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Using ethnographic field notes in the actual writing of a paper

A scholar from the global south asked me recently for references or some help on how to use ethnographic field notes in the actual writing of a paper, and how they should be reported (that is, how we can use the material we write in a fieldwork notebook in the actual writing of a manuscript). Interestingly, most of the work I’ve read on field notes is on “how to craft them” and “how to analyze them”, not on “how to report them” or how to use them to write a readable output. A couple of years ago, I published an editorial in the International Journal of Qualitative Methods (IJQM) that focused on how we as researchers can use field notes to prompt writing when we feel stuck. But still, that wasn’t what this researcher needed. So I promised I would write a Twitter thread, and afterwards, based on it, a blog post (this one).

Fieldwork in Paris (Oct 2018)

Me doing ethnographic fieldwork in Paris in 2018.

On developing an ethnographic sensibility and learning how to write field notes, I’ve found books most useful. What I want to make clear is that using excerpts from your interviews and ethnographic field notes is common in the actual writing of the ethnography. There are obviously different styles, and mine is not exactly like the anthropologists’, or some sociologists, but it is one approach in social science that might be of interest and use to researchers.

Including extensive quotations or fragments of field notes in a manuscript is quite common in qualitative research. Much like in quantitative work you present tables, graphs, equations, etc., qualitative (textual, visual) material is presented as evidence in qualitative papers.

These are obviously just a few examples of how you can use “in-line” textual excerpt insertions to provide qualitative material to the reader that functions as supportive evidence. I hope this post is useful to those of you engaging in, and writing fieldwork results.

Posted in academia, qualitative methods, research, research methods, writing.

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Planning for Survival with a Cherry on Top

It’s been a rough year (2020) and 2021 promises to be just as difficult. I started the year exhausted and needed to ramp up to actually work normal hours. I strongly believe that we need kindness to others and to ourselves more than ever. The COVID19 global pandemic has created an extremely difficult situation for everyone.

January (or end of December of the previous year) is usually when people plan their year or their activities. To be quite frank, I normally plan with much more rigor for an academic year rather than a calendar year, but I also have a process for organizing my calendar year using my Everything Notebook and a set of printed calendars, integrating everything I plan as well with both my Google Calendar and my iPhone’s iCal.

Much as I love being ambitious, I think that for 2021 we really need to consider Planning for Survival with a Cherry on Top. I describe my approach below.

A Pair of Cherries

Photo credit: Amanda Slater on Flickr Creative Commons License: Attribution-Share Alike

You survived – RIGHT FUCKING ON.

Your family survived – GLORY!

Your friends, students, colleagues are doing as well as they can be? -EXCELLENT

Anything else is the Cherry on Top.

Did you Write For 10 Minutes – CHERRY ON TOP

Did you do an AIC summary of one article? – CHERRY ON TOP.

Did you teach that one first class of the semester? – CHERRY ON TOP

Did you manage to have the readings ready for the first couple weeks of classes? – CHERRY ON TOP.

Did you manage to answer 5 emails? – CHERRY ON TOP.

Right now, the goal is to survive this pandemic. Anything else that gets done, is The Cherry on Top. Actively de-programming ourselves from planning for life Almost As If We Were Back to Normal takes a long time. I’m struggling with it. I had to dial down my hopes for 2021. Right now, all I want is to survive and a few cherries.

(Immense thanks to Dr. Mirya Holman who always inspires me to think about these issues and I just want to heavily promote Dr. Holman’s #MHAWS newsletter AND Fridays writing group).

Posted in academia, planning.

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Developing an entire course around a specific research project

Those of you who know me well will remember that there are very few things I love more than developing syllabi. Despite the fact that I once thought writing up a syllabus was an inappropriate activity for a doctoral comprehensive exam (I have changed my mind over the last decade), I love syllabusing. I adore having to choose between various reading materials, reading broadly and deeply and selecting themes, topics and questions I want to address during the class.


