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Writing - getting 'unstuck'
Transcript of Writing - getting 'unstuck'
Dr Inger Mewburn
Research Fellow in
The School of Graduate Research
Twitter: @thesiswhisperer and what you can do about it Writing a thesis can feel a bit like this... No wonder we can feel 'stuck' sometimes... Emotions Voice Time Elation when you realise you know more than your supervisor about your topic and you feel brave enough to argue about it
Fear of being ‘found out’ as fraud, not really knowing enough/being smart enough to be Phd student
Unexpected admiration of your own writing
The “I’m a genius Why hasn’t anybody thought to do that before?” moment before people point out the obscure paper you’ve not read
Misplaced smugness after photocopying/downloading loads of stuff but not actually reading it
Thanks to Dr Tony Chalkey of RMIT for use of this image "I'm terrorised by the literature" Here's two emotions which can get you into Big Trouble with your writing Are you in denial? The emotions you feel might not even have names... they just feel like this "Hang on, that's interesting..." Most people will tell you that your 'stuck' problem is a tendency to procrastinate or lack of time management. I'm not so sure... read this: "Scholars learn to fear the literature in graduate school. I remember Professor Louis Wirth, one of the distinguished members of the Chicago school putting Erving Goffman, then a fellow graduate student of mine, in his place with the literature gambit. It was just what we all feared... Goffman challenged him in class with quotations from Percy Bridgerman's book ... Wirth smiled and asked sadistically, "Which edition is that Mr Goffman?". Maybe there was an important difference between editions, though none of us believed that. We thought, instead, that we'd better be careful about the literature or They Could Get You. "They" included not only teachers but peers, who might welcome an opportunity to show how well they knew the literature at your expense." Becker, H (2006) "Writing for Social Scientists" Here's three aspects to think about
(and some ideas for things you can do) Explore my prezi by clicking on anything to view it up close, or follow the path I have set you by using the forward arrow The problem with The Literature is.... There's just so much of it... How do you decide what to use? Goffman is one of the most famous sociologists of all time by the way
Kamler and Thomson (2006) suggest you think about it like a dinner party. You only have 6 places - who would you invite? How would you introduce them to each other? Someone once said: "A university is like a lot of warring cities, united by a common parking problem".
The warfare is mostly polite - especially so in writing. Which is why this metaphor works so well.
http://thethesiswhisperer.wordpress.com/2010/11/01/the-stegosaurus-strategy/ Here is a list of "new emotions" made possible by doing a PhD (compiled by PhD students talking on Twitter) "... even when you think you are Dr Spock, you are probably being Captain Kirk" (JM Kosky, librarian extrodinaire) One explanation I hear bandied about is that PhD students somehow have unique problems because of the kind of people they are: they are ‘bad communicators’, ‘think too abstractly’, ‘can’t write’ or ‘can’t project manage’. Use something like www.evernote.com
Implement Peg Boyle Single's '24 hour' rule
Have 'dark' periods (turn off the feeds)
...any other ideas? This is usually rubbish The good thing about researchers is they are easily fascinated by unexplained things. They want to KNOW - "why?" But this curiostiy has to be channelled properly.
It can easily get out of control Our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses... It's a balancing act... You want a variety of guests at the table or the conversation will be boring... Which academics would fill each of these roles?
Wise old mentors
Young, hip and interesting
Opinionated activist type
The person no one will want to talk to? You probably have a lot going on your life "I am a laser sharp thinker" PhD students are intelligent. They get used to using this intelligence to analyse arguments and look for flaws... The dark side of being intelligent creeps in when you start to turn this analytical power onto your own arguments and ideas... and cut your own head off with your scholarly light saber. If you edit as you write you may find yourself questioning your ideas too much.
Howard Becker suggests that you learn to "write as fast as you can, not as well as you can" What is your 'call to action'?
