Research

Research Tip: Summary Tables

So you’re researching a topic in preparation for a literature review/report/proposal/fun times. You’ll soon find that you need a way to organise and summarise your notes and journal articles. EndNote and other reference management software are great for saving citation details – but what about a personalised overview of all the papers you’ve read? How can you work with your existing referencing software files to create such an overview? Well, this is where summary tables come in handy.

I’d describe a summary table as an electronic, summarised record of all of the references you’ve read on any given topic in tabular form.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a novice researcher or a pro – at some point in your career you will figure out a system that works best for you, as you trial new techniques or revert back to old but effective habits.

I use a word processor for my summary table, but you can use spreadsheet software if you prefer. Do you have your own research management system? What do you find useful?

Analogous Encouragement for Reluctant Writers

If you are perpetually reading and researching topics, or reluctant to start writing and keep writing, it feels:

Like running the tap, but never actually taking a shower.

Like packing your suitcase for a trip, but never making it out the door.

Like trying to learn a sport by watching others, but never playing it yourself.

Like rehearsing fervently all year for a musical, then hiding behind the curtain on opening night.

Like mastering theory without doing the practical.

Writing is an active component of research, though you may be sitting while you do it. It’s the next step. It’s taking the red pill. Preparation is great, but there can be such a thing as too much. Nerves are normal, but are they hampering your goals?

People don’t want you to stink.

They don’t want you to be a hermit.

They don’t want you to stay on the sidelines.

They want you to perform!

They want you to show off your knowledge!

So freshen up! Go on an adventure! Play a game! Sing and dance! Do what you think is right…and write!

Musings

As a future academic, I need to be well-informed. I also need to be able to contribute to intellectual discussions that may very well change the way we see or do things. To do this, I need to be able to communicate effectively and engage in healthy debate. I have a vision for where I want society/my profession to be, and I want to help make sure we get there, in my lifetime. Or if not, at least provide others a map with which to navigate. Like a pioneer or explorer, I must make my way into new territory and report what I’ve found to the rest of the world – which means I need to document everything I do and find.

Review: Scrivener (Part 1)

This week marks 19 months as a PhD student! It’s been…interesting, to say the least. The first nine months were spent swimming in a sea of literature and drifting from island to island, seeking refuge and sustenance. I was discovering new worlds, but eventually realised that if I wanted to make any real progress, I would need to start mapping my travels and organising my mind. And that is when, via the beacon of light that is the Thesis Whisperer blog, I stumbled upon what has become the navigational cross-staff for my thesis – and it goes by the name of Scrivener.

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In a nutshell, I would describe Scrivener as a super-streamlined take on the traditional word processor that is tailored to writers producing long documents, such as novels, screenplays, and, of course, theses. But it’s so much more to me than a fancy new brand of word processor – because it gives us writers a place for all of those side notes, ramblings and crazy random ideas. Ideas that usually have no place in a traditional draft and are simply cast away on a scrap of paper that vanishes when you need it most and magically resurfaces when you least expect it.

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Introductory Scrivener Tutorial

The toolbar across the top of the window, unlike Microsoft Word, is thankfully sparse and equipped with basic formatting and navigation tools. Just enough tools to get that crucial first draft out of your mind and onto the screen.

The navigation panel on the left is similar to Word’s once you add headings and sections to your document – except there are a few more goodies in Scrivener’s.

Sidebar Menu

Not only can you create sections and sub-sections, but you can also insert entire PDF files and photos, web pages or even audio for quick reference. No more trawling through folders for that file you know you had somewhere!

You can create sections for anything you wish – it doesn’t have to go in the final document. And all deleted items are kept in the trash folder until you manually delete them, so no need to worry about losing things forever.

Tasneem xo

8 PhD Lessons Learned at the Halfway Mark

I’m now officially halfway through my PhD (if I finish in three years, that is). How time flies! Here are some lessons learned at the halfway mark that I hope will help new and experienced researchers alike in their quest for productivity and success:

1. Create a comprehensive filing system
Filing will be mindlessly time-consuming, but helps organise your thoughts in the long term.

2. Handwrite more often
I know I’m researching in the field of informatics, which is all about electronic administration of health care (this includes electronic methods of data entry and access), but research has shown that hand writing aids information retention and creativity. I miss the days of writing furiously with my Pacer pencil on loose pages of lined folder paper, as messy as it was. I also use this awesome software called Scrivener which helps me organise my ideas, but nothing beats a good scribble!

3. Communicate more
With supervisors, administrators, researchers in your field and friends and family! All of these people need to know you’re alive and researching.

4. Establish balance and moderation
Excess is never pretty!

5. Be more decisive
First – plan. Secondly – write (and think) within your plan. A life without goals is wayward and ultimately unfulfilling. So is a paper without structure or purpose!

6. Read, read, read
Not all of it has to be work-related.

7. Each and every action or task must have a purpose
And that purpose needs to advance you in some way, shape or form. Be RESULTS oriented. Which brings us to GOALS – start broad and funnel down to specific tasks and time frames. Map out, hierarchically and chronologically, what you want and how you want to get there.

8. What other people think (beyond the boundaries of supervisory and constructive feedback) is not a primary concern
Identify those you can trust. Love and acceptance from a precious few is all you need. Those are the relationships you need to cultivate. You will never be able to please everyone, so stop trying.