Write a Better Paper with Spreadsheets

I am OVER writing papers, y’all. I just counted and in the past year, I’ve written 39 papers. If all this paper writing has taught me anything, it’s that efficiency and organization is what gets you through it all without losing your mind.

Do you know how many amazing sources I’ve lost because I can’t remember where I wrote them down? Do you know how many times I find myself flipping through the Bluebook to figure out whether book titles are italicized or small caps (or neither??)? I know I’m not the only wishes they could just hyperlink everything and be done with it.

Over the past couple dozen papers, though, I’ve figured out a way to keep my thoughts straight(ish). Using some of my favorite media and google docs, I’m gonna teach you how I use spreadsheets to keep my ish in order. You can use this method for any citation format, but I’m going to teach you with APA because I’m not about to Bluebook something for fun. And while it seems like it’s all about citations, it’s really the best way I’ve discovered to keep my writing flow going.


1. Set up a spreadsheet for your sources

Spreadsheets are your friends. They organize tons of information with little effort on your part and that’s exactly what you need when you’re jumbling tons of dates, authors, links and — OH YEAH — trying to turn it into a coherent paper.

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Eleven Things You Wish You Knew About Honeybees

I am not a person who likes bugs. I refuse to go camping out of fear that I’ll wake up with a spider dangling half an inch above my face. Ants marching in a straight line make me want to pull out a magnifying glass and fry them one by one as they come towards me. I’ve been known to take showers in the middle of the night after waking up from nightmares involving cockroaches lying eggs in different crevices in my house and body.

But bees? Bees are fascinating! Cute, even. I recently went on a road trip with my friend, Molly, to visit her family — including her bee-keeping dad, Jack — in New England. After two days of eating honey on toast, on spoons, and on a giant pancake, we got to go out and play with the bees.

The dutch baby pancake

The dutch baby pancake

I spent the entire 30 minute ride out to the farm pestering Jack with questions like a kindergardener.

Where do you get bees?

They come in the mail.

How much honey do you get every year?

Two years ago we harvested 15 gallons but last year we only got 2.

Have you ever been stung?

Yes. 

We went to two of his hives, one where the bees had died from not having enough to make it through the winter (although, bafflingly, an entire lower drawer of honeycomb had been entirely ignored by the bees who ate from bottom to top and died in droves near the top) and another mean-ass colony who were still alive and kicking in 15 degree weather. After an afternoon spent poking around the hives, I went home with a plan for my retirement, a jar full of Jack’s Gold, and a head full of bee knowledge that I can’t wait to tell you about.
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Saponification Station

Soap is the metallic salt of a fatty acid. What in the world does that mean? Well, in chemistry, salt isn’t just the white stuff that always hangs with the pepper, it’s any product that comes from neutralizing an acid and a base. Let’s take kitchen salt (sodium chloride) as an example. When you combine hydrochloric acid (HCl) with sodium hydroxide (NaOH), you get sodium chloride (NaCl) and water.

HCl + NaOH –> NaCl + H2O

This is particularly cool because hydrochloric acid is crazy acidic (it’s the stuff that your stomach uses to break down food) and sodium hydroxide is suuuuper alkaline (remember the scene in Fight Club when Brad Pitt burns that ugly hole in Edward Norton’s hand? That’s lye AKA sodium hydroxide) which means achtung, baby! Put them together, though, and you get two completely safe and consumable substances.

Making soap – or saponification, if you’re savvy – is pretty much the same thing. Add lye to an oil and you get a salt that we call soap! More specifically, you combine a trigylceride with lye and end up with soap and gylcerine.

C3H5 COOR COOR COOR + 3 NaOH + (H2O) –> 3NaCOOR + C3H3 OH OH OH

You already know what lye is, but what’s about triglycerides? As it turns out, all the oils we’re familiar with are different types of triglycerides. If you look at the formula for triglyceride, you’ll notice there are some R’s up in there. Those R’s stand for fatty acid radicals, three of which are combined to create a single type of oil. Olive oil, for example, is made up of two oleic acid radicals and one palmitic acid radical. Because of their chemical makeup, different oils and fats have specific properties that can be helpful or harmful in soap making. We’ll talk more about this when we get to the recipe.

The glycerin that’s a byproduct of the reaction is one of the best reasons to make your own soap. Glycerin is a humectant (a thing that keeps moist things moist) and makes your skin soft and moisturized. Often, store-bought soaps have been stripped of most of their glycerin, which is then sold to be used in more expensive bath products.