A Mixed Bag of 10 Thoughts, Quoted

I collect quotations from various places. Books and online. I make notes on the stuff I read every day.

I thought I’d drop 10 examples your way in this post. Just because. Maybe something will inspire or interest you further.

You never know when a comment here and an example there can come in handy. I also collect random stories that are of no use at the moment, but are quirky. When the right time comes along, I use the stories to inject some fun into a piece of writing.

Always be on the lookout for inspiration. You may find nothing of interest in the examples below. But when you see anything that makes you stop and think, it’s worth making a note of it. The more you can collect, the more you have at your disposal later on.

Note it down. Save it for later.

Collecting little thoughts is one way you can start to make good use out of what you consume.

10 Thoughts, Quoted


“You will find the future wherever people are having the most fun.”

From the Introduction to Wonderland by Steven Johnson

In other words, get playful!



“Ultimately innovation is local. You have a problem to fix, a group who want to solve it, and you come together in a common space to work it out.”


I like how the ‘local’ doesn’t always have to be in terms of physical placement.



“…holding on to the idea that willpower is a limited resource can actually be bad for you, making you more likely to lose control and act against your better judgment.”


Willpower is limited if you think it is. I will you to keep going!



“If takers are selfish and failed givers are selfless, successful givers are otherish: they care about benefiting others, but they also have ambitious goals for advancing their own interests.” – p.182

From Give and Take by Adam Grant

Giving is wonderful, so long as you remember to give to yourself at the same time.



“A sociologist at the University of Chicago surveyed the references cited in a database of 34 million scientific articles. He analyzed the citations with respect to whether the articles cited were available online. The more journals became digitally available, the more recent the references became, and the narrower their scope.” – p.61

From Words Onscreen by Naomi S. Baron

The book was published in 2016. That feels like ages ago…



“Student loan policy wonks have always assumed that if you provide guarantees and limit liability/risk on student loans, then students will be ok with debt.  But if the facts of the policy don’t change people’s attitudes about risk, then the policies will fail, no matter how well they deal with the actual problems at hand.”


This is just as relevant for parents too. The idea of debt, no matter how it’s presented, is too much for some. Especially when there have been past problems with more traditional debts, or they have spent their life avoiding debt. What do you think those parents will say to their children who want to go to university?



“Podcasting is sometimes dismissed as nothing more than radio in your ears, on your own schedule, but I beg to differ. It’s far more intimate than traditional radio. And news organizations that realize the power of this intimacy will likely have an advantage in the long run.”


On-demand audio for the win.



“Humans live peacefully with contradictions precisely because of their capacity to compartmentalise. And when contradictory statements, actions or emotions jump out of their contextual box, we are very good, perhaps too good, at finding justifications to soothe cognitive dissonance.”


But when you recognise this, you can use the abundance of contradiction in wonderful ways too. Embrace the push and pull.



“Crucially, our ‘social orientation’ appears to spill over into more fundamental aspects of reasoning. People in more collectivist societies tend to be more ‘holistic’ in the way they think about problems, focusing more on the relationships and the context of the situation at hand, while people in individualistic societies tend to focus on separate elements, and to consider situations as fixed and unchanging.”


Specific generalisations. The article has some thought-provoking stuff.



A reason why conservatives tend to use nouns more than liberals is because nouns outline greater stability. Describing someone using nouns “implies more certainty and permanence about their state of being”.


Pay attention to how people describe things. Do they “feel positive”, or are they “a positive person”? You may get a better insight when you listen to how the sentences are constructed as well as what’s being said.


Think of the little thoughts and stories you collect as stepping stones. Each step can take you closer to new ideas.

Over to you. It’s time to create out of what you curate.

How to Confidently Refer to Other Texts in Your Writing – TUB-Thump 014


Talking about other people, concepts, and theories in your coursework doesn’t need to be difficult. But it does need getting your head around.

That’s why Episode 014 of TUB-Thump is a quick-fire round of advice on how to confidently refer to others as you write. And you’ll get my take on what it really means to be original in your writing.

I’ve even got a bell to identify each of the points as I whizz along. What’s not to like?

That said, I was clearly too near the mic in today’s edition of the show, and I said “put” far too many times…a lethal combination! Bonus game: count how many times I annoy the mic by making a P sound.


