I find with the myriad of stud that needs checking, verifying, and with my teaching load that there are a whole bunch of tasks that seem to slip through the cracks. 

I tried putting follow ups on my calendar, or in an electronic to do list, but the to do list just became nag-ware that I ended up ignoring or disabling, and my calendar became too cluttered and I’d stop referring to it for appointments. Basically email and other reminders were cluttering and overwhelming other perfectly useful tools.

For the most part if have a simple hand-written to do list (on my ipad – I use Notability) for the stuff on my radar for the next 7-10 days (sorted into ‘Today’, ‘Tomorrow’, and ‘Done’. However when it goes beyond that, or I need to “snooze” email messages, Follow Up Then has been my go-to email reminder service.

For the record, I do not get any royalties for recommending this service… It’s just been so useful that I’ve paid for the Personal Premium account. It’s ability to set recurring reminders, track tasks (it’ll nag you til it’s done) and ability to handle attachments (premium version) have become essential to managing my own time and ensuring fewer things slip through the cracks.


I have made reference before to James Hayton’s videos, where I personally discovered “Why?” as a driver for my research journey and participation from potential candidates.

Yesterday I attended a webinar while on the road entitled ‘Understanding Academic Literature‘ (thank goodness for the internet). One of the things that resonated strongly with me was the idea of a simple classification system for material that can be applied as you read. It’s a simple A/B/C/D system, and while it wasn’t the only takeaway from James’ presentation, it was one that I could implement immediately – especially on a four hour plane journey home.

Classifying literature, by James Hayton

I’ve modified the classification slightly to suit my own needs, as anyone should, and it has resulted in the following:

  • A – Central
  • B – Supportive and informational, or relevant to methodology
  • C – Might be useful – KIV
  • D – Not relevant

“KIV” is a term that I hadn’t heard until I moved to Singapore, but it’s an acronym for Keep In View. Basically something that you’re not quite willing to discard, but may need to refer to later. For me it’s usually something that’s filtering around in the back of my brain that won’t quite let me discard the article. I have a personal rule that there shouldn’t be more than 10 papers with this label. I’m setting a monthly reminder to review these so that this doesn’t become an article graveyard.

James discussed using a “print and keep in folder” method. That doesn’t work for me due to the portability of my work and life and general. Sente knocks it out of the ballpark for me on this one – I’m using its tagging feature to keep track of this classification system. I’ve written before about why Sente works for me, and I recommend it to anyone who needs a portable, syncing database for literature management.

Other things that got me thinking from James’ webinar:

  • Identification of seminal works/authors as a key requirement for literature review – this is probably going to be key for me as I pull a number of research areas together – culture, logistics, decision making, MNCs and international business. I need to look at citations and influence when considering some of these areas. This doesn’t mean I must include them, but people may expect that I understand they exist, and be able to justify why I haven’t included them.
  • Identification of peers/competitors – I am not sure I am comfortable with the competitor term (although that’s probably my inexperience speaking), however I understand the concept of looking at people who are doing research in similar areas. I probably need to drill into this more than I have previously as I haven’t given it much thought in this context.
  • Answer three main questions when evaluating each piece of literature: What was done in the article? How was it done? Why is it significant (especially in the context of my own research)?
  • Often my expertise is lacking, especially at the beginning of each phase (reading, data collection, analysis, writing), and it’s okay to refer to teaching textbooks and Wikipedia to learn in the areas where I lack skills or knowledge. Just don’t reference them!

One of the recurring messages in James’ presentations is that PhD candidates should understand that they begin the journey with little experience, and build it up over the course of their PhD (to ‘more experienced’, not expert!). I find that this is not a linear progression, but something that is more iterative as I enter different phases of my PhD. I would say my journey is better represented by the grey line below.

My journey is more like the dotted grey line, with expertise and skills being built upon.

While I have more than 500 articles in my Sente Database, and notes written on all of them, now that I’m in data collection I find myself revisiting the literature and needing to start classify/sort with more clarity. This webinar was timely in this regards, and thanks to James for making it available at a reasonable fee.

Sente on the iPad

I know that UOW and many other universities recommend Endnote as a bibliography and citation tool, however after careful consideration and running of the trial, I decided to invest in Sente. My reasons for this include:

  • It seems to do most (if not all) the things that Endnote can
  • It has an iPad app* that I can sync all my references (and articles)
  • The iPad app* allows for note taking while reading
  • It saves printing everything out and means that I can carry my entire reference database, including the articles, in my bag
  • It syncs everything – so it’s all backed up. At the moment I have it synced between my iMac (desktop), Macbook Air (laptop) and iPad. If one fails I can take a copy of the library from either of the other two sources and we are back in business
  • I can save a copy of the library file (with all the references and notations) to a hidden file storage section on this website
  • The ability to import references from Google Scholar, Amazon, or accept Endnote / BibTex reference files is a really good feature to avoid data entry errors when entering the references.Unfortunately at the moment it seems to be a reference manager for Mac OSX only… which is a bummer for windows users as it is really cool.