One thing I pride about and do very well: develop printed reading packets out of my syllabi.
Not to worry: I also create a digital version

I always design my syllabi with an ulterior motive, and I am not ashamed to admit it. If there is a topic that I am particularly vested in, I make sure to somehow insert it into my syllabi. Coincidentally, yesterday (December 27th), I came across this tweet, which also summarizes my own approach to new course syllabus design:

In response to Dr. Perry’s question, I shared my approach to new course preparations and how I develop an entire course around my own research interests. If you participate in my writing groups, you will know that I already thought about this and made a suggestion to participants in my writing group. I jokingly said that “I was mercenary about new course preparation – if I am going to prepare an entirely new course, I am going to at least get a publication out of it”.

I did it, with one of my doctoral seminars, this Fall 2020.

Before designing the course syllabus, I surveyed what my students knew about research design, qualitative methods and comparative methods. I realized that I had to develop a syllabus that included everything from case selection to explanation to comparison to qualitative methods. While I was lucky that a lot of scholars helped me with guest lectures, I designed the entire syllabus, and obviously I also led seminar discussions. Re-reading so much about comparative research design really made writing these two book chapters extremely easy and seamless.

Had I not been asked to teach this doctoral seminar on Comparative Methods, I probably would have had to spend at least a month re-reading, thinking through, mulling over and pondering the literature on comparison as a method, and THEN write these chapters. Way more complicated.

Did I teach EXACTLY what my students needed? Of course I did. Sure thing I did. BUT in preparing the syllabus, doing the readings alongside my students, leading the discussion, conversing with the guest speakers, my own thinking about comparative methods got much more refined. Am I going to get a publication out of teaching Mixed Methods next year? You bet I am.

Will I write a paper on policy analysis? Possibly. But my Public Policy Analysis class is undergraduate, so I have less flexibility on what I can include and exclude. I need to give basics. It’s much easier to create a new syllabus that will provide you with an opportunity to read the literature you need to produce a new paper with graduate (Masters, PhD) or advanced undergraduate seminars. Much less flexibility when you need to teach a survey course.

Federalism scholarship by women

To summarize: I design courses based on several criteria:
– what my students need in terms of content, competencies, core skills and “lay of the land”,
– what *I* want to learn better (or refresh my knowledge of),
– what my students are interested in,
– what my current writing schedule and program looks like.

I hope that by sharing this approach, you might find some good ideas on how you can craft a syllabus for a new course in a way that might give you an additional product (beyond the wonderful learning that you and your students will achieve).

Posted in academia.

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How to prepare for a reading-intensive undergrad or graduate seminar (for students) and how to design a syllabus that offers reading guidance to students (for faculty)

The Spring 2021 term is coming upon us quite fast, and I have wanted to write a thread on how to prepare for a graduate-level seminar. I know the range of difficulty of readings, amount/volume/number of pages assigned is going to vary, but I’ve been thinking about this issue for a very long time. Personally, I reduced the number of readings that I assigned in my courses, but not everyone is doing this, and I strongly believe that we need to prepare students for whatever comes their way (including a reading-heavy course/seminar).

I am going to assume a course workload of 4-5 courses per week (exactly what I took when I did my PhD at The University of British Columbia), regardless of whether it is Masters’ or PhD. When I was a doctoral student, I took several courses across disciplines and faculties. I prepared each class the day before, over the course of a morning or an afternoon (I am terrible at night, and work better earlier in the day.

Reading highlighting scribbling

I am particularly worried/concerned for/thinking about my students who may take reading-heavy courses over the next few months, so I decided to write a thread showcasing how I prepared when I was a graduate student. In the process of writing the Twitter thread that this blog post draws from, I also provide some guidance on how to craft syllabi that while reading-intensive, can also be helpful to students by providing guidance on how to approach the reading material.

I remember very distinctly taking a class with Dr. Terre Satterfield on Science, Values and Policy and thinking “oh wow, each week has a theme!” (remember, although I have two brothers with PhDs and my Mom has a PhD, there’s a lot I didn’t know about the #HiddenCurriculum). I want to share my approach to syllabus design, because to help students discern strategies for how to read their assigned materials, I also need to read other professors’ syllabi, and deconstruct them so I can understand their choice of reading materials.

Below is my approach to designing syllabi.

I remember very distinctly that Dr. Satterfield always told me to look at the readings as a whole: “what do these readings, in their entirety, tell you? what’s the coherent story/narrative?”