What will your thesis enable us to do? I want you to write for 5 minutes on this: Don't stop. Let your pen lead your brain. If you can't think of a word use another/different/other one using slashes to separate them. Or write 'blank' as a place holder. If you are stuck for what to say write: "I don't know what to say... what don't I know what to say". The point is to loosen up and just create. "I want to sound like they do" Your thesis text is like an Avatar. It 'speaks' for you when you are not present. Kamler and Thomson (2006) recommend 'scaffolding' "Colleges and universities, pretending to be communities of intellectuals who discuss matters of common interest freely and disinterestedly, are no such thing. Professors know more, have degrees to prove it, test students and grade their papers, and in every imaginable way sit on top of the heap while students stand at the bottom. Some resent the inequality , but intelligent students who hope to be intellectuals themselves accept it wholeheartedly"
Howard Becker (2006) "Writing for social Scientists" We have shared ways of talking for a reason
According to Becker, everyone develops an 'academic accent' which enables us to be understood by others in our 'tribe' But is it really 'you'? consider this "The literature examining graduate attributes remains unclear regarding their value to work within and outside of the university context. The current article sought clarity through a quantitative analysis of the relationship between self-perceptions of PhD-related graduate attribute acquisition and both objective (e.g. productivity) and subjective outcomes (i.e. evaluations of PhD experience). The perceived acquisition of graduate attributes was related to post-PhD productivity and subjective evaluations, but not duration of PhD study, productivity during PhD study, time seeking employment post-PhD or current gross salary. Perceptions of supervisor support, as well as a variety of demographic variables, were also related to several of the current outcome measures. Overall, the results speak to the role that university graduate education has in providing for the development of attributes that can be successfully brought to fruition in post-graduation employment through enhanced productivity."
By removing the words specific to the data you can reveal the underlying structure and plug in your own words. Is this plagairism? No. "Abstract from PhD experience and subsequent outcomes: a look at self-perceptions of acquired graduate attributes and supervisor support "Studies in Higher Education. 26 April 2011 by Michael J. Platowa Here's two techniques You have been 'socialised' Is this a 'bad' thing? To become a doctor in the 15th century, you just had to know everything.... The candidate used to have to answer challenges from the audience in the presence of some authority figures (luckily 'everything' was just what was in the bible) Then printing was invented... I mean, academia is competitive ...we are not holding hands and skipping through a field of these Scholarly ideas started to be shared in text instead of in person A certain amount of conformity is necessary Rowena Murray suggests writing to prompts: My research question is... (50 words)
Researchers who have looked at this subject are... (50)
They argue that... (25) Smith argues that... (25), Brown argues that... (25)
Debate centres on the issue of... (25)
There is still work to be done on... (25 words)
My research is closest to that of (x) in that... (50 words)
My contribution will be... (50 words) "I want to argue like they do" This is on page 96 of her book "How to write a thesis" (2002) It's easy to get side tracked.
Avoid your 'triggers' Here's two ways to beat the 'not enough time' gremlin It's no wonder that you feel like this sometimes Have some rules about 'other stuff': Hi. My name is inger, and I have a curiosity problem... Controlling your curiosity is a bit like controlling your eating
Knowing 'what to do' is only going to help you so far. Another way to loosen up is to draw your ideas
A spider diagram is a good technique
Start with one bubble and draw 3 'legs'
Place related concepts in these bubbles
Then draw more 'legs'
This allows you to see relations between concepts Step one: spend less time at your desk
Step Two: remember the two hour rule
Step Four: start in the middle
Step Four: Write as fast as you can, not as well as you can
Step Five: leave it to rest… then re-write
Full instructions here: http://thethesiswhisperer.wordpress.com/2011/03/24/how-to-write-1000-words-a-day-and-not-go-bat-shit-crazy/ How to write 1000 words a day Part time student? No problem
You can adapt this plan to suit your time table. If you have to do your writing after work, pick a time to start and commit to an hour. If you are hating it after that, stop. “Novelists and poets are the landscape artists and portrait painters; academic writers are the people with the big paint sprayers who repaint your basement”
(Paul Silva, "How to write a lot") Half the trick is to get it on the page