* The iPad app was the selling point for me.

Some screen shots are below. The software is available for trial and purchase from the Sente website.

Update: 27.Jul.2012
It seems I am not the only one that has been taken with Sente’s features, and someone else has summarised its selling points nicely:

“Then I found Sente. Here is what I love about it: 1) my reference library is much more searchable, 2) my library can be set to sync with senate’s server so I don’t even need to use my own server space, 3) can search and link PDFs much more efficiently from within Sente (check out “targeted browsing”), and the Big feature i love, 4) I can search my sente library, find and download new refs from my iPad, or from any other computer. If I annotate an article on my iPad or home computer, they are instantly synced to sente’s server, and are automatically updated on my work computer. This was a game changer for me. “
Source: Sente & Endnote – Forum Question

Price when I purchased this software (USD):
– Sente for Mac, Academic Discount ($89.95)
– Sente Reference Manager for iPad ($19.99)

Updated: 4.Nov.2013

The Sente for iPad app has been updated which allows for greater mobility in terms of importing PDFs directly on the iPad. This was previously more cumbersome. As I tend to download multiple references from my university library, import all at once and then sync to my ipad, this is less of an issue for me. It depends on your personal workflow.

It may be a little pricey, however in terms of portability and ease of use, in my opinion it’s been worth it.

Updated: 2.May.2014

I have looked at a number of alternatives for other people who cannot use Sente as they have to survive on Windows. My conclusion is… I feel very sorry for them. :(

Sente rocks! :)

Sente on the Mac

Sente on the Mac


Sente on the iPad

Sente on the iPad

A lot of attention in PhD research is rightly given to the writing process. There are loads of blogs, books and articles that describe the agony that can be the writing process (I share that pain) and how to deal with it.

One area that perhaps is quite relevant in business research, and which is written about less, is approaching people and organisations in that stage called gathering the data. Depending on your type of personality, this can be the most fun, or the most intimidating part of the process.

In approaching companies and people to get involved in my research there are a few things that have become glaringly obvious, and I thought I’d share them here.

Just because you understand it, doesn’t mean everyone else will

Have you ever sat down and talked to a potential participant, only to be met with a semi-interested smile and a quick glance at their watch? That glance feels like a road block.

Ethics clearance required me to put together a participant company information document, and I personally fell into the trap where I thought that I could present that two-page document and… Voila! Doors would magically open!

I have honed my elevator pitch over a number of conferences and have many personal contacts who appear genuinely interested in my research. However going beyond the pitch and participant document in presenting to senior management turned out to be a stumbling block in my first few presentations.

Start with the ‘Why?’

In having informal conversations with people, it is important to realise that personal interest and professional responsibility are two different things. My research is inspired by war stories shared about dealings between different business entities and people. One thing I’ve noticed is telling a good war story, business or personal, often brings out similar stories and anecdotes.

Research is about systematically investigating materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions. It requires me to apply a systematic approach to getting (the data) and analysing these stories. The organisations have to be approached formally, agreement and sign-off needs to be provided, questions structured (either fully or as a guide) … and people suddenly go from telling you that smiley war story to potentially not even talking to you. They want to know ‘why?’ (Why should they bother, why is it important, why get involved?)

The ‘Why?’ is becoming a key motivator in how I am personally structuring my approaches to my research, my writing and my approach.

Getting to the why didn’t just occur magically out of the blue… It started with examining writing difficulties that I had, and meandering around PhD blogs, webinars and support communities, and then I saw this, via James Hayton and his PhD Blog. He has a youtube video that includes a diagram used by Simon Sinek in his TED Talk called “How great leaders inspire action” (James initially refers to Simon Sidek’s book – Start with Why?).

The diagram looks like the following, and basically reflects the way we communicate information:



In my approach I was getting caught up in the what and the how, thinking that would immediately explain why I was researching my topic. After two meetings with companies I realised that this wasn’t happening and the ‘Why?’ was missing from my story.

So in adding the ‘Why?’ to my own personal journey, I have also realised that there is a translation of the ‘Why?’ required at many levels.

