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Overcoming “Writer’s Block” with Index Cards and Memorandums

This past week, I taught 2 workshops, 1 for the Association of Iberian and Latin American Studies of Australasia (AILASA) and another one (over 2 days) for Rutgers University Newark’s School of Graduate Studies. During both workshops, I got asked the same question about fighting “writer’s block” (“Professor Pacheco-Vega, how do you fight Writer’s Block, what would be the easiest strategy to overcome it?”, and I answered with exactly the same strategy in both cases):

The trusty and humble “index card” and the memorandum.

Note how even writing two index cards can give me a strong enough “emotional boost” to compel me to write a memorandum.

Hopefully this blog post will be useful to you too.

Posted in academia, writing.

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Delving into an entirely new topic and doing a literature review, performed with an example (on hospital ethnography)

A lot of people use my blog posts as guides to literature reviews, either for themselves or for their students. A lot of people use my blog posts as guides to literature reviews, either for themselves or for their students.

If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you probably know I’ve written a metric tonne of blog posts on specific items of the literature review (when to stop reading, how to create a mind-map of the literature, how to produce paragraphs of the lit review, etc.)

I understand these students’ concerns. Why should I be writing a literature review, what is its purpose and how do I go about it? After teaching undergraduate, and graduate (Masters, PhD) courses for a few years now, I think I understand the difficulty of understanding LRs.

What I have found most useful when I teach how to do Literature Reviews is explaining that to contribute to a body of research, we need to understand and know very well the landscape of scholarship that is out there. Like having a puzzle, and knowing where your own piece fits.

This universal, common understanding of what a literature review entails makes it easy to showcase methods and strategies across all three levels (undergrad, Masters, PhD). You are seeking to understand the big picture, and then narrow down your own topic to something manageable.

In that post, I explain that there are different ways to train yourself to do literature reviews. One way is to learn how to do annotated bibliographies and THEN move on to writing literature reviews. Another way is to learn how to create banks of notes and THEN do LRs.

Now, on to the typical question “when should I stop reading and start writing?”


Now, for the “live performance of how I conduct a literature review of a new topic”. My Grandma was a nurse, my Grandpa was a military doctor. Because of my poor health, and because I was obsessed with studying nursing growing up, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in hospitals. Because of COVID19, and also because I’ve recently recovered the friendship of a dear friend of mine from grade school who now is a Professor of Nursing and has a PhD, I’ve started thinking more about the politics and public policy aspects of understanding hospital operations.

I had been thinking about whether one could understand how health care professionals make decisions for a very long time. After all, I’ve spent a substantial amount of my life talking with doctors and nurses. And I’ve also cared for ill people (particularly my family). As someone who teaches Qualitative Methods, who has edited the International Journal of Qualitative Methods, who has published on ethnography and conducts ethnographies all over the world, I’m not unfamilar with the method at all.

HOWEVER I’VE NEVER done or studied hospital ethnography (until now, obviously). I recently wrote a grant proposal that, if funded, would allow me to conduct hospital ethnography across different sites/facilities/cities. I am not a health care professional, nor a medical anthropologist, so I would definitely need to partner with my good friend to do this.

Here is the thing: I believe one step in preparing literature reviews that we don’t properly teach and that helps students get out of the writing rut is asking them to DEFINE THEIR TERMS.

  • Do you want to write on Street-Level Bureaucrats (SLBs)? First question: What is a SLB? Who are the key authors on SLBs? (I know this answer, we all start with Lipsky, the book I tweeted about earlier).
  • Do you want to write on ethnography of illicit activity, such as drug trafficking? What is illict? How do we define illicit activity? How have scholars studied it?

Some Strategies to Generate Questions:

Now, on to the topic I’m researching right now: hospital ethnography. First step, as most of my blog readers will know, will be doing citation tracing, reading, annotating, systematizing, and writing memos until reaching concept saturation (and filling up rows of your Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump, CSED).

Below is a step-by-step performance of how I did Google Searching, citation tracing, CSED/memo writing, etc.

As I search for references, I link authors, concepts, ideas. Most of my mind-mapping happens in index cards.

Now, some instructions specific to educators:

Let’s get back to the actual process of doing the search/reading/reviewing the literature, and writing a memo.

As you can see, I am using “foundational” scholars to pivot around their scholarship and try to find new articles/improve my searches. Notice how I use Boaz’s, Van der Geest’s work to find OTHER articles that might be relevant, on hospital ethnography.

