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Starting up and maintaining an Everything Notebook

It’s been an excellent few months for me, because I have been able to share more of my “tricks and tools of the trade” with people who read my blog, and readers seem to like how my workflow processes help them with their own. As always, I don’t provide “advice”. I simply share my experiences in hopes they will help other academics who are at similar stages of my life, or my own students (or other professors’ students!).

One idea that came to me recently is that, while folks seem excited with the concept of the Everything Notebook (to keep track of their To-Do lists, research notes, ideas, etc.) I don’t think I wrote what I believe are the key elements of how the Everything Notebook works from the start up. In my view, the two things that make my Everything Notebook work for me are the durable plastic tabs and the use of colour (in my case, Sharpie 0.4mm fine markers, and multiple colour highlighters).

The key to the Everything Notebook’s simplicity is that you don’t need to create an Index (as opposed to the Bullet Journal). I do try to save some pages for Research, a few for Students, space for To Do lists, and a few pages for Administrative Tasks. But I don’t fret if one thing runs over another, or if I end up having to move the plastic tabs from one page to another. The beauty of using plastic durable tabs is that they’re mobile. You don’t depend on specific dividers and therefore, you can vary how many pages you use for each section.

The other element that I think is important is flexibility of notes’ location. Because I label each page or set of pages with a cue to the specific content that is in that page, I don’t necessarily need to write all my To Do lists in a specific location. All I do, particularly if I run out of space, is tag the page with the proper cue so that I can know what exactly is filed where.

As shown above, I bring my Everything Notebook everywhere. Even if I’m working online (writing notes, or editing papers), I keep an analog medium to jot down ideas and/or To-Do items. I’m also glad other people have taken up the concept!

The important thing for me is that the Everything Notebook gives me the flexibility of not having to be strict about content, or location of said content. I can have a To Do list, followed by a few notes from a scholarly seminar, followed by ideas about a research project, followed by notes from my lectures or scribbles related to a new research paper. Because I use the plastic tabs to organize the notebook, I always know exactly what is located where.

And more importantly, I use the Everything Notebook everyday. I carry it everywhere. My students, colleagues, other academics, participants in meetings, people whom I’ve interviewed during fieldwork, everyone has seen the Everything Notebook, and so far everybody has understood what I use it for.

There are obviously a couple of caveats, though. The first one is obvious, some people are colour-blind and therefore using colour will not help them. The advantage of using plastic tabs (and you can even use traditional adhesive mini-notes) is that you don’t depend on a colour-code. You can simply turn your Everything Notebook around and read what the tab says.

The second caveat is obviously that you need to carry the Everything Notebook around. I do, and it’s the first thing that I usually bring with me. Except when I don’t, and then my life is completely screwed up. That’s why it’s important to have the meetings synchronized with Google Calendar (because my iCal is synchronized to my Google Calendar, so I may forget what I’m meant to be doing, but I don’t miss where I am supposed to be or which meeting I should be attending).

The third caveat is that you may run out of space. If so, and it’s happened to me before, you can start a new Everything Notebook. Just keep the previous one handy in case you need to confer. I have my two most recent Everything Notebooks at my office at the ready just in case I need to confer about specific datasets, ideas, fieldwork, etc.

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Tales of the Field. On Writing Ethnography (Van Maanen, 2011)

Tales of The Field (Van Maanen 2011)Even though I strongly recommend NOT to do any work during your holidays, I had the pleasure of spending my holidays taking care of my 8 and 5 year old nephews, and during the time during which they allowed me to work, I basically caught up on my reading. One of the books I really enjoyed and spent a few days reading was one of the classics of ethnography: Van Maanen, John. 2011. Tales of the Field. On Writing Ethnography. 2nd. ed. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. As someone who primarily does qualitative work (particularly ethnography) I am always keen to read books that are specific on research methods. This semester I am not teaching Research Methods, but I have been developing a strong syllabus specific for public policy.

