Friday, July 21
I'm working on part of the lit review for my dissertation proposal, and I'm having problems bounding the universe of Things I Think I Should Have Read Before I Can Write My Proposal. When I do get my act together and read something on my list of things I absolutely have to read before I can talk sensibly about the field, I find at least 10 other things in the references list that I should also read before I can talk sensibly about the field, and so forth. Exponential growth.
You know those beer ads that said 'know when to say when'? They should have a class in grad school on this concept wrt lit reviews.
Week 1: Know when to say when
Week 2: Know when to hold, know when to fold 'em.
Week 3: Just Say No (to review articles)
Week 4: This is your brain on EndNote

Ok, that's all I can think of for now - the rest is going to have to be independent work and student presentations.

But seriously, all you people who already have PhDs, where do you draw the line? How do you keep yourself from printing out bajillions of articles you won't ever have time to read? There's so much out there, how do you decide that anything isn't relevant?


bittersweet said...

I think reading other review article of the lit helps-- I did NOT read everything that was in my diss proposal (let's face it, this is an impossible task). I just made sure I knew the arguments and counter-arguments. What really interested me or seemed most important I did read. (or the pieces that I knew that stickler committee-member would quiz me incessantly on . . .)

But, yes, I think this problem never goes away-- I am just starting to write-up my dissertation and there seems to be a wholse set of other lit to include now. . . But, my field is a bit weird since I was abroad doing my diss research and so what I "found" to write about has changed a bit.

Clear said...

Um, why the giant thistle colored box in this post.

I don't read as many academic articles as I used to, without any great excuse.

Turquoise Stuff said...

I think this is one of the most major mistakes graduate students make. I already thought this back when I was a graduate student. So as you can tell for some reason I didn't struggle with this issue, am not sure why. I guess it may be that there really wasn't that much that had been written on my topic, but then again, that really depends on where you draw the boundaries.

But so that part is actually quite generalizable regardless. You really do have to draw the line somewhere. I know you know that. I guess your question is: WTF?! where W does not stand for What for once, but Where.

I suspect you have gotten recommendations from your seniors about what the key pieces are in your field. Of course, since you are going to know your particular topic best, no one will be able to give you comprehensive advice on this. And I guess that's why then grad students think they have to keep on digging.

Well, eventually don't you find that what you're reading is really not that closely linked and not that relevant? If everything is really closely knit then perhaps it's not the best area. (Uhm, not to suggest that you abandon your topic at this stage.)

Read quality stuff only at this point. Depending on the type of research, you can figure out quality fairly quickly. For example, you could glance at the methods (if it's that type of work) and from that decide very quickly whether the piece is even worth your time.

Look at what you have. Is it coherent? Are there no big holes? Then you're ready to go.

I realize this is not very helpful, but it really is partly just about letting go already. If nothing else, let go to the extent that you give it to your advisors so they can let you know if there are any huge holes you've left. You don't have to anticipate all their comments.

I would certainly be curious to hear what others think, because I need to tell students about this more often and based on what I've said here, I doubt I'm being very helpful.

fraud, in denim said...

I wish I could remember exactly the advice that my dissertation chair gave, but I remember approaching her with a similar quandry a couple years ago (although I believe it was more in the context of "can you guarantee me funding for the next twelve years to buy the time it will take for me to write this dissertation with all that's out there to read?").

Perhaps because I went to a struggling state school, but more likely because my chair was (and is) extremely practical, she told me that if I thought there was that much more to read, I had probably read enough. She followed that by clarifying that I shouldn't literally stop reading, but focus on a few key articles from each argument and find some more along the way that connect to the project.

Good luck!

thistle said...

bittersweet, tq, fraud:
thanks for the comments - more helpful than you think.

clear: the giant thistle-colored box is there because I wanted to make it part of my profile on blogger and this was the easiest way I could figure out how to do it. I won't put it in other posts.

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