The question came up recently about how I am using OneNote for my dissertation note taking.  Sometimes show is easier than tell.

I have one OneNote notebook called Dissertation.  Within it, I have 8 sections:

A few things about this:

  • The first 5 sections reflect the 5 chapters required in my dissertation: Introduction, Literature Review, Methods, Findings, Conclusion
  • I have a tab called Media into which I put less scholarly discussion around my topic. I probably won’t use this stuff in my Lit Review but may use it for context in the introduction.
  • Meta is where I put notes on things like how to write a literature review, what constitutes a good one, etc.
  • Old is where I put notes related to things I may not end up using.  In this case I am looking at changing the specific focus of my dissertation, so the prior focus is under OLD now.  I don’t want to lose that work, but I don’t want it cluttering things up, either.

Within each section, I am creating multiple tabs with notes on specific sub-areas.  For example, here is the literature review pages:

Notice that the first tab is labeled structure.  I am working on an outline of what the eventual document will look like on that tab. That tab also contains search terms I am using for each section of the outline so that later I can revisit and see if I come up with any new ones.

Below that, each 1st author has a tab.  If they have just one applicable paper, the title is part of the tab name.  If not, then I’ll throw in the word Multiple.

Within each tab, I take notes on the paper.  I am trying very hard to make those notes brief, useful, and as much about my observations on the paper as a restatement of the paper itself.  Here is an example:

Key things to notice: the bibliographic reference is at the top.  I am using Zotero to track my references, but including items here just to make sure I take no changes on losing the information.

In this case I copied the abstract in, since it did a good job of summarizing the paper.  I then put in a number of bullet points about things important to my work.  In this case, there were several methodological issues, such as the data used and the lack of confounding variables included in the study. I also put in a bit about the theoretical approach, which was interesting in this case.

If I see a specific number or quote that I believe I will use, I include those in the page.  In general my goal is to keep each paper to under half a page.

OneNote automatically enters the times and dates when the document was started, so that I can revisit items on which my perspective may have changed.

I have done some playing around with tags, but find that to be OneNote’s weakest feature.  In the end I find I’m not using those much.  In fact I don’t even recall what some of those tags were intended to mean.

Today my goal is to put some more thought into the structure given the modified topic.  I had a really good structure for the old review, and am genuinely mourning it’s loss today.  The new one is nowhere near as thorough or well thought out.  Without that structure go guide my reading I feel as though I’ll be wandering around blind again, so while I will certainly update it as the process moves forward, for now I want to get enough down to guide my work.