IYLSSIF 4: The Order of Things

The fourth in an epic, six-part series of lectures from my intro to graduate studies lecture course, which I’m posting online in the hope that others will find them useful. [Part 1 Here, Part 2 Here, Part 3 Here; the lectures are unedited — hence, you might be a bit confused by a few inexplicable notes and slides about administrative issues]. We started off by describing the premise of the class; then discussed how students could find their own position within the program and the field; then helped students map that field, appreciate its breadth and the various intellectual and create traditions it draws from. Now we talk about practical methods for maintaining one’s orientation within the field and within one’s own work.

GUESTS: Video Lab Representatives: Alexandra Kelly, Anna Barsan, Ann Enzminger, Sarah Winshall

Questions from Last Week?

  • Reason I didn’t pay more attention to Frankfurt school and more contemporary theories in last week’s lecture – aimed to highlight theoretical traditions you wouldn’t hear about in your other seminars

Collecting, annotating, organizing, and processing research materials and opportunities for presentation and publication:

  • C. Wright Mills, “On Intellectual Craftsmanship,” Appendix to The Sociological Imagination, 40th Anniversary Ed. (New York: Oxford, [1959]2000): 195-226.
  • Reading Effectively” + “Note-Taking and Abstracting,” Words In Space.
  • Shannon Mattern, Introduction to “Notes, Lists, and Everyday Inscriptions” Special Issue The New Everyday (Fall 2010) [+ read any other articles you might be interested in]
  • Joseph M. Moxley, “How to Write Informative Abstracts” In Publish, Don’t Perish: The Scholar’s Guide to Academic Writing and Publishing (Westport, CT: Praeger 1992): 61-4.

Keeping Track of What You Read/Screen/Listen To – Taking Notes – Reading for Deeper Meaning (incl. Abstracting) – Keeping Track of Your Reflections on Reading

Keeping Track of What You Read/Screen

SLIDE 2: Portlandia, “Did You Read”

  • Pressure to read trendy texts – connect w/ last week’s reading on “heteronormativity”

Organizing/Notetaking was among top issues students said they wanted to talk about in an intro class – or that advanced students withed they had thought more critically about initially

Keeping Track of Your Sources: Left over from last week

Bibliographic Software

  • SLIDE 3: Reference Management Software Comparison Chart
  • SLIDE 4: Zotero  [4:03]
  • SLIDE 5: Delicious
    • Value of making “notes”
    • Potential closure/sale by Yahoo! – importance of knowing export capabilities

    SLIDE 6: Diigo [3:37]

Potential Problems of “Effortless” Annotation?

  • Promotes excessive highlighting

After Deciding What to Read and Citing It — Reading Tips

Before we start talking about annotation, let’s take a step back and talk about READING

  • SLIDE 7: Navigating Through a Text
    • Scan the chapter titles and index or, if it’s an essay or article, the abstract and subheads.
    • Read the article’s or book’s main introduction and conclusion, then return to the beginning and scan through, focusing on the introductory and concluding paragraphs in each chapter of the book or section of the article
    • Keep list of keywords
    • “expect not to get it on the first pass”
    • Sometimes necessary to read through slowly and patiently


Highlighting on Your Initial Pass Through a Text

  • SLIDE 8: Acrobat Reader
  • SLIDE 9: iAnnotate for iPad

Taking Notes

  • Choosing amongst these options requires that we reflect on how we organize our thoughts, and how we want software to help us become the more efficient, better organized, more productive note-takers we want to be.
  • Historian Ann Blair: methods and materialities of note-taking shape modes of thought and argumentation
    • SLIDE 10: Pen, paper, index cards
    • SLIDE 11: Moleskine
    • Text doc w/ thematically or bibliographically organized notes
    • SLIDE 12: EverNote
    • SLIDE 13: Scrivener
    • SLIDE 14: DevonThink


SLIDE 15: Leonardo da Vinci’s Sketchbooks

  • Visual studies or anatomy, flora, other natural subjects; some function as “lab notes
  • 1630s: attempt to organize notebooks by subject – resulted in destruction of original order
  • Lettering is quick, sloppy, often uses shorthand, sometimes written backward

SLIDE 16: Galileo’s sketches – value of graphic representation, concept mapping (discussed in “Finding Your Interests” guide you read for first class