This key question has helped me both prepare for seminars (as a doctoral student), and refine my syllabi (as a professor). Usually faculty write their syllabi offering suggestions on how to approach the readings. But in case they don’t, I always recommend that students look at the entire week’s block of reading materials and search for the key theme/narrative/story.

So how does this “searching for the key narrative/story/themes” approach work in practice? Below, I explain it in detail using examples from my own syllabi and those of other scholars I found useful for my purposes.

As you can see, I assign 4 readings per week (30 pages per, about). What would I do, if I were a grad student taking my seminar? I would devote an entire day/morning (depending on how fast you read) to reading, taking notes and systematizing my notes. When I was doing my PhD I prepared for seminars the day before (hard to do if you take 2 seminars same day, but advisable!)

For a second round, I suggest looking to see how each reading connects with one another. For example, for the week on extractivism, urban political ecology, these are the themes I would be looking for:
– accumulation by disposession (David Harvey)
– primitive accumulation (Marx)
– urban political ecology: scale, power differentials, cross-scalar dynamics, urban contexts
– how water is extracted, implications that this extractivism approach has (denial of the human right to water, etc.)

Asking questions off assigned readings helps make sense of them.

Other examples:

Having read a few of these previously (I studied Science and Technology Policy for my Masters), I can see what are the major themes of Dr. Rhode’s first week:
– artifacts are political (Winner)
– technology has associated risks and responsibilities (Wetmore, GHSA)
– S&T consumers

When I was a grad student, I found that if I asked myself Guiding Questions that helped me make sense of a coherent narrative helped me learn better. I also looked for themes, keywords, patterns, logics and debates (point-counter point). What do this week’s readings tell me? What’s the professor’s intent in assigning these readings? What do they want me to learn? Which are the key ideas, concepts?

To summarize, and clarify:

My Twitter thread and post were originally NOT about syllabus design (though I do provide detailed suggestions on how to design a syllabus, in a way that helps your students prepare), BUT about how to prepare for a graduate seminar – or an advanced undergraduate), as a student.

Here are the insights that faculty members can probably draw from this thread:
a) Design your syllabi creating discrete units that have Guiding Questions to help students make sense of the readings, and
b) Develop your syllabus using storytelling methods to create narratives.

And here are the insights I wanted students to absorb:

a) I recommend dedicating an entire morning/afternoon (or full day) to reading, taking notes, systematizing them and then writing a memorandum (a day before the seminar)
b) If you have 2 seminars on the same day, split time.

(Dr. Neff’s syllabus is here)

Now, how do *I* as a professor prepare to teach graduate seminars?

I do it the same way I prepared for seminars when I was a doctoral student. I dedicate time the day before I teach (since it’s a seminar, I lead the discussion more than “lecture”). I build a set of Guiding Questions and when I start the week, I provide an overall description of the narrative and the key concepts I want my students to draw from the readings. I then lead the discussion and engage with students asking them Prompting Questions based on the Guiding Questions.

Anyways, I converted my Twitter thread into a blog post, because I know my undergrad and graduate students will be taking seminars next semester and I want them to be well prepared. I do hope faculty and students both may get some good insights out of these tweets.

Posted in academia, reading strategies.

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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.

Posted in academia.

Linking theory with research, choosing a theoretical framework and developing alternative explanations

I taught Research Design this past fall and one of the key challenges I see in teaching how to properly design research projects is the chasm that exists between theory development and empirical testing. For some reason, it is hard for some students (and more than one scholar!) to link theory with research. This discussion is one I have had for a very long while with my colleagues, Dr. Rodrigo Salazar Elena and Dr. Gloria del Castillo Aleman.

How do we link all the theories we read into what we see in the empirical work?

I believe that there are three elements at play.

1) There are various types and levels of theory (grand theory, meso-level theory, micro-level theory), etc.

2) We (scholars, students, practitioners) need to read very broadly to be able to discern across theories.


Holland establishes two theoretical expectations:

1) if there is poor state capacity to monitor and enforce, we may expect that there will be limited enforcement activity. Holland cites Levitsky and Vicky Murillo on this)

2) if there’s inadequate bureaucratic control here’s a higher likelihood that there will be limited enforcement activity.

These are two observations that Holland makes from absorbing, summarizing, integrating and presenting the various theories surrounding poor regulatory enforcement.

