Research hacks #8: How to know when “good enough” is good enough in acacemic writing

For students who want to work faster, smarter and more effectively

It is a given that in academia you don’t have enough time to make everything you do as good as it possibly could be. How should you deal with that? You should know when “good enough” is good enough, stop, and move on to the next thing. You should…

  • know when you’ve read enough secondary material to start writing.
  • know when your argument contains enough for an article-length piece.
  • know when you have sufficient material for a thesis chapter.
  • know when you’ve re-drafted adequately for your article to read well and clearly.

Knowing when your work is good enough to submit is often a case of mistrusting the inner voice that incessantly whispers “just”: I “just” need to read one more book; I “just” need to make one more point; I “just” need to give my article one more read-through. An extra hour’s work probably would improve your piece, but only marginally, and it would be an hour you can’t spend on another project that risks never seeing the light of day because of your addiction to pushing for that extra 0.5% increase in quality.

To read all the research hacks posted to date, please click here.

Many (most?) academics are perfectionists, and if you have that streak you will likely recoil in horror at the very thought of submitting something that is not 100% as you would want it. But here’s the hard truth: if you listen to that siren voice of perfectionism you won’t publish enough to get noticed in the first place, and you will risk over-engineering your writing, losing its sense of vigour and subjecting it to death by a thousand cuts. It’s not worth it.

Try reverse engineering your decision-making. Would you sacrifice article C or postpone it for a year in order to make articles A and B a bit better? If you would, then — great — go ahead and sink further time into those two articles. Oftentimes, however, the answer will be “no way, I’d rather have three”.

So, as a general rule, let your “good enough” be good enough. As with all general rules, however, this one comes with caveats. Here they are:

  • “Good enough” doesn’t mean bad, shoddy or second-rate. It means that if, after 30 hours’ work, the article is 95% as good as it would be after 100 hours’ work, then that 95% is plenty.
  • “Good enough” is also a minimum. And when it comes to academic writing, good enough is a pretty high standard. If it’s not clear, rigorous, relevant, well-argued and almost or entirely free of grammatical mistakes and typos then it’s not good enough. Go back and keep working on it.
  • Occasionally, a piece of work will come across your desk that merits going the extra mile, spending the 100 hours rather than 30 for the slight increase in quality, pulling out all the stops and squandering more time than you would usually spend. Perhaps it’s a key article that you are submitting to a top journal or a piece of writing that will serve as your signature contribution to your chosen field. Perhaps it’s the introduction to your thesis, the five pages that will make the first impression on your doctoral examiners. When that piece of work lands in your inbox, recognize it and blow your budget on it. But don’t spend all your savings on every single piece of writing.

Your time is precious. Guard it by refusing to sink endless hours into marginal gains that will be invisible to your readers and won’t serve any purpose apart from indulging your own sense of perfectionist satisfaction. Stop and think: will reading that extra book, adding that extra paragraph or making those extra cosmetic edits be a better way of spending time than working on something else? If the answer is “no”, then stop.

How do you decide when more time spent on a project begins to yield insignificant gains?
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Research hacks #7: Read everything, but not in the same way

For students who want to work faster, smarter and more effectively

If one thing is non-negotiable about academic research in the arts and humanities, it is that there will be a lot of reading. In fact, there will almost certainly be too much reading, so you’d better have a strategy to cope with the bibliographical tsunami headed your way.

You can’t read every word that has been written about your subject in the same way, or ponder every word with the same depth, so you need to develop different reading strategies for different types of text. Here are four different strategies to get you going.

Read everything, but not in the same way

  • Your key primary texts. Read them slowly and often. Know them and own them. This is where the bulk of your reading time needs to go. Be familiar with your primary texts like old friends. Get to the point where you can tell if a secondary source is treating the primary text with respect or not. Get to the point where you can read the argument of a secondary article and say “hey, what about that bit in the primary text where…”. Get to the point where you have something to say in your own voice about the primary text: your reading, your take on what it is saying, how it all fits together and what the important bits are.
  • Unknown secondary texts. These are texts that might end up playing a big role in your argument and might not, but you’re not sure yet. Try to get a quick sense of how useful an article or book will by:
    • reading the table of contents (of a book) or the abstract (of an article).
    • reading the introduction and conclusion to get a sense of the overall argument.
    • reading the first sentence of each paragraph in a section or chapter you think might be important.
    • if you are working with electronic copies of your texts: searching for key words that are important to your argument.

