One of the more effective strategies I have for researching is the “Books I’ve Read” folder in my computer. All of the books and articles I’ve read for my dissertation have their own file. The files themselves are not identical in format. They reflect different strategies I’ve had in researching–summarizing the book, a free-write in response to reading it, or simply a long list of quotations.
Before I started writing my dissertation, I would sometimes wonder if getting all those notes organized into computer files was a waste of time.
I think I did waste some time by taking notes by hand and then re-typing them into the computer. This also resulted in double-guilt when I wasn’t working well: I had to read AND I had to re-type and regurgitate the contents of the book, and if I wasn’t doing both of those things regularly I felt bad about myself. If I had to do it again, I would take notes straight into the computer file and not worry about formatting those notes in any particular way. (If you ever read something and have a rush of ideas afterward, by all means write them down. If a book leaves you cold, though, it’s okay to move on with a minimum of reflection.)
Now, as I’m writing the dissertation, I find my extensive archive of quotes from my research sources incredibly helpful. While writing each of my chapters, I read back over all of the notes in the “Books I Read” file. I am often surprised by the provoking and / or inspiring books I’ve completely forgotten about.
Some of the files are only a few lines long, and some are a dozen pages. But all of them help me to access the ideas that have shaped my project.