Now, this section describes how I REFINE MY GOOGLE SEARCH AND CITATION TRACING PROCESS. These refinements are necessary because I am not *just* writing about hospital ethnography but specifically, I am working on its application in Mexico. Thus I need to introduce keywords and refine my search, as well as track key authors.

A key tip: if you are doing a first pass at the literature, I recommend downloading a bunch of articles to go through using Batch Processing.


While I don’t really have time to work on this literature review, I know that this is a key element of the review of the literature, and therefore I had to make some time to show the beginnings of how I would write the LR section of my paper/grant proposal, because that’s usually THE KEY jump that students struggle with. They all ask me: “Professor, how do I go from “I’ve Read All Things” to WRITING the Literature Review?”

Everything, EVERYTHING, literally everything in the research process is driven by the Research Question (and that’s why my students and research assistants always hear me harping about the importance of asking good questions and designing good Research Questions).

Now, it should be obvious by looking at my Mendeley library that I haven’t read, downloaded, and processed EVERYTHING that there is to read on hospital ethnography. But at least, I have the beginnings. If you were to do a LR, you should be well on your way. Should I find time in my schedule to finish this LR on hospital ethnography, I should be able to continue this process (search, process, synthesize, write) in a relatively seamless fashion.

When I have the time, or when I MAKE the time, I can continue thinking through everything I read on hospital ethnography, and every new citation that scholars recommend to me. I am crossing my fingers that this will all it make sense to you all (my readers) now. My hope that by performing a “live” LR using my own blog posts might help you too.

Posted in academia, research, research methods.

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Revising the dissertation/thesis: From first draft to readable draft to shareable draft

This blog post focuses on using backcasting techniques and Overview Devices to revise the doctoral dissertation (chapter by chapter and/or the full draft). Applies to any thesis, for that matter. You can also extrapolate my strategy to revising a book manuscript as well (edited or solo author).

Revising a paper

Recently, a doctoral student asked me “Professor Pacheco-Vega, how can I revise the full draft manuscript to a state where my advisor and committee can/will want to read it?”.

Well, first off, advisors and committee SHOULD always want to read it, regardless of its state. But I understand the question. This is the ages-old issue of “when is my writing good enough for someone else to read it?” When I was younger, I was MUCH more of a perfectionist than I am right now (and by God, I AM a perfectionist, and no, I’m not gloating, it’s a flaw!)

I think that a basic standard for “can it be read by someone else” could probably be “doesn’t have typos, nor blatant grammatical errors, and has been at least looked at by someone else for consistency, coherency and articulation”.

Having said that, I also recognize that getting to THAT point is really hard. Personally, I know I sometimes send stuff that is NOT yet up to the highest standard because I am tired of it, and it’s better to have it reviewed than not. But I do try to make sure that there is enough material to work with, for review.

Anyhow, regardless of standards, it is MUCH easier for me as a thesis advisor to react to SOMETHING. So yes, sometimes I do ask my students to send me rough drafts, scattered notes, etc. Not everyone is me, and I do this to help my students overcome their fear of producing text.

At any rate, what I tell my students when they finish their theses is to just send me the entire draft AS IS. This document may have gaps, holes, and some errors. But at least I can react to it.

There are 2 stages of revision of a first draft:

1) First draft to READABLE draft.

2) Readable draft to REVISED FIRST DRAFT (after being reviewed by supervisor/mentor/advisor)

The first (getting a draft to the readable point) usually involves hiring an editor or a trusted friend to provide help with grammar/typos/structure, etc. IF you want to do it alone:

In short:

1) Revising Draft 1 to Readable Draft 1:
– check for structure, argument, typos, grammar, flow (use Pat Thomson, Rachael Caeley’s blog posts)

2) Revising Readable Draft 1 to Shareable Draft (for external readership, AFTER advisor’s comments)
– use DRM, GDN, DAT, DTP

Most advisors (mine did) prefer to read a draft and provide comments back BEFORE letting their students share with the committee (most committee members will want drafts they read approved by advisors). I prefer this strategy too (thus obtaining the “stamp of approval”)

All professors I know are overburdened, so it’s a good strategy to (a) inquire how much time they need (b) whether it is ok to send them a reminder that you need your draft back and (c) provide a roadmap of changes you’ve made/progress you have achieved, maybe include the DTP.