Here are the show notes for the 7-min episode:

  • 00:50 – Originality in your writing isn’t about creating brand new theories and ideas. It’s generally about bringing your voice to what’s already out there and casting your own mark on it. That means referring to other people, other theories, and other works.
  • 01:10 – Explain in your own words.
  • 01:50 – Get the meaning/explanation right when putting it in your own words.
  • 02:10 – Use a direct quotation when making a powerful point or their specific words matter.
  • 03:00 – Don’t spend too long describing in your own words. Distil it so you make the point, then get on with your own point.
  • 03:40 – Refer to a range of texts. Don’t focus too much on a limited number of sources.
  • 04:15 – Let your voice shine through.
  • 04:40 – Make all your references abundantly clear. The most annoying thing is accidental plagiarism (useful video from the University of Reading below).

Music for TUB-Thump is Life, by Tobu, which is released under a Creative Commons license. Check out more of Tobu’s great sounds on Soundcloud, YouTube, and his official site.

TUB-Thump is part of the Learning Always Network.

Keep being awesome!

How to read around a subject

When tutors suggest you ‘read around’, what do they really mean?  When you get a reading list with hundreds of books on it, where do you start?


photo by Valentina_A

photo by Valentina_A

Reading around covers a lot of ground and is important for undergraduate work:

“Reading will be a crucial element of your study in higher education…There is a much greater expectation and requirement, if you are to be successful, to read more independently and more widely than you may have previously.”
Studying and Learning at University – Alan Pritchard (p28)

So, reading needs to be ‘independent’ and ‘wide’.  Let’s go further:

“University work needs more than simple reproduction of facts.  You need to be able to construct an argument and to support this with evidence.  This means that you need to draw on the literature that you have read in order to support your position…What is important is to present a tight, well-argued case for the view you finally present as the one you favour.”
The Smarter Student – Kathleen McMillan & Jonathan Weyers (p226)

What you say must be backed up.  That’s where reading around comes in.  Your aim isn’t to get a unique view on the world.  That’s almost impossible.  You need to refer to what’s already out there, which is why you can’t rely on a small number of sources unless you’re content with a bare pass (or worse).

Here’s what reading around does for you:

  • Reading around helps you fill in the missing gaps you didn’t realise were there;
  • Reading around lets you know the subject, rather than just the facts;
  • Reading around is like filling up a jar in stages.  You start with big rocks of information.  When the big rocks fill the jar, you can still put in small stones of detail that fall between the big rocks.  When the small stones fill the jar, you can still put in fine sand of specifics to fill in the smallest, unclaimed areas in the jar.

How do you start reading around?  Here are a few ways:

  1. Read more than the key texts on reading lists – When tutors list ‘further reading’, ‘extra’ texts, or ‘suggested’ materials, they aren’t giving you anything that’s surplus to requirements.  The purpose of further reading is so you can learn more, not to read more stuff you don’t need to know;
  2. Highlight research that considers similar issues and explore their findings – You are discovering what has gone before.  How have we reached where we are today?  Is research still going on, or have we reached a dead end?  What is influential and why?;
  3. Don’t rely on textbooks alone – Read up online, in journals, in textbooks, in the news, and so on.  Check for the most recent research going on, even if that means no more than a quick Google Scholar search for papers in the last year or two;
  4. Find links between your subject and another field – If you stick to your subject alone, you can’t appreciate the bigger picture.  How does your subject impact upon others and vice versa?;
  5. Don’t think ‘answers’, think ‘questions’ – You’re finding what fits with your argument and how matters can move forward or be explored further.  Research wouldn’t be necessary if we had all the answers;
  6. Check bibliographies of the most useful books – When you find a corker of a book, or you rely heavily on a general textbook, the bibliography and references within can help in the same way a tutor’s reading list does.

Reading lists are detailed for a reason.  For first years especially, they need to show variation, given that students will be coming from many backgrounds and with varying levels of understanding around the subject.  You’re not expected to read everything from cover to cover. You’re not even expected to check every single title out.  But you are expected to use the list to explore and make your own discoveries.

Some books will sing to you like beautiful music, while others relentlessly scream nonsense at you. If a book’s content confuses you, don’t despair.  It doesn’t mean you don’t understand the subject; it means the book isn’t a good fit for you.

To get an idea of how a book or article speaks to you and if it’s important to your research, check out:

  • Chapter titles;
  • Abstracts;
  • Introductions;
  • Conclusions;
  • Headings/Sub-titles
  • Lists, activities, images & tables;
  • First & last paragraphs of chapters.

If certain texts aren’t available in your library, make reservations and remember to do some quick and easy online research about the book.  You can often find a lot of content long before you get your hands on the text.

