Sunday, 7 December 2008

Lessons learned!

Now the dissertation is finally over, I feel it's time to look back and asssess what I've learned.

One thing I wish I'd known at the start is how difficult it is to keep track of the concepts and statements made in all the different pieces of literature.

If I do this kind of work again, I'll keep a more detailed database of all the articles and books I read, together with some keywords, and maybe a brief page of notes on each one, or some sort of index that I update as the literature review progresses, of themes and positions taken by authors.

Thankfully I do have a pretty good memory for this kind of thing, and since the topic was of interest to me I kept a lot of ideas in my head - or I used CTRL-F to jump around within my hefty Word document which included all kinds of rough ideas and notes right up to the second-from-final draft!

When I was going through my voluminous files of printouts, I realised there were lots more references I could have, and would have liked to include, had I been able to keep track of it all! I really need to improve my note-taking and make it more methodical; also, I think it's a simple question of confidence. I have never produced such a lot of words before! All my write-ups have been more technical in the past, including many more equations, diagrams etc. This was my first stab at a humanities-oriented research paper rather than a lab report or project write-up.

Another interesting question is how much to "publish" - I've written up a shorter version of my dissertation (about 10% of the length!!!) for publication. I can't share it here because it hasn't been published yet. However, I think that the habit of publishing something before you actually finish, which is common in PhD research, could be usefully brought into Masters level work.

Trying to express ideas and link them into the academic discourse is hard; the more research you do, the more connections there are and the more you are trying to summarise. Hence, to try and write up a summary, from start to finish, at a half-way point might really help (I know I found the length of the dissertation pretty unwieldy when it came to editing it). I suppose this blog has helped me do that to some extent.

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