Van Maanen is an anthropologist, and he makes no apologies for the clobbering he gives sociologists who use ethnographic methods. He is a purist and believes that ethnography is truly a concept, a method and a way of living and researching that is by nature and in its own right, anthropological. Van Maanen does an excellent job of offering insight into the daily practice of ethnography. He also offers a historical overview of ethnography and fieldwork, both as method and as practice. From an epistemological viewpoint, for Van Maanen ethnography IS fieldwork and fieldwork IS ethnography. I offer two quotes:

The trick of ethnography is to adequately display the culture (or, more commonly, parts of the culture) in a way that is meaningful to readers without great distortion” (Van Maanen 2011, p.13)

In anthropology, fieldwork alone sets the discipline off from other social sciences. A lengthy stay in an exotic culture (exotic, that is, to the fieldworker) is the central rite of passage serving to initiate and anoint a newcomer to the discipline” (Van Maanen 2011, p. 14)

In pages 17-23, Van Maanen compares how sociologists and anthropologists use ethnography (these pages reminded me of a conversation my coauthor Kate Parizeau and I had over email with Carole McGranahan – ethnography IS what anthropologists do). Van Maanen historicizes the evolution of ethnography as a method and as a field itself, with an overview of the Chicago sociology School. Van Maanen differentiates how sociologists look at ethnography (somewhat as the less relevant method, whereas to anthropologists, ethnography IS the method by excellence) – I liked that Van Maanen centers on W.E.B. Dubois as an early fieldworker and key to the field itself.

The book is organized as follows: Van Maanen reviews his 3 types of Tales (Realist Tales, Confessional Tales, Impressionist Tales). He then closes with a chapter on Fieldwork, Culture and Ethnography revisited, analyzing other types of tales (with brief, not extensive notes). Each chapter revisits the conventions that mark each tale. Then he uses a chapter section to describe how to produce each type of tale, often with examples from his own ethnographic writing. Then he writes about each type of tale in perspective — how each fieldworker and author operates within each Tale, etc.

The Epilogue serves to bring the book together, and offers perspective on the evolution of ethnography, fieldwork, writing and reading conventions. I liked that Van Maanen takes a self-critiquing position where he says that even though he is writing a main text on ethnography, he doesn’t have all the answers. Nobody whose ethnography textbook I’ve read really does have this kind of humble approach (albeit towards the end!).

I strongly recommend the Van Maanen for anybody who does ethnography, and it is a reference text, so I would strongly encourage students and researchers to buy a copy for themselves and keep it handy.

This blog post is a shorter version of my memorandum on Van Maanen, not a formal book review. I am sharing it in hopes it will be of use to those who study ethnography and qualitative methods.

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Synchronizing my digital and analog weekly and daily planner

Some people who see how my daily workflow happens in real life seem to be taken aback by the fact that I synchronize my digital and analog daily and weekly plans. To them, it would appear as though I take longer to plan my life than to actually execute it. This isn’t the case. It’s quite simple because everything that goes on my weekly plan (which I write on one of my campus office whiteboards) is synchronized with my digital and analog calendars.

My weekly plan (on the whiteboard) is synchronized with my Everything Notebook.

Synchronizing weekly plans

To-Do Lists in my Everything NotebookAs you can see, everything that was planned on my Weekly Plan (on the whiteboard) is also transferred to my Everything Notebook. I need the analog version so that I can check off stuff that I am working on, and so that I can have a daily reminder of what I am doing when. For example, it is crucial to me to wake up and see what exactly I’m supposed to be doing on which day. So I open my Everything Notebook on the week where I’m supposed to be working, and I see what tasks I have due and by when. When I arrive to campus, I know for a fact that I can check off both on the whiteboard and on the Everything Notebook what I’ve already accomplished. By Friday, I erase those things I completed from the whiteboard. But everything is also digitally synchronized. I use Google Calendar for everything. I block weekly class-meeting schedules, office hours, and time to write.

