Turbo charge your thesis: reading, note-taking and writing

hi everyone I’m Nick awkward if you haven’t come across people I’m a senior lecturer at UTSA this video you might be being asked to watch it because you’re going to be working with me in a workshop called turbocharged your thesis or turbocharged or thesis writing or something like that in which case this is a video that helps you prepare for that workshop but we’ll spend a busy day doing a lot of activities that give you a chance to put some of the things I’m going to talk about actually into practice and to try them out in a risk-free low stakes environment now you might just come across this video through Twitter or a blog or through links on YouTube in which case I hope it’s useful to you and I guess the point is it would then be up to you to think about creating the conditions and what to make in which it makes sense to try some of these things out the idea of turbocharged is not about cheating or shortcuts or compromising on the quality of research on the writing and the reading that you do just to be quicker but I was inspired to do this workshop or prompted to do it because I realized that over time I’d learned a lot of strategies and I attended like a workshops here at the UTS library and I realized there were more I could have learnt and I’ve been trying them out which enable you to be more strategic and purposeful in the way you read write notes and write and they can be empowering and exciting and help you build confidence and they can save you lots and lots of time and I’ve been very vocal in stuff for a lot of people particularly doctoral students and masters by research students the default can be actually what’s quite a time consuming on strategic and inefficient way of reading and writing and you might feel bad for doing some of the things that I’m saying and you might disagree that’s that’s fine that’s normal but what I am trying to do is to suggest that it’s not just about trying to do things quicker but a try it’s trying to do things smarter and one of the outcomes are doing things smarter is that you often will actually end up doing them quicker I’ve got some notes here to just carol to help you get the lock there are three areas are going to cover number one read how you approach read how fast can you read how much should you read do you have to read everything everybody writes to note-taking what do you write or anything when you’re reading and three writing and preparing for writing or warm-up writing and this is not about how to do good writing or the content of phrasing and structure and things like that this is about reading note-taking and writing so firstly reading you might assume that we take an article and we read it from start to finish or a book or a chapter in your book or policy document or something else I would say for me now that’s rarely the case obviously for some things I know they’re important I’m going to read at the beginning and I’m going to read every word in detail to the end that’s fine Oh some things I may read two or three times I might read them very very slowly and I might go back and read them again and try and understand them when it’s relevant spending a lot of time reading something that’s really important or difficult is absolutely sensible and then break the right thing to do but that’s not always going to be the best approach that’s not always going to what you need to do that’s not always going to be what’s the most relevant to do so I’m going to talk through a few things that I’ve learned from the UTS library and over my own experience and talking to colleagues things that can help you maybe think differently about reading one of them is previewing so maybe you have got like I do a big tall pile of articles that you think you should read that people have sent you what you’ve found through online or you’ve got them from the library or you set in the library and you’re looking at a shelf a big giant list of journals previewing is really about a form of reading that helps you make a decision about what kind of reading to do next if any so you can look at titles section headings captions under figures or photographs you can even look at the references so it might be that something looks by the title to be relevant to your field but you look at the way the headings work and you look through the references now actually this is not a kind of study that’s of the kind that’s relevant to me actually in the field I’m talking about although it looked relevant it may not be so this is about getting a sense of the content of something and may looking a more informed decision about whether you think it’s worth reading on that may also be a precursor to which sections you may want to read skimming is not cheating skimming is about looking through a text to try and find its main ideas before you make a judgement to spend an hour or two hours reading a paper you can skim it it’s often normally three or four times faster than actual reading and some people can skim it much more than that it doesn’t mean you’re trying to avoid the content it’s actually about finding what the key ideas are so you’re reading through you can have a lot of material ahead of you and you’re trying to distill out what the key ideas are it’s not reading at this point the thorough understanding it’s reading for the key ideas and it may be but that’s enough to say okay those are ideas I’m familiar with these are authors I’m familiar with this is a study I’m familiar with that has other publications and I want to get a sense of how this particular paper is different from other things that have been written so you might use skimming to see if an article of interest is actually worth reading more so after a bit of previewing skimming could be there as a way of doing it skimming is not about cheating or missing things out it’s about looking for key my key ideas now scanning is kind of like a more purposive version of skimming scanning is a technique to locate specific things relevant information so it might be that you’re looking at something because you using a theory that you’re working with or a methodology you’re interested in or is something which you know is kind of some findings that you really need to get your head around so scanning is a very purpose if I don’t need to take everything that’s in this paper I need to look just at this it may be something where you expect the literature review will be Rajee familiar to you and so you can scan for other things you may be scanning for how did these people do their analysis it may be that you’re coming back to a paper you’ve read before from start to finish and now you’ve got a new purpose I have heaps of notes on my wall here where I’ve read papers two or three times the first paid time I might have just previewed it or skimmed then I might have read it in depth and now I’m coming