Ye Olde Journals

I got to experience essay writing from a different perspective this week. I have been producing a critical analysis of psychoanalytic therapy, and to my dismay, it seemed that all the journal articles that had relevant abstracts were stuck behind a firewall of some overseas journal.

A couple of those were still available however in the Bangor University library archives, and, sure enough, after a couple of days the porter was able to fetch me them.

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It is really thought provoking to realise that once upon a time, this was how research was done. When I opened the 124th volume of the American Journal of Psychiatry, I saw that it had last been drawn out on June 1st 1977. That was nearly 40 years ago!

To literally turn the pages of history, the contrast between the research then and now shows the advancements which have taken place over the years. One article referred to the success of a hospital ship in treating psychiatric patients from the Vietnam war, for which the authors carried military credentials.

How incredible it is now that we live in an age of information abundance, where we can search all the journals of the world in a matter of seconds. How astounding that the problem we have now is that there is too much information to know what to do with? How quickly does the amount of information in the world double? Or how soon does its half life take hold?

I can’t imagine what it would have been like living 40 years ago in a paper journal and type-writer world. I wonder if it was actually quite therapeutic; perhaps a more mindful experience? Back when the boundaries of having completely searched ‘everything’ could be met once you had skewered through the indexes of the library.

Yet this was a time when so many of the fundamentals of psychology were being established. Beck’s inventory, behaviourism, the magic seven, plus or minus two, and Anna Freud to name a few. What is the best way to utilise the tools we have now? That we might not loose the forest in the trees.

Oh My Gosh: My Essay Was Boring!

The grades from my project proposal came back, and they we’re well, but less than what I had hoped for.

The feedback I received was that the essay was thickly written and difficult reading. I just compared my essay with one of a fellow student and I can see the difference. After a page of my own, I was gazing at the screen howling ‘this is boring!’

Which makes me ask the question: what broke?

I am a perfectionist. I am a deep analytical thinker. That gives me a wealth of conscientiousness and attention to detail, but it creates unnecessary hoops to jump when it comes to writing.

As I recall, my strategy with this essay was to spend the lions share of my time reading research papers – having the goal of one per day. And perhaps missing the forest for the trees, the operation of connecting them with a musical flow was foregone.

I like to believe that we live in a world where everything can be done exactly right. That I can do all my course reading quickly but detailed, and that I can be the expert of all the related literature before I plan my essays. But more and more I am being forced to accept that part of the academic technique is being smart with the time and material I have.

It look’s like it really is no good compelling oneself to read deeply through papers in an order of topics. Is the better way then to brainstorm out the ideas that bounce around easily? With a simple end in mind and find papers to fit?

It’s always an academic challenge matching the existing available research base with your hypothesis, and it looks like a purely bottom up ideal isn’t the solution either.

Achim’s razor, commonly called the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) clearly applies here.