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Using Overview Devices in scholarly research and academic writing

While I do not study nor research academic writing (there are people who do!), there’s something that has kept popping in my head: the notion of Overview Devices.

Index cards, Excel Dump, memorandums, synthetic notes

I define Overview Devices as artifacts (diagrams, techniques, strategies) that help us sustain a “bird’s eye”, a panoramic view of what we are doing. While writing a short Twitter thread for Dr. Jackie Bruce, who mentioned was struggling with her literature review, and after having my work recommended by Dr. Courtney Vengrin, I figured I would write about the four Overview Devices I have discussed on my blog:

  • The Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump (CSED) – gives you an overview of the material you have read for your literature review.
  • Mind maps – which give you an overview of ideas and concepts and the relationships between them.
  • The Dissertation Two-Pager (DTP) – which gives the student (and the supervisor!) an overview of the entire thesis and where each element fits with each other, progress degree and tasks remaining to be done.
  • The year-long plan section of my Everything Notebook – which gives me an overview of what I am going to be writing, when the deadlines are and what I am supposed to be generating, which conferences and workshops I committed to attend, etc.

Why do we need Overview Devices? Because the research and writing process is messy and non-linear. We may get bogged down in details and we forget sometimes to see the big picture, or the forest for the trees.

I am glad this question was asked because this notion of Overview Devices had been hovering in my brain for a while and I’m happy that I finally figured out a few of the reasons why I enjoy thinking in such panoramic, broad view way, and the strategies I use to do so. Hopefully these will be useful to others!

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Posted in academia.


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