To read all the research hacks posted to date, please click here.

By this point you should have a good sense of whether the article or book you are reading will be a key secondary text or an unimportant secondary text.

  • Your key secondary texts. These are the books and/or articles with which you will engage most thoroughly in your writing, upon which you will rest some of your own argument, or against which you will define your own position.
    • Read and weigh every word, but not with the same obsessive frequency with which you keep coming back to your primary texts.
    • Identify the key passages you want to lean on or with which you want to take issue, and read them forensically, making sure you understand their every little twist and turn, and the weight and implication of every word. But don’t then forget about the rest of the book, as if these purple passages existed in splendid isolation. That’s called proof-texting and its sloppy workmanship.
    • If you are setting your own position in contradistinction to a particular secondary text then read against yourself. In other words, try to prove that you are misunderstanding the secondary text. If you can’t prove yourself wrong, then chances are your argument is good. If you can, you’re probably attacking a straw man and need either to strengthen your argument or abandon it.
  • Other secondary texts.
    • Discern and note their main arguments, so that you will know whether you need to come back to them later if your own approach changes.
    • It’s OK not to read every word of these texts. It really is.
    • Invest your precious time in mastering your primary texts and coming to the point where you know your key secondary texts well enough that no-one could accuse you of attacking a straw man.

One last word. Don’t trust reviews to tell you if a book is worth reading. Book reviews are peculiar beasts that have an annoying habit of focusing on details marginal to the book’s main concerns, or missing out on important arguments in the book. Read them, but don’t rely on them alone.

What strategies and tips do you have for managing different sorts of reading?
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Research Hacks # 6: Capture every important thought you have, even on the go

For students who want to work faster, smarter and more effectively

I forget which episode it is, but in season 3 of The West Wing Toby Ziegler declares one morning that he has nothing more to do in the day. It is a situation no doubt rare for a White House Communications Director, but  unheard of for a research academic. Here’s why: for a research academic work is thinking, and you can always think.

You can think in the shower in the morning; you can think as you brush your teeth; you can think as you walk or drive to work; you can think while eating; you can think in bed, and someone has no doubt proven that you can also think while asleep. So the reality of the academic life—by turns exhilarating, grim and just plain exhausting—is that the only time you are “off” is when you force yourself to be off.

Capture every thought you have, even on the go

This clearly has implications for “work-life balance”, and I hope to address those implications in future posts. What I want to focus on today is a great way to capture those precious “anytime thoughts” that can so easily escape. Here’s a frustrating scenario many academics will find all too familiar:

You’re cleaning your teeth and as you contemplate your foaming mouth in the mirror it suddenly strikes you that there is a great way to re-structure Chapter Four (this might sound weird; researchers will know what I mean). You think “I’ll definitely write that down when I get in front of a computer”. An hour later, at your desk, your mind draws a total blank. You remember that the idea was important, just not what it was, and it gnaws away at you for the rest of the week.

What you need is a quick and easy way of recording thoughts as you have them, so that you can capture everything and say goodbye for ever to that awful feeling of “just what was that thought I had earlier?”

To read all the research hacks posted to date, please click here.

You could carry a pencil and notepad with you, but in my opinion this slows you down too much and you can’t easily write while doing other things. I prefer to use a dictaphone, which I try to carry round with me wherever I go. It is the equivalent of the artist’s sketchbook for those of us who primarily work with words rather than images. My own model is an Olympus WS-853:

dictaphone

Here’s why I like it:

  • It’s small and fits easily in my pocket
  • I can operate it without looking at it
  • it stores 5 X 200 audio notes even without the optional micro-USB storage
  • It has built-in USB connectivity so I can download notes to my PC without any extra gear
  • It charges directly from USB so I don’t need to worry about new batteries
  • It has settings for personal dictation (which minimises extraneous sounds in a noisy environment) and conference recording (which does a decent job of picking up voices from all parts of a large room)
  • It has a voice-activated option, particularly useful when doing hand-intensive jobs like cleaning the house, exercising or driving. Just attach a lapel mic (I use an Olympus ME 15), set the voice activation level and you have a hands-free solution for recording whatever you say with no tracts of silence to fast forward in between).

Another advantage of this sort of note taking is that, as you begin to record a thought, it can often expand to the point where you find yourself saying much more than you had planned when you began to speak. You don’t know what you think until you try to express it, and the final results are often a pleasant surprise.