SLIDE 17: Stan Brakhage Notebooks (in Beinecke Library @ Yale) – experimental filmmaker – often experimented with materiality of film – can see this interest reflected in his notebooks, which were assembled w/ his wife, Jane

SLIDE 18: Extreme Example: Buckminster Fuller’s (architect, inventor, futurist) Chronofile (Stanford University)  [4:33]

  • Large scrapbook in which Fuller documented his life every 15 minutes from 1915 to 1983
  • Contains copies of correspondence, bills, notes, sketches, news clippings
  • Total # of papers: 140,000

SLIDE 19: “Most children like to collect things. At four I started to collect documents of my own development as correlated with world patterns of developing technology. Beginning in 1917, I determined to employ my already rich case history, as objectively as possible, in documenting the life of a suburban New Englander, born in the Gay Nineties (1895)– the year automobiles were introduced, the wireless telegraph and the automatic screw machine were invented, and X-rays were discovered; having his boyhood in the turn of the century; and maturing during humanity’s epochal graduation from the inert, materialistic19th into the dynamic 20th century. I named my documentation the Chronofile. —From Synergetics Dictionary citing Citizen of 21st. Century, (U, or 0, Chap. 1), 1 Apr’67 (

“If somebody kept a very accurate record of a human being, going through the era from the Gay’90’s, from a very different kind of world through the turn of the century–as far into the twentieth century as you might live. I decided to make myself a good case history of such a human being and it meant that I could not be judge of what was valid to put in or not. I must put everything in, so I started a very rigorous record. —From Synergetics Dictionary citing Oregon Lecture #9, p.324., 12 Ju1’62

  • Fuller used it as a “working tool”: He would proceed in the following manner: finding that he needs, for example, to recall a person’s name (or a place, date, historical fact, etc.), he can easily proceed to retrieve a particular volume from the Chronofile which he intuits may reveal the needed information. This opens up that historical period like a time machine/ window which then allows him to rapidly proceed to the correct volume and letter(s) that clarify the issue at hand. (
    • Personal archive; organization not intuitive to others

SLIDE 20: Commonplace Book (early Modern – 14th – 18th c.)

  • Commonplace books are broadly defined as compendiums of adages, sententia, and examples. In the Renaissance, these collections of textual fragments culled by readers from a myriad of sources were embraced as memory aids and as rich storehouses of materials that might eventually be incorporated into composition of one’s own making.
  • The commonplace book participated in the transformation of readers into writers, laying the foundations for the author-centered genres that took shape in the early modern era.
  • collections of textual fragments gathered by readers and rearranged under common topics, including rhetorical topics (i.e. metaphors and similes), and moral topics (i.e., drunkenness and swearing).
  • Erasmus (16th c.): “One should collect a vast supply of words from all sides out of good authors… have a wealth of words on hand, [bu]
    …It will not be sufficient to prepare an abundant store of such words unless you have them not only at the ready but also in full view.”
  • Commonly taught to college students in 17th, 18th, 19th c. (Francis Bacon, John Milton, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau)
  • Like blogs?: “…blogs are sometimes described as digital diaries, like commonplace books, their contents are often primarily or entirely comprised of images and texts culled from other sources.  … commonplace books and blogs are both products of collecting and ordering (archival practices) and reflect common understandings of authorship, intellectual property and subjectivity. In addition, both forms or forums are ambiguously situated between the public and private spheres.

While taking notes, you can copy individual passages, but you’ll also want to…

Read for Deeper Meaning

SLIDE 21: Peter Barry, author of Beginning Theory, offers some guidelines to keep in mind when we encounter intimidating readings:

Firstly, we must have some initial patience with the difficult surface of the writing. We must avoid the too-ready conclusion that [academic writing] is just meaningless, pretentious jargon (that is, that the theory is at fault). Secondly, on the other hand, we must, for obvious reasons, resist the view that we ourselves are intellectually incapable of coping with it (that is, that we are at fault). Thirdly, and crucially, we must not assume that the difficulty of theoretical writing is always the dress of profound ideas – only that it might sometimes be, which leaves the onus of discrimination on us. To sum up this attitude: we are looking, in [theory or other academic writing], for something we can use, not something which (sic) will use us. We ought not to issue theory with a blank cheque to spend our times for us… Do not, then, be endlessly patient with theory (pp. 7-8).