Since I am sometimes absent-minded, I require having a Google Calendar alert that reminds me of where I should be when I should be. On Fridays, after everything is said and done, I clear my weekly plan and leave on whatever I didn’t accomplish, and then refill with new tasks.

Synchronizing weekly plans

Because I know that “things happen”, sometimes I need to migrate tasks from one day to another (which is why the green arrows point a task to a different day).

Synchronization of my weekly plan to google calendar

The tasks that have specific dates and times (like my teaching, and meetings) are blocked into my Google Calendar directly.

Schedule Week 2 August 2016

And at the end of the day, everything is synchronized. This process takes literally 30 seconds to run, and 5-15 minutes to set up. Hopefully my method will be useful to other folks!

Posted in academia, productivity.

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My Regional Development (Fall 2016) syllabus

And in a similar fashion to what I did in previous semesters, I am hereby sharing my Regional Development syllabus for Fall 2016. This semester, I also used the same textbook by a male scholar (Contemporary Policy Analysis by Mintrom) because I want to teach policy analysis techniques alongside main regional development theories, my ratio of female-to-male scholars’ is about 62%. It was a bit harder for me to include women in this particular course because I dropped 2 weeks worth of clusters theory and other topics where women have published (occupation-industry analysis, for example). You can check my syllabus here.

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My Public Policy Analysis Fall 2016 syllabus

As I have done in previous semesters for the past year or so, I am hereby sharing my Public Policy Analysis syllabus for Fall 2016. This semester, without taking into account that I included a textbook by a male scholar (Contemporary Policy Analysis by Mintrom), my ratio of female-to-male scholars’ is about 68%. I’ve said this before – it’s much easier to include female scholars and younger, under-represented minorities in public policy than in other fields. You can check my syllabus here.

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Creating a syllabus for a new course: The answer-seeking method

A few months ago, University Affairs (the premiere higher education magazine in Canada) asked me if I would be willing to write something for them. I wrote about how I use storytelling techniques to create a syllabus. The syllabus-writing-as-storytelling (SWAS) method works very well when you know EXACTLY the kind of course you will be teaching. Using the SWAS method would be very simple if I were teaching any of the public policy courses I used to teach at UBC, or any of the environmental politics, global environmental politics or Latin American environmental politics courses I taught there too.

Syllabusing (syllabus building)

But that didn’t happen in 2013.

When I was asked to start teaching again (I got a one-year release from teaching when I arrived to CIDE), I was tasked with two courses: First, State and Local Government (2013-2014) and Regional Development (2014-2015). My first thought was “oh, great… I now have to create two new courses and I have no clue what I want to teach”. Bear in mind, I study subnational politics and governance, but I had never needed to teach Federalism or Subnational Politics, let alone a course in State and Local Government. Same with Regional Development. I do economic geography, spatial analysis and public policy, but I had never combined them in a course. These courses are what I call “area courses” (e.g. not specific to public policy, or political science per se).

So what did I do? I started asking myself questions. That’s why I call this method “answer-seeking”. The first thing I wanted to know was “what exactly should I be teaching in a State and Local Government course?”. I figured the best technique I could use was attempting to answer these questions. Below you will find a sample of the kind of questions I asked myself to create this course:

  • What exactly does subnational politics entail?
  • What types of governments do we have?
  • What types of relationships do these governments have with each other?
  • How are the types of governments (and the levels of governments) relating to each other?
  • How do the different branches of government (executive, legislative, judiciary) relate to each other and at which different levels (state, municipal, federal)?
  • How do governments at the municipal level deal with governance issues that cross different scales?
  • What kinds of new developments in state and local government scholarship are coming along?
  • What kind of political science and public policy scholarship applies specifically to subnational levels?
  • Which journals publish stuff at the subnational level?

