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When I start to write a document, the ideas in it never get to the page in publishable order. (I know I’m not alone in this.) Pieces of the “story” float about.

Many writers feel a compulsion to write from the start of a new document. That compulsion could make writing feel like cycling while gently holding the brakes. In more severe cases, it seems to lead to what some people call “writer’s block” and painful delays in drafting a document.

What writers need is a method they can use to create a first draft. Of course, lots of magic happens during revision of that draft, when writers refine their thoughts. (That’s when they apply Word styles.) But they need a first draft to work from. If getting to that first draft is difficult for you, read on.

Writer’s Block, Begone!

I don’t get writer’s block. That’s because, when I start writing, I just write the first things that come to mind. I write each “piece” as it “floats into view” and worry about order later.

In my pre-computer high school days, I was taught to write individual sentences on cue cards, or index cards. Then I could order the cards on a large surface (often a floor in my parents’ home) and move them around as I saw fit. I could also create new cards and remove ones I no longer needed. This was my introduction to mind mapping.

Enter Mind Mapping Software

I’m no fan of cue cards. Instead, I now write those individual sentences in “nodes” using mind mapping software. I open a document, label the central “root” node, then start adding nodes connected by branches. (Do you want to see what that looks like? There’s an example further down this post.) Later on, I move nodes or add and delete them as needed.

Here’s the big advantage of doing this using software: Once I have my nodes lined up the way I want them, I copy the root node into a text document so that I can begin writing. All my points appear in the order I set, waiting for me to link them together, to write from point to point. That’s when I have the first draft.

That first draft is half the battle, and it takes much less time to write than it would using other methods.

A Quick Demo

I use MindNode to create mind maps, but there are plenty of tools available, from free to “enterprise-grade” (i.e., pricey).

Here’s what the mind map for this article looks like.

This is a read-only version. However, you should be able to:

  • Navigate the map.
  • Zoom in and out.
  • Mouse over nodes to fold and unfold them.

(You can also go directly to the MindNode site, here, to play in a larger screen.)

(You might notice that this version does not read the same way that this post does. Remember — the map is only a first draft. I refined the post further after I mapped it.)

And here’s what the mind map looks like when I paste the root node into a text editor. The first line is the mind map’s root node. Subsequent lines are indented according to how “deep” they are in the map’s hierarchy.

As this video shows, MindNode diagrams can be exported in various formats and shared in different applications and devices.

Reasonable Expectations

Mind maps don’t fix all writing woes. (Other tools might help you handle some of those.) But mind maps do help you complete a first draft. Just don’t censor or edit yourself too early in the process. Worry about grammar, spelling and other corrections and refinements later.

Other Possibilities for Mind Maps

Mind maps have many other uses besides writing. You can use them to do things like:

  • Plan projects.
  • Create organizational charts.
  • Create lists of all kinds.

Explore mind maps beyond simply writing. You might find they boost your creativity in ways you never imagined.

Do you use mind maps? If so, what tools do you use? What do you create with them? Let us know in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on Attorney at Work]

 

Does your firm or organization have shortened office hours over the summer? Or perhaps you’re taking some time off over the next couple months and therefore closing up your office for a week or two. Either way, you want to make sure potential clients aren’t showing up at your office but finding it unexpectedly closed.

If your office hours will be deviating from the norm this summer, make sure you load those exceptions into your Google My Business profile so that they automatically appear in your maps and search listing.

To do so, log into your Google My Business account and click on your business listing. Then click the “Info” tab on the left-hand side menu. Below the hours section, you’ll see a spot for “Add special hours” – click on that.

Now you can add your closures, and rest assured that your Google business listing will be working even when you’re not.

Happy summer holidays!

 

Some days, it feels like text messages are the new email. Texting is rapidly becoming just as common as email for business uses (and may well have surpassed email for personal uses), but are you as careful with preserving your texts as you are with your email?

Maybe you use text messaging for business purposes and want to make sure your messages can be retrieved if they are inadvertently deleted or if your phone is lost. Or maybe you find yourself needing to locate a message but unable to remember whether it was in a text or an email… and would rather not spend hours searching through both inboxes. (Or maybe, like me, you need to delete some old texts because there are so many that your texting app has become sluggish.)

Whatever the scenario, if you use texting with any regularity, you’ll probably be interested to know about an Android app called SMS Backup+.

SMS Backup+ automatically backs up your text messages into Gmail, which is extremely useful because not only are they preserved and safe, they are searchable. This app will back up SMS, MMS, and call logs into your Gmail and Google Calendar with a separate label. And as a bonus, you can also use it to restore messages to your phone.

Once downloaded, the app is very easy to get up and running. If you have a lot of texts to back up, it may take a while for them all to copy over, but that will just run in the background until it’s complete. Once installed and set to auto backup, your texts will be backed up and available in your Gmail account within moments of sending or receiving.

 

Need an image for a poster, website, or social media post but don’t have a budget for stock or custom photography? Check out Unsplash, where thousands of photographers have generously made their photos available completely free for commercial or noncommercial purposes.

Simply type a keyword into the search bar and you’ll be presented with tons of photos that have been tagged with terms that match or are related to your search. The search function is pretty basic, but I’ve always been able to find what I need by getting creative with alternative search terms.

The site is very straightforward – you’ll see from this FAQ that using Unsplash is not complicated. Once you’ve downloaded an image, it’s yours to do whatever you like with it. There is no requirement to credit the photographer or the site, though it’s encouraged, and Unsplash has made it easy to do so with the “give credit” button that appears on every photo.

Do you have other favourite sites for high-quality, free photos? Please share in the comments.

 

You stare at a Word document full of dense text, nary a headline or bulleted list in sight. You aimlessly play with font sizes and faces and tables and margins, knowing you aren’t really making any progress. Not even clip art can save it. You’re doomed: the document is utterly, completely boring.

