From a grateful student – following the note taking advice of the blogosphere

As I start to hand in the first essays for the coursework in my Phd, I wanted to acknowledge the incredible wealth of advice and support that there is for Phd students on twitter and the internet.

There is a lot of discussion about how Phd students should engage with social media to build networks and promote their research. There is also a ready recognition that social media can help ease what we keep being told can be a lonely and difficult road. It’s the discussion on #phdchat that has really encouraged me to start this blog, and the internet/twitter are also amazing sources for advice on how to do the nuts and blots of Phd work.

I’m particularly grateful for two tweets: the first a guest post by Dr Katherine Firth on the ThesisWhisperer website Turn Your Notes into Writing Using the Cornell Method and the second a post by Pat Thomson on the Patter website Beginning the Literature Review – taking notes.

Somewhere between the two posts I’ve ended up with a really useful template for structuring my notes, and realised that if, rather than just noting individual thoughts and quotes, I write paragraphs in my own voice that reflect on and engage with the text, I have draft words for my literature review, or my current essay project.

This may not sound particularly revolutionary, but imagine my pleasure when I opened up the word doc for my first essay and discovered nearly 4000 words, significantly more than the 2500 needed. As I’d been pasting the words from my notes, into the word doc under the headings of my essay outline, it already had a rough structure. What I now had to do was re-write, edit and fill in gaps. A much easier task than starting with a blank page, trying to remember where everything I’d read was.

It is probably not a perfect system. Re-reading what I’d written I noticed that there were several ideas that kept being triggered by the writing that I’d captured several times. But the repetition probably demonstrates questions or issues that are important for me to note or resolve, and it was good to see how later work picked up earlier readings and had become more integrated text.

Anyway I’ve nearly 10 000 words due between January 21 and February 15, and while I’ve still got a lot to read and write, I’m at least temporarily happy with my process around note taking and turning that into writing.


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