  1. My Research
    Understanding the ‘Why?’ is key to me staying on track with the story of my PhD. It’s what had me excited about the topic in the first place. Being mindful of this is key to being able to finish this part of my research career journey.
  2. My Writing
    I need to be able to communicate the ‘Why?’, or a variation of it in my writing, so people should understand why it’s relevant to them. People are increasingly time-poor, and being able to communicate the ‘Why?’ is going to be key in getting them to read my writing. It is key in getting people to decide that my research and writing is worth reading and spending time on.
  3. My Approach to Gathering Data
    And in being able to convince people to commit time to convince their companies and their colleagues to participate in my research, I need to motivate them with the part of the ‘Why?’ that affects them. This ‘why’ needs to be articulated, explained, with examples and presentation aids so I can clearly communicate why companies should let me investigate using their personnel, their time and their resources.
[I have actually found a mind-mapping tool that has helped me articulate this, however I’ll elaborate on that in another post. Whatever works – use it. This stuff is important!]

Present well

In approaching potential participants, I realised that relying solely on the Information Sheet for companies or participants was burying me and it wasn’t communicating the ‘Why?’ effectively.

Understanding that senior managers are time poor is key to ensuring that you can effectively communicate the purpose of your research, and communicate the reason why they should give their attention to it instead of other items on their busy schedules.

So I quickly established that I couldn’t just hand out my information sheet (PIS) and be effective. I had to put this in a format that they were willing to digest. A format that they were used to, that was familiar. A format that they were able to process quickly.

Crap. I found this often meant a slide deck. :p

For me the easiest and most portable way to do this was to use Keynote on my iPad. Whether your weapon of choice is Keynote or the new Microsoft PowerPoint on a tablet, a more traditional laptop, or a hard copy – that will be up to you. The key here was being able to whip out the presentation in two seconds and be able to point and say “See? This is why it is so important to you. This is why you need to participate.”

In doing this I found that graphs, pictures and as few bullet points as possible were really key. I had to remember to use these as a visual aid, not a presentation. I was lucky in that I had a preliminary survey on which I could base some of the information presented. I also went back to the literature. Information from my research proposal and literature review became very valuable. It helped me frame the ‘Why?’ – not just for me, but for those I was involving in my research.

I did, however, have to be careful in how I did this because I did not want the information to sound too academic, thereby alienating my audience. I had to make my ‘Why?’ relevant to them.

his is based on a survey I conducted. Use graphics, use charts… use visual aids!!

This is based on a survey I conducted. Use graphics, use charts… use visual aids!!


People won’t provide perfect answers in the perfect time

Language is a funny thing. I can be speaking English… you might be listening in English… and still we can be having a conversation that feels like two parallel lines –  they never meet. This has occurred a number of times throughout my research, and sometimes I wonder if it’s a result of some of the solitude of the research process – am I losing social skills? Am I communicating that poorly? Why aren’t they ‘getting’ what I mean?

It could be this, or it could be the framing. We all come at the world from a certain point of view. In putting together a case study I’m learning that sometimes there is no short cut in peeling away the layers of communication styles, cultures (national and company) and other lenses that affect they way that we see each other and affect the way we respond to questions.

I’m learning that in some cases, people sometimes just want to be heard on certain issues, and this could be particularly ardent if I’ve been almost too effective in communicating the ‘Why?’!

There was one case where I had discussed with a foreign manager about some of the issues around implementing a service-based contract that involved personnel of a different national culture. This particular incident had been very recent, and had posed some difficulties that had been particularly troubling for him. As a result he felt the need to spend 15 minutes of the time talking about a situation that appeared to be clearly off-topic. I had been told as soon as I entered the room that I only had an hour and he was flying to the US tomorrow. A quarter of my precious time was potentially wasted, and even more if I allowed this to continue!!!! I can’t say yet whether my interruption with a quick summary to show I’d heard him was an effective way of dealing with it. I can say that being able to draw a diagram on a piece of paper in order to get him back to my research topic did seem to assist – so in future I will be bringing more paper and more pre-prepared visual aids as I am learning that this works better for me to communication what I need from participants.

To Conclude…

I’m still in that data gathering stage, while trying to write up at the same time. It’s been tough with my own personal hurdles that have prevented my timeline from progressing as well as I would have liked. Finding focus and courage to tackle some of these has been tough of itself and I’ve sought many resources online to replace some of those that I have lacked through being physically absent from my university (due to my regional research focus and the fact that I am a FIFO academic). These ideas are helping me get through the stage that I am in.

However probably the most useful focus tool to date has been re-discovering the importance of ‘Why?’

Do you have any to add? How do you communicate your passion better to participants to get better research data?