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Winter 2016
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Monday
May212012

Organizing and Preparing for Research 

If you have not specified your research topic yet, a good way to find one is to stay up to date on the latest research and news in your field. In previous posts, I mentioned two ways to aggregate current news in your field (see "Building a Personal Learning Network: RSS Readers" and "Tool of the Week: Google Scholar").

When I started my Ph.D. program I had a broad idea for my research topic, which shifted multiple times until I finally settled on one at the end of my first quarter. One of the things I worried about as I started reading scholarly journals, blogs, and news in my field was keeping track of everything I read.

To organize and keep track of my readings, I set up a spreadsheet on Google Drive (formerly called Google Docs) with multiple tabs: Tech & Learning, Teachers & Tech, PLN's, Theories, Journals, and Other.

Google Spreadsheet Database for Dissertation

In each tab, I put highlights from relevant articles that I read (one article per row). The columns include: article title, website URL (or which folder it is located in on my hard drive), author, and three direct quotes that best represented the article.

I have used this database of articles many times during my first year to quickly find support for my class and research papers. The spreadsheet refreshes my memory about each article and it saves me the time of having to search for an article that I have already read.

One thing that I should have done is to include the article citation so I can quickly reference this for a paper.  You can also color code or emphasize (bold/italics) different text so that it sticks out when you scroll through each tab.

I highly recommend using Google Drive, EndNote, Microsoft Word/Excel or another tool to keep track of all of the articles that you read both inside and outside of the classroom. This database of articles can be very useful when you write a literature review or need to find research to support your paper.

If you have questions about how to set up a spreadsheet like this, please email me or drop in at the Graduate Student Resource Center during my office hours. Feel free to share what works for you in organizing your reading in the Comments section.

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