This productivity hack has served me very well over the years. I remember, for example, hitting on the conclusion to Difficult Atheism while waiting for my order in a kebab shop, scurrying outside to record my thoughts. The kebab tasted so much better afterwards.

A dictaphone may not be your thing, especially if you work in a graphically rich area or like to think in images, but if you want to avoid the dreaded “What was that thought I had earlier?” moment, then try to figure out your best way to capture everything.

Just to be clear, I have no relationship with Olympus and I’ve received no benefit, financial or otherwise, in exchange for recommending their gear in this post.
CC Image courtesy of Victor Rosen on Flickr.

What solutions work for you to take advantage of the useful thoughts you have at “random” times?

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Research Hacks # 5: Microsoft Word macros for academics

For students who want to work faster, smarter and more effectively

macrosOne of the sweetest time-savers I have discovered over my years as an academic is the Microsoft Word macro. Macros are ways to automate common tasks in Word. They save you time, clicks and button presses, all of which allows you to keep your mind on the content of your writing rather than on its formatting. They also allow you to accomplish with a quick key-press operations that would otherwise require multiple mouse-clicks and navigation through all manner of windows and toolbars. The result: your fingers stay poised to type and your eyes remain focused on the screen, rather than having to break your concentration and reach for the mouse.

Word macros keyboard

Here are the common Word macros I use, with the keyboard shortcut on the left and the resultatnt formatting on the right (the code can be found at the end of this post). They must have saved me tens of thousands of clicks over the years.

word-macro-shortcuts-for-academics

Here are a few notes of explanation:

  • These shortcuts make it easier for you to find what you want in a marked-up document by using a consistent highlighting scheme. You can call up any previously marked-up document and know immediately what all your highlights meant without having to consult any custom key. The scheme I use is:
    • Green highlight for people
    • Blue highlight for names of books, articles and places
    • Orange text for quotations (in-line quotations: ALT + O; block quotations ATL + Q)
    • Yellow highlight for general highlighting of sentences or phrases that I want to be able to find again quickly
    • Red highlight for the most important words/sentences
    • Purple highlight as a catch-all or document-specific category not covered by the other colours
  • If you want to use the ALT + N macro, be sure to replace my initials (CW) in the code below with your own.

You can record your own macros by following the tutorial here, but in order to save you time I’ve included below the Visual Basic for the macros listed above for you to cut and paste into your version of Word. This way, you don’t have to download anything from my site and you can see exactly what you’re allowing onto your machine.

To use my VB:

  • Within Microsoft Word press ALT + F8 to get a list of the current macros in your normal.dotm template.
  • Click “edit” for any of the macros you see (it doesn’t matter which one). This will bring up the MSWord Visual Basic editor.
  • Scroll down to the bottom of the window and paste in the code I provide below.
  • Close the Visual Basic window. Simple! You might need to restart Word for the macros to take effect.
  • You will then need to go through the macros and assign their keyboard shortcuts manually, as I can’t find a way to incorporate keyboard shortcuts into the macros themselves. Here’s how to assign the shortcuts, courtesy of Lorien on this page:
    • Click the Microsoft Office Button , and then click Word Options.
    • Click Customize.
    • Next to Keyboard shortcuts, click Customize.
    • In the Categories list, click Macros.
    • In the Macros list, click the macro that you want to change.
    • In the Press new shortcut key box, type the key combination that you want to choose.
    • Check the Current keys box to make sure that you aren’t assigning a key combination that you already use to perform a different task.
    • In the Save changes in list, click the option that matches where you want to run your macro. Important   To make your macro available in all documents, be sure to click Normal.dotm.
    • Click Close.
  • When you next quit Word you will see a prompt saying something like “Changes have been made that affect the global template, Normal.dot. Do you want to save those changes?”. Click “yes” if you want your new macros to be available next time you open Word.