  • Refine your “crap detector” (Hemingway)

Using Secondary Sources

Processing & Reflecting on Your Reading

SLIDE 25: Linguist S. I. Hayakawa’s Abstraction Ladder (Language in Thought and Action)

Abstract Format

Marie desJardins:

  • SLIDE 26: To really understand a paper, you have to understand the motivationsfor the problem posed,…
    • historical, social, cultural, or professional context from which the author is writing, and to which he or she is speaking
    • What other ideas or texts is the author in dialogue with?
    • We might also ask how the author would have answered the “so what? question; how would he or she have explained to a reader why he or she should care about the argument in the text? Not all theory has to do things in the world – but we might consider what the theory might allow us to do, materially or symbolically, with it. What does it allow us to think through, to think with? What power does it wield?
    • the choicesmade in finding a solution,…
      • methods, or the sample the researcher chooses to draw from, or the theoretical framework he or she uses.
      • the assumptions behind the solution, whether the assumptions are realistic and whether they can be removed without invalidating the approach,…
      • future directions for research, what was actually accomplished or implemented,…
        • Are you planning to follow any of his/her leads?
  1. SLIDE 27: In two or three sentences, what is the central thesis of this work, or what is the major problem it is addressing?
  2. In two or three sentences, on what assumptions or points is the thesis of the work built, in logical order?
  3. What are the major terms or concepts central to this work, and how does the writer define these terms? Interrogate buzzwords. How are key concepts related to each other?
    • Could aid in your identification of keywords, which you’re asked to provide for the first assignment – to get you thinking about “search language”
  1. SLIDE 28: What are the methods of research and argumentation and kinds of evidence used to develop and support the thesis of the work? What research methods – content analysis, interviews, discourse analysis, fieldwork, etc. – did the author employ? What methods of argumentation, or rhetorical strategies, is he or she employing to make his/her case? How else could the argument be made? Is it sufficiently elaborated? How is he or she supporting his/her arguments?
  2. In your judgment, what are the limitations, shortcomings, errors, or weaknesses in the work – if there are any?
  3. In your judgment, what are the major contributions of this work to your understanding of the field and your specific research topic?
  • This template will evolve as you get more deeply involved in your research and discover what you’re asking from each of your sources, what you want to remember from each source. It’s a good idea to add these abstracts to your research journal/database – ideally, in a searchable format online – so, later on, you can easily search for patterns and keywords.

Abstract Applications

  • SLIDE 29: You may have noticed the abstracts at the top of many academic articles or essays; publishers will usually ask you to provide a brief (usually about 150 words) abstract with your submission. You need to know how to distill your argument and methods and explain the value of your contribution.
  • AS WE SAW LAST WEEK, You’ll also commonly be asked to submit abstracts as part of your application or proposal to participate in academic or professional conferences or festivals, or to have your work considered for inclusion in exhibitions or edited volumes. In these cases, you’ll need to be able to explain, in just a couple hundred words, what your work proposes to do, what methods you’re using, what key concepts you’re working with, in what traditions you’re working, etc. Organizers and editors have hundreds – if not thousands – of proposals to wade through, so you need to be able to get across the specificity and soundness and potential value of your proposed project quickly and clearly.
  • Abstracting your own work, as Moxley says, “makes you focus on what is important” (63) – forces you to “reevalut[e] your logic and…defin[e your] purpose” (63-4) – helps you “gain a firmer hold, a tighter perspective, on the nature of your work” (64)

You’ll practice writing abstracts in this week’s discussion section, in preparation for your first assignment, due in two weeks. This assignment, like all of your assignments of this class, should be used to support your independent work or your work in other classes. Each of these exercises has applicability outside the context of this class.


  • Importance of connecting your interests to the field’s needs and conventions
  • Media studies is a flexible field, as we discovered in our second week in class, but it’s not a bunch of drummers drumming to their own beats
  • For this class, you can choose to tailor your assignments so they help you pursue a project that’s personally interesting – one that would benefit from the skills we’re practicing here: abstracting, literature reviews, various kinds of proposal writing
  • You might have a project that’s so personally meaningful that you don’t want to tie it up in academic conventions. In those cases, it’s best to pursue that work outside the context of grad school or the academy – to make that your personalwork.
    • Even academics and practitioners have to make these decisions – what’s professional work, and what’s personal work.

