I’ve been doing some reading for a lit review and preparing a bibliography. My reading and annotating have become digital during my PhD, whereas a box with all of my highlighted readings from my MA sits behind me as I write this blog post. The switch to digital transpired not because of a love for technology, but because of the memory I have of writing my first lit review during my master’s thesis. It was horrid.
I read articles, I highlighted them, I put post-its along the margins and then I left them all over the house without a filing system or a working memory to find them again. When I sat down to write, I forgot who wrote what, why they wrote it, and why I found articles interesting or useful. They grew in piles in my office, on the floor near the tub, and on the coffee table, where someone would inevitably eat something greasy and I would yell at them for messing up my important papers. And the writing. My first lit review was a series of subheadings, bulleted lists, and sentences with training ellipses…every single one.
Right. So, I couldn’t bear the pain of making those mistakes again. I use Raul Pacheco-Vega’s conceptual synthesis Excel dump for tracking my reading, but I am taking digital notes in OneNote, and I’ve decided to put my themes into sheets, not rows, and my ideas are crowded into one cell. Don’t know if that is the best way, but it works for me. I am sharing Pacheco-Vega’s example below.
If you like this method, Pacheco-Vega has generously made his template available, and you can download a copy of it. I follow this, in combination with annotating PDF printouts in OneNote, with papers also uploaded into Mendeley (not shown) with author’s last name+year+more-or-less the title of the article.
All of my PDFs are also saved in OneDrive, and I use the same file names as the Excel spreadsheet, although now it’s Google Sheets, for ease of use.
I am also keeping track in my calendar of the dates when I read or discover an article worth pursing.
If there are thoughts I have that aren’t directly associated to the article, but are developing ideas, I write them into my ad libitum notebook.
You might think this is overdoing it, but I have sat in on mock orals and dissertation talks when the ghastly amount of data paralyzed me with fear. I imagined one researcher, doing grounded theory, trying to keep her arms around a dining room table as papers and images slipped onto the floor from every direction as she ran around trying to catch them all and prevent them from abandoning her organization system via gravity. I don’t want to have my data control me – I know there will be a lot of it, based on the direction I’m heading. Staying on top of it and filing it digitally prevents me from that feeling of dread I have had in the past. Yael Grushka-Cockayne calls this planning reference class forecasting. I listen to Freakonomics while I’m commuting and Episode 323 was about late projects. Reference class forecast says that if you’re about to embark on a new project (my PhD research), stop. Reflect on other projects in the past (my MA) and consider how accurate you were about your plans then. Then, shift your current plans to make changes to the project you’re about to embark on.
I have also been messaging back and forth with my research buddy, Yecid, who is a great sounding board. When I guested on his podcast, we talked about alternative forms of professional development and he asked how people might keep track of these records. I told him about my calendar, but he reminded me that our exchanges are also another element of knowledge mobilization, and that I should keep track of them as well. I reminded him that they are backed up in the cloud in DMs, but he reminded me that I should be keeping track of the topics and dates in a spreadsheet as well. He suggested taking screenshots and then using them to add to a spreadsheet. I am not convinced of this method, but I am going to add these exchanges in my calendar and borrow a page from Raul Pacheco-Vega’s virtual book and use coloured highlighters with a system.
This conversation, however, gave me an idea for tracking methodology and data collection/analysis ideas: Latour’s notebook ideas. I used Yecid’s spreadsheet idea and embedded images of ideas into cells.
I don’t know if I am done planning my process, but I feel more prepared than last time. And tracking my thoughts, as well as when ideas pop up, offers me some serenity at the moment.
Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: an introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford University Press.
Ortega, Y. (Producer). (2019, March 12). Chasing Encounters – Episode – 6 – Exploring Digital Networks [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://soundcloud.com/chasingencounters/chasing-encounters-episode-6-exploring-digital-networks
Pacheco-Vega, R. (2017, December 5). Carving time to read: The AIC and Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump combination method [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.raulpacheco.org/2017/12/carving-time-to-read-the-aic-and-conceptual-synthesis-excel-dump-combination-method/
Stitcher and Dubner Productions (Producer). (2019, May 22). Here’s why all your projects are always late — and what to do about it [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from http://freakonomics.com/podcast/project-management-rebroadcast/
Organizing and retrieval is a key Keywords and abstracts are helpful. Congratulations on the digital upgrade.