A Dissertation/Thesis Writing Workflow You’ll Love. It Works. It Flows. [SHORTER VERSION]

[SHORTER VERSION OF THE POST. See detailed version here.]

April 16, 2014 Update: Please view this workflow PDF, check recent blog posts, and visit the Tools pages in this blog’s menu to see updates to my approach as I make them.

January 14, 2014 Update: I still largely use but have tweaked the workflow below. I share the tweaks at the detailed version of this post. Also, this PDF provides an overview of the tweaks, along with links to videos and relevant software websites. Many blessings, and happy writing!



Many dissertation and thesis writers LOVE Dr. Single’s System for Academic Writing. I’m one such thesis writer. It is probably the most enlightening thing I’ve ever encountered about academic writing, aside from George Gopen’s exceedingly eye-opening, very awesome work, “The Sense of Structure: Writing from the Reader’s Perspective.”

I looked up the other day and realized that my digital workflow FLOWS very fluidly now (despite being both digital and physical and being comprised of multiple programs). And it employs Dr. Single’s System beautifully (well, in my humble opinion–smile).

The digital “stars” of the workflow are: Mendeley, Citavi, and Scrivener. (Aside: Citavi is Windows only at the moment, though a cross-platform, web-based version is in development according to Citavi’s creators. From what I’ve heard (not much Mac experience here), Mac users might try Papers instead of Citavi.)

The digital “supporting actors” of the workflow are: LiquidPlanner, ProWritingAid, and your text editor of choice (I use MS Word).

Below I share the workflow. It’s simple (as far as simplicity in thesis writing goes)!

I would LOVE to hear from you, so please feel free to add your comments and tips. Feel free to use it to inspire your own. And as always, happy writing/working!

Best wishes,


NOTE: The Mac version of Scrivener is more robust than the Windows version of Scrivener that I use. Thus, some of the steps (such as the Read-Aloud editing step) can be done within Scrivener Mac instead of Adobe.


The workflow, the short version:

  1. Manage your long writing as a Project in LiquidPlanner. Get the free, education-usage subscription if you qualify. It’s quick to obtain.
  2. Store, organize, tag, and annotate PDFs in Mendeley.
  3. Collect notes and quotes in Citavi. Citavi will take CARE OF YOU, citation and bibliography-wise! PAPERS is not Citavi, but if on a Mac, perhaps try the program PAPERS until Citavi’s web-based version becomes available.
  4. Outline your long paper in Scrivener, and save the corresponding, blank outline structure of folders and component text files AS A TEMPLATE.
  5. Create two versions of the file using this template: (1) a “do-the-drafting-here” instance of the file and (2) a “just-receive-and-store-print-ready-final-drafts-here” version of the file. Some folks may additionally want to create a “freewrite-here” version of the file. NOTE: That’s a bit much for me (3 Scrivener files to manage), and since freewriting can be done via Scrivener’s global Scratchpad, I use that.
  6. Before you write each paragraph, to help you write the paragraph more efficiently than not, plan the points (i.e. paragraphs) you need to make for each section of your thesis/dissertation. AND THIS IS THE KEY: DO THIS POINT/PARAGRAPH PLANNING VIA THE COMMENTS FEATURE IN SCRIVENER (see detailed explanation of this in the detailed version of this post).
  7. While drafting: Copy and paste quotes and notes from Citavi into Scrivener as needed. Citations and bibliography creation is happening when you do this. See http://service.citavi.com/KB/a357/using-citavi-with-scrivener.aspx
  8. Two editing tips/techniques/tools:
    1. Save your writing as a PDF, play it aloud, and edit based on editing needs you hear. Be carefully about alternate spellings you can’t “here.” 😉
    2. Copy and paste a (small enough) section of your text into Pro Writing Aid’s editor, click the “Analyze” button, and mindfully utilize/implement suggestions at your discretion.
  9. Copy and paste (or export/import) finalized section drafts into the version of the Scrivener file that exists just only to receive and store completely polished, ready-to-compile-together-and-then-be-printed-out section drafts.
  10. Export this Scrivener file to MS Word if you need to: There, take all of the bibliographies generated for each section and condense them into one bibliography at the end of the paper, do final edits and proofreading, and be done!

HONORABLE MENTION: XMind for Outlining and Creating Audio Notes

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention XMind for brainstorming in the form of mind mapping. This is usually how I discover/create/hone my outlines. Good writing of very long works hinges on the outline: A long work’s outline needs to be authentic–the one you REALLY want to write from, not just the product of an exercise just so you can claim have an outline–and it needs to be quite thoughtful. XMind can get your outline there! And it’s FUN: You can attach audio notes to every mind map node in XMind; you can dive down into nodes to get to a zoomed-in view; and you can (re)emerge up from inside a node to get to a higher-level view.

As always, happy writing!!!

NOTE: Access the detailed version of the workflow here.


2 thoughts on “A Dissertation/Thesis Writing Workflow You’ll Love. It Works. It Flows. [SHORTER VERSION]

  1. Pingback: August 2, 2013: MAJOR Progress (woot!) and The Single System of Academic Writing (3 pics) | Reflections of a BLOSSOMING-Fledgling Researcher Writer

  2. Pingback: A Dissertation/Thesis Writing Workflow You’ll Love. It Works. It Flows. [DETAILED VERSION] | The BLOSSOMING-Fledgling Researcher

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