A Virtual Study Space for Productive Work

I was inspired to create a Notion template that mimicked a virtual study space after researching and writing about online study websites and virtual work spaces. I’ve previously written about LifeAt, Bindr, Fiveable, Study Together, and StudyStream. These sites aim to provide aesthetic and functional online work and study spaces and are increasingly popular.

Notion is also gaining traction from diverse audiences, including students, freelancers, and small to large-sized teams. Notion is considered an all-in-one workspace and many people do their work within the app. I’ve written previously about the Notion templates that students may find useful.

The Notion Study Lounge

I worked with Notion template creators at Hypen to develop the Notion Study Lounge, a virtual Notion template for productive work. The template offers many different features and is customizable. The workspace includes:

  • Inspiring daily quotes
  • An editable pomodoro timer
  • 24/7 lofi radio station
  • A task list
  • A reminders section
  • A notebook for quick notes
  • Quick links

When you log in, you will get a greeting with the current date and time. You’ll also be able to add external and internal quick links.

The internal workspace links will allow you to jump from one section of your work space to another.

We included toggles so that your workspace remains uncluttered.

This is great if you are easily distracted. With one click you can hide other areas.

The workspace can also work as a daily productivity dashboard. It includes a table where you can drag and drop your task lists. You’ll then be able to sort, group, search, and track your tasks over time.

This template also includes a customizable timer and a 24/7 Lofi station — we absolutely love these two features!

You will likely need to jot down some quick notes and reminders. We have a section for that too.

We wanted to create something that would also look good in dark mode, with different fonts, and in full width. This template achieves all of that!

Get the template ($10.00 USD) here and reach out if you have questions about the template or ideas about future ones. The template includes our credits section–we give credit to the creators that make the widgets we use possible.

Buy on

Mention mystudenthq when purchasing here to get 10% off.

If you are looking to try Notion, you can use my affiliate link for a Notion Plus account.

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Copying and pasting text containing Microsoft Word track changes

Copying and pasting text with Microsoft Word track changes is not as straight forward as simply copying and pasting text in other text editors.

I recently needed to copy text from one document to another, while retaining track changes and could not figure out why my changes were all accepted in the new document. However, a simple google search resolved my confusion.

Here are the steps to copy and paste text with track changes from one Microsoft Word document to another.

  1. Turn off track changes in document #1 (Do not skip this step)
  2. Select and copy the text you want to reuse in document #1
  3. Paste the copied text in document #2 (Make sure track changes is also off, here)

These steps should maintain the track changes in the new document. Keep in mind that I am using a mac. Though I believe these steps should also would on Windows computers.

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Starting a writing accountability group

A Writing Accountability Group (WAG) is generally group is a small group of individuals who meet weekly (for about 10 weeks) for 1 hour to write. WAGs exist in many forms but generally consist of 4-8 individuals who are committed to meeting and writing on a consistent basis.

The primary goal of any WAG is that the group maintains the time for writing.

The aim is that at the end of the 10-week block, WAG members would have developed a consistent writing practice. Individuals set their own weekly goals and WAG members provide support towards those goals.

To learn more about WAGs, visit the Office of Faculty Development at the John’s Hopkin’s School of Medicine or WAG Your Work.

The structure of a WAG

The process for a WAG is generally similar from week to week.

In the first 5-10 minutes, individuals complete a shared document with their writing goals. WAG members can also verbally share these goals during this time, including any hiccups in accomplishing their writing goals during the previous week.

Actual writing time should be between 30-40 minutes (for a one hour session). Writing might include anything from brainstorming, developing a figure, compiling a bibliography to outline or drafting text. It is important that individuals set their own goals for their writing projects.

The final 10 or so minutes should be used to discuss if the day’s writing goal for the WAG session was met and plans to continue to write until the next WAG meeting.

To hold WAG members accountable to their goals, group members commit to showing up for each WAG, which is possible, if your writing time is protected on your calendar.

During sessions, WAG members may discuss progress and offer encouragement and strategies towards meeting weekly goals.

MyStudentHq online writing accountability group

I have implemented an online WAG. It is a general workspace, with features that can help with accountability. You do not need an account to sign up. You’ll only be asked to add your name so that we know who has joined each session.

Learn more about the MyStudentHq online writing accountability group and join us with this link. We are looking forward to writing with you!

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Write your literature review with Connected Papers

I discovered Connected Papers while recently completing the literature review section of a research proposal. I’ve written about how I found this tool and decided to try it. In short, I was looking for a way to condense the papers and information that I was collecting and was interested in tools that did not position themselves as reference managers. I wanted to cite historical and contemporary papers to not omit seminary work.