Obviously, supervisors and students will need a strategy for when advisors/committee members may not be as responsive as a student might need (deadlines, etc.) – I wish I had a good suggestion for this, but mostly, what I tell students is to maintain healthy dialogue w/advisors.

Students/graduate researchers may also want to include a copy of their DRM when providing a new draft (“I made these changes, I did not make these other ones because they didn’t apply/fit, etc.”) I always ask my students to send me their DTP alongside any new draft, so I can see how their thinking is evolving. I also usually ask for DAT and GDN as well.

Hopefully this strategy will be useful to my readers!

Posted in academia.

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The March 2021 #AICCSED Reading, Annotating and Systematizing Challenge

Keeping up with the literature is absolutely impossible, to be perfectly honest. There is just too much to read and too little time to do so, with multiple, competing demands for our time. My latest two blog posts (on “Strategies to Catch Up with the Literature” and on “Batch Processing Techniques”) focus on how to get “up-to-speed” with whichever scholarly body of work we are currently exploring. I did a quick poll to see if people would like to do yet another Reading, Annotating, Systematizing Challenge (as we did in September of 2020, October of 2018, and March-April of 2018). Apparently, people want to do it again this 2021, so here it goes.


The challenge operates like this: you declare on Twitter which article you will read on whichever day you will read it, using the hashtag #AICCSED, and then post a screenshot of the Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump (CSED or Excel Dump for short) row entry for that particular article. I call this strategy the #AICCSED Processing Protocol. We repeat this on a daily basis (you can do Monday through Friday or all 30 days of the month, it is up to you). The idea is that towards the end, you’ll be basically up to speed with at least SOME PARTS of the literature.

Hopefully this will be an interesting activity that moves you forward and not yet another burden on already over-burdened scholars! Do let me know how you do. You can track progress of how me and others are doing #AICCSED by clicking on this link.

Posted in academia.

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Batch-Processing groups of reading materials (articles or book chapters)

What does “Batch Processing” look like, in practice?

In a recent blog post, I showed you different strategies not to “stay on top of the literature”, but to “catch up with the literature” in a way that is gentle and still highlight inequities and challenges.

Annotating reading Everything Notebook etc

In about 2 weeks, I will be giving a guest lecture on polycentricity for a good friend of mine, Dr. Marcela Lopez-Vallejo at Universidad de Guadalajara. I wanted to “catch up with the polycentricity literature”. Now, this is a literature I have contributed to before (see this book chapter on evolutionary institutional change and polycentric water governance with Andreas Thiel and Liz Baldwin).

The advantage that using Batch Processing offerss, whether you distribute it over a week with a daily #AICCSED or devote a couple of hours on Fridays to this work, is that it allows you to reach Conceptual Saturation faster: by looking at interrelated papers, who might even be citing each other, you may end up being able to get a overview of the field (or at least, of the gaps you have in what you know about it).

Hopefully this detailed description of my Reading Materials’ Batch Processing method can be of help to my readers.

Posted in academia.

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A few strategies to “stay on top of the literature” (more like, “catching up with the literature”

“You need to stay on top of the literature”

This is such a common trope in academic life (just look at this Twitter search I did). I have uttered more times than I want to admit. It’s important to note that just about everyone who does scholarly work feels the same. It’s absurdly difficult to stay on top of the literature. Thousands of papers are published EVERY DAY, and no, nobody is actually reading them (just look at the absurdly high number of articles published on the COVID19 global pandemic!).

Highlighting, scribbling marginalia, reading, writing

My approach to catching up with the literature: on paper, with highlighters and coloured fineliners

Let’s start with stating the obvious:
– There is an absolutely unmanageable influx of published work that would necessitate that we devote our lives to reading to even barely make it to “stay on top of the literature”
– There are too many competing demands for our time.
– Increased care work has meant that women have been disproportionately (NEGATIVELY) affected by this global pandemic.
– For some bizarre reason, some people seem to be operating on the assumption that life is normal when it’s not, so workloads have increased, support has not.
– TIME IS NOT MALLEABLE. There are 24 hours in the day of which at least 7 woudl need to be dedicated to sleep (and for mothers, particularly of young children, this is absolutely impossible to do, sleep well). Parenting is very hard, single-parenting is super hard. + Academia!
– Being healthy is extremely important. At the same time, academia is ableist from its design. For those of us who have dealt with chronic pain, chronic fatigue, and other illnesses (including mental), it’s challenging to juggle everything and maintain a semblance of a life.
We don’t just “do stuff”. We need to think, reflect, connect ideas, read AND write. To do that, you need to have some semblance of healthy body and mind, and it is VERY challenging to manage illnesses, life AND deal with the increasingly overwhelming multiple demands.

