Tag Archives: Writing process

Organizing Literature for Writing Reviews and Theory

I feel like I need one stop shopping for my institutional theory, fields, emergence, and logics chapter.

How do other people do this?

Traditionally, I suppose I would have taken reading notes or annotations on each item.  Then a draft would be written using quotations from those sources.

Now I have notes and annotations scattered across many sources.  There are

  • Reading notes by item
  • Synthetic notes where I assemble quotes and my thoughts from multiple sources around a common theme.
  • Digital annotations and underlining in pdfs of articles and books.
  • Hard copy annotations in books (and maybe a few articles that are older)
  • Lists of possible resources

I am feeling stymied by how best to proceed.  As this is a topic I will come back to, I am interested not just in finishing this draft, but also in having a tool or resource.  I can keep adding to for future writing.  A secondary benefit is using it for teaching or for collaborating.

Options:

  1. Just write, no resource.  Here I would continue to edit the draft as is and add literature as I need to based on the need in the draft and relying on memory or searching the PC for items.  I could also go through known good sources systematically and leave a few quotes around paper as needed.

Pros: Seems most direct.  No worries about other tools.

Cons: each search may lead me down rabbit holes.  Relying on memory or other ways to access lit may bias me in a direction.  Has been aggravating in the past.

2. Use Excel.  I would make a spreadsheet with all the resources.  They are ranked by essentiality.  I could add some rough summaries of some resources I have.  I can then add fields as necessary.  One issue is what to do with quotes.  If I put them in a field, or in new columns, each record could get really LONG (down the screen) or WIDE (across).  A variation is to add a hyperlink to a file of good quotes from each one.

Pros: Easy to add and manipulate records.

Cons:  Not easy to get material from spreadsheet into a paper.  If the spreadsheet is very big, cumbersome to find things.  If I use hyperlinks, I still have to hunt in that file for quotes.

3. Use Word.  Like Excel.  I would use Word and have it as a table.  Easier to edit text in Word.  Still not sure what to do with quotations.  If I try to go “wide” as in extra columns for quotations, then it can get very wide quickly.  Like Excel, not sure how to organize quotations anyway.

Pros: Better word editing than excel.

Cons: Table may have upper limit of rows and columns

4. Use Nvivo.  Nvivo can code in PDFs AND in word documents.  So, if one starts from scratch, one can build many possible searchable nodes into a library of documents.  This is very good for supporting multiple projects with same or similar literature.  It also has analytical features, like searching for words and using that as the basis for coding.  It can output what is collected.  It can also support theory building through queries.

Pros: Building multi-use, multi-project tool.  Searching PDFs AND documents.  Search and query functions for theory building. With reports, can extract the references with their quotes.

Cons: can not edit tables/databases in Nvivo.  Time intensive right now.

5. Use a wiki-like tool such as google sites.  I have already done this some in compiling some synthetic notes about Institutional theory or operating definitions for this project.

Pros: With hyperlinks, somewhat easier to get from one topic to another.

Cons: Would have to cut and paste all content.  No obvious way to include pdfs.

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Third Nugget from Clockwork Muse- Mountains and Stairs

Nugget #3…
Now Eviatar shifts to chunking tasks.  He calls this, quite nicely, “a mountain with stairs.”

Two points resonated for me.  First, about outlines, he suggests only outlining or changing outlines _between_ final drafts.  This may be part of my problem with “code rules” as it has been restructured five times, at least I think. Not all of these were after a final draft was done.

Second, he advocates writing and then revising in stages.  This more useful for my students than for me, perhaps, as I am already a committed reviser.  They still think, most of them, that writing is getting your ideas on paper instead of realizing that writing is another form of thinking.  They think it is a mistake to rewrite, instead of normal.

Now, to complicate matters, the idea of the mountain with steps is appealing; common-sensical too.  Break down the seemingly distant and difficult task into smaller, feasible steps.  I have climbed mountains.  I absorbed *Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance*.  I have told hiking groups I led that to climb a mountain you have to have the disposition of a cow.  The difference is that in those cases, I usually know which way is _up_.  In writing, I find myself wondering if these steps are really the right steps to take.  I especially wonder if I am going up at a good rate, or, even worse, going down.  Efficiency and failure trouble me more directly than self-doubt that I will finish.  In mountain terms- I worry now about going sideways or downhill more than about whether I will ever get to the top.

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The Clockwork Muse– Nuggets on Writing

So, I have several books on writing and academia I have been lugging around all week. Some I have scanned before, some not at all. Since I will never sit down and read a whole book on writing process- just seems too much like a luxury- but I also believe that they are likely to be helpful, I decided to just spend a few minutes each day scanning for nuggets. I would rather jot these down here since I like sharing and it feels less frivolous to read and write for an audience beyond just myself.

One of my best academic friends here, Roger, who is also my writing group partner, recommended The Clockwork Muse. It is by a sociologist, Eviatar Zerubavel. That name rocks.

The nugget today is the title which elegantly skewers the misguided notion that writing is a moment of feverish inspiration bestowed by a muse. Writing comes from self-discipline and habit, centered on the notion of time.

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