back and I’m scanning because I’ve got a new purpose what do I want to look for this time ah I wanted to know how they did their observation or what they did with their interviews or quite remember something what am I going for – scanning purposive it’s on your terms you don’t have to read things on the terms of which the people wrote them you’re reading for your purposes now that there can be what you call reading analytically this focus is on a whole text structure or categories or hierarchies of information reading analytically is about how is something organized now it can be really useful to you if for example you’re at the stage of writing a paper yourself or writing your thesis and you say I just can’t get this flow or I can’t get the right structure or I’m not quite sure what order to do things or what’s a priority for me if you read some things analytically they could be texted you know really well already there could be new ones to you you can be you’re not looking for the word-for-word content you’re looking for how did this person organize their ideas why does certain things come before others that could be looking at subheadings or themes if there is an analysis where it says you know we had three themes it could be if this person has written their paper well looking at the first sentence of each paragraph and thinking how did they go from one to the other what was the order in which ideas were introduced often the first sentence of a paragraph will be a key to what the whole paragraph contains so that organizational level you may not need to read the whole thing you can just be reading analytically for certain things you might be thinking about two ideas that you know you’re really interested in and how they relate to each other I should mention actually the many of these ideas and the notes I’m referring to came from a workshop I attended here at the Graduate research school a UTS run by Terry Royce on thanking him and acknowledging from this resource it’s been able in me to put into words and into an organized form something out of a struggle to do by myself the next thing on this is then close reading now of course this is what many others do by default and I’m not saying that all readings should be quick reading or cheap reading but when we do close reading what I’m saying is we should be doing it for the right reasons not just because we read everything equally closely and we have to think okay I’m deciding to read this closely now what is the closeness that I want am I looking for how this person crafts their words because this is one of the most beautifully expressive writers I’ve come across am I looking for the intricacies of theory is it everything about their discussion and their findings that I’m really interested in or when we’re really trying to hone in on their lit review either because I want to know what they’ve been reading and what’s known in my area or because I want to use this to learn how to write my own lick with you so even close reading doesn’t have to apply to a whole text you can of course read a whole text very closely and even if you read the whole text closely doesn’t mean you necessarily start at the beginning there are all sorts of things to do with reading and reading differently that you may be able to add or try out and this is not an exhaustive list just what I’m putting out there is the idea that you don’t have to read everything the same way and in fact it doesn’t make sense to do so if you start everything by making lots and lots of reading slowly making lots of notes I doubt that’s going to be serving you well you’ve got to think about what kind of reading is going to serve me well here there’s nothing dishonest or disingenuous about skimming some things scanning others reading abstracts and titles for the studies are the closest to yours you’re going to want to know them in very much depth there might be some studies that aren’t really that closely related to your own work but you just have to know they’re there in which case there’s nothing wrong perhaps with just reading the abstract if you’re not going to be citing it in-depth you just need to know these people did this and this is what they found fine I may be making a big mistake here by revealing this and making this public but I’ll tell you I do that all the time I read a lot of things very closely and I use many of these other approaches when I think it makes sense to me of course you could always go back later and read closely you don’t necessarily skim first and read closely later you might be closely then come back and scan with the purpose now I’m going to talk a bit about note-taking now I used to be I think one of the world’s worst note takers I remember when I was studying in school the book in French and I used to get pens and I had red black and blue and underlined the words and once the teacher forgotten her book and so I said oh you can borrow mine I’ll share with somebody and she looked at my book I said Nick every sentence in the whole chapter of this book is underlined what are you doing and she was right not underlining meant nothing apart from it made the book harder to read I’ve got articles where I’ve highlighted well over fifty percent of the text using my little highlight I’ve got notes here on myself I can show you where I was typing up notes as I was reading more afterwards and they were almost as long as the paper in itself what a waste of time so I’m going to talk about a number of things firstly I’m going to think about if you’re highlighting things or underlining things by hand or making notes in the margins marginal notes I think are really interesting actually but highlighting underlining why are you doing that and how much are you doing it how much the more you’re highlighting the less discerning you are being when you’re highlighting something if you think about it if you’re highlighting 10% of an article it means something’s got to be really quite important before it gets highlighted 50% when half the things are getting in and half the things are about highlighting isn’t telling you much about what’s important so highlighting and underlining and typing up as you go along of course they have a role but you’ve got to be in control of them and make them a discerning what justifies you highlighting something what justifies you making some notes here are some alternatives that you can do firstly and one of my favorites that I’m currently kind of really interested in is concept maps and I’ve got an example here a concept map is a link between different ideas now this one is it’ll be backwards because it’s kind of mirrored through my computer camera doesn’t matter about reading the text it can be are the ideas that the authors present so you could do some analytical reading about the different structure and things like that and then how they relate together a concept