What I did next was to start researching the answers to my own self-posed questions. In doing so, I started crafting a trajectory of what the course would be looking like:

  1. Governments and governance
  2. The executive at all three levels
  3. The legislative at all three levels
  4. The judiciary at all three levels
  5. Vertical and horizontal interactions across government levels and branches
  6. Subnational politics and policy (and different areas of policy)
  7. Metropolitan governance, intermunicipal cooperation
  8. Cooperation across sectors: industry, academia, non-profit sector relations with the government at all three levels
  9. Polycentric governance
  10. New developments in state and local government

Having a relatively large followership on Twitter and belonging to the Political Scientists Facebook group helped me too, because I could ask questions to my followers on specific topics, and authors. Furthermore, since I adjust my courses’ syllabi for gender and under-represented minorities’ scholarship, I had to revisit the topics to ensure that I had opened spaces and opportunities for URMS. You can check the outcome of this exercise, in the most recent version (2015) of my State and Local Government syllabus.

As time has gone by, and the more I have taught the course, I have learned more about which topics are relevant and how my students react to specific assigned reading materials and activities. Therefore, for the next iterations, I don’t seek to answer questions, but I instead use more of a storytelling approach, which you can read about here.

Hopefully my method can be useful to those of you facing new preps!

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Should public administration scholarship be subjected to the same transparency standards as political science? A response to Lars Tummers

This is an expanded response to Dr. Lars Tummers’ essay on transparency in Public Administration Review’s Speak Your Mind section. The original is located here. I also blogged about qualitative vs quantitative standards a few weeks back but I had not published that essay, which is live now and can be read here.

Professor Lars Tummers wrote an excellent essay for Public Administration Review’s blog Speak Your Mind that raises fundamental issues with which I am very familiar with, as I’ve taken part of the discussions in the political science realm, from a qualitative researcher perspective. Many of the responses to Lars’ essay have addressed these points at much longer length than I could possibly do, and I can’t make justice to the debate in a few short lines, so I’m just going to raise a few points from a very personal perspective.

1) I am wholeheartedly in favor of more open science, replications, transparency, pre-registration and a number of elements of a more robust, causal-mechanism-driven social science. I work with experimental methods (I was originally trained as a chemical engineer, so I did experiments before experiments were cool in social sciences) and therefore I espouse many of the views of several posters here, including Professor Tummers.

2) I am trained as a political scientist who works in a public administration department. As a result, I have read (and written about) the debates (which were actually happening in political science well before public administration caught up to them). This debate hasn’t ended and is still heated. The LaCour and Green and Alice Goffman issues have only contributed to elevating the level of discussion and the need for an open conversation about this.

3) I do, however, conduct qualitative (primarily interview-based, ethnographic and discourse analysis) research. I don’t want to enter into a discussion about whether the epistemology and ontology of social sciences should be divided in qualitative and quantitative methods. This debate is never going to end, so I strongly recommend reading Tom Pepinsky and Jay Ulfelder on why the discussion on qual/quant divides may actually be detrimental rather than useful.

4) Based on the fact that I conduct ethnographic work in very vulnerable communities, I am rather wary of sharing raw data (e.g. my field notes) with anybody to leave them for interpretation. Identification of vulnerable populations in any kind of social science reporting is not well seen, and many would see it as actually harmful. The IRB principles are there for a reason. We need to protect those communities we study and avoid any kind of harm to them.

5) Let’s not forget the fact that I’m a pre-tenure, tenure-track professor (a factor that plays into me being disincentivized to share raw data – what if someone who writes/analyzes data faster than me comes up with a faster analysis than I can possibly produce? My tenure committee isn’t going to judge me for data production, they’ll judge me for publications in high impact journals).

6) Even when I do quantitative analysis, I very often create my own datasets and therefore I am wary of sharing them before I have exploited them (see point 5). Transparency is rad, and I’m all for letting people judge the quality and rigor of my work by examining my databases and how I processed them (e.g. publishing code, etc.) BUT I am not ok with someone publishing a paper with my database BEFORE I get a chance to do so. Again, we are not rewarding data production, we are rewarding journal article/book publication.