What is Connected Papers

Connected Papers is a free online visual tool that helps researchers and students find relevant articles within their fields. Writing an evidence-based paper involves reading and analyzing different manuscripts related to the topic. This is not always simple and can become cumbersome if not handled systematically. While Connected Papers is geared toward researchers and applied scientists, it can also be helpful for students who struggle with the literature review sections of their dissertations, master’s thesis, and other research proposals and manuscripts.

How does Connected Papers work?

Connected Papers uses an algorithm to create graphs of related papers. The process works by:

  • Analyzing over 50,000 papers and ordering them according to their connection with the seed paper (or original paper)
  • Papers are then classified and arranged based on similarity, which is based on co-citation and bibliography interdependence. This helps to ensure that papers that do not cite each other can still be connected.
  • A force-directed graph is created to group related papers so that closely associated papers cluster together and are near the origin paper; less related articles appear further from the seed paper.
  • The related papers are then highlighted in circles through the node selection feature. Clicking each node provides an abstract about each article. The size and color of the node are also symbolic, as the size represents the number of citations, and lighter colors signal older papers. The lines that connect articles are also stronger when papers are similar.

Using Connected Papers

To use Connected Papers, you will need to follow these steps:

  • Create an account by registering on the platform.
  • Input the paper DOI, URL, or title in the search bar.
  • Select the “build the graph” button, and choose which nodes to visualize on the left pane. Related papers will appear closer to each other.

Is Connected Papers helpful?

Connected Papers is valuable as it offers a visual overview of a subject and its relation to other topics. In general, Connected Papers provides the following benefits to users:

  • Includes many relevant papers to your topic, ensuring that you do not miss referencing important articles
  • Creates a visual summary of the state of academic knowledge around a particular topic
  • Since you can explore papers in a bi-directional manner, you discover older and more recent articles
  • Relies on the Semantic Scholar Paper Corpus, which contains millions of papers from diverse fields
  • Helps users create a bibliography, which is a necessary addition for any academic publication

Alternatives to Connected Papers

To find papers for your literature review, you may consider starting with the following sites or others recommended by your university or institution. Although Connected Papers serves an entirely different purpose, to begin your literature review, you’ll still need to start retrieving papers from popular databases like the ones listed below:

  1. SemanticScholar
  2. ResearchGate
  3. Scopus
  4. Google Scholar
  5. Web of Science
  6. Embase
  7. arXiv.org

However, it is important to note that these sites are limited when compared to Connected Papers. True alternatives to Connected Papers include:

I have not tried any of these alternatives, but they each have the potential to generate graphs.


Connected Papers will not take away the work that users have to do to write about and understand the visualized connections. By highlighting the relation between papers and presenting it as a force-directed graph, Connected Papers is an excellent addition to writing your literature review.

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Write your next paper with Scite.ai

I discovered scite while conducting the literature review section of a research proposal. I was looking for a way to distill the information I was retrieving and was open to trying out different tools.

Eventually, I landed on Scite, Research Rabbit, and Connected Papers and decided to try all three since they appeared to complement each other. This article describes scite and how it can be useful for students and others involved in research.

What is scite?

Scite is a tool that can help students discover and understand the papers that they come across when conducting their literature reviews. It uses Smart Citations to display the context of citations–specifically denoting whether the source has been supported, disputed, or retracted.

Traditional citations are simply references between one publication to another. In the papers you write, you include these references to other articles. Smart Citations takes this process a step further by providing more context when the citation to a published manuscript is made.

The extracted citation is considered a Smart Citation. These citations include details about the cited papers, the actual text, and the location of the citation within the citing paper. A note about whether the citation is supporting, mentioning, or contrasting the key points of the cited article is also included.

How do I use scite?

To use scite:

  1. Create an account; log in
  2. Search for the article you are interested in using the search bar. This search goes through over one billion citation statements to determine the discourse around a topic
  3. Use the visualization field to identify how your article is related to other similar publications and what articles are saying about other papers they cite
  4. Retrieve the references you need for your research proposal
  5. Set up alerts to stay up to date on citations as they happen

You can access a sample publication report here

How is scite useful?

Scite is helpful for students, other academics, and journalists

Students working on their dissertations, term papers, thesis proposals, literature reviews, or other research papers or proposals should consider using scite for the following reasons:

  • It enables users to find suitable articles through its visualization platform
  • It saves users time as articles related to a topic and how they have been supported, mentioned, or contrasted in the literature, are available when you need them. Importantly, scites’ algorithm checks that users are citing a trusted source.

Researchers looking to build their subject matter knowledge and stay up to date on new publications in their field can also enjoy scite’s approach to engaging with the research literature. I also see how journalists and other content creators can use scite to validate their findings and curtail the spread of misinformation.

A note on browser extensions: Scite has extensions for Chrome and Firefox browsers, which helps users quickly initiate scite to see the classification of different papers.

A note on pricing: The tool is not entirely free to use. However, for most projects, users will be able to use the tool without a paid plan. Students and other academics can also access their educational pricing at 30%-50% off.