Whatever you’re studying, a lot of reading is involved.  With so much out there, you may be stuck for a starting point.  John Kay explains that there’s no point in making a specific plan at times like these.  Just jump in:

“When faced with a task that daunts you, a project that you find difficult, begin by doing something.  Choose a small component that seems potentially relevant to the task.  While it seems to make sense to plan everything before you start, mostly you can’t: objectives are not clearly enough defined, the nature of the problem keeps shifting, it is too complex, and you lack sufficient information.  The direct approach is simply impossible.”
Obliquity: Why our goals are best achieved indirectly – John Kay (p175)

Kay’s point can be taken further.  You may worry that you couldn’t possibly read everything.  If you’re meant to read around, how can you do that when there are millions of potential reads?

The answer is to read enough and know when to stop.

How are you expected to know that?  Well, there’s no magical answer to finding a time to stop.  However, as you read around and research, there comes a time when your viewpoint is more confident and you have plenty quotations, references, similar views, and so on.  At this point, it’s pretty safe to start.

If you need to go back later, then do it.  Reading around doesn’t happen in one sitting.  It’s an ongoing process throughout your degree.

Part of the reason why you’re given reading lists in the first place is so you can see what is already viewed as important in your field.  You’ll see the big names, be introduced to the crucial concepts, be handed the most influential texts, and get an idea of what authors/books other academics have heavily referenced.

Reading around gives you a chance to be independent in your research, whilst being pointed in the right direction so you don’t veer too wildly off topic.  There’s no trickery or punishment involved, even if you do feel overwhelmed at first.

As with most things, the more you practice, the more you’ll get into the swing of things.

What experiences have you had with ‘reading around’?

What will be the future of education?

Lord Browne’s Independent Review of HE Funding and Student Finance is due tomorrow.  If reports on the content of the review are to be believed, students are not going to be happy.

As students across the country prepare to march in London on 10 November 2010, I’d like to share some quotations with you that I spotted recently.

First up, on what education has become:

“There is no denying that education is an essential preparation for life and work in an advanced economy.  Modern economies require skilled and motivated workers, who can only profit from the opportunities they afford if they are equipped to respond to their demands.  So much is now received wisdom.

“But a large part of the problem with education is that this connection has become too direct.  Aristotle said that we educated ourselves so that we can make noble use of our leisure; this is a view directly opposed to the contemporary belief that we educated ourselves in order to get a job.  To that extent the contemporary view distorts the purpose of schooling, by aiming not at the development of individuals as ends in themselves, but as instruments in the economic process.”

A.C. Grayling, The Meaning of Things (2001)

The connection between education and economy comes even closer, showing no signs of stopping:

“…universities in need of funds had little choice but to accept corporate money.  As social status and career success correlated ever more closely with service to profit-making entities, many academics were willing to play along.  A Labour Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, channelled the spirit of the age when he claimed that the idea of education for its own sake was ‘a little bit dodgy’; students, he insisted, needed ‘a relationship with the workplace’.  This insistence that market values can be applied to education continues to inform both policy and rhetoric.  In November 2009 the irrepressible Peter Mandelson was promising a ‘consumer revolution’ in higher education.”

Dan Hind, The Return of the Public (2010)

The Browne Review is expected to recommend a continuation of this ‘consumer revolution’ by suggesting higher fees, a real rate of interest on loans, and the possible lifting of the fee cap altogether.  Universities must, therefore, ask (and answer) crucial questions on student matters:

“What is the value we add for each and every student above the basic cost of paying the staff who teach them and providing the core facilities that they have to have? We should be able to answer this question anyway, irrespective of whether the substitution of private for public funding of teaching goes through, and whether or not the cap on student fees is set at £5,000, £7,000 or more than £10,000. Being able to account for our premium will be essential both to setting the prices of our qualifications in the future, and to remaining competitive in a rather different world.”

Prof. Martin Hall (Vice Chancellor at Salford)

The BBC has a load of links with information on the future of universities and fees, but that detail and speculation cannot answer the question as posed by Professor Hall.  Each university will need to have an individual response based on their own position and qualities.

While this rolls along, the ‘student as consumer’ problem looms.  The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) published a series of documents on “Rethinking the values of higher education” in 2009, looking beyond the simplistic and misleading ‘consumer’ tag:

  1. Students as change agents?
  2. Consumption, partnership, community?
  3. The student as collaborator and producer?

Whatever the Browne Review concludes, and however students are perceived, we still have to see whether the coalition government will be in a position to feasibly implement the recommendations.  If the key recommendations are as expected, I’m not sure they can.