Planning postgraduate study
Writing and planning
At postgraduate level, it is important to set aside time to write every day.
- Writing-up does not occur after you have collected the data - it is part of the process.
- Leaving all the writing until the research has finished means you are left with the stressful job of writing everything in the last couple of months - not a wise idea if you are to convince your examiners of the merits of your work.
- The business of writing things down actually clarifies ideas. You are forced to achieve a level of clarity over thought.
- Writing is an integral part of the research process. In fact, it is often the only measure available of what you did.
- More than any other single factor, writing will influence the evaluation of your work.
Planning research topics
It is vital that you start thinking about potential research topics you can write a thesis on as soon as possible.
It takes time to come up with a good topic that makes an original contribution to your field.
Take time to go to the library, read books, and skim through journals. Read widely and start collecting articles for literature reviews.
Start working on a research proposal - A proposal indicates that you have read relevant material and thought very carefully about the topic, how you are going to go about conducting the research (the methodology), and why you are doing it this way. Proposals are also very important if you are seeking scholarships or outside funding.
Sorting, organising and filing
Try and keep the literature you read and reference in some sort of logical order. This helps when trying to find that all-important quote you need for a particular section of your work.
There are a variety of ways to organise literature. The following system is useful for writing a thesis, putting together literature reviews, or any research / assignment where you are working with a vast number of articles.
A catalogue system
Purchase some blank cards (the sort you may use for filing addresses), and dividers with letters of the alphabet on them. A storage box is also useful. For every article or book read, or web site visited, note down all the information needed:
- Author, date, title, publisher, page number, etc.
- Keywords / relevant topics from the literature.
- If it is a library book, note down the call number (in case you need to find it again!) and whether it was an interloan.
- If it was a journal article, and you have a photocopy, note this on the card.
A colour marker can be used on the cards to note which ones are used as references, and which ones are 'read only' (for the bibliography). This system can be carried on visits to the library to ensure you don't double up on articles, and to follow up on specific authors.
In addition to the 'hard copy' catalogue system, some students use a software program such as Endnote. These programs help generate reference lists.
As soon as possible set up a filing system.
If you have access to a filing cabinet use it. If not, invest in a hanging file box.
You can file your articles alphabetically (by author), or numerically. Give each article a number that corresponds with that used in your bibliographic software.
Throw nothing away
As a postgraduate student you will probably have collected large piles of literature for different topics.
Work out which pieces of literature you think you are most likely to use in the future. Put this into your filing cabinet.
The remaining articles could be sorted into 'topics' (usually your assignment topic ‘women in small business’, or ‘development in the third world’).You can refer back to these articles in the future.
Once you've completed your postgraduate years, then you can empty out all those boxes of references.