Well I may have gotten a little distracted from the blog, but the thesis due date is around the corner! I have absolutely loved this year, an entire year dedicated to what I want to write about. There’s always people warning students that post-grad is nothing like under-grad, and writing a great 1.5k essay is nothing like writing a sustained argument for 15-20k words. That is true, but I find it suits me.
I thought I’d just write a few things about what I have learned along the way, mostly as a reminder to myself, since I’m also putting in a PhD proposal next week…:
- Start writing early – even if it’s crap. Well really, all early writing is. You read more along the way, things will change, just don’t even hesitate about writing. Doesn’t even need to be linear!
- Keep up with referencing – this one almost got me, and something I definitely need to do for PhD. I left writing the bibliography to the end, accidentally skipped some references and took ages trying to find the right page (or even, book!)
- Don’t be afraid to confront – some of my early drafts were more about picking and choosing who I agreed with, which is okay, but the whole point of a thesis is to be an argument. It’s not about being mean or offensive, though it sometimes felt that way (scholars that completely dismiss Buffy as ‘teenage romance fodder’ and say it’s just like Twilight. Uh NO!). On the other hand, don’t rant. Stay relevant!
- Just because it’s interesting doesn’t mean it’s relevant – There were quite a few things I wanted to talk about that ultimately didn’t really add to my argument. It was interesting, certainly! And I thought it was well-expressed. But I needed to step back sometimes and see if it answers my research question, and alas, this beautiful giant chunk of awesome was cruelly cut down.
- Too much writing is better than too little and don’t stress the word count – I tried to be all structured and set aside X amount of words per section, but that so didn’t happen. I just wrote EVERYTHING I could think of. It doesn’t need to be exactly 5k words for 3 chapters and 2.5k words for intro/concl. I’m
- Ask your supervisor! – I was lucky in that my supervisor was awesome, and I’m hoping to have her again for PhD. When we started, I was sort of incoherent and ranty about what I wanted to do and why I thought it was important, and she was able to help me pick the good bits and form a structured idea. And when I start freaking out, she was there to tell me to stop 😛
- Everybody hurts sometimes – We feel like imposters, we feel like everything is awful and it should just be chucked out. This too will pass! Thesis writing can get a bit lonely, especially if there are few or no people in your course with you doing the same thing. I found Twitter kept me sane – for whatever situation, there was always someone who messaged back about feeling the exact same!
- Twitter is awesome – Okay, this one is more subjective. I love twitter. I’m twitter-buddies with people from within my field and without, academics and fans, and there was always someone to talk to (argue) with about any topic, to help develop your own ideas, offer a completely different point of view, or send you an article. Trust in the people!
It’s worth it to be prepared and know what you are getting yourself into. Here’s a collection of advice I’ve been given from friends (former or current PhDer’s) in various departments, and read on blogs written by experienced university staff:
- It is likely you will change your thesis from the initial proposal. This is completely normal and it will be for the better!
- You become the expert on your subject – after all, it is an original project. Yes, even above your own supervisor.
- It’s okay to delete entire chapters – ask yourself, is it breaking new ground? Does it get off topic?
- You will experience the most dizzying highs and desperate lows. Few careers have such extremes of emotions. You will hate your thesis, and may even be tempted to give up at some points. The next day will be all rainbows and flowers.
- You need a supervisor you get on with – that is more important than getting one who specialises in a similar area. If you can get both, that’s great!
- It is often debated, but generally it’s advised to start writing early and often. You will revise, as over the years your writing style changes and as you research more, but it gets you closer to the end goal and in the habit of writing regularly.
- You can have supervisors from different subject areas, depending on the topic you are covering – I’m somewhere between media, cultural studies and English.
- There are methods for anything you have issues with. Problems with keeping your notes together? Use the Cornell method. Need to focus on writing? Try AcBoWrimo or Shut Up and Write. Whatever you need, there’s a tonne of ideas about how to do it better.
