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  • Writer's pictureclairevharley

Organising Your Reading as an EdD/PhD Student

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

I'm going to share the ways in which I organised my reading for my doctorate in education (EdD). This isn't necessarily because I think that my way is the best way, but I think that having a system, any system, from the offset makes a fundamental difference. Since I’ve created this system I’ve found that my time is better spent and I am no longer driven to distraction as I can’t find the articles I’m looking for.

Whilst developing your conceptual framework you will go backwards and forwards. Sometimes you might think that what you're reading won't be necessarily important in the long run, only to find yourself desperately searching for it again a few months later. There is nothing worse than knowing that somebody has said something truly important but not being able to remember who they are or where you read it! As with the other blogs I've written about studying part time whilst working full time, the aim here is to share information that I wish I had known at the beginning. Do with it what you will!

The Database

At the centre of my system is my database. As you can see from the picture here, I keep a centralised record of articles as I find them. I save the pdfs in a folder and then add the details here. I make sure that I include the year of publication so that I can start to pick up on what different schools of thought are saying and how thinking in certain areas has changed over time for when I write my literature review. Obviously, you have the title because otherwise you're not going to find it again! I include a subtopic to try and link it to other similar articles so that I can make links between them. The literature review section refers to my giant Word document of notes (more on that later) and I summarise the article in no more than a sentence. Most importantly, I record where the article is saved and whether I have read it. I'm pretty old fashioned and I do like to have printouts of the most important articles, so I keep them in folders in my office. I find the last column the most useful. Now if I have a little bit of time I can go to the last column, filter ‘no’ and start reading an interesting article of my choice. I don’t have many opportunities to work for long, uninterrupted periods at the moment as I have a full-time job and a ten month old! I'm hoping that this will help me keep on top of reading over the next couple of years.

The Big Word Document

The big word document is just that. In here I write key quotes and summaries of the ideas expressed in the articles that I have read. I used to have separate word documents for the different themes, but this got annoying as you had to move from one to the other. Also, what do you do with the things are a bit of both? Instead, I just keep everything all in one place. I know it sounds silly, but it makes me feel as though I am making progress. OK, so I might not be writing anything concrete yet, but I can see the physical representation of what’s influencing the thinking going on in my head on the screen. When I’m feeling a bit fed up, I find this reassuring.

The Bookshelf

A tidy bookshelf saves hours of time and helps you remember where you left off last time. The tip is from my husband who recommended having an ‘on the go’ shelf. This is a working bookshelf where you can tidy up the things you’ve been reading once you’re done for the day. Tidy desk, tidy mind after all. This next tip is probably a little bit of overkill but when I was pregnant, I got fed up of standing up for long periods of time looking for books in my study, so I labelled the bookshelves! I have organised my books by theme and finding them is so much easier now. You can also skim your eyes along the shelves and remind yourself of books in that area that you may have forgotten to read or include in your current pieces of writing.

As I said at the beginning, I don’t think it matters what your system is so long as you have one. The amount of reading you have to do for a doctorate is unfathomable, so getting on top of it makes you feel in control and ready to contribute to knowledge.


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