This is the fourth article in the fourteen-part series ‘Dissertation Writing from Start to Finish’. For the full list of articles click here.
In the Third Article, we discussed setting up your system for capturing what you’ve read and thought about. This article is about actually doing that reading, watching and listening.
As I mentioned in the Second Article, when you’re doing research you want to throw the net as widely as possible. Listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos and read as much as you can. The majority of your time will be spent on these kinds of secondary sources. If you need to do primary research, it’s best to get information on how to conduct this directly from your department.
As you may have already discovered, Google Scholar is absolutely brilliant. It’s quick and simple to use, and the range of articles it trawls is seriously extensive. You can set it up with your institution so that it draws results from everything across the internet, with links where you can immediately access content. To the right of the picture below you can see there are pdf options to read the book or article straight away. You can also do interesting things like filter by date and set up alerts.
Google Scholar is also incredible with references. Just click on the word “Cite” and the article’s reference, in many formats, pops up (see below).
Don’t worry about referencing things beautifully to start with. Just make sure that you can clearly work out where the content came from, and batch edit all of that at the very end (the chrome extension makes this process pretty painless).
While it is great, Google Scholar does have some limitations. Some resources, particularly in subjects like Law, are behind specific paywalls and you may need to go through their particular website to access them, but as a general tool and first port of call it’s excellent.
Universities often have their own search tools, and if you can’t find something with Google Scholar, these are the next thing to try.
Another particularly useful resource is obviously the university library, or specific subject library. Make sure to talk to the librarians; they often know a vast amount and are really helpful in directing you to useful resources you might not have thought about, or thought that you wouldn’t be able to get hold of.
Whenever you’re reading something, make sure to have a look at its footnotes. So often these lead to other interesting discoveries.
The way I would suggest doing this is
- making a note of interesting footnotes when you see them, and
- coming back to them en masse after you’ve finished your current bit of reading.
Otherwise you can easily have a huge trail of half-read articles in a dozen different tabs, which it’s a big effort to come back to and sift through.
Finally, a golden rule
To finish off, I have one ‘golden rule’ of research:
Don’t bother reading all of something when it clearly isn’t relevant.
I can’t stress this enough. There’s no reason to finish a whole article for the sake of it. Take what you need, and move on. Knowing when you have what you need comes with practice but stay aware. The moment your mind starts to wander and you realise that you could be doing other, useful things, it’s time to put this article away. If you have the inclination then you can always come back to it later. I hope you’ve found this article helpful.
Now that you’ve got your research process sorted, it’s time to start writing things down. As I highlighted in Article 2, you should be writing straight from the start. The Research and Writing processes should run in parallel. In the next article (the first of three on writing) we discuss using quick capture so you never forget an idea; read it here.