 

Sub heading1()
'
' heading1 Macro
'
'
Selection.Style = ActiveDocument.Styles("Heading 1")
End Sub
Sub heading2()
'
' heading2 Macro
'
'
Selection.Style = ActiveDocument.Styles("Heading 2")
End Sub
Sub heading3()
'
' heading3 Macro
'
'
Selection.Style = ActiveDocument.Styles("Heading 3")
End Sub
Sub heading4()
'
' heading4 Macro
'
'
Selection.Style = ActiveDocument.Styles("Heading 4")
End Sub
Sub heading5()
'
' heading5 Macro
'
'
Selection.Style = ActiveDocument.Styles("Heading 5")
End Sub
Sub heading6()
'
' heading6 Macro
'
'
Selection.Style = ActiveDocument.Styles("Heading 6")
End Sub
Sub heading7()
'
' heading7 Macro
'
'
Selection.Style = ActiveDocument.Styles("Emphasis")
End Sub
Sub NormalText()
'
' NormalText Macro
'
'
Selection.Style = ActiveDocument.Styles("Normal")
Selection.Style = ActiveDocument.Styles("Normal")
End Sub
Sub BlockQuotation()
'
' BlockQuotation Macro
'
'
With Selection.ParagraphFormat
.LeftIndent = CentimetersToPoints(1.25)
.SpaceBeforeAuto = False
.SpaceAfterAuto = False
End With
Selection.Font.Color = -654262273
End Sub
Sub yellow()
'
' yellow Macro
'
'
Options.DefaultHighlightColorIndex = wdYellow
Selection.Range.HighlightColorIndex = wdYellow
End Sub
Sub red()
'
' red Macro
'
'
Options.DefaultHighlightColorIndex = wdRed
Selection.Range.HighlightColorIndex = wdRed
End Sub
Sub blue()
'
' blue Macro
'
'
Options.DefaultHighlightColorIndex = wdTurquoise
Selection.Range.HighlightColorIndex = wdTurquoise
End Sub
Sub purple()
'
' purple Macro
'
'
Options.DefaultHighlightColorIndex = wdPink
Selection.Range.HighlightColorIndex = wdPink
End Sub
Sub CWNote()
'
' CWNote Macro
'
'
Selection.TypeText Text:="[]"
Selection.MoveLeft Unit:=wdCharacter, Count:=2, Extend:=wdExtend
Options.DefaultHighlightColorIndex = wdYellow
Selection.Range.HighlightColorIndex = wdYellow
Selection.MoveRight Unit:=wdCharacter, Count:=1
Selection.MoveLeft Unit:=wdCharacter, Count:=1
Selection.TypeText Text:="CW:"
Selection.MoveRight Unit:=wdCharacter, Count:=1
Selection.TypeText Text:=" "
End Sub
Sub OrangeText()
'
' OrangeText Macro
'
'
Selection.Font.Color = -654262273
End Sub

What academic Word macros save your time? Feel free to post them in the “Comments” section below.

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Research Hacks #4: One important question to increase the focus of your academic research

For students who want to work faster, smarter and more effectively

Strange as it may sound, it is easy to drift along in academia without focus. You would think that, with the long hours and hard work involved in research and publishing, every academic would know exactly where they are going and the best way to get there. Not so. There are so many pressures on our time, so many “great opportunities” that come our way, and so many people wanting to recruit us for their own pet project that it’s easy to spread ourselves very thinly. So thinly, in fact, that even we don’t know what we’re about any more, never mind trying to convinve anyone else. It’s something we can start to do as a PhD, and from which it can be very hard to extricate ourselves later on.

Research focus image

Think of your research like a river. The more you publish, the more water flows downstream. What you want is a healthy and vigorous flow, not a miserable, stagnant trickle. There are two ways to increase the flow, but most of the time we only think of one of them. The first and obvious way to increase the flow is the brute force method: work harder, produce more, send more water down the river. This is a strategy with limited potential; you only have 24 hours a day and if you don’t want to neglect your health, your family, your friends, or the rest of your life, then your capacity to increase your flow by this first method has a low ceiling.

To read all the research hacks posted to date, please click here.

The second strategy doesn’t involve sending more water downstream, but rather narrowing the riverbanks. The more the water is constricted, the faster and more forcefully it will flow; it is a principle you prove every time you put your finger over the end of a hosepipe and then turn it on. This strategy doesn’t necessarily increase the amount you produce, but tightens its focus to an area where your compound impact is more likely to make an impression.

So how do you choose what to focus on? Here is one very important question that can help you move toward that fast-flowing ideal:

  • What do you want to do better than anyone else?

Or perhaps this variant will be more suited to your research:

  • What do you want to know more about than anyone else?

