First of all, I compiled reading lists for both my major (political sociology) and my minor (sociology of organizations). I have sent them to my dissertation chair/advisor (Dr. Harland Prechel), who is verifying the list with the other members of my committee. I compiled the reading list so I have a clear scope. In order to better understand the relationship between the readings and my field of study, I broke out the readings into categories.
My reading lists are as follows:
Next, I gathered all of my literature. Texas A&M University Libraries was wonderfully helpful in this process. Either the literature was made immediately available online, or I was able to request the literature through a service called Get It For Me.
I put the literature into binders based on subject. Now, everything I need to study for my preliminary exams is compiled and in one place:
Next, I organized the literature into an electronic literature matrix with the following fields:
- Complete Reference
- Research Question(s)
- Key Concepts & Definitions
- Variables and Ways of Measurement
- Data Used
- Methods Used
- Adequacy/Shortcomings of Data and Methods
- Main Findings
- Similarities to Previous Research
- Differences from Previous Research
- Other Comments
Click here for a blank literature matrix.
I developed the fields for the literature matrix using a document my advisor, Dr. Harland Prechel, gave me which summarized Zeitlin's central questions to think about my own research. I figured this would also be a good way to organize my study of the literature to prepare for my preliminary exam.
My goal is to go through my reading list and complete the matrix. I have the literature sorted by year, so I can see trends in the literature over time.
I am using a couple of web applications to help with my studies. I have the document saved to Dropbox. With new Dropbox Office Online web(integration) features, I am able to edit the document within the cloud to ensure it would be saved if my computer ever had a sudden catastrophe. I also have the information integrated with my Evernote account, which includes all of my notes from graduate school. Evernote makes it easy to search my notes to find the information I need.
Finally, I have set myself a very strict schedule. Each day I make sure I put in 5 hours of studying and 1 hour of writing. I am writing response papers and answers to previous preliminary exam questions found at the University of Wisconsin- Madison archives.
I am lucky to be able to learn from the experiences of those who have been there before me. So many people were happy to provide me useful advice when I asked. Now it is time to use all of that information to prepare to successfully complete my preliminary exams. Back to work!