Fiona Bradley

Tailoring the literature review

Writers of all stripes mostly talk about writers’ block, but what has been challenging lately is reading block – occasionally I find it hard to focus on reading from a laptop screen after work (I don’t print anything and work at night). What I need sometimes is a change of screen. Inspired by Kathryn I’ve set up my iPad mini for reading and annotating. Alas, I don’t have a fancy Pencil, but I do have a cheap stylus that does the job for quick PDF markup using Notability. Now I can read on the bus, and leave the laptop at home.

Another reason I’ve added the iPad into my workflow is that I’m now three months into the literature review, and need to work systematically as Raul Pacheco-Vega recommends in his [literature review matrix technique]( was previously taking long notes on each article and extracting passages from PDFs (via Zotero/ZotNote). Considering Patrick Dunleavy’s advice to be careful about how much reading you do that doesn’t make the cut in the final work, I also needed to adjust where to focus my reading. Raul’s guide on processing articles has proved to be valuable advice. Now I’m highlighting just the main points, adding my observations, and plotting these in a matrix. I then add these notes back into Scrivener for reference and to have to hand while writing.

Despite my best intentions, I’ve also ended up with a proliferation of notes, jottings, ideas, mindmaps, and fragments. With a paper notebook, mind mapping app, notes in Scrivener, iCloud, nvAlt, SimpleNote, and various to-do apps it was all starting to get a bit messy. As someone who is committed to open formats and data portability, I have also been frustrated by the lack of good, open, to-do and notetaking apps that sync across Mac/Windows/Android/iOS and wasting time looking for alternatives, going so far as to set up NextCloud. But, done is better than not done. It’s ok sometimes to choose tools that don’t sync to everything and that may not be open. So long as my work, data, and results are open in the end, that is more than enough.

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