She then introduces her own conceptualization of forbearance. Holland makes it clear how her framework borrows from other theories (including price theory) and in doing so, these borrowed theoretical concepts help her explain how states choose not to enforce regulation.

This is an excellent example of how to apply theory to explain things. Theories help establish an expectation of how the world should work. We need theory to establish exactly what we expect to see

Empirical research then tests those theories and asserts whether the theories being used actually do help explain the phenomenon we are observing.

If we reverse-engineer Holland’s paper, we can see the empirical phenomenon she is looking to understand (limited, constrained regulatory non-compliance). She then establishes the various theories that could potentially help her explain this non-compliance/non-enforcement.

We choose the theory depending on the empirical phenomenon we are examining and the research question we are trying to understand, and our prior experience (and reading/understanding) of how the phenomenon will operate. hus selecting a theoretical framework does not happen “a priori”.

I never decided that “oh I am going to study the governance of river basin councils using the Ostroms’ frameworks”. I examined the phenomenon, and reviewed the literature to see how others have looked at it. For example, in my work on water conflicts, I look at the different theories on which factors could combine to make a water dispute happen. There are theories that indicate that under resource scarcity conditions, actors will want to hoard resources and thus engage in conflict.

Below another example.

Snow et al find empirical support for resource mobilization theory (one of the most popular among scholars of social movements). Thus, instead of arriving with a theoretical framework in hand, we need to establish which phenomenon we want to study/explain and the theories that have been previously used to explain this phenomenon.

Thus, in closing:

a) selecting a theoretical framework for a study usually happens after reading and synthesizing a lot of literature on how the phenomenon has been analyzed before. I wouldn’t do it “a priori”.

b) linking theory with research is particularly important because it helps us establish theoretical expectations (and develop alternative explanations, something that apparently has been forgotten when teaching research design).

3) Alternative explanations are based on theory. I strongly believe it is fundamental that we teach our students both elements, how to link research with theory and how to select a theoretical framework, and if I were to add a third element, how to establish alternative explanations for the same phenomenon and discern which elements/theories/evidence best explain what we are trying to understand.

I hope this blog post clarifies my approach to selecting a theoretical framework, linking theory with research and developing alternative explanations as well as theoretical expectations.

Posted in academia, research.

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Three hot takes on the (wrong-headed) assumptions that incoming undergraduates and graduates have research skills

I have always considered myself a methodologist, and someone with a slight obsession with methods. I write about research methods here on my blog, I’ve edited a methods journal (International Journal of Qualitative Methods), I’ve published several scholarly pieces (book chapters and articles) on methods, and this fall, I taught several courses on research design, comparative methods, qualitative methods and thesis writing.

Writing while in Berlin

Along the same lines, since Fall of 2020, I joined a Methods Lab (led by the amazing Dr. Rodrigo Salazar Elena, dear colleague and friend of mine at FLACSO Mexico). Thus it should not come as a surprise that I have the following three hot takes:

I am seriously amazed at how many faculty assume their students know how to do a lot of things that they do not because they were not prepared nor taught. Neither my Twitter thread nor this blog post offer criticism of students, but more a concern with undergraduate and graduate programs where rigorous research desig and techniques are not taught or poorly developed.

Often times, we need to take students at their most raw and take them from zero to hero. Thus, I encourage all instructors to be KIND and GENEROUS with students admitted to graduate programs who may not have the research skills you may have expected them to have. Make graduate programs equalizers and skills developers. A gradual approach to teaching them how to do research may work best.

Even hotter take: you should NOT assume that graduate students who are doing their degrees in a foreign language know the rules and norms of conducting scholarly research in English.

There’s a hidden curriculum beyond what is new to first generation students. Never forget it. I find it super, super wild that scholars who discuss the hidden curriculum (about first-generation students in the United States of America and Canada) often do not seem to bring to the conversation the differences across cultures. There are hidden curricula all over the world.

Many students from countries or cultures where challenging the authority is not the norm may find it hard to enter “discussion groups” or to challenge a professor/doctoral supervisor. Also, writing norms and expectations (and grammar and structure) vary wildly across languages.

I have an even SPICIER take: By saying “send me/us your BEST students”, you are in fact reproducing the cycle of inequality and further marginalizing scholars who may have great potential but lack the training that others with more privilege have had.