We’ve all been there, faced with this seemingly impossible task: to somehow transform pages of text into something people will actually read. (Or better yet, something people will actually WANT to read!)

The next time you find yourself in this unenviable position, I encourage you to check out a free, nifty online tool called Canva.

I discovered this tool while trying to turn the Slaw Reader Survey results (which began as a snooze-inducing “wall of text” of raw data) into something engaging and eye-catching that folks would be excited to read.

Here’s one of the infographics I created to show where Slaw readers live:

Canva has:

  • tons of templates and backgrounds that you can customize with your own material (for this particular project, I used some templates almost “as is”, and started other infographics from scratch)
  • a vast assortment of icons, images, typefaces, etc.
  • a simple interface with helpful built-in rulers and guidelines
  • good interactive tutorials to show you the ropes of the service

You can also use Canva for social media graphics, posts, presentation slides, and really any other graphic-based creation you can think of. I encourage you to try it out – not only will you come up with something aesthetically pleasing and useful, I bet you’ll have fun while you’re at it.

 

Have you heard about MMS Watch? It’s a free mandatory minimum sentencing resource recently created by the experts behind Rangefindr – the popular criminal sentencing resource.

MMS Watch provides a list of every mandatory minimum sentence in force in the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Sentencing Act. Additional explanation appears on the website:

MMS.watch is an ongoing project by rangefindr.ca to monitor the constitutionality of each mandatory minimum sentence (MMS) in the Canadian Criminal Code and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. All data are from the rangefindr.ca database. MMS.watch is free and will remain free.

We encourage you to check out MMS Watch! You can learn more from Matthew Oleynik’s guest post on Slaw.ca.

[This tip by Alan Kilpatrick originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]

 

Surprising as it may be, of the available free sources for American case law, there may be none better than Google Scholar.

For starters, check out the main search screen – “Case law” is one of two main searches you can do (alongside “Articles). Once you have selected Case law, you get a list of higher-level courts for all 50 states, all Federal Court circuits, and of course, the U.S. Supreme Court.

From there, it is only a matter of constructing your google search. As always, be mindful of Operators, how to apply Filters, and generally good search practices.

To give you an idea of the depth of this database, I tried a search in just New York courts for the word “replevin” (my favourite unusual legal term) – and got 730 hits, including 96 from the 1960s, 78 from the 1950s, and four from the 1940s. The same search in CanLII (considered an excellent source for Canadian case law) returns 448 cases.

The site includes citator to see how the current case has been treated in courts, as well as cross-linking to cases cited in the document.

If there is a better free source for American case law, please comment below.

[This tip by Ken Fox originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]

 

Are you familiar with Irwin Law’s Canadian Online Legal Dictionary (COLD)?  COLD is a free online legal dictionary and is composed of all the terms featured in the legal textbooks published by Irwin Law.  COLD is described in more detail on Irwin Law’s website:

We are a collaborative dictionary comprised, initially, of terms defined in the glossaries of Canadian law books published by Irwin Law. The dictionary will be maintained by an Irwin Law editor. Members of the public are invited to submit new defined terms, edit existing terms and supply citations, sources and related terms — simply request to become a COLD contributor when you create your Irwin Law account. We look forward to receiving your submissions!

COLD can be searched by keyword or browsed by topic area.  Searching COLD for a definition may lead to multiple definitions of the same term as COLD will highlight all of Irwin Law’s textbooks that have defined the term.  For example searching for the term arrest will lead to two definitions as two separate Irwin Law texts, Criminal Procedure and Mental Health Courts, have defined the term:

I encourage you to check out this free resource.  You can access COLD online at https://www.irwinlaw.com/cold.  Let us know what you think about it.

 

[This tip by Alan Kilpatrick originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]

 

The most popular blog post on Legal Sourcery since our launch in 2014 is Cross-referencing footnotes in Word by Reché McKeague. This post has been read 11,012 times since posted on April 29, 2014. That’s an average of almost 400 times each month. Here are a few more interesting posts on Word tips and tricks from other law blogs:

5 Microsoft Word Tips to Make Lawyers’ Lives Easier (FindLaw)

Get the Most Out of Microsoft Word (American Bar Association, Law Practice Magazine)

Master Class: Microsoft Word Shortcuts for Lawyers (LexisNexis Business of Law Blog, video)

If you have already upgraded to, or considering upgrading to Office 365, here’s  an article with useful tips:

15 Amazing Features in Office 365 That You Probably Don’t Know About (Business Insider)

[This tip originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]

 

Do you need safe online storage for confidential information such as passwords, birth certificate, bank accounts, medical records, passports, tax returns, wills, insurance and other legal documents that you might need to access anytime, anywhere, or to share with your family members?

Canada Post has a Personal Vault service that provides bank-grade security and keeps your information on servers physically located in Canada. The Personal Vault is not meant to be cloud storage for your massive photo and movie collection but rather a secure place for your important personal, financial, medical information and your most valuable photos and videos. For this reason, file size is limited to 200KB each file and 3.5MB for photos and 10MB for videos. Picture this as an electronic safety deposit box, the contents of which you can access 24/7 whether you are at work, at home, or travelling.

Setup is straight forward. All you need to do is to create an ePost account (if you don’t already have one), pick a Personal Vault Plan and sign in. You can upload your own files or use the provided forms to quickly enter information such as bank accounts, passwords, prescriptions, etc.

A trial account of 100MB storage is free for 90 days (500 documents, 28 photos, 10 videos). A Bronze account of 1GB storage is $23.95 a year (5,000 documents, 285 photos, 100 videos). Silver and Gold accounts are available if you require more storage space. Give it a try.

[This tip originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]