- You will feel ‘Who cares?’ about what you are researching, but that’s another point of why you are doing this. Of course you care, and all the literature that has come before you was done by researchers who care, and there are people buying books or reading journal articles who might do it too one day and build on what you’ve done who care too!
- Keep socially active! Even if Facebook or Twitter, engaging with people will mean you won’t fry your brain. As cool as Sheldon is, we are not Sheldon. We need people, and discussing issues with other post-grads can help you. Still, go outside away from the desk and books AND social media. Go ride a bike or pat the cat.
- Perfection is an enemy.
I’m pretty sure I’ll be coming back to the post to soothe my damaged soul as the years go on. Two of Master of Research, three of PhD? I’ll be fine!… *silently freaks out*
How to write by awesome and award winning author Angela Slatter
Last night during Masterchef I kept an eye on my Twitter feeds for #phdchat, started by the Thesis Whisperer. Although I’m not a PhD student, it is important to not only learn about the community I want to join and the people around it, but also the issues that come up when writing a massive thesis and being a researcher and academic.
So the conversation yesterday revolved around keeping in the writing mood and getting it done. There was a lot of mention of chocolate and treats!
I started out writing fiction from when I was around twelve. I’ve got a shelf of books dedicated to writing characters, plots, action scenes, and a few around writing articles or specific genres (of course, mostly fantasy). Right now I’m not in the fiction writing sphere, but if I learned anything from fiction writers it’s this: everyone is different! You may plan every step of the way, or free-write the first draft. You might focus on quantity, you might focus on quality. The below suggestions are ideas to help you figure out what your style of writing is. An absolute blank wordprocessor may be what works for you, where I at least need a selection of fonts (I write in pretty fonts, and then strip the format when I’m done to make it appropriate font-ed). One of the things you can’t rely on is only writing when you feel like it. You HAVE to write. You don’t have a choice at uni or in a research course about ‘aww, I don’t feel like it today’. Another thing, that was also mentioned on the hashchat, accept that whatever you do will need editing. It’s very rare the creature that writes one draft and that’s it. That’s partly why publishing books takes so long, it’s revising the editing between the editor (freelance or in-house) and the author.
Here’s my notes from last night:
- The Pomodoro Technique: Setting short time goals and rewarding yourself with breaks. Join a group for Shut Up and Write
- Set word based goals – 1000 words a day, 500 words a day – even if it’s a crap 500 or 1000 words, it’s still writing!
- Use Wordle to analyse even a sample of your writing to see the words you are using too much unconciously, or use the Writer’s Diet Test
- Edit finished text in a new file
- Write the PhD question on the header of every page to keep it in mind and help stay on track
- Use mind maps or concept maps to plan
- Put research/paper in progress/additional info on DropBox so you can access it anywhere
- Utilise verb lists. Try the Academic Phrasebank.
- Plan your writing a day or even week before your writing session
- End each writing session with a bullet point list of what comes next.
- Outline sections to help focus writing
- Write like Leonard, Edit like Sheldon
- Disconnect yourself from the internet. Use paper and pen, or if you need to be online, use something like Chrome Nanny to lock yourself out of social media.
- Blog, get some writing buddies or a group together – responsibility to share with others as a motivator for writing. Set yourself deadlines.
- Attend writing workshops or go on a writing retreat.
- Don’t write linearly – put in titles and develop ideas in sections, then review and revise between sections
- Take a break! Go for a run or to the gym, or go take a shower or bath
- Good to write conference papers and articles during PhD
- Read about writing as well as content and research processes
- Writing is something you learn as you go along, you won’t know it all upfront.
Also check out:
Writing Hacks for Starters
Creating a research space
NaNoWriMo – Rather than writing a novel during the month, write a thesis!
Writing an outline
How to create a science blog
Developing Effective Research Proposals by Keith F Punch
Qualitative Research Design by Joseph Maxwell