Tag Archives: reading

So I started this thesis nine months ago and as I mentioned in my previous post I had been struggling with the focus in order to tackle the literature review and one of my supervisors said I was actually making the whole literature review harder for myself by not having my aim sorted out.

So since this post I have been using the technique she mentioned and it is all becoming clearer and this in turn means that the literature has suddenly taken on a bright new light. I am now actually reading in a more focused way. I am reading exactly the same stuff as before from my ring-binder reading regime but as that song goes “I can see clearly now the rain has gone”. Before it was “raining in my heart” and I did not feel quite right. Although it is literally raining outside (well the clouds are heavy and I have to go to Sainsbury’s in a minute, so therefore it will rain) my heart feels sunny.

Nine months seems like an awfully long time and actually, I did know what to do all along but because of the lack of aim, I was struggling, well, aimlessly. As I mentioned in a post 6 months ago, reading is a neglected skill but the author had a solution! If only I had actually followed by own advice 6 months ago I may have been nearly finished by now.

So what I did was copy out the grid he uses to read article with and take notes from each paper. I have adapted it a bit to include more on the methods, underlying theory, analysis techniques used but it is a good way of summarising the literature. I’m not quite sure yet how to synthesise it all together, but I will tackle that when I have done a few more of these grids. I can do about 2 or 3 an hour I think – some papers are more complex and dense than others, but since I have read them all before they require just a bit of speed reading.



Literature reviewing grid: Adapted from ‘How to read journal articles in the social sciences’ by Phillip Chong Ho Shon


My second method is mind-mapping. I have bought some mind-mapping software, but I never enjoyed it so much, not for the brainstorming phase. Rather I have a 30 metre roll of paper from IKEA and have mapped out some thoughts on one tiny section of the literature review

1.5 meters of thesis done

1.5 meters of thesis done

At this rate, I hope to have enough work done to upgrade to the PhD in October. I just have to work fast and efficiently. Which brings me onto my final ‘tool’. A massive executive planner where each 15 minutes of the day can be planned.

Yes, I feel a bit stupid and slow off the mark admitting this as well as anxious about the time running away so fast but I also know it is all part of the learning process.

Now to go out in the rain.




Sometimes I worry that I have nothing to show for all that I have been thinking and reading. But how do you ensure that you properly reflect to your supervisors what you have learned and discovered from your reading. How do actually present that? How do you communicate your current thinking and the connections you are making. Do you have to write an essay for them before each meeting to summarise what you have found out? What about if things are still so up in the air that all I have written down are some handwritten scribbles in a notebook or annotations in the margins of articles. I don’t think I could write everything up nice and neatly before every meeting as it is almost like nothing is quite ready yet to be put to print in a nice neat way.

This is the question I am asking my supervisors tomorrow. What is the best and most useful way to show you what I have learned and read and have been thinking to move the project forward?

© Annika Coughlin 2014

Last year before leaving to do this PhD, I worked in an office that had the biggest most industrial printer around. So when it came to writing my research proposal for the PhD I just did a quick literature search (just using search term ‘mature students’) and printed off around 50 articles on this magnificent machine. This big pile of journal articles had been hanging around on my desk ever since, for coming up to a year now, and since I started my PhD I have been lost as to where to start reading and what to read and getting terribly anxious about not doing any reading. But the answer has been staring me in the face all this time.

After reading Jessica Hayton’s blog where she discusses that people suggest a few articles and one book a week is what you should be aiming for, then I felt inspired to set myself a challenge, starting with these printed articles.

I decided to read 2 articles a day and try to get through a book a week for the whole of January.

I went to Sainsbury’s where they have quite a nice little stationery collection and got a jaunty red ring binder, some page dividers and some reduced priced Post-it notes. I also got a reduced priced rainbow trout and made a delightful experimental cous cous dish, but that’s another story.

I chose at random 14 papers and put them in the ring binder separating each batch of 14 by a page divider to indicate each week. Then when I read the papers I write a few notes throughout and also on the front page (just key points from the article and how it might be useful (or not) for my project) and put the date on it when I had read it. I also put a little green dot on it if the article is also in my Endnote account. I may also invest in some gold star stickers if the article was mind blowing and really relevant. Or perhaps a gold ring binder to put them in… we shall see. Here is a pic of my system, the blue post-it note on the top has my monthly target/plan written on it so I don’t forget.

Ring-binder reading regime  (p.s. curtain panel system from IKEA)

Ring-binder reading regime
(p.s. curtain panel system in background from IKEA)

I am reading the articles quickly as the aim of this exercise is to get an overall picture of what people are researching and writing about and to discover key words and themes. I will then do a proper literature search starting in Feb. In Feb I won’t print out every single article, probably just the front page of each (or first four pages, but double sided and two to a page so it is just one piece of paper) and read online instead (unless they get gold star status). But will still use the ring binder method as I think it is good to have something in print, even if just the first page just in case all the computer files go missing etc.

Regarding books, I will start with a book my second supervisor wrote (luckily it is nice and slim) and then move to other books that seem relevant from there…… in time the RRR (ring-binder reading regime) will evolve into something quite perfect I am sure.

(c) Annika Coughlin 2014

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