Deliberate Practice For Developing Academically

We all want to get better, we all want to be the best at what we do and I’m no different. I’ve been wondering about how to maximise my independent study so as to best make use of my time and I think I’ve found some answers.

Deliberate practice & critical reading.

I’ll also be honest that my nerd really wanted metrics for me to work against, track and strive for …. so I might have thrown a few in just to keep myself on my toes! What’s the point if you don’t know whether you’re improving or not!


So the theory runs that Anders Erikson has studied expertise (yes, he is an expert of experts and maybe an expert expert) and found that top class performers have common traits, methodologies and shit like that. The hope that if we apply this to our own work we can make the same progress that they do, I say hope because there are many problems with Erikson and Gladwell’s associated work. What does Erikson believe performers do you may ask? The answer is…

Deliberate Practice

Deliberate practice is practice, rather than play. It’s focused on improvement rather than mindless repetition with clear aims that you review yourself against. The steps of it are;

  • goal orientated start
  • break the goal down into steps
  • repeat steps
  • review progress constructively (building mental models)

The aim of all this is to find meaningful practice (by knowing what you’re aiming for), make it achievable (you can’t learn anything from a task you can’t do) while maximising growth (don’t stagnate in your repetitions) so that the task, skills and process can become filed away in your long term memory.

“I CAN READ SO WELL NOW!” – me… hopefully!

So how do we apply this when we’re studying independently?

Most of my study is done in reading, with a little in application. I think I’m missing some opportunities for feedback but that’s another blog post entirely! The question for me then is how I can apply deliberate practice to my reading? I think I’ve got a rough idea and it looks a little something like this:

  1. what are you getting out of this?
    • Chose your next paper based on the wider gaps in your knowledge, having an understanding of these gaps is always really useful for me!
    • Then look at the paper and have questions that you want to have answered in your mind after you’ve finished.
    • It might be worth breaking this down by the sections in the paper (eg. from the introduction I want to have 2 new authors/topics to research, from the methodology I want to have a problem and a new methodology to apply and from the conclusion I want to have a new theory)
  2. how does it fit into your knowledge
    • Ask yourself, how does this paper fit into my current understanding, like a mind map of all the ideas, theories and evidence data points with clusters for the disciplines, academic camps and so on.
    • Ask yourself what your position on the paper is, do you agree, do you have preconceptions from other research that it needs to answer or you’ll tear it a new one?
  3. read & review
    • This is maybe my favourite part of this research for me and it’s called SQ3R. It stands for Summerise, Question, Read, Recite & Review. The aim is to skim the summary, understand what is being dealt with, have key questions you want answering. Read the paper, recite the answers to the questions from memory, re-read the paper for any questions you didn’t answer well.
    • Ask yourself, did you have any problems reading the paper, did you get answers to your questions and how does this affect your wider goals?
    • Finally, do you agree with them, are they convincing and how would you do better?

Cool right? You know what might be cooler? Metrics!

So, being a nerd I would want to review my progress both in terms of whether the system of deliberate practice is working for my wider goals and in terms of whether I’m working well within the system of deliberate practice. To answer this, I came up with a few metrics/tests:

Independent – is deliberate practice working for me?

  • recall – How many meaningful points from the paper can I remember after finishing with it?
  • time spent – How long did it take to read the paper?
  • use in writing  – How useful will this be in my own writing (scale of 0-6)

Dependent – Did I do good deliberate practice ma?

  • meaningful questions answered – How many meaningful questions did I answer from the paper?
  • meaningful questions provoked – How many meaningful FURTHER questions popped up?
  • number of arguments – How many arguments did I have coming in and how many do I have coming out?
  • meta learnings value – How well did I learn from this paper (0-6)

So that’s it! I’ll be using this framework for the next month or so and hopefully it will improve the way I work, learn and grow as an independent scholar! Either that or it will make for another impromptu blog post!

Next week: Applying corpus based machine learning to a quantitative, established methodology (and yes, it’s as good as it sounds): Tirunillai, S., & Tellis, G. J. (2014). Mining marketing meaning from online chatter: Strategic brand analysis of big data using latent Dirichlet allocation. Journal of Marketing Research51(4), 463-479.


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