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On the importance of the Reading, Note-Taking, Synthesizing and Writing sequence in developing an academic research and writing practice

This Fall 2020, despite having to teach online and facing the challenges of a pandemic, I have had amazing experiences teaching research methods, research design and the mechanics of research. This past summer and fall, I taught these courses online and I realized something that I had been thinking about for a very long while but had not been able to really pinpoint until this week.


Because of the way I like teaching these interrelated topics (research design, research methods and mechanics of research), I quickly realized that teaching Note-Taking Techniques, Reading Strategies, and Synthesis Methods was complicated (along with helping my students learn research design and research methods).

Trying to teach reading, note-taking, synthesizing and writing altogether is kind of a chicken and egg problem. What do students need to learn first, reading or taking notes? Teaching strategies for both simultaneously is hard to do, and I struggled all year to do this.

Nevertheless, over the summer and fall I tried the following sequence:
– Reading Strategies
– Note-Taking Techniques
– Synthesis Methods
– Writing Processes and Practices

Obviously, my course wasn’t the only one they were taking. Turns out that students are thrust into the “you need to read a lot to understand what I am teaching” model quite early during their programmes. This poses challenges for someone like me who is trying to provide foundational skills as well as to provide substantive content/material.

… they can then move to more advanced reading, note-taking, systematizing routines/techniques/strategies. Once they’ve developed these routines and systems, THEN they can get into the habit of writing (and developing a writing practice).

You can teach writing earlier, surely. But from experience, I can tell you that what my students have developed, a reading-note-taking-systematizing-writing practice, is driven by my pushing them to READ FIRST, and then TAKE NOTES, use those notes and SYSTEMATIZE them and only after having read broadly and deeply, then WRITE.

Reading should be a priority. Before you even send them on the field, or ask them to choose a model and download a dataset and run regressions, you (or your program, somehow) need to teach them this Reading-Taking Notes-Systematizing sequence first and foremost.

I hope this blog post and these considerations will be useful, not only for my own students, but for others as well as they develop their own research and writing practices.

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Posted in academia.

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