Reviewing the literature and mapping scholarship

I love doing literature reviews, as you can tell!

Ok, all of the above stated, I do believe that there are a couple of strategies that we can use to “catching up with the literature”. Again, I’m going to state the obvious: THERE IS NO HUMANLY POSSIBLE WAY TO STAY ON TOP OF THE LITERATURE. There are ways, to “catch up” with it. remember loving my doctoral comprehensive exams because I was going to be able to READ and annotate, and take notes, and synthesize, etc. I was given a TASK (survey and master the literature) and a TIME ALLOCATION (1-2 years in most Canadian doctoral programmes).

Ok, so given that time is not malleable, and competing tasks are demanding our time, what can we do to catch up with the literature? Here are a few that I’ve used, even at my most ill. The key issue to remember here for me is: your (my) well being should be top priority.


Thinking of it as “catching up” instead of staying on top is crucial for me. I no longer aspire to be THE GO-TO-GUY FOR LITERATURE ON X (I used to be This Guy when I was in graduate school, by the way). I’ve lowered my expectations of myself, and the demands I impose on myself. Now, on to the strategies.

1. The “One Paper a Day” #AICCSED Strategy

I thrive on routine, and there’s something magical for me about having a printed paper and highlighting it and annotating it. But I know I have a metric tonne of things to do, so I try to JUST read ONE paper per day, and even then…

Obviously, the #AICCSED acronym stems from combining both techniques’ acronyms: AIC from the reading strategy and CSED from the systematizing strategy). Doing a daily #AICCSED helps me add notes and absorb material regularly without stressing about being “on top of the literature” (I will never be, I’ve accepted this).

2. The “Reading Fridays” Batch Processing #AICCSED strategy.

This was hard to do, and I know I’m privileged in being able to do this. Last semester, while teaching 4 courses, my Fridays were absolutely exhausting. So this semester I have turned Fridays into READING DAYS. It is definitely stressful because I know I NEED to do A LOT of things at the same time. But if I am going to try to catch up with the literature, I put all my reading on one day: theses drafts, papers to grade, journal article reviews, etc. ALL THE READING GETS DONE ON A FRIDAY.

You are going to ask this question, so it’s better if we get it out of the way:

How do I decide what I can get away with? (that is, when do I know a paper should be read more in depth and therefore I need to allocate more time to read it?

The answer to this question necessitates that you develop a HEURISTICS OF TRIAGE.

Concept saturation

Catching up with the literature can also be done in batches, as I explain later in this blog post

In a way, we are all triaging every day. With competing demands on our time, and trying to juggle way too many tasks, we need to tend to issues that need our attention more (or, as the medical origing of triaging means, the patients that need the most help at the moment).

3. The “Per-Project” Batch #AICCSED Processing.

In addition to A-Day-A-Week-For-Reading Batch #AICCSED Processing and Daily #AICCSED Processing, I sometimes apply this strategy, but on a per-project basis. Usually when I am doing something new, or when I am meeting with a coauthor. I process readings the day before our meeting, so I can be prepared.

Doing Per-Project Batch #AICCSED Processing makes something easier for me: I don’t jump across literatures that often. For example, this week I am collaborating with a colleague on a grant proposal. I’m reading on subnational politics, that’s going to be my batch for this week.

Editing by hand


I think “staying on top of the literature” is unrealistic and damaging to our soul. I believe in a more humane, focused, realistic, health-minding approach to absorbing scholarly materials, a strategy where we “catch up with the literature” instead of trying, unsuccessfully and frustratingly, seeing how the pile of “To-Be-Read-Whenever-I-Find-A-Minute” materials grows. Hopefully these strategies will make sense to you all, and more importantly, I hope they’re helpful!

Posted in academia, reading strategies.

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Tackling an R&R (Revise-And-Resubmit) – a full-fledged process

On the full-fledged process of responding to a Revise-And-Resubmit (R&R): I have written pieces that tackle specific components of the process, but I hadn’t actually written a thread or a blog post showcasing how all my blog posts fit with one another. I teach this process when I give workshops. So I figured I could post it here on my blog, based on a Twitter thread I created for this purpose.