Think about this.

… when I have to craft a new syllabus for research design or research methods.

I write my blog for my students, although I DO come back to my own posts for advice on how to do specific things. And I also write my blog for those who have not had the mentorship they deserved. Institutions and faculty need to do better by their students. It’s our job but also our duty.

Posted in academia, teaching.

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Getting the most out of writing groups (online and offline)

Writing while in BerlinI love writing groups, as you probably can guess from my raving about them on Twitter. I have also written on this blog about their benefits. Now, one of the questions people ask me frequently is: how can I get the most out of a writing group? Here are a few reflections regarding what works well for me. As always since these are based on my own experience, I strongly believe you can only know if it will work for you if you try it out. I also want to make something perfectly clear: I strongly believe that you get out of a writing group what you put in. If you are supportive of others in the group, you’ll definitely find support too. I don’t think one can get into a writing group in an extractive manner, expecting benefits but not providing support, help and encouragement as well.

For this blog post I have extracted some thoughts off my Twitter threads, which may appear disjointed when you read them online, but will make more sense when you read them on this blog post.

A few other elements of writing groups that help me (these are obviously online right now because of the pandemic).

– Having a 3 hour block gives me the flexibility of “investing” some of that time as “runway” (preparation) time.
– I need to block Twitter and Facebook while I write
– with the 2 hour block, if I invest some of that time in “runway” I feel frustrated.
– hearing how others work is also inspiring for me.
– seeing camaraderie online is also very inspiring – lots of people offering to help one another “once the Zoom is over”, makes me feel supported and cared for.
– The shared struggle: knowing that others are also struggling to think/work.

There are so many contingent faculty, academic parents (especially mothers, and even more acutely single mothers) for whom having the privilege of accessing an extended block of time is a real luxury. Every time I do one of these, I do recognise my privilege, and I do try to help.

A few other secrets on writing groups:

I have made INCREDIBLE friends in my writing groups. I have introduced childhood friends to my writing groups.


1) Communities develop through time and repeated contact. Don’t expect to be ultra chummy with your writing buddies immediately.

2) Different writing groups are run in various ways. Not every writing group will fit your style or expectations. Try a few ones first before “committing”.

3) Some people need the structure/support that a guided, facilitated (PAID) writing group gives them. THESE ARE GREAT.

Like with anything, if you want to have professional help you’ll need to hire a professional. So if you feel like this would be a service that would help you, there are academic coaches all around who provide this facilitated writing group service (a few that come to mind quickly: Dr. Lisa Munro, Dr. Michelle Dionne Thompson, Dr. Leanne C. Powner, and Dr. Jo Van Every).

I also have previously mentioned the importance of academic coaches. There are things that supervisory committees do not provide, and that’s why you hire external help. Dr. Powner does that kind of consulting (particularly social sciences, political science especially).

4) Like with anything that is social, writing groups aren’t just for you to “receive support”. They’re also there for you to GIVE support. The beauty of writing groups is that you get as much as you give. Generally speaking, they’re very reciprocal (that’s the basis for them).

Sometimes, institutions have the funding to bring someone in to start a writing group (for example, have someone teach a Master Class on Academic Writing and then the institution provides support to start a dairly, weekly, bi-weekly or monthly writing group). I myself have been (and continue to be) hired by several universities to teach these workshops for a long while now. It’s definitely a great strategy and a good investment to develop students and faculty.

I teach courses on academic writing and even *I* get writer’s block.

I struggle with producing text.

I sometimes feel overwhelmed with wanting to Do All The Things.

I am human, after all.

This is the beauty of writing groups: you can be an academic who is also a human.

To be 100% honest with you, I am writing so much right now because I AM HEALTHY. At the peak of my eczema/psoriasis/dermatitis/chronic fatigue/chronic pain, I could barely move, let alone write. AND I *had* to teach! So while I do feel slightly guilty for being more productive now than when moving would cause me pain, I feel relieved. These are very, very tough times, so let’s try to not guilt, shame or otherwise put pressure on others, or let anyone put pressure on ourselves. We do what we can with what we have, that’s all.