map these different ideas or themes and how they relate together you could have a concept map that was much more based on your own ideas so it could be what am I taking from this and it could be even ideas that are from your study maybe not in the author’s own words but it’s something you’re taking from that text so it’s a link between ideas so it’s an illustration of ideas and what links them you see this is quite simple now what I would do is I would read a paper and at the end of it I’ll give myself one sheet of a4 and I would that’s my limit and I write up the concept map on that I don’t write it as I go along and read the paper and I write it at the end it also means I’m a bit quicker cuz I read the paper in one go so I kind of wit flow with the authors rather than breaking up excuse me by writing different notes at different times I’m reading the paper I’m in the flow then I write at my concept map this is about notes of organize ideas and how they relate to each other you could also write lists I don’t do this but I know some people have so you could make lists of the key ideas lists of the key references or areas of literature lists of concepts lists of findings or analytical themes and lists of implications that could be a very easy way to come back and you can be looking at your notes and going okay what did this person say about the literature Britain there you go you’ve got it very accessible and very easy you might in some lists add some things so if it’s concepts you might add a sentence or two about a definition what additional information if any might you want to put onto a key point you could also do and this is hard and in one sentence summary this is you read an article and you give yourself one sentence to write down what you’ve done now this may not be the only note you take but it’s a really good thing to do along with some of these other things I often put a one sentence summary on the top of the concept maps I do this forces you to think what is the most important thing I took from this not what did that also want to say what is the most important thing I’ve taken from this study there’s a five sentence versions without which I call the five sentence synopsis and you can choose which kind of five sentences you might want to work with so it could be what’s the context that aims their methods and findings and conclusions that’ll be quite a standard one and you’d also might want to add what would it mean for me you could be something about who are the authors while theory did they use what were the key concepts what were the key messages what do I need to follow up on five completely different sentences there from the first look you could choose which five sentences are going to be best for me in summarizing this given the purposes I’ve been looking for you might have another approach is a limited number of key quotes so this is about directly taking phrases and often on a concept map I’ll put a page number or even write out a phrase if it’s a really really juicy quote that’s beautifully articulated it expresses what I want to say no I’d say again don’t go crazy highlighting your copy and pasting the fact is that quotes already been written by somebody else so you do generally need to write to the game you might set yourself a limit maybe two or five what are the two best lines or sentences from this paper and why do I choose them and why are they good and this is starting to use note-taking to force you to think to really do some hard thinking note-taking shouldn’t be a passive activity just so oh yeah okay I’ve read this up should write it down it’s an active one where you shape the interaction between you and the knowledge that you’re engaging with in the literature I might add at this point though there’s another form of reading that you could engagement which might be called critical reading this is different from analytic reading that I mentioned before it’s about the organization’s or ideas critical reading is about kind of judgment and saying well what it aspects of this are good and what are less good and of course your notes may reflect that you may make some five sentences on what the three key strengths and the two limitations or the two flaws that you found in that study so you may be making notes that are critically oriented like that a famous way of note-taking is what might be called an annotated bibliography or this might happen after you’ve made some notes and this I would say is probably a slightly more elaborate or systematic way of the five sentence summary it doesn’t necessarily have five components to it you might have a number of heading some of which you use all the time and some of which you don’t I use ones like why do I read this what did I find out one of the key arguments what were the methods used are they saying that there’s more research needed what was the design all sorts of things like that annotated bibliographies you can google that and you’ll see lots of examples I’ve done an example of an annotated bibliography and my own blog when you look it up about the works by Theodore chatsky this is not an exhaustive list of ways to make notes on literature I’m sure there are lots more out there I’m early in my experience of trying to find out ways to make my note-taking more interesting and more effective and by effective I mean note-taking that forces you to think I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and note-taking that serves me well when I come back to my notes coming back to notes to the three pages long I’ve got an EndNote library full of those like that are not that useful to me am I we were looking back at the original and that’s probably better anyway if I’m going to cite something I’m always going to go and check in the original I don’t take it amount of context but my concept maps they really helped me figure out oh I remember that paper here are the ideas and yes I do want to cite something directly from this so I go to the original so concept maps lists one sentence summaries five sentence summaries key quotes really key quotes selectively highlighting or underlining yes margin notes in the margins and things like that my concept Maps you can see like this they’re done by hand because I find it quickest but I do scan them and put them as a PDF in my EndNote library so that I can find them again pretty easily online so although they’re not searchable in terms of the words in there I can look through them online without having to come back to my big bookshelf here now I promise I’ll talk about three things and I’m true to my promises so what I’m going to talk about now is prewriting and just to prove that these are not just purely my ideas here are the resources that I’m going to refer to from that I got from the UTS library but I think about these things now one of the things I think is really important is the idea that you