Drafts Review Matrix on paper and digital

So here’s what I do (now), and let me share a lesson from my past lives:


I know, they’re painful and scary and sometimes we don’t know if our paper will get rejected in the end. But remember, an R&R means an OPPORTUNITY to get your paper published.

Sitting on R&Rs, leaving them for later, and not prioritizing them has gotten me fewer publications. I know this for a fact. I am not ashamed of admitting that I have sometimes felt that I will not be capable of responding to multiple (often conflicting) comments.


Sustained, frequent advice from professors who are senior to me (though I am senior myself now too) is always the same and on-point:

The goal is the R&R.

You’re not getting a desk rejection. Take that as a bit of good news!

You are getting your work read, reviewed carefully, thought about, responded to. This is a win. Take it as such.

What do I do now (and have been doing for the past few years, with success) is as follows:

1. When I get the R&R (the “decision letter”), I make sure to calm down, because I am always afraid I’m going to get nasty comments. These have been (luckily) very rarely present in my latest submissions. Some people ask dear friends or collaborators to read the comments and deliver a kinder, gentler critique. I think this is great to soften the blow, but in the end, we are going to have to read the Letter of Response from Editors, so we might as well soldier on.

(I ask my Mom)

My Mom has a PhD in political science, is a full professor, and has been a Dean of Social Sciences, and she loves me, so it’s easier for her to see the good comments in the reviewers’ responses and just tell me “the tone on X comment might grate you but it’s a good one”.

2. Once I read the Editor’s Decision Letter, which include the comments, I pay a lot of attention to what the editor is telling me in the letter. Which reviewers’ comments do they recommend I pay particular attention to? In my experience (and as an Editor, I do this), editors will chart you a path forward: “we believe this paper holds promise, we suggest you might want to go down this path. Alternatively, there’s this other path. Or this other one”

Editors have been incredible generous to me.

3. Here is where all my processes articulate with one another:

Most editorial teams will already have a process for how they want the response to look like (redlined version, clean version, point-by-point letter). Some may accept my DRM as is, but I do recommend writing the letter.


An example of an R&R

4. You probably are thinking “but how I do I plan the R&R” – well, yes, I do have a blog post for that and here it is.

After all is said and done, and you resend the R&R revision, you probably want to take a couple of days off, and reward yourself in some way.

Hope this articulation of my blog posts and my processes are helpful to those of you in the throes of R&R revisions!

Posted in academia, writing.

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On student workload, cognitive load, number of hours per credit hour and the future of online teaching

I have written A LOT about various ways in which we can be kinder and gentler to our students, but I keep seeing op-eds and write ups on Those Higher Education outlets, and I am still thinking that there are things that need to be said. What I am writing about reflects MY experience and may not translate into others’ views.

The Twitter thread that I wrote speaks to the global perception that having a lot of reading material was acceptable in The Before Times and that somehow More Readings + A Lot of Time Devoted to Studying = Better Learning Outcomes. This is not the exact statement circulating, but it’s a common perception and one that I hope the global COVID19 pandemic puts to rest, because I don’t think it is actually true.

The issue of “credit hours” and “contact hours” and “study hours per hour of contact/in classroom time” really bugs me, as you can tell.

On 1) There’s an assumption that students should spend 1-3 hours per credit hour per course. A 3 hour/week class would require 3-9 hours worth of studying. If a student takes 4, 3-credit courses you are talking about 4x[3,9] hours worth of studying ON TOP of IN-CLASS hours.

If my math doesn’t fail me, that means that a student during regular times would need anything between 12 and 36 hours of their time to STUDY (wait until I add the 12 hours of in-class time). So that’s anywhere between 24 and 48 hours of school-related work.

That’s… INSANE.

Yesterday I only had 2 online meetings that required my brain to be functional and I could not wake up at 4am as I normally do – I have 4 meetings scheduled for today and that means I’m going to end up absolutely destroyed by tonight (even with a nap).

We need to reconsider how we approach distance teaching and learning under pandemic conditions.

My cognitive ability to THINK, let alone PRODUCE anything is vastly reduced by *gestures broadly* everything happening around me. I am a senior professor with a permanent job, a very decent salary, who is healthy and whose care responsibilities are significantly low. *I* struggle.