What are alternative sites to scite.ai?

Some may see traditional reference managers, like Mendeley, EasyBib.com, Zotero, EndNote, and ReadCube papers, as scite alternatives. However, the Citation statements that scite offers are unique and currently not available when using other platforms.


Scite allows users to find the most relevant scientific evidence for their projects. Scite is helpful for students and other researchers working on their dissertations, master’s thesis, and other research proposals and manuscripts. It is also valuable for journalists looking to grasp topics in an academic field quickly.

The app does not take away the work that users have to do when engaging with academic papers. While not having to read every article you come across can be immensely useful, understanding the author’s main argument(s) is essential to thoroughly engaging in scientific research.

By helping to classify research as providing supporting or disputing evidence, scite is an excellent addition to writing your next paper.

I am a scite.ai affiliate and this post is based solely on my experience with the app. If you purchase a scite plan with this link, I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.

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Write collaboratively with Strike

Today’s featured app is Strike. Strike is a simple application that makes your writing projects more manageable. Users can work alone or invite colleagues to write collaboratively.

The app has Markdown support and many other useful features that I’ll cover in this post.

Writing, editing, and formatting documents

  1. Markdown – Capture your notes and see them automatically. Strike has automatic Markdown preview, so users can see their formatted document as they write. Strike Markdown includes headings, ordered and unordered lists, checklists, links, code blocks, attachments, and other helpful formatting features
  2. Formatting – The formatting features are on the right side so users can easily select text editing tools
  3. Elements – Add MathJax formulas, tables, or a variety of chart types

Navigating documents

  1. Outlines – Generate outlines automatically
  2. Navigation – Use the side panel on the left side of the document to navigate long files easily Users can also identify and select headers or tags on the page from the left panel to navigate directly to that section of the document

Saving and exporting documents

  1. Files – Upload file attachments and export documents as PDFs
  2. Protection – Password protect your Strike documents, lock files, and use version control for file history
  3. Sync – Sync documents with iCloud so that it is available on all your Apple devices

Other useful features

  1. Themes – Select from different themes and colors
  2. Statistics – See document statistics

Write collaboratively

  1. Collaboration – Strike is useful when working with colleagues. Users can invite up to 10 people to collaborate on a document in real-time. The app may also be an alternative to Google Docs if you are looking for a simpler interface.

Strike is available on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

I tested the app through Setapp, a subscription service for Mac apps. Setapp has been one of my most significant investments to date and almost all of the apps on my computer are available through the app.

Try Setapp, and we will both get a free month.

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Bi-directional note-taking apps? Try these 10+ Obsidian alternatives

I have written previously about my love for Obsidian, including that I was an early adopter and Insider. I use Obsidian regularly to generate first drafts. Despite the popularity of apps like Evernote and OneNote, today, people are increasingly interested in bi-directional note-taking apps. Obsidian is an excellent way to see linkages across many different notes. It is also extendable with plugins, so it fits many use cases. Despite my love of Obsidian, I get why some people might be interested in alternatives.

In this post, I highlight a few bi-directional note-taking apps I have come across (in no particular order) and provide a comment in two lines or less. These apps are similar in many ways, but they are each unique and individually have something different to offer. They differ from Obsidian in their general approach to note-taking and writing; almost all of the apps included here have outlines and outlining as central components.

Obsidian Alternatives

1. RoamResearch

RoamResearch helps users write and organize their thinking. Roam’s pricing is relatively steep compared to the others on this list. However, unlike the others, Roam offers scholarships to researchers, individuals under 22, students, or people experiencing financial distress. If you are ready for the yearly payment, it is one sold alternative to Obsidian.

2. Logseq

Logseq is free and open-source and an app that I am actively using. It fills a gap in my workflow, and I am pretty happy with the community on Twitter and Discord. My files are stored on my machine, and I’m confident that I’ll continue to have access to my notes should Logseq cease to exist.

3. Athens Research

Athens Research is another free and open-source alternative to Obsidian. It is similar to Roam and Logseq, yet it is simple and intuitive for someone new to bi-directional note-taking.

4. Saga

Saga is one of my favorites on the list and an app that I remain curious about. It provides an “effortless way to make sense of your knowledge, docs, and notes,” and in my experience, this is certainly the case. Saga’s auto-linking feature is worlds apart from what I have experienced in any of the apps on this list.

5. Reflect

Reflect is an excellent app; it connects to your calendar and allows you to keep track of events. It also allows Kindle integration and allows users to import their highlights.

6. Thunknotes

Thunknotes is quite impressive. The app is clean and well designed, with particular attention to large and small details and templates.

7. Workflowy

Workflowy has been around for a while and has improved with each version. It allows users to build an outline with bullets and unlimited nesting of sub-bullets.

