I’ve had a way of undertaking literature research for a number of years. It’s probably not a very good one, but it has worked for me in the past. (Noted that everything I’ve done in the past has been a complete cakewalk compared to this.)
I undertake three steps when looking at a piece of writing. 1. I read it, while this sounds self-evident I do not necessarily read it in the way recommended in study courses. I READ it, not skim it. Highlighting as I go. It’s worth noting that I am paperless. I have no printer and have not printed out any of my 300+ articles I have sourced this year. I read on an iPad and highlight using Goodreader. My complex relationship with Endnote is fodder for another post.
2. I take notes from my highlights. This is a combination of direct quotes and my surmising of the content. With page references and embedded endnote links. This used to be in word, but is now in sections within Scrivener (which I love.) I probably have 120 individual files so far.
3. I use these notes to draft my writing/content. Of which I have about 10,000 words from last year.
I know there are weaknesses here. There is less analysis than there probably should be on paper, as the links are all in my head. And there is a lot of jumping around, cutting and pasting. And my 120 articles are not categories to the level of detail that’s needed.
When I started at UTS I went to a number (A LOT) of research courses. These have laid out a whole range of techniques, from using Endnote to store all analysis, to mind maps. Many of these techniques seemed great, game changing.
But ultimately they paralysed me. For the first two months of this year I have not added to my ‘master’ document at all. I’ve read a lot. I’ve dropped notes in Endnote, links in Evernote, a mind-map in Coggle.it and references everywhere. But I stopped moving forward. I’ve realised now that all these techniques have actually proven to be a distraction, not a help.
In the past week I returned to my old method when reviewing the 5 articles on critical leadership theory. And I feel I’ve made more progress that I have in the past 2 months.
So my lesson learned is to stick with what works for you. While Endnote is a great tool for saving references and pdf documents, it is not the place for me to store my ideas, quotes and concepts. It just doesn’t work (for me.)
Saying that, I am going to introduce one technique shared by Dr Terry Royce as I think it fills a gap I’m going to need as this monster gets bigger and more complex. That is the idea of a conceptual map that shows authors and articles aligned to topics. As shown in the example below: Later today, however, after I have finished off my 2,000 words on critical leadership theory, I plan to get down on the floor with butcher’s paper and sharpies, and draw the biggest structure possible, incorporating the concepts discussed in this post. Like my process, my structure is leaning back toward the one I started with because it is comfortable and makes sense to me.
My new rule: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.