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 will make 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 your literature review.
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 systems are useful for writing a thesis, putting together literature reviews, or when undertaking any research/assignment where you are working with a large number of articles.
A popular option for organising and storing literature is a software program, such as Endnote. These programs can be used to create electronic catalogue systems and help generate reference lists and in-text citations in programmes such as Microsoft Word.
A catalogue system
If you prefer a manual filing 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 website visited, note down all the information needed. For example:
- 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 the sources that are suitable as reference material and those that are 'read only material' (for the bibliography). This catalogue system can be taken when visiting the library to avoid doubling up on articles and to follow up on specific authors.
If you are using hard copies of articles, set up a filing system as soon as possible.
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 the numbering system used in your bibliographic software.
Don't delete/throw away anything
As a postgraduate student you will probably have collected a significant number of articles, books, and chapters on different topics.
Work out which pieces of literature you think you are most likely to use in the future. Put these into your filing cabinet or store them electronically.
The remaining articles could be sorted into topics (usually your assignment topic, e.g. women in small business, or development in the third world). You can refer back to these articles in the future.