I don’t have much data (only 4 courses, plus one in the summer), but in my evaluations, students clearly marked that they appreciated and value empathy. I DO know for a fact that doing all this online work is taking a toll on my students. My thesis students tell me this, too.

And on the other side of the equation, these conditions take a toll on everyone else in higher education – faculty, families of students AND faculty, staff, etc.

Personally, I think we need to lower expectations, workload AND levels of stress, and just Chill The Fuck Out.

Posted in academia.

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Skimming articles using the AIC (Abstract, Introduction, Conclusion) Method, plus an AIC-> Synthetic Note Template for undergraduates (and graduates!)

Two of my favourite scholars, Dr. Heather Smith and Dr. Eugene McCann (whom I have admired independently for a very long time, even before I became friends with both of them) recently asked me if I had some sort of easy-to-read-and-implement guide and/or template for undergraduate (pre-graduate school, post-grade 9, basically, baccaleaurate candidates) students. Because I am someone who loves helping dear friends (and I need more content for undergraduate students!), I decided to write a Twitter thread and a blog post and develop a template to put my AIC Content Extraction Method to good use and help undergraduate students ask the right questions and create a Synthetic Note based on their AIC skim read.

Highlighting, scribbling marginalia, reading, writing

This blog post walks readers through my own process of skim reading focusing solely on the Abstract, Introduction and Conclusion (AIC), asking questions and looking for answers in these sections of the paper, and then drafting a summary (what I call a Synthetic Note), based off my notes from applying the AIC method. I have also included a template in PDF format that should open in a different window and that should be easily downloadable (click on the pop-out window and then from there, download from my Google Drive).

Below you will find my Twitter thread, interspersed with some commentary by me.


There’s another element that needs to be discussed that I’ve been mulling for months now. We need different strategies to read, annotate, take notes, and synthesize different materials. We assign very different types of reading materials (books, articles and book chapters), according to our set learning objectives, and the level that we are teaching (undergraduate, Masters, PhD).

As I went through my template and Rich’s abstract, I realized that there are elements in the abstract that give the reader much more information about the context of the research, why she studied those social movements, etc.

This has two implications that I want to draw here:

As Dr. Hoover- Green indicates in her guide, we need to teach students to look at “signposts” – words that give them a clue about what they are reading. In the sentence: “I show how X phenomenon occurs”, the phrase “I show” does the work of signposting what the author is doing.

… we STILL need to teach HOW TO READ (and how to absorb what we read and make sense of it). From the Abstract, I can make sense of a lot about Rich’s article: it’s on hybrid social movements, looks at Brazil’s AIDS movements and develops a third way of looking at social movements: as federated, distributed, multilevel organizational networks.

HOWEVER… so far, from reading Rich’s abstract I know nothing about her methods, approach to how she conducted this study of federative coalitions, etc. THIS is precisely the reason why I always tell my students to do a quick AIC skim: there are details that escape the abstract, but that you can find elsewhere in the article, usually the Introduction and the Conclusion.

This pair of tweets put together the entire decomposition framework.

Based on this exercise, I created a full template for creating a Synthetic Note based on an AIC quick skim. Includes:

1) Guidance on readings that students should do beforehand so they understand what AIC is all about.
2) A series of questions for each one of the components of AIC
3) A template for students (or any reader) to follow and use to write their Synthetic Note. This template has specific wording that helps them create a narrative when developing their literature reviews.

… included in the example and template. I created the Synthetic Note after running my reading through each element but that is not fully reflected in the Twitter thread, but it is in the final version of the template (that is, there is an intermediate step where I should show each one of the tables with my own notes).

Hope this is helpful! Here is a rundown of my notes and answers to the questions posited in the template.

Now, for a completed example of the Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump (CSED) row for Rich 2020’s article, derived from my AIC content extraction notes/Synthetic Note:

On the note-taking process:

Could I have taken notes in a series of Index Cards, or in my Everything Notebook, or in a Cornell Note? Sure thing. But since I am doing several threads on reading techniques for undergraduates (that can be adapted for graduates), I’m choosing to JUST do one.

HOWEVER… if you need more material on note-taking, in this tweet I link to a lot of my writing on the topic.

Please DO test drive this AIC->Synthetic Note template and let me know if it is helpful to you and/or your students!

Posted in academia, research, research methods, writing.

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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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