Midlife PhD Series: How to Increase Your Research Reading Efficiency,

Research Reading is a requirement for a Ph.D.—No, wait. I take that back. Reading lots of research papers and summarizing them is a requirement for a Business Ph.D. program.

To conduct research, it’s important to read and understand what others have done in the area you’re interested in. You are expected to know the conversations that have been had about the subject before you can join and contribute to the conversation.

When you do not know what’s already been done, you run the risk of repeating it, and that’s a waste of time—hence, the requirement to read lots of articles in your area of interest.

At first, these articles will be assigned reading in your seminar classes, likely between 5-8 articles in each class. For example, if you have two seminar classes in a single semester, then you’re looking at a minimum of 10 articles per week to read, summarize, and be prepared to discuss. The average size of each article may be about 30 pages.

Time was a scarce commodity for me during my Ph.D. program. There were so many other things that had to be done. Therefore, I had to find a way to become more efficient when research reading and understanding these articles so that I could make the most of what little time I had.

Here are two things that increased my research reading efficiency:

  • Using a PDF Read-Aloud App: I searched for and tried many apps that could read/dictate .pdf text. I found one that worked, and at the time, it was free. Before driving to school or back home, I would email myself some research articles, then open the .pdf research file using the .pdf reading app. The app would then read the .pdf aloud to me in my car as I drove. I also used the app to read as I cooked or did anything that didn’t need intensive listening. Doing this saved me so much time and allowed me to capture the main parts of the paper. (Note: These apps don’t read tables with numbers very well.)
  • Setting Reading Time Limits: When I sat down to read research articles, I set a 90-minute time limit to read and summarize each article. Before you judge me for slow research reading, let me be the one to tell you that it used to take me longer! I decided to set those limits so that I was constrained to complete the articles without distractions. The better I got at reading those (sometimes 40-page) articles, the lower my time limit became. Setting a time limit meant that I literally set a timer on my phone to chime at the end of 90 minutes. Since I’m only human, I did my best to beat the timer; however, when the timer beat me on a paper, I set the paper down and started on the next one. I had finite time, and what I had read and summarized had to be enough for that one paper. That’s how I got through the weekly assigned papers.

Using PDF-reading apps and setting a time limit for research reading were two things I did to increase the efficiency of reading those complex research papers. I’m quite certain these are not the only ways to increase one’s reading efficiency, but they certainly helped me. I hope they help you, too, as you continue your midlife Ph.D. journey.

Here are other resources for research reading as a doctoral student. In this article, they discuss the importance of being widely read.

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Midlife PhD Series: How to Increase Your Research Reading Efficiency

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