. We’ve had colds. The laundry has piled up. It has seemed at times like I was going to be in perpetual catch-up mode from last year when we were trying to move and get settled in our new house. It’s hard at times to remind me that THIS. IS. THE. POINT. The living of the journey. Not the perfect abstract or the perfect research proposal. Not the perfectly kept house or the perfect day. It's how to find the good in every day, the good in right now. I want to be alive and healthy and aware and happy in all of the things that I do. Art is one of the things that continues to bring those reminders home and I have to admit—I’m not entirely sure why. But I accept it and I’m grateful of it. So the picture featured at the top of this blog is the little piece I worked on after all the intensity of the research proposal. After almost two weeks of not making any new art, I just wanted to work on and finish a little project. I filmed the making of this piece and put it up on my Youtube channel. I also did a little time lapse video of it that you can see here. It's called, “The Ivory Tower”. 

Happy creating everyone!