Paperless Dissertation – Part 3: The Scribblings of a Mad Man

I have told several people about writing my dissertation as a paperless project. Most of them were my fellow students, and had written many papers themselves for undergraduate and graduate school. Their reaction was, almost 100% of the time, unenthused at best. The most common response was something like this: “I just need to have the hard copy of the journal article there in front of me. I highlight it and take notes, and need to refer back to it.” This is precisely the voice that was in my head at the outset of my project. I had to fight my past habit just to get started.

All of the psychology papers I had ever written followed the same workflow that these students used. The process began with doing a literature search for the topic. Once I had found my articles, I would print them out, over time amassing an imposing stack of science for me to sift through. I did my best to only print out those articles that were relevant to the topic, and I was usually successful there. Following this was the reading and note-taking process, which is fairly self-explanatory.

The problem that I ended up facing with the note taking was always the same. I’d read through the articles, making sometimes sensible, sometimes cryptic notes in the margins of the article. I would write down thoughts for different sections of the as-yet-written paper, notes for the literature review section, critiques of the study, and so on. Then, I would return to said notes and be faced with what looked like some maniac’s manifesto. I was faced with illegible notes, poorly phrased thoughts, and comments referencing God knows what. Alas, my best efforts to produce a paper left me with a mess that needed serious reorganizing. To be sure, I always pulled off the production, but was frustrated with the process. Until recently, I didn’t have a better way. Until recently, I’m not sure there was a better way. At the very least, I couldn’t have come up with The Better Way, since the technology I now employ was either nonexistent, or was in its nascent state.

Since I already felt like a bit of a lunatic, I thought it was definitely a good idea to try out an all-new method of writing and research. I also decided the perfect test subject was my dissertation: the biggest and most important project of my life. “Good idea, H” I thought, and patted myself on the back. Against all odds, it worked. Stay tuned for next week’s post, where I’ll get into the finer points of how I pulled it off.

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3 responses to “Paperless Dissertation – Part 3: The Scribblings of a Mad Man

    • Thank you very much for the compliment. I’ve got a lot of content left to post, but for the time being I’m trying to generate more while editing what’s written. Oh, and trying to prep the dissertation for publication. It never stops 🙂

  1. Pingback: The Paperless Dissertation « To Do: Dissertation·

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