My three top tips for research using the Library are:
- Don’t take notes to start with. See what literature is out there and get to know the subject first. This will give your writing more confidence and inform your assignment structure.
- As an advocate of slow reading, I recommend that you find one or two decent articles and slowly read what they say. Skim reading is effective at finding the right sort of information, but less effective when trying to know a subject inside and out. Don’t accumulate hundreds of references that you haven’t properly read simply because it looks good. There’s a temptation at the university to retrieve lots of articles because it’s easy to do, but do they accurately respond to the assignment question?
- After getting to know the subject well enough, design a mind map to consider each bubble as a paragraph or theme you want to explore. Writing the assignment will be easier because you’ll have a ready-made structure. No doubt this will evolve, but it will be starting point for your work.
In many areas of society the Slow Movement is making (steady) progress in cooking, travel, and even design. Now I propose Slow Reading in the Digital Age. As I was completing the Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age course at the University a few months ago, I realised the strong benefits of closer reading. This may seem obvious, particularly as I’m an eternal student passionate about studying and I support students in the Library with Academic Writing, but my epiphany happened after reading Michael Peter’s (2005) wonderfully insightful The new prudentialism in education: Actuarial rationality and the entrepreneurial self in the journal Educational Theory. Then it occurred to me that students undertaking a dissertation proposal did not need to collate a mountain of research to hone in on an idea, but rather focus on what a really interesting article is saying and get some ideas for a possible title, before considering a working structure. It is a problem in the Digital Age when 24/7 access to thousands and thousands of articles means that there is a natural tendency to accumulate material that is not going to be read. In other words, amassing journal articles looks good but nothing is actually learned. Blame strategic learning which may encourage superficial reading. Nothing is demonstrated. I found Peter’s article about risk aversion in corporate governance so engaging that everything needed to be slowed down to concentrate effectively. Find yourself away from distractions, away from the laptop, and journey into a closer inspection of one article to let the author’s ideas sink in.