Elia Sharil is a first year PhD student studying in the Department of Education, University of York, under the supervision of Professor Chris Kyriacou. Her research is concerned with reflective practice development in teacher education. Here, she draws on her own experience as a first year and shares with us some useful strategies for approaching the literature, which is usually the first (and often most daunting) task PhD researchers are faced with.
At the beginning of my PhD journey, I was overwhelmed by the amount of reading that I found I had to do. Rummaging through mountains of printed journal articles was unbearable at times. I would describe reading at the early stages as a vicious cycle-if you do not read enough, you will not be able to decide your research focus; but how do you decide what to read if you have not yet decided your focus? I hope to share with you some of the things that I have done, which in my opinion has eased the reading process for me at the beginning stage of my PhD journey.
- Sign up for an EndNote class.
Or learn to use any reference management software that you are comfortable with (Zotero, Mendeley etc). Establishing a reference management system as early as possible will definitely help you not only in organizing your readings (I mean really organize!), but also when you need to do citations in your writings later. I only got the hang of using EndNotes three months after I started my PhD journey, but I wish I had done so way earlier.
- The library is your new BFF.
Get to know what the library can offer you. The University of York has never let me down in finding the resources I need. You just have to find out how. For example, the interlending system was a great help to me when I could not access certain materials on YorSearch. Fiddle around with Google Scholar, and you will find that the resources can be imported into EndNote (goodbye to the days of typing out references manually!).YorSearch also automatically detects links from Google Scholar that are available on the university resources.
- Create a reading matrix.
The reading matrix was something that I picked up from a PhD workshop before I came to York. A reading matrix looks something like this:
|Citation||Aim of Research||Subjects/Methods||Findings||Implications/
The reading matrix has helped me in identifying the knowledge gaps easier as I could (in a way) visualize the journals that I have read. You could modify and adjust the columns according to your preference, or according to what contributes best to your study. The matrix is best viewed in a landscape layout.
- Talk to senior PhD students.
I found out about the interlending system when I was talking to a 2nd year PhD student. I got curious about EndNote when another PhD student mentioned about it in passing. Another PhD student who graduated a few years back advised me on using any applications that can speed up my research. After all, experience IS the best teacher. And you make new friends too.
- Jot down key information on the first page of printed journal articles.
I learned this the hard way. If you have any printed articles with you, jot down the key points/ argument on the first page- this appears to ease referencing, especially if you have to do it manually. It saves a lot of time, especially when you have an ‘AHA!’ moment, and remember reading something somewhere, but you just could not figure out which article it was.
This is not by any means the only way to conduct your reading. Different people might have discovered different ways that have worked for them, feel free to share your own tips and experiences in the comments. However, I do hope that this will help those who are just beginning their PhD journey in finding, organizing and reading the literature. Happy reading!