As graduate students, we do a great deal of reading on a regular basis. This reading is for our classes, our papers, our publishable articles, our milestones, our meetings with professors, and our general interests. With all of the reading that we do, it is both easy and tempting to make the work as quick and efficient as we can.
But it’s important both for our mental health and our future careers that we get through our readings with the future in mind. We not only need notebooks of summaries (although those certainly help) or endless marginal comments (although these are usually essential) but also a place to organize, apply, and combine our thoughts on diverse readings. In short, we need writing outlets, places that let us throw ideas together and make sense of the world of texts that we are diving into in our roles as graduate students.
There are many different – and more and less public – ways of going about finding writing outlets. Blogs are great places to go about working on your own thoughts for a perceived audience, for example. More importantly, through sites like Wordpress, blogs are free, a key word in any graduate student’s life.
But blogs, of course, are public, and perhaps public displays of your ideas or summaries of articles don’t suit you. In that case, consider keeping your own annotated bibliographies as you work, separated by subject or keyword. An annotated bib is a great way to keep track of your readings while also preparing a document that, in the future – and without too much work – might prove to be a small publication. Comppile, a website committed to composition studies, has a great set of annotated bibliographies as an example.
Perhaps you don’t always have time to write out a full annotation, though. In that case, you can always just keep a running list of the works you’re organizing, and annotate them in a separate document when you have time. Rebecca Moore Howard organizes reference lists on her website around keywords, which can be particularly helpful for both you and (if you put your bibliography in a public place) others in locating important sources.
And, of course, you can always just keep a journal of your thoughts on your reading, either in a notebook or in some other kind of note-taking format. Taking a few minutes at the end of every reading session to chronicle your thoughts and draw out connections is always very helpful. It doesn’t work well for me (I found out a long time ago that I’m OK with letting myself down, so writing for only myself doesn’t go so well), but other people can get a great deal of mileage from such chronicling of their thoughts.
The kind of writing outlet you have, however, is less important than the fact that you have one. All of the readings that you do, all of the notes you take, all of the little ideas that you have may, at some point in your future, help you with a study, an article, or a presentation, and having them in an organized system within arm’s reach can make your future work that much easier.
Do you have a writing outlet that you love but that I didn’t mention? I would love to hear about it! Send an email to me at email@example.com.