The key word in the question is “anyone”. The question is not asking what you want to be good at; it’s asking what you want to be the best in the world at. The question is simple enough, but it’s potential to change the way we see our research is huge.

Think about it: when you want to know something, where do you go? Most likely, you go straight to the single most respected authority in that area. Then, if you have some spare time, perhaps to the second most respected. Everyone else does exactly the same. So if you aren’t in the top two go-to people for a particular topic, the likelihood is the impact and visibility of your work will be minimal.

In case this is beginning to sound like an oracle of doom, the good news is that the area in which you know more than everyone else doesn’t have to be huge. In fact, everyone who has completed a PhD almost certainly has such an area already, however small it is.

Once you have identified the area in which you want to be THE go-to person, the key is to focus on it relentlessly, gradually widening it. Publish in that area; interact with others in that area; review in that area; speak in that area; blog in that area; advocate for that area. Make it yours. Because if your research lacks focus and you are not the go-to person for anything at all, then what compelling reason does anyone have to read your work?

What strategies have you devised to focus your academic research amid the competing demands on your time?

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Research Hacks #3: Help! I can’t settle on a research project

For students who want to work faster, smarter and more effectively

It might sound stupid: You know you want to embark on a research project, you might even know you want to pursue a career in academia, but you just can’t settle on an Honours/Masters/PhD project. In addition to asking the three key questions in research hack #2, I want to help you by providing a cheat sheet of the most common types of research project in the arts and humanities.

Research - what to choose?

To read all the research hacks posted to date, please click here.

Most research projects in the arts and humanities conjure with three elements: people (usually theorists or authors), topics (big questions or themes), and movements. These three elements can be combined in the following ways:

Form

Example

What person P says about topic T

Jean-Luc Nancy and Community

What P1, P2 and P3 say about topic T (more suited to PhD than Honours or Masters)

The Question of Ontology in Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Paul Ricœur and Jean-Luc Nancy [this was my own PhD topic!]

What person P says about related topics T1 and T2

Marx, Capital and Religion

What P1 says about P2’s work

Badiou’s Beckett

What P1, P2 and P3 say about P4’s work (more suited to PhD than Honours or Masters)

The poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé in the philosophy of Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière and Quentin Meillassoux

What P1 and P2 say about each other’s work

The Relationship between the philosophies of Jean-Luc Nancy and Alain Badiou

The relation of person P to movement M

Badiou and Phenomenology

Using movement M to address topic T

The Mind-Body Question: A Phenomenological Approach

One of the recurring problems of postgraduate research proposals is that they try to bite off more than they can chew, so use the table above to focus down your research question to something that can be attempted within your word limit. As a rule of thumb, most initial proposals require the advice “Attempt less, and do it more rigorougly and thoroughly”.

The table above also helps you to plan your research career. For example, an Honours or Masters project of the type “What does P1 say about T1?” would naturally lead on either to “What does P2 say about T1?”, “what does P1 say about T1, T2 and T3”, or “What does P1 say about P2?”

Do you have any further tips for arriving at a feasible research topic?

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Research Hacks #2: Three important questions to ask before you choose a new research project

For students who want to work faster, smarter and more effectively

In this second post on building your effectiveness as a researcher I want to share three key questions that can help you choose and refine a research project:

  1. What research do you enjoy?
  2. What research do you think is important?
  3. What research conversation do you want to join?

 

Research hacks 2 - three questions to ask before you choose a research project

Let’s take them one by one.

1. What research do you enjoy?

Obvious, but true: you are going to spend many hours each week working on your chosen research topic. If you find yourself in an area you don’t enjoy, that’s a lot of time to devote to something that leaves you flat. Researchers in the arts and humanities frequently work alone and are predominantly self-motivated, so it’s hard to knuckle down to work in the morning if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing. Make sure that, right from the beginning, you pick a research topic that you find interesting and enjoyable.

2. What research do you think is important?

Enjoyment alone isn’t enough though. If pleasure is your only reason for taking on a research project then your motivation is likely to ebb away when the going gets tough. You also need to pick an area you think is important. But be careful here: “important” doesn’t just mean world-changing, TV news headline-grabbing, or relevant to the bloke down the pub. A research area might be important because it provides fresh angles or a new way of looking at the world; it could challenge something we think we know about an issue, author or field; it could unearth something that has been unduly neglected, or it could draw links or show important relations that have previously gone unnoticed.