SLIDE 30: Abstracts + Keywords: Due October 10

We’ll talk in class about different applications and practices of abstracting, and your work in your discussion sections should prepare you to try your hand at writing abstracts of texts you’re reading either in your independent research or for your other classes. If you choose to dedicate this assignment to other course texts (e.g., assigned readings for your Ideas section), we’d still encourage you to choose texts that bear some relevance to your own research interests, so this assignment can potentially feed into a larger project in the future. Your task is to write one 300-word abstract of an academic journal article or essay, and one 600-word abstract of an academic book. (Don’t know what constitutes an “academic” publication? There are plenty of web resources that will help you figure it out – and if you still don’t get it, ask your Instructor). You’ll undoubtedly find that some essays and articles – especially those in scholarly journals – already contain abstracts. And of course books feature blurbs on their dust jackets and their Amazon profiles. Your challenge is to write new abstracts that not only crystallize what you regard as the primary arguments, key concepts, methods, etc., of the texts, but also address their value in relation to your own particular projects and general research interests. These abstracts should be the kinds of documents that you’d want to keep in your “file” (Mills) – your research database – for future reference. When you want to refresh your memory about a particular text and your impression of it, it’ll be much easier to review a one-page abstract than to skim through the entire text.

SLIDE 31: Please integrate your two abstracts into a single file, and label it [LastNameFirstName_Abstracts], so it’s easier for your Instructor to keep track of everyone’s assignments.

Over the course of the next several weeks, you’ll be applying your abstracting skills to lots of additional texts that will eventually coalesce in your literature review. We want you to start thinking now about what key terms will guide your search for these additional resources. The two texts you’ve already abstracted have likely sparked a few ideas. Please include in your abstract document (perhaps posted at the end) a list of five to seven keywords that will help to structure your future research for this class. These can be topical, theoretical, methodological, etc; a good list would likely include a mix of theoretical concepts, proper names, temporal identifiers, etc. Lots of published academic articles include a list of keywords on the front page; they’re there to help researchers like you find them! You can look to these publications for examples of how to put together a good, useful list.

SLIDE 32: Annotated Bibliography of Scholarly Resources: Due November 7

This project gives you a chance to identify and review a variety of scholarly resources that pertain to your research interests, and to collate your summaries of and responses to those resources. Think of this as an alphabetized collection of abstracts. It’s a stepping stone on the way to your literature review, which will take all or most of the resources you’ve listed and annotated here, and “process” them into something that’s more than a mere listing. The bibliography should contain no fewer than eight scholarly sources. You’ll need to provide a full bibliographic citation (choose a citation format that best fits the type of work you’re doing and the type of scholar-practitioner you want to be) and an annotation, of no longer than 300 words (fewer – say, 150 – is fine!), for each. These annotations should do the same work that your abstracts did: they should crystallize and critically reflect on your sources. Please label your file [LastNameFirstName_AnnotatedBibliography].

One Way to Keep All This Material Together, and Integrate It With More Informal Notes, Sketches, etc…

SLIDE 33: Keeping a Research Diary

Remember: Mills was writing to sociologists – but we can apply his advice to ourselves



SLIDE34: “Your notes may turn out, as mine do, to be of two sorts: in reading certain very important books you try to grasp the structure of the writer’s argument, and take notes accordingly; but more frequently, and after a few years of independent work, rather than read entire books, you will very often read parts of many books from the point of view of some particular theme or topic in which you are interested and concerning which you have plans in your file. Therefore, you will take notes which do not fairly represent the books you read. You are using this particular idea, this particular fact, for the realization of your own projects.” (Mills)

SLIDE35: “You will have to acquire the habit of taking a large volume of notes from any worth-while book you read… The first step in translating experience, either of other people’s writing, or of your own life, into the intellectual sphere, is to give it form….