In the end, we make do with what we have. Dr. Loleen Berdahl has encouraged writing for 10 minutes, and I think that’s doable and worth doing, even if it’s literally what Dr. Meredith D. Clark calls “runway time”.

We are all in this together, and hopefully things will get better in the future.

Posted in academia, writing.

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Analog note-taking when highlighting is not possible (e.g. books)

Anybody who follows me on Twitter or reads my blog knows that I have quite a healthy stock of stationery. I have always loved stationery and office supplies. I love taking notes by hand, and this reflects in my methods for note-taking, active reading and writing.

Note-taking in the Everything Notebook

Recently, a relatively new follower of my blog and Twitter stream asked me a question (I am paraphrasing here):

How do you take notes when you cannot highlight?

I am assuming that people who ask me this are referring to note-taking of books. Personally, I don’t mark up my books, and obviously I am extremely careful with those from the library, so I interpreted this student’s question in this way.

In this blog post, I explain my method, integrating my Twitter thread with some additional thoughts.

… may or may not work in the same way.

Since I prefer analog systems and do not mark books up, here are a few ways in which I take notes that still retain some of the characteristics of my strategies for printed materials.




Obviously, as you can imagine, I’ve written a lot about Note-Taking Techniques on my website’s Resources page. I list those below.

Obvious question you surely will have:

When should I write in my Everything Notebook or when should I use Cornell Notes, or when is a good time to use Index Cards?

Every single student of mine and every person who has ever attended my workshops asks me this question. I don’t have a universal answer, although I do have a few suggestions. As it always happens with techniques and methods for note-taking, active reading, annotating, writing, etc., we all develop our own heuristics for when we should use one method over the other.

Here are my heuristics:

  1. If what I am reading cannot be marked up (I don’t write nor highlight my books, nor any library’s books), I use physical (analog) media. You can, easily, take notes in other programs (Evernote, Notion, etc.) Personally, I find that I need the tactile sensation of handwriting.
  2. I usually write summaries and quotations drawn from books and book chapters in my Everything Notebook if they’re directly related to a research project I am doing at the moment, or if I am doing something VERY specific with them (for example, write a book review).

Now, let’s go to another question I often get asked:

Do you take notes in your Everything Notebook, or on Index Cards or Cornell Notes of ARTICLES that you actually highlighted and scribbled on? Glad you asked.

The answer is YES, I DO. Why do I do this? (apparently redundantly)

My methods work for me, adaptations of my methods work for my students and research assistants and colleagues and also for thousands of people around the globe, but the only person who can really tell if a technique I suggest will work for you is YOU.

Hopefully this blog post can answer people’s questions!

Posted in academia, productivity, writing.

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On the benefits of online writing groups

My life changed right about March of 2020. Well, yes, there’s that pesky thing called a lethal global pandemic, SARS-CoV2, that also changed the lives of absolutely everyone on this planet.

But I also feel changed through the work I have been doing with two amazing writing groups: one led by Dr. Amanda Bittner (Memorial University of Newfoundland) and the other one organized and shepherded by Dr. Mirya Holman (Tulane University).

Writing at my home office in Aguascalientes

Writing doesn’t need to be a lonely activity. Instead, it can be social. Even during this global COVID19 pandemic.

Around when we got into a global lockdown, Amanda and Mirya (both good friends of mine) decided to organize online writing groups. I had heard of them, but I never thought of joining one because well, I already had my writing schedule prepared.


I already had a writing practice of my own, waking up at 4 in the morning and writing from 4:30 to 6:30 Monday through Friday, as my schedule shows. However, joining Amanda’s and Mirya’s online writing groups really has boosted my writing capabilities and improved my ability to focus and concentrate in my research, even during a semester where I taught FOUR courses (how did I survive THAT is material for ANOTHER blog post).

writing calendar

It’s not only the actual writing commitment, the daily declaration of goals and check-ins. It’s the care, love and mutual respect, it’s the constant motivation and positivity. It’s the accountability. It’s the community-building aspect.

I love my writing groups, I really do.

I’m not the only one, though. I recently asked this question on Twitter.

I absolutely loved the responses. A sampler:

And obviously, I also adored Dr. Louise Seamster’s response in an article, as well as Dr. Nicole Janz’s post.

Posted in academia, writing.

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