7) What I think is missing from the conversation is a series of tables (sorry, I think in diagrams and tables) creating possible scenarios and then describing EXACTLY what the TOP guidelines would require from a researcher to comply with them. For example – my next paper is on the politics of water privatization in Mexico. Do I need to publish the raw data? Do I need to submit the raw transcripts of my interviews? Should I post them anonymized (anonymity will reduce the ability of researchers who might want to replicate my study to learn more of the contextual elements of my analysis)? I think that’s what is missing. A simple, visual, easy guide with several scenarios, containing MANY examples from the qualitative and interpretive traditions.

In summary, do I think public administration scholarship could use more transparency? For sure. We need to be able to test whether claims in PA journals actually can be sustained by the evidence presented and by the data collected. But PA suffers from the same emerging chasm between quantitative and qualitative research. I don’t want PA to fetichisize quantitative analysis as more rigorous. There is plenty of qualitative, interpretive, ethnographic research that is robust and analytical. I want a more rigorous PA scholarship and stronger, robust, testable research designs. That’s what I want, and that’s what I hope we can all contribute.

(and yes, I just saw the 2016 IPMJ summary article on ethnography in public management research, BTW). I also participated in the session at PMRC where the analysis presented by Ospina, Esteve and their PhD student showed, and I quote Esteve from Twitter “7.5% qual studies in top PA journ. last 5 years. Presenting it at PMRC & S. Ospina :)

Thanks Andy Whitford, Steve Kelman, Lars Tummers and Don Moynihan also for excellent discussions on Twitter on this topic. I leave you with one of the discussions I enjoyed the most about this topic in the tweets below:

Posted in academia, public administration, research methods.

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Should qualitative data be subjected to the same transparency standards as quantitative?

If you’ve followed me on Twitter for any length of time, you’ll know I’m someone who is very much into open access, open science, transparency, replicability and traceability. I strongly believe that we should make our research as open and transparent as possible so that people can replicate our findings (or fail to replicate, as the case may be). In fact, if you read my tweets from when the DART initiative started, I was actually pretty supportive.

Today, I am not so sure anymore. I started feeling quite uneasy and I can’t quite put my finger on the reason why. Since I use my writing to reflect on issues, I decided to write a blog post.

Transparency is an issue that is important to me, but one that I don’t spend my every living moment thinking about. So, bear that in mind when you critique/read my post. These are some reflections that may be preliminary, and that may or not be correct. I don’t have the time nor the inclination to spend much time on this reflection at this point in my life. When I submit a paper to a journal whose standards for replication require me to be completely transparent about my data, I’ll have to reflect on it a lot more. Right now, I have papers to finish, so this reflection is necessarily incomplete.

The issue that prompted my reflection and uneasiness was the following: I read a paper authored by a specific researcher, we’ll call him A. This researcher used the primary data generated by another researcher, we will call her B (who seemed quite knowledgeable about the topic). Despite the fact that the fieldwork seemed quite short, I gave B the benefit of the doubt as she had published quite extensively about the topic. But A hadn’t. A’s foray into the topic seemed basically grabbing B’s data, thinking about it through a different theoretical lens, and voila, you have a peer reviewed paper. A cited B, and mentioned he had used her data.

Organizing my fieldwork notebook

When I finished reading the article, I felt really uneasy. This action (A publishing a paper using B’s fieldwork data) seemed unethical to me. I don’t know why, I can’t shake the feeling, and it may actually not be the case. But that’s how I felt. I shared my thoughts on Twitter. Now, if you know me, you’ll know that I’m more than happy to share my quantitative datasets, my papers, even my conference (draft) papers. Heck, I was even willing to share raw field notes. But this particular paper stopped me on my tracks.

The question, obviously, lingers… shouldn’t qualitative data be subjected to the same standards as quantitative? Why am I so willing to share my datasets so openly but my fieldwork (qualitative) data (interviews, participant observations) I don’t feel as excited to share as before? I don’t know, and I’m not sure if it’s the fact that I’m pre-tenure and I worry about being scooped (seeing as I’ve seen 5 papers published that were exactly the pieces I was going to write, this feeling has increased in the past few months).