3. What research conversation do you want to join?

So far we have seen that you need to find a sweet-spot between something you enjoy and something that’s important. But you’re not done yet. The third question is just as key: what conversation do you want to join? I’m so glad I was asked this question early in my research career. Here is how it was explained to me:

Imagine academia as a great hall with people gathered in groups, each group holding a lively conversation. Some people circulate between conversations, but by and large the groups are stable. You enter the room… what are you going to do? If you wanted, you could just stride to the middle of the room and start shouting, but chances are no-one would pay you any attention or at best you would attract the odd raised eyebrow. Politeness dictates that you join one of the existing groups, listen to the conversation and try to contribute something relevant and interesting. Over time you might be able to change the subject, but not at the beginning. The same goes for research: however inherently fascinating or important your topic is, you will have a hard time getting anyone to pay attention to you if you don’t make it relevant to one of the conversations currently taking place in your field.

Sad but true: academics have very little time to check something out simply because it is inherently interesting or important. People read work that they think can help them with questions they are already asking, and if you don’t address any of those questions you’re failing to give people a good reason to read your work.

So if you don’t want to come over like the partygoer who rudely cuts across the conversation to talk about your pet subject, make sure that your research contributes to one of the conversations in the secondary literature around your research area. You don’t have to agree with the assumptions or the content of the ongoing conversations, but even if you are critiquing them you need to start where the conversation currently is and show how it is misguided before people will pay attention to your alternative.

This third point is particularly important if you are planning to work on a lesser-known or obscure figure or idea. Give people a reason to care by tying your obscure topic into a theme or question that people already care about. If you aren’t sure what the live topics are in your area, that’s where your supervisor should be able to point you in the right direction.

If your proposal can satisfactorily answer these three key questions, you are well on your way to having a robust and sustainable project.

What questions did you ask when choosing your last research project? Leave a comment below.

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Research Hacks #1: Research Audit

For students who want to work faster, smarter and more effectively

In this new series of posts I want to help you become better researcher and a better student by sharing with you some of the strategies and research hacks I have picked up over my years of conducting academic research and teaching graduates and undergraduates.Research hacks signpost

In my own time as a student, PhD candidate, Junior Research Fellow and now a lecturer, I have come across and refined a number of methods and processes for working faster, smarter and more effectively. Some of them just speed up work I could have done anyway; some of them allow me to research in ways that simply would not be possible without them. Some are time-savers; some have been real life-savers.

In recent years I have been trying to find ways of systematically passing on these tips to my students, and these posts are an extension of that aim. I hope you find them useful.

This first of the research hacks is the “research audit” I get all my new Honours and graduate students to undertake.

What is a research audit?

When I start supervising a new Honours, Masters or doctoral students, I ask them to take an audit of their current research practices, to identify their strengths and weaknesses, and to isolate areas of research strategy on which they need to focus.

The audit falls into two parts: structure and strategy.

  • Structure: How are you planning to structure your research project? What is it, precisely, that you are seeking to find out? Where do you want to end up, and how do you propose to get there?
  • Strategy: How do you currently go about your research? What resources do you use? How do you organize yourself?
Why is it important to conduct a research audit at the beginning of a new project?

In my experience, strategy and structure are two of the areas most neglected by new research students.

  • We can be so keen to get to the meat of a new research project that we don’t take time at the beginning to stop and think about how we are going to manage aspects of the research process like taking and retrieving notes, turning notes into arguments, or even reading our primary and secondary texts (it’s rarely a case of simply starting with the first word and reading through to the end).
  • Similarly, we can dive into an area of research without a clear sense of what we are trying to argue, and then find ourselves drowning in a sea of information or being led down innumerable blind alleys and rabbit holes. Most of this frustration and time-wasting could be forestalled—and innumerable hours saved—by taking a little time at the beginning of the project to think about its structure.

So here is the first of my research hacks: the audit document I ask all my new research students to complete. It guides you through a series of questions that build up a picture of you as a researcher, your strengths and weaknesses, and your sense of the project upon which you are embarking. Before my first supervision with new students I ask them to email me a completed copy of this document and we discuss their answers, focusing on self-identified areas of weakness. Bear in mind that I mainly supervise topics in literary studies, philosophy, and film, so the questions are geared primarily at those research areas.

What questions do you ask yourself when you are starting out on a new research project? Leave a comment below.

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CC Image courtesy of Andrew Tarrant on Flickr