8. Dynalist

Dynalist is similar to Workflowy but includes a folder structure. One difference that stands out to me (because it’s important for my workflow) is that Dynalist includes checkboxes where Workflowy currently does not.

9. Hypernotes

Hypernotes allows users to connect to other items in the ZenKit suite (Base and To Do). Essentially users can see and manage their tasks in Hypernotes. I believe this is a plus.

10. RemNote

RemNote is a note-taking app that includes flashcards and PDF annotations. These key features, I’m sure, broaden the range of likely users of the app.

11. Transo

Trasno is a minimalist note-taking application. One of the app’s most exciting features is mind maps, which allows users to convert their outlines to mind maps with one click.

11. Unigraph

Unigraph is one that I will continue to watch out for. While I need a place to connect my thoughts and notes, I also want a central hub that allows me to discover and connect all aspects of my life.


In this post, I have featured several bi-directional note-taking apps. However, it is important to find a note-taking app that works for you. To do so, you may ask yourself 15 or more questions to find a note-taking app that suits your needs. I suggest considering the following areas:

  1. Community, philosophy, data privacy
  2. Writing, saving, importing and exporting, integration with other apps, and collaboration
  3. Requirements and features
  4. Pricing and general affinity for the product

I believe you don’t have to use “the best note-taking app”–You just have to use what works for you.

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Questions to consider when choosing the best note-taking app: Writing, saving, importing and exporting, integration with other apps, and collaboration

So you want to find the best note-taking app. This post is part of the series on questions to consider when selecting a note-taking app that will work for you or your team.

Today, we focus on writing, saving, importing and exporting, integrating other apps, and collaborating.

Am I comfortable writing in the format that it provides?

It is essential to consider how you want to take notes and how you want those notes to appear. For instance, you may ask yourself: am I proficient in Markdown? Is the tool a WYSIWYG interface?

Can I export my notes? Can I import my notes?

It is also crucial to know if you can import and export notes. Know the formats that would be available to you. Are you content only exporting notes as PDF files? What if you can only import .txt files?

For example, I write in Ulysses and can easily export to Microsoft word when I need to get comments/feedback from collaborators. I may also outline in RoamResearch to organize my thoughts and produce first drafts in Obsidian. I can export these notes as Markdown into a folder accessible by Ulysses on my computer.

How are my notes saved?

It is also important to know where and how your notes are saved. Are your notes stored on your computer? Can you see and manipulate your notes even when you are not using the intended app? Can your notes be backed up to iCloud, Box, GDrive, Dropbox, or other software?

Does the app integrate with some of the other tools I use?

Another consideration is whether the app integrates with some of the other tools you use. If so, yay! If not, are you willing to sacrifice this to use the note-taking app anyway? For example, I used Evernote as a standalone notebook. I did not need it to integrate with other apps that I used. Any integration would have severely cluttered my workflow. If required, could Zapier or some other software help with the intergeneration of your apps?

Can I collaborate with others?

For some people, this is essential; for others, it is not important. If you are a solo user, this may not apply to you. Have you considered how you will approach this should you need to collaborate on a document? I share notes with my family (e.g., itineraries, addresses, general family stuff) with Apple Notes. These are mostly just notes to which we all need access. These notes are easily accessible by invited family members and reduce the back and forth of asking the same questions over and over. With Apple Notes, I don’t have much to explain about the use and function. It is relatively straightforward. When I share Notion spaces with others not already familiar with the app, it takes a bit of onboarding to get everyone up to speed.

Stay tuned for more posts on note-taking, writing, and general productivity.

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Moving from a first draft to a publishable document

Following my post on finding a note-taking app that works for you, I received questions about how I move from my first draft to a publishable version.

In my experience, RoamResearch is excellent for generating quick first drafts. When I feel stuck and need to generate content to see where ideas fit, I turn to Roam. In general, I don’t like having my writing across many different places. This is particularly important when sending versions to co-authors for comments and needing to keep track of these changes. Overall, I find that Microsoft word is still my go to tool for refining documents.

Most of my academic writing has often taken place in Ulysses. I like Ulysses because of its simplicity, Markdown, and text editing tools. However, I am currently using Obsidian for the same purpose and appreciate the extendability of the app with plugins.

In general, I often capture thoughts for a paper in my quick capture tool. I’ve written about how important quick capture is in my writing process. Next, I create a first draft in Ulysses, export it as a word document and send out the word version as a first draft to co-authors. I find that its hard to go back to Ulysses after this step, so I continue writing and editing in Microsoft word from this point on. I haven’t found a better process for handling comments once they come back. So all refinements happen in Microsoft word.

Over many years, Microsoft word has remained stable and offers enough features for wrangling documents and working with comments. Although it is not as shiny as recent apps, it works as intended!

Stay tuned for more posts on note-taking, writing, and general productivity.

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