Adding your own thoughts to your notes on others’ work…

SLIDE36: As a social scientist” — or, more generally, as a researcher, as a media-maker, as an artist, etc. — “you have to control this rather elaborate interplay [between your past, present, and future], to capture what you experience and sort it out; only in this way can you hope to use it to guide and test your reflection, and in the process shape yourself as an intellectual craftsman. But how can you do this? One answer is: you must set up a file, which is, I suppose, a sociologist’s way of saying: – keep a journal” (Mills)

In such a file as I am going to describe, there is joined personal experience and professional activities, studies under way and studies planned. In this file, you, as an intellectual craftsman, will try to get together what you are doing intellectually and what you are experiencing as a person. Here you will not be afraid to [SLIDE37] use your experience and relate it directly to various works in progress. By serving as a check on repetitious work, your file also enables you to conserve your energy. It also encouraged you to capture ‘fringe-thoughts’: various ideas which may be by-products of everyday life, snatched of conversations overheard on the street, or, for that matter, dreams. Once noted, these may lead to more systematic thinking, as well as lend intellectual relevance to more directed experience.” (Mills)

  • Check on repetitious work: should be searchable
  • Recall lecture during our first on-site meeting: regarding personal experience as source of insight

“Any working social scientist who is well on his or her way ought at all times to have so many plans, which is to say ideas, that the question is always, which of them am I, ought I, to work on next? You should keep a special little file for your master agenda, which you write and rewrite just for yourself and perhaps for discussion with friends.” (Mills)

SLIDE38: “Under various topics in your file there are ideas, personal notes, excerpts from books, bibliographic items and outlines of projects…. [S]ort all these items into a master file of ‘projects,’ with many subdivisions. The topics, of course, change, sometimes quite frequently.” (Mills)

“By keeping an adequate file and thus developing self-reflective habits, you learn how to [SLIDE39] keep your inner world awake. Whether you feel strongly about events or ideas you must try not to let them pass from your mind, but instead to formulate them for your files and in so doing draw out their implications, show yourself either how foolish these feelings or ideas are, or how they might be articulated into productive shape. The file also helps you build up the habit of writing. You cannot ‘keep your hand in’ if you do not write something at least every week. In developing the file, you can experiment as a writer and thus, as they say, develop your powers of expression. To maintain a file is to engage in the controlled experience.” (Mills)

SLIDE40: “…the use of the file encouraged expansion of the categories which you use in your thinking. And the way in which these categories change, some being dropped and others being added is an index of your intellectual progress and breadth.” (Mills) – keywords evolve!

Outline a project: “the idea and the plan came out of my files… After making my crude outline I examined my entire file, not only those parts of it that obviously bore on my topic, but also those which seemed to have no relevance whatsoever. [CLICK] Imagination is often successfully invited by putting together hitherto isolated items, by finding unsuspected connections…. It is a sort of logic of combination, and ‘chance’ sometimes plays a curiously large part in it. In a relaxed way, you try to engage your intellectual resources, as exemplified in the file, with the new theme.” (Mills)  [mashup]

SLIDE 41: Reflective Journal for Artists & Designers (Carole Gray & Julian Malins)

  • ‘off-loading’ device: “allow[s] the learner to take stock, evaluate and ‘deposit’ ideas and feelings about the learning experience” (58)
  • dynamic – “a depository for a range of information in a range of media, which is added to and consulted on a regular basis” (59)
  • different types of info: activity and development log, diary, documentation of work in progress, contextual references, information about the pace and progress of work, key points from evaluation and analysis
  • Content
  • Bibliographic database
  • Project Glossary
  • Contacts + Correspondence
  • Contextual references: e.g., visual examples of other practitioners’ work, w/ discussion of what it is and why it’s significant
  • activity log: detailed records to allow for repeatability; may include visuals, photos, material samples, diagrams, data;
  • Video Diary
  • SLIDE 42: Document the failures – “Asking why a failure has occurred is liable to reveal much more useful information in research terms than contemplating ‘successful’ final outcomes” (60)
  • Evaluate the pace and progress of your work – e.g., key incidents, events, decisions, realizations
  • Brainstorm, think aloud, have insights, make decisions, make changes, what if’s?, plans for improvement

SLIDE 43: A lot of students and artists and scholars use websites to collate this material

A personal website – or through a “web presence” of some sort – is where you might connect this personal reflection to the “network”:

  • Remember from last week: several functions of professional site: as portfolio, as chronicle of your work, as a “file” for organizing your materials, as a writing “practice space,” as a reflection space, etc.
  • Margaret Kimball, “Your Blog Is Not Your Resume”
    • Manage your ideas; Develop goals; Practice communicating w/ various publics; Practice design skills; Connect w/ others

DETOUR: Software to Help w/ Project Management

SLIDES 44-46: Google Tasks/Queues; Remember the Milk; Things

SLIDE 47: Life Hacker

SLIDE 48: Prof Hacker (first week’s readings drawn from here)

SLIDE 49: Getting Things Done (Management consultant David Allen)

Back to Websites: Websites also aid with…

Connecting the personal to a public responsibility…

SLIDE 50: Venessa Miemis

SLIDE51: Brian Eno (innovator of ‘ambient music,’ composer, produer) at 1995 Turner prize acceptance speech chiding artists for not explaining themselves CLICK / CLICK

SLIDE52: Brian Eno’s A Year With Swollen Appendices (Faber & Faber, 1996)

  • Diary of 1995: producing albums by David Bowie and JAMES, working with U2, organizing a record/concert and a fashion show as charity work for Bosnia, directing art installations
  • Appendices, on orange paper, w/ “pet theories, obsessions” and ‘germs’ of projects

SLIDE53:  “Do very hard things, just for the sake of it.

Try to make things that can become better in other people’s minds than they were in yours.

A few years ago I came up with a new word. I was fed up with the old art-history idea of genius–the notion that gifted individuals turn up out of nowhere and light the way for all the rest of us dummies to follow. I became (and still am) more and more convinced that the important changes in cultural history were actually the product of very large numbers of people and circumstances conspiring to make something new. I call this “scenius”–it means “the intelligence and intuition of a whole cultural scene.” It is the communal form of the concept of genius.

Following on Eno…

SLIDE54:  “…in taking the decision to embark upon postgraduate work, you have:

  • Acknowledged that you don’t know something, which is why you want to do some research in order to learn and discover new things;
  • Assumed a position of humility – essential for learning anything;
  • A genuine desire to carry out the research to the best of your ability with integrity and honesty;
  • Accepted the formal framework of academic research, complete with its ethical obligations (Gray & Malins 69) – Remember what I said earlier about some projects being better suited for work outside the academy or the professional world.

Social Obligations

SLIDE55:  “A widespread, informal interchange of such reviews of ‘the state of my problems’ among working social scientists is, I suggest, the only basis for an adequate statement of ‘the leading problems of social science.’…. Three kinds of interludes – on problems, methods, theory – ought to come out of the work of social scientists, and lead into it again; they should be shaped by work-in-progress and to some extent guide that work. It is for such interludes that a professional association finds its intellectual reason for being.” (Mills)

  • Field is defined by its practice

SLIDE56:  You’re about to practice the conventions of abstracting. Next week, we’ll explore conventions of writing and multimodal production, and after that we’ll address methodology. In the following weeks, you begin to meet various faculty, who will examine how they define the “state of their problems”


  • Basil B. Bernstein, Sally Power, Peter Aggleton, University of London Institute of Education, Julia Brannen, Andrew Brown & Lynn Chisholm, A Tribute to Basil Bernstein, 1924-2000(London: Institute of Education, 2001).
    • Kate Eichhorn, “Archival Genres: Gathering Texts and Reading Spaces” Invisible Culture 12 The Archive of the Future / The Future of the Archive (May 2008):
    • Brian Eno, A Year With Swollen Appendices: The Diary of Brian Eno (Faber & Faber 1996)
    • Carole Gray & Julian Malins, Visualizing Research: A Guide to the Research Process in Art and Design (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004)
    • S.I. Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action (New York: Harcourt, 1949)
    • Malcolm McCullough, Abstracting Craft: The Practiced Digital Hand (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996)
    • C. Wright Mills, “On Intellectual Craftsmanship,” Appendix to The Sociological Imagination, 40th Anniversary Ed. (New York: Oxford, [1959]2000): 195-226.
    • Joseph M. Moxley, “How to Write Informative Abstracts” In Publish, Don’t Perish: The Scholar’s Guide to Academic Writing and Publishing (Westport, CT: Praeger 1992): 61-4.

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