warm up for writing if you’re going to go and run a marathon you warm up and you practice four things and I think one of the things that makes writing difficult is the fact that we kind of we go from nothing to starting to write what we hope is going to be the final text or something close to it there are all sorts of writing that come in between having read and make notes or thought about something and the writing and these in-between things often change your ideas so you write yourself into new understandings of course your ideas change as you actually go writing full texts one of the things I find most exciting and releasing if you like is free writing that’s just put all my books away often I switch my computer off from my email off don’t have any literature there I just write that could be I’ve read something I’m just going to write what I’ve remembered from it or what I took from it it could be I’ve read 50 things over the last week what I’ve been taking from it or it could be here’s a draft of a chapter or an idea for an abstract of a paper you’ll be amazed what you know what you in fact it’s often the best writing when I’ve had problems with voice beep my supervisors in the passage to say Oh Nick I think this needs more voice it’s a very common problem that many students have well if you’re free writing you don’t have anybody else whose voice is interfering with you it’s just you you don’t have to worry about citations references and quotes and years and authors and all that you just write what you think of what you want to say and you just stop and you stop there is no editing of free writing you just go and go until oh no it’s half a page until you run out of ideas it’s fine free writing is just about getting ideas out there on the page you don’t have to regulate it or evaluate it as you write along there is no bad free writing just as making notes can be involved listening and things like that I think making lists is really useful for thinking about writing often I’ve listed the number of things I want to say and if it’s for a paper usually that’s way too many and you have to cut them down and then you can think about how can I organize those now what you could do is a warm-up I’ve seen some people try this is do something completely unrelated to your research to get your brain working so you might for example write a shopping list and then think how can I organize these well I can organize the items by which shop they’re going to come from how expensive they might be whether they’re to be eaten or not to be eaten or whether they’re large or small items and that will just very quickly get you going you could do the same with a whole number of things if you’re writing a paper what are the ideas who are the people I want to refer to how can I group those together doing that for example for a lit review could be really useful because you end up don’t end up with a paragraph equals person or paragraph equals paper structure but rather you group them together so listing and outlines is really useful brainstorming is that presumably familiar to many of you but it’s a very good way I think of starting writing or warming up for writing brainstorming is a kind of a very unstructured just free flow of ideas and it may be through a brainstorm that you create a list so who knows what these things might come in various orders blank piece of paper and you just dump everything you can think about an issue there’s no judgement no prioritizing no valuing anything in this moment it’s just everything you can do that without any things around do it first and then you can add to it and then after that you can start doing some organizing and critiquing and quite often you can tone a brainstorm into a concept map you can group things together you can dismiss some things as less important or less relevant and so a brainstorm can become a concept map or a mind map that’s me sorry about that so my mapping writing warm-up writing all of these things I think counters warm-up writing or planning writing as well you could I was told when I was doing my exams in undergraduate alright sit on your hands first sitting on my hands and then plan before you write and planning can be outlines you can write your headings and your subheadings I’ll often write the headings subheadings and in the first sentence of each paragraph I said before if things are written well you can read the first sentence of each paragraph and get a sense of the ideas and how the paper flows writing the first census with a paragraph first what’s this paragraph about and then you can move them around to think well okay is there something I need between here and here okay that’s probably a new paragraph that you need then this is two paragraphs saying essentially the same thing in which case if you’re like me and you usually write more than is good then delete one of them so writing like that outlines headings you can also do little bits of warm-up writing as a summary so I’m gonna write a paper about this this is why it’s important this is why the readers of this journal will be interested in it so a huge number of things I’ve covered here very very quickly for those of you who are going to be in the workshop with me or turbocharging workshop we’re going to spend a day you’re going to get chance to try out heaps of these things you’re going to be reading things in ways you’ve never read before can be making new kinds of notes and seeing how it goes and you’ll be going to doing some writing under extreme time pressures it’s going to be really really fun but it’s a very safe environment for you to try things out it doesn’t matter if it all goes wrong point is that you get to learn and try out new things I’m really happy for people to add to this video by adding comments underneath if you’ve got other suggestions maybe you think I’m a lazy academic who cheats all the time fine I’m not saying read everything really really quickly and cheat at the reading or take shortcuts what I am saying is read smartly taking notes smartly after making fewer notes he’ll be better notes and we make a result of better thinking and we bet it more useful to you afterwards and when you write if you like me if I’d writing hard do some warm-up writing prewriting mind maps brainstorms lists and outlines first sentences of each paragraph so I hope you found this useful once again I’d like to acknowledge the Terry Royce on the University of Technology Sydney graduate research school they really helped me organize my thoughts and get some of these resources together for those of you who are joining me in the turbocharged workshop I hope to see you soon and for those of you who’ve just been watching this student from another University I hope this is useful and if you’d like to come and do a workshop with getting in touch with me take a

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