We had a summer residency where everyone had to come to the campus. I was excited. The list of books was sent to me and I bought all of them and read every page. OK, maybe not every page but I sure did try. I took notes in a loose-leaf notebook and marked up the books with highlighters and sticky notes. I wanted to engulf myself in the foundational theories and methods. I put myself on a schedule. Read about 100 pages per book per day. Drink lots of coffee. Well, in that first month, I read about 25 pages per book per day. I did drink a lot of coffee. I didn’t expect that I would have to reread whole chapters to understand the concepts discussed. Some of the chapters were quite verbose and I fussed at the textbook out loud.
“This is just unnecessary. You are already said that 10 pages ago. Why are you repeating the same thing? That just doesn’t make sense and its wasting my time!”
I walked away from the book and do something else. I must say my house was very clean during those early months in the program. It was my procrastination tactic.
I didn’t take into account that I was not used to reading academic, long form writing. It had been two decades since I had to read that type of work. (I had many brain fatigue days). I was used to short academic essays or reading newspapers. So, those first few months of reading 300 and 500 paged books made my brain hurt. The journal articles just made me mad. I felt it was too much. I was in mental information overload. (Somebody help!!) But I pressed through. I had a lot of start and stops but I pressed through. I told myself I have to change my attitude toward the books and the articles. I had to open my mind to what the authors were trying to convey. Once I did that, the reading became easier.
I continued to take notes on every book or article that I read. I liked to hand write those notes. It helped me remember the concepts more effectively. I must say in my last year of course work, those notes really came in handy. Instead of going through the books and articles, I had my notes to review and it was very helpful in studying for my qualifying exams (a grueling two day, 16-hour writing exam). As you begin this process or are already well into it, I suggest taking notes on the key ideas, concepts, methods and conclusions. Keep a file (digital or hard copy) of those notes. You will come back to them for your dissertation or other research papers you have to write. You will be thankful for the summaries you wrote while it was still fresh in your mind. Was it time consuming? Yes. But it was worth it for me. It became an effective and efficient tool for me to reference previous books and articles without going back through a book looking for a particular statement or point. I usually had the summary of that point in my notes.
“Take the time to do an annotated bibliography on all books and articles you read. It will save you a lot of time towards the end of your coursework.”
I was required in some of my courses to create an annotated bibliography of all the articles I read. I liked that practice and continued to do it after I completed those courses and I continue to do it today. It provides a full record of my summations and thoughts. As you write your research papers or are looking for another source for your dissertation, this annotated bibliography will be a great help. So, my advice is this: take notes, summarize the articles and books read, create an annotated bibliography…and drink lots of coffee or tea.