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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 Scientific Writing

By Raymond L. Powis, Ph.D. *

February 2000


Introduction

Scientific 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.

And out of the sciences emerge technologies that require their own form of writing. Common to all these complex writing areas, however, is the need for conciseness, clarity, and accuracy. The route to these three writing skills is the juxtaposition of ideas for all who read and use the information. This complex audience means it is not always easy to come up with the right presentation. Software technology, however, now provides an easy way to sort ideas using the graphics and flexibility of the personal computer. The tool is called Writer's Blocks™.... This white paper is an introduction to using Writer's Blocks™ (WB) for scientific writing.

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Thinking in 3X5s

Our first 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™

The WB 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

You can 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.

Cluster Diagram

You can follow up the presentation with graphic links between the central block and each associated block. You can expand each of the associated blocks by adding blocks to them, which lets you detail the information down to the level you require. As the blocks increase in number, the subsequent cluster may become larger than the printed page. In this eventuality, WB provides tiled printing that automatically sets the overlaps among the pages. Linking lines among the blocks can directly show their connection. Alternatively, you can display these connections by using different colors to tie associated blocks together. Later, when you layout the presentation sequence, the colors and columns will show the natural clustering of ideas within the presentation.


Managing References

One of 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.


Summary

Writer's 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.


References

* 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.

1. Rico, G. L., Writing the Natural Way. J. B. Tarcher, Inc., Los Angeles, CA., 1983.