WARNING – my commenting system is somehow not working as well as I would like it to, so if you have a long comment to write, I suggest you type it in Word or LaTeX and save it, and if you can’t insert it into my comments box section, email it to me, and I’ll post it directly on the WordPress interface.

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The 30 minute challenge: Achieving short-term goals

For the 30 minutes challengeA few weeks ago, I wrote about a strategy I use to keep myself motivated: the Quick Wins method. I use this method because I am actually someone who faces enormous challenges in keeping himself focused and motivated. Because I have so many different research interests and I study a relatively broad range of issues, it’s hard for me to stay on track and focus on just ONE project or task at a time. I have been practising this habit, but I’m definitely not there yet. However, every time I resort back to the Quick Wins strategy, I realise that every one of us has a different definition of what a Quick Win is. Recently, Dr. Amber Wutich mentioned that writing a memorandum counts as a quick win. Amber is right. When I’m really fresh and just woke up, I can crank out a full journal article or book chapter memorandum within 30 minutes. This degree of effectiveness and efficiency changes throughout the day, and because my body is relatively fragile, I need to make the most of the 30 minute blocks I have available for important tasks.

So I set out to test how many different tasks I can do with 30 minutes. This challenge isn’t new. Several academics have written before me about the need to remain focused and stay on track, and to use as much of the time you have to move your work forward. I myself have recently (in the past two years) been championing a strategy whereby you move every project you have forward a little bit every day but then zero in and finish it off.

Many people claim that they don’t have enough hours in the day to fit writing into their day. I don’t have that excuse, since I wake up at 4 am every single morning to write. I write even if it is only my handwritten notes from the margins of articles, books or books chapters I’ve been reading. Even if it’s only a memo, or only scribbles on the papers’ margins, I write every morning (even if it’s a summary of a paper, or a reflective memo). When I can’t write for 2 hours straight, I try to get 4 thirty-minutes’ blocks of writing.

Writing a memorandum

The first time I read that 30 minutes were enough to achieve academic goals was when I read Dr. Aimee Morrison’s blog on Hook & Eye on the 30 minute miracle. Dr. Jo VanEvery, a well-respected academic coach and a good friend of mine has recommended to her clients (and blog readers) to engage in the 15 minute challenge. Jo suggests that you need to find 15 minutes in your day to write. I agree that there is A LOT that can be done within those 15 minutes.

I am pretty sure I know exactly how much work I can get done in 15 minutes, but I wasn’t 100% sure about how much stuff I could accomplish in 30 minute increments other than free-writing and editing pieces of manuscripts. I have tested writing for 30 minutes for a very, very long time and I know that I can write between 100 and 300 words in those 30 minutes. I know I can highlight and scribble half an article in 30 minutes. But I wanted to see if other tasks could fit the 30 minute challenge posed by Aimeé. This is a brief report of my experience. Bear in mind: I chose time blocks at different points during the day. It became very clear to me that my efficiency and the number of things I can accomplish in 30 minutes first thing in the morning is super high, and it’s slowly but surely reduced throughout the day. I wrote most of this blog post in less than 30 minutes!

So here are the results of my 30 minutes challenge (I undertook this challenge on Friday July 29th, which was still part of my actual holidays).

  • I read, highlighted and scribbled one article (well, really 50% of it) within the first 30 minutes.
  • Then I finished processing the manuscript and started typing the memo associated with it. I wrote 1345 words of a memo, and I haven’t even finished the first part of the memo.
  • Then I realized I was already in a groove and spent the next 30 minutes writing more of the memorandum. I also typed my handwritten scribbles on the margins.
  • Then I wrote this blog post, searched for images to embed, searched for Jo’s and Aimeé’s blog so that I could link back to them and attribute, then I found my own blog posts on organization and memo writing.

Basically I did 4 blocks of 30 minutes of work, and I haven’t even finished processing an article and writing a memorandum. I think I need another 30 minutes of work to finish processing this article, because I got so angry reading it that I have A LOT of scribbles that need to be typed and transcribed. But as I was doing the 30 minute challenge, I realized that Aimeé is completely right: you can move your work forward A LOT 30 minutes at a time.

