Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Memoirs of part-time study (and a few words of encouragement too) - Suzanne

Today we're hearing about some tips Suzanne Taylor has picked up as a part-time student. Suzanne is an Assistant Librarian at Townhill Campus and is currently hard at work on her dissertation for a Masters in Library and Information Studies, which she has been studying as a distance learner with Aberystwyth University. Prior to that, after leaving school, Suzanne graduated with a BA(Hons) in Literature and History and went on to complete a PGCE in Primary Education, both of which were full time courses.

Suzanne Taylor
This could be entitled…..Things I wish I known sooner….
Returning to being a student after a break of many years was exciting, but also daunting and before I could start on my dissertation, I had to complete lots of modules, all of which had assignments.  Through trial and error, I picked up strategies along the way to help me organise my writing. I hope you find them useful.
Sometimes it is easy to get side tracked and before you know it your deadline is looming and you’ve written 3,000 words about how to sharpen a pencil, when really you were supposed to be writing an assignment on how to improve writing skills! I found it helpful to write my assignment question in the centre of a large piece of paper and deconstruct the title to determine what I’d really been asked to research. This also helped me get over the initial stage of not being sure what to write, especially as I found that putting pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard) is often the hardest part when starting an assignment.
Once sure of the question, I would mind-map the assignment by briefly listing anything that I already knew about the topic. This helped to identify areas where I needed to find more information. I also found it useful, as I began to research, to keep adding brief notes to the mind-map, including the page numbers which had relevant paragraphs or good quotes. Then, I could come back to those pages once I began to write my assignment. I would also briefly list any different points of view on the mind-map, so that I could see if I needed to find a counter-argument or a quote to back up my point of view.
Finding appropriate literature for your research can sometimes be difficult, so if I found a good article in a journal, or a key chapter in a book, I would look at the references the author had listed and search for those which were relevant for my assignment. If I was looking for online journals, I found that lots of databases had folders where you could store the articles whilst you searched and then email them to yourself to read at a later date, a really useful tool if you were running out of time.
I also realised, after spending  far too long trying to find the reference for a key quote I’d used in one assignment, where all I’d written down was ‘Smith, 2008’ (!), that it was essential to keep a good record of books and articles that I’d found. I would open a new Word document for each assignment and as I made notes, add any new book or article references to the document (it’s quite helpful to split the document into two categories: 1) References, for direct quotes or paraphrasing and 2) Bibliography, for things I’d read but hadn’t quoted or paraphrased in my writing), but there are also computer programs which will help you with your references, making the job even easier.
I think with all study, it is a case of finding what works for you. I’m now half way through my dissertation and the one tip I would give is to focus on an area which you find really interesting, crucial I think, as the dissertation may take over your life……J

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