29 May 2008

Speed Reading

In a couple of weeks, I will be attending a Global and Cross-Cultural Management PhD workshop in Maastricht. It is going to be fairly intensive, five days of 9-5 workshops about a topic that I've never encountered on this level. It is an excellent fit with my PhD project, though, so I am excited. Last week, I received the big workshop surprise: about 1,000 pages of reading material and a request to write one question for each article. After my panic attack and a three-day wrestling match with copy machines and binding services, I realized that although getting through the material was going to be tough, it wasn't impossible.

What this project is turning into is fantastic training for getting through mountains of reading material efficiently. After all, given that I still have to do little things like sleep and eat as well as a couple bigger things like grade and return exams, reading every page carefully is out of the question. So, after finishing my BA, MA, and a couple of other courses and whatnot along the way, I'm finally learning the discipline of NOT reading every single page. After years of knowing somewhere in the back of my mind how efficient reading works, I'm finally doing it. It starts with reading the abstract, if there is one, then scanning the article/chapter to figure out its structure, marking the areas that look like they might be more interesting, and then reading the introduction, marked areas, and conclusion carefully. Thank goodness I already have a bad habit of taking too many notes, so highlighter and pen in hand, I'm even managing to get something out of my reading for future reference.

Aside from being able to delight in my new found reading skills, I'm also pleased that this (enormous) task hasn't turned into a downer. Deciding to see it as a challenge and even a bit of a game (can I get away with it?) has made feel much less like a burden and much more like a serious challenge and achievable goal. It's all in my little head, I tell you!


  1. welcome to my world! :-) For my last project I worked my way through 8,200 journal titles, 1,500 abstracts and around 150 full papers. But I promise you, the art of selective reading is going to be of tremendous use to you throughout the rest of your PhD. Good luck and have fun!

  2. I am utterly in shock after your post... and feeling quite lucky to boot! At least I'm finally starting to have an idea of how anyone gets through all this material. Let's not count the years it took me to get a clue, OK?

  3. Selective reading means that when I say I "read" 150 full papers, I skimmed my way through the full text of those. Although in the end we ended up including 55 articles in the review so those were all read more closely. That project was indeed the stuff of nightmares. :-)

    Looked up your conference by the way, sounds quite interesting. They seem to organise a lot of workshops that have a very familiar ring to me: grounded theory, case study methods, interview techniques...maybe I should go on one too! :-)

    How are you liking the PhD so far?


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