Thanks for reminding me of this, Dr. Morrison!

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Writing effective memorandums

One of the challenges I face when teaching my students how to write effective memos (memoranda, memorandums) is that I have developed my own method of memo-writing after reading dozens of books, book chapters, articles, and implementing some of those ideas. I’ve written so many memos that I don’t actually know whether to recommend a specific text as a guideline.

There are many benefits to learning how to write effective memos. Memo-writing allows you to really engage with the material (beyond highlighting and taking notes on the margins of your printed copies, or digital ones in PDF). Writing memoranda also allows you to integrate reading into your writing workflow. Stuck in the morning during your alloted writing time? You can read an article and write a memorandum about it = problem solved. You can write memos about your readings, about your fieldwork, about your data (laboratory or field or computer-generated). The key element is that whatever kind of memo you write, it should be useful to you.

For those who think I only do analog stuff: I also do handwritten memos. Writing a memo can also be used as a Quick Win, and the results from the memos can be dumped into the Excel synthetic lit review worksheet.


I recently re-read a chapter of Corbin and Straus’ classic “Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory” on memo-writing and diagrams (Chapter 6). Corbin and Strauss’ book is one of my favorites, I read it during my PhD studies) and I have always recommended it because I think that it might be useful for students, particularly those who use qualitative methods. Re-reading the chapter really sparked my interest in writing an example and sharing how I actually do my memo-writing (even though I’m still on holidays!).

From the excerpt below you can notice that I start writing my memo with the full citation at the top, as shown in my Mendeley database. Then I usually write a contextual summary that interweaves the book or journal article or book chapter I’m memo-ing with my own research or thoughts about other authors and/or specific citations.

Bjorkman memo

I then start extracting specific quotations I might want to use. One tip that I think should be useful for others is that I extract the quotation in Word EXACTLY as I would need it and insert it in an actual manuscript. That is, I link the actual citation with the Mendeley Cite-As-You-Write plug in, and do a manual edit so I can literally copy and paste. That way, the Mendeley fields will be inserted into the manuscript I’m writing, and I don’t need to manually search my Mendeley database when I write the paper.

I usually interweave quotations with text related to other authors, as though I were writing an actual manuscript. Doing this for a memo means that I can extract full paragraphs of several memoranda and assemble the literature review. I also use this technique to extract quotations that I can then dump into my Excel literature review synthesis.

Something else I do when I write a memo is that I search my Mendeley database for a specific phrase or word, or author, to see who else should I be linking to within a specific memorandum. For example, I always thought the work of Lisa Björkman could be linked to that of Malini Ranganathan, Georgina Drew, Colin McFarlane, Matthew Gandy. When I search my Mendeley database, I find several of these authors already mentioned. So, I can then draw a conceptual map of authors that links their work and I now know who else is writing about urban water infrastructure, informality and governance in Mumbai, India.

Mumbai Mendeley search

Shown in the extract below, I have written notes to myself in this memo about specific authors that I think should be engaged when writing about the work of Lisa Björkman, and how this links to my own work on informal water markets in Mexico. Since most of the time I am writing memos from memory, it is actually very useful to have my Excel dump worksheet open, as well as my Mendeley database. That way I can copy and paste quotations directly without having to worry about repeating the procedure once I have finished writing the memorandum.

citations memo and engagement

I’m quite honest in the notes I write in my memoranda, so I am often wary of sharing an actual memo of mine, but I thought that even though this memo is in progress, it might be useful for other academics (and even my own students) to see how I try to write effective memorandums. I strongly recommend this technique to engage the material in greater depth. You can then upload the Word memorandum into Evernote and tag it with specific keywords, or just simply keep it stored in your Dropbox.

Hopefully sharing my memo-writing method will be useful for students, practitioners and fellow professors/instructors/educators/academic writers!

Posted in academia, writing.

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