There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to write your thesis in a cozy little hub with working Internet.
Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.
This week’s Study Dude article returns with part four of Demystifying Dissertation Writing by Peg Boyle Single, Ph.D. In today’s article, Peg Boyle Single gives you little tricks to enhance your productivity by overcoming writer’s block and doing revisions. She also provides advice on how to make writing a habit.
Resist Writer’s Block
Peg Boyle Single advises on a number of ways to overcome writer’s block, including giving and receiving motivation from peer groups.
I don’t know how the graduate students of my class collaborated on motivating one another to write their dissertations. I do know that they all gathered like a gang of crime lords, swarming the university pubs and lounges. But when they all bee-lined toward the lounge, I would veer off toward the gym. The time I would have spent gossiping over a brew with the crew, I instead spent weight-lifting, stretching, cycling, and dancing.
While I didn’t score popularity points with the group, I did manage to get into peak physical shape. And, as antisocial as I seemed, if the group had engaged in productive, healthy activities, like sports or clubs, I would have joined them without hesitation.
However, among her other steps she includes:
– Don’t attempt to do a perfect first draft. Your standards should be set relatively low for the first draft.
– Don’t do any edits until your first draft is completed.
– Don’t fall into the trap at reading at the expense of writing. Your long outline will reveal where you need to read more and where you should stop reading. (See last week’s article for more on the long outline.)
– Don’t write your introductions in your first draft. When you want to introduce the thesis or a chapter or a section, opt instead to put a placeholder phrase in the slot. Give some indication of what you want to follow the placeholder. When you complete your first draft, go back and write your introductory paragraphs.
– When writing first draft, disable spell check.
– Text or phone a writing partner every scheduled writing day to motivate you.
– If you get writer’s block, consider free-writing about what you want to accomplish. You can also free-write a sentence or two directly in your thesis, but be sure to delete those free-written comments.
– Access the university writing centre to help you polish your thesis.
– Every forty-five minutes, take a well-deserved break.
– Form a writing group where you each share your work with one another.
– Get a writing coach. They are costly, but worth it. Ensure your writing coach has an editorial background and isn’t just a life coach.
When I had to edit my thesis, my advisor would edit it for me. I appreciated his relevant edits and the time he spared me, but one incident in particular annoyed me. In this incident, my supervisor told me to place a section of my thesis in another section and rewrite it. I did as he told me. After reviewing my work, my supervisor told me to put the section back to its original position. I did as he told me. Then, he told me to return it to the former position. I did as he told me, only now my frustration grew. I think he had amnesia each time he told me to move the section back to its former position.
When it came time to consider last minute changes before the defence, he told me again to place the section into the original position. Like the headstrong individual I am, I started to cry. That marked the end of the thesis revisions.
Peg Boyle Single has some better ideas for how to approach editing. I’m sure you’ll love her strategies as much as I do:
– As your thesis morphs and changes, you will need to do structural edits.
– Make a computer generated table of contents in your document. This will help serve as an outline that readily updates. Have the chapter and section titles appear on your table of contents.
– Get feedback from friends and colleagues about the structure of your table of contents.
– Choose any section (focusing on up to five pages in one stint), print it out, and make revisions to it. Go at your thesis section by section. Mark on your hardy copy outline what section you are working on are have completed.
– After you finish a section, go over the introductory paragraphs. Do they need to be revised to better capture the meaning of the section?
– When drafting your introductory paragraphs, “feel free to use phrases like ’In this section, I present the first, second, and third ideas.’ Then, while revising, replace the numbering with alternative ways to suggest order by using terms such as next, following, also, and in addition” (p. 171).
– Ensure you have one and only one point in each paragraph. Keep revising and shuffling things around until your paragraph makes only one point.
– Edit out repeated pet phrases.
– Read your work out loud to yourself to get a sense of flow. This will also help you with editing your document.
– In your paragraphs, go from specific comments to more general ones.
– Shorten your paragraphs.
Make Writing a Habit
When I had to write my thesis, my full-time work got in the way. Plus, my partner delights me to no end, so plenty of time needed to be scheduled for togetherness. This left mainly the weekends for concentrating on the thesis.
To write the thesis, I would go to the nearest internet cafe, buy a tea, and strap myself metaphorically into the seat for a good four- or five-hour session. I did this on both Saturdays and Sundays.
After staring at the computer screen for hours, the font, text, and edits started to jumble. My vision started to blur. Then, when the anxiety settled in, like clockwork, my productivity would nose dive. I would end up fretting over tiny edits, with sweat rolling down my face, hands trembling.
It also didn’t help that the computers at the internet cafe often had viruses, even though virus removal was a service offered. Sometimes the Internet wouldn’t work properly or the printer would malfunction. At times, I would have to move to four different computers just to find one that worked.
Peg Boyle Single has much better strategies for helping your writing routine:
– Don’t just wait until you have a big block of free time to write. Write in any small increment that frees up.
– Writing creates inspired moments. Don’t just sit back and hope inspiration dawns on you. You’ll hardly ever write if you wait in ambush. Instead, write regularly.
– Write regardless of whether you are in the mood to write or not.
– Ensure you spend quality time with the people you love. They’ll fuel you for your writing bouts.
– Do not engage in all-nighters or eight-hour writing sessions. They’ll just bog you down and impede your productivity.
– Schedule a stop time for writing.
– If you write daily, you won’t have to spend time trying to remember where you left off. By writing every day, your thesis will be fresh on your mind.
– Find a spot in your home, at the library, in a cafe, or elsewhere, where you don’t have to tidy up just to begin writing.
– Keep a style guide, thesaurus, and dictionary on hand, and stock up on writing books like Strunk and White.
– Surround yourself with motivational messages.
– Name your file with a name followed by the date in the form of year/month/day in numbers. This will keep your files in the order of most recent to least recent.
– Have a file called “deletes” for material you delete out of your thesis. Use a medium blue font so that you can differentiate your deletes file from your regular thesis. That way, you won’t mix up the two files.
– Put “***” at the end of where you stop writing in your thesis. This way, you can readily search for it the next day to continue where you left off. Leave a memo to yourself just under the asterisks, indicating what you want to write when you resume.
– When you don’t know how to proceed, type in “Why am I stuck?” and then answer the question. Make sure you delete the text after it’s had its usefulness.
– Work on the hardest parts first thing in the morning when your energy is high. Do your writing first and then follow-up with any outstanding reading.
So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.
Single, Peg Boyle. 2010. Demystifying Dissertation Writing. Stirling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing.