How to carefully manage your research for a first-class degree

The most important factor for me in obtaining a first-class degree was in learning how to manage my research more efficiently.

The spider-web management strategy was absolutely critical to turning my ordinary academic performance into a first-class degree, because it allowed me to catch as many good ideas and pieces of evidence as possible.

 

Problems with other strategies

In any large project the potential to be overwhelmed is constant. On many large projects, I found that after taking notes on over a dozen sources, and running across dozens of scenarios in my head, that my final submission would not include the majority of them, and that the extra reading had only served to confuse me and disrupt the coherence of my arguments.

When I was in creative beast mode and there were a seemingly infinite number of ideas on my work flying in at once, it was necessary to have a system where I could focus on the flow of my reading or writing, and record your different ideas while not getting side-tracked.

I had previous employed two primary methods of researching and then writing an essay or presentation. Firstly, to research enough that you can write a first draft and then complete further research and continuing drafting until you complete your final version. Secondly, to research until you had written an essay plan which you were confident with.

I found that both of those methods brought different problems that handicapped my ability to build a strong cohesive argument.

Instead, I embraced ORGANISED CHAOS.

 

Spider-web strategy

First and foremost, the spider-web strategy requires the individual to be committed to thorough research. Commitment in this context refers to the hours which are invested in work over days at a time, as well as the discipline to complete specific tasks each day.

I especially needed the four things listed below, in order to keep my essay research on course and efficiently capture my most creative ideas, build an ideal structure, and from that build a cohesive thread of argument that fit in well with the evidence which I had for each section of the topic:

 

  1. Ideas Sheet:

In every major research-based project that I will ever undertake I will use an ideas sheet.

You can use it to articulate an aspect of the direction that your project is taking, for example: what a piece of evidence could prove, what different pieces of evidence combined could prove, and what specific evidence you should look for later.

In previous projects I had written pages and pages of notes, and found some cracking pieces of evidence, but when I was writing the essay I would have to look through this massive pile of notes to find each of these individual pieces of evidence when I reached that point where I thought it would be useful. That is why the ideas sheet made such a difference in translating my hard work into increased marks.

 

  1. First Draft:

I used a first draft to write lumps of text that could be transferred directly into my final draft.

When I was reading and researching, if I felt that I knew how a particular point could be written then I would write it in my first draft, rather than risking the possibility that I would suffer from writer’s block when I began writing my final draft.

This had an immediate impact in my final year because I had previously had a serious problem with reaching even the minimum work count. If you can go above the maximum word count, while giving yourself sufficient time to edit it, then you will be able to produce a more refined piece of work.

 

  1. Thesis Statement:

A thesis statement is essentially another ideas sheet, specifically for your project’s overall argument (click on title to see a full definition).

I would make a thesis statement at the beginning of a project, and re-write or add to it each day that I was working on the project. It was critical for providing direction to the project and ensuring that I not waste a lot of time studying and working with information that was not useful for the direction of my essay.

When you review the ideas sheet and first draft at the end of every day the natural following step is to make any necessary adaptations to your thesis statement.

 

  1. Civil Engineering deadlines:

My dissertation supervisor gave me great inspiration with a story about his experience as a PhD student. In order to managing the large and chaotic work load, he planned writing his final PhD manuscript along the metaphorical lines of a civil engineering project.

In civil engineering, it is necessary to split projects up into the most essential core tasks that have separate deadlines. So put these tasks first and assign separate deadlines for each of them, and if there are extra things that you would like to do that you to boost your grade, then set time aside each day or in the final days before your deadline for “Extra Tasks” where you can do as many of these as possible.

 

Stages to fulfill every day

(Note): I know that this seems like a lot however I must add that I would spend 80 – 90% of my time on the Essential Core Tasks. The only purpose of the other four tasks is to increase the efficiency of the Essential Core Tasks and increase your marks.

 

  1. Essential Core Tasks (Reading specific sources, writing particular sections, and reviewing certain aspects of our project):

 

  1. Review your Ideas Sheet

 

  1. Read over the chunks of text in your first draft

 

  1. Review your Thesis Statement

 

  1. Update your Civil Engineering Deadlines.

 

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