PhD thesis into a book chapter. Mission impossible?

For some time, I need to write a book chapter based on my PhD proposal. Thinking how there won’t be ‘so much work’, as I have already done the major, big work, I left it to the last moment. And then… I started working on it. What a surprise!? It is much, much harder than I thought. I realised that I’m not even sure that I have enough material, although I need to put 20,000 words into 7,000. Mathematically speaking, there should be more than enough material. However, I was wrong.

I don’t want to write a lot about the difference between writing for a book chapter or PhD thesis. There are plenty of literature around there (check especially Pat Thomson’s blogs) which can give valuable, professional insights into writing for different genres and audiences.

I only want to share my experience of being easily deceived in my own thinking of ‘will do it easily’. Well, it’s not easy and, after realising it, I was postponing the act of writing for some time. Maybe I was waiting ‘for an inspiration’, although I know that the only way to get inspired, in this case is to sit down and start writing. At least, to start deleting irrelevant parts of my thesis and feel comforted about having some letters on the screen.

And now… The hard thing starts: adding new material, editing, making it completely different. At the end, PhD thesis and a book chapter are completely different, no matter how similar ideas they present.

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Unique writing

 

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The writer’s voice is how position yourself in the text that you write. It’s how you make your writing unique and it’s how you convey your own ideas and interpretations on what you have read. (Blog www.literaturereviewhq.com)

I’ve just read this small passage about the writer’s voice on the blog, after spending a morning reading The Thesis Whisperer  blog about writing and tips for getting started and keeping yourself motivated. This is exactly what I need now – to keep myself motivated to do my Literature Review. I have started last week and it was going well, however, then I stopped and now – I need to get back on track.

Also, I realised this might be a good opportunity for freewriting and actually, working with my reflexivity. How is my voice as an author? I could say it is pretty weak – I feel that I take things for granted – I take other scholarly text, as it is so – it is the way they said so. I know it is kind of a ‘wrong’ approach, as I need to be critical on their work. However, even citing their work in my paper is already part of critical thinking, so I can still comfort myself thinking that I am in line with the academic requirements. Not that I care so much about the academic requirements, but I do care for making a good research. That’s why this sentence ‘how you make your writing unique and it’s how you convey your own ideas and interpretations on what you have read’ struck me. Do I really interpret everything I read? How?

 

I am not so sure about that. When I am reading academic work, I put down interesting quotes – citations I think say something important to my work what I might use later in the paper, connecting with my points. Does it count as interpretation? Actually, I think it is only ‘cut and paste’ easy-to-do technique. I haven’t found myself writing sentences, or paragraphs after these citations, about how I might use it in my research, what are my thoughts about it, how does it fit or opposes my research in this moment, etc. Somehow it seems that I should be doing it. Pat Thomson suggested that (as far as I remember, but can’t find the exact blog post now). Well, I can have the approach of ‘if Pat Thomson says so, than I must do it – as it will produce something good. However, thinking of interpretation of text, I really wonder how other PhDs are doing it – what are these thought that they put on, how can I know will they be relevant for the research? Or, on the other hand, is that exactly what reflexivity is about? I will definitely need to explore that interpretation much more.

 

But I also wonder – is the interpretation of other texts what I actually need to put my ideas across in the paragraph – chapter – paper? Does it work in the way that I can cite someone, then say my opinion about it, and perhaps even my idea, that finally – that all together forms a scholarly text? If I analyse academic writing now – that could be what it is all about!

 

Another thing that stroke me in the initial quote is ‘how you make your writing unique’.  Well, I’ve already heard it many times before – I swear! However, was I thinking about it actually? How is my writing unique? Firstly what comes to my mind is the Introduction section in every paper/essay I have written so far. I always position myself in the context, field, and provide reasons for this research. However, now I feel something’s telling me – that is not unique writing! Everyone will do it. Of course, it will always read differently as we are different, have our won research stories and backgrounds to tell and obviously, our research differ. So what is it then unique about my writing? So far I was thinking about it (not too much, I need to say) as writing my voice in the research, as writing in first person, etc. But – ‘I can see clearly now’ – that’s not unique about my writing?

Well, then what is it??

I am really keen to know how can we be unique in our writing. Is it the layout I use usually in formatting, or colours of my headings? Probably not. I think it could also be the way I start or structure my section. I usually  finish with some semi-conclusion or summary, but that is also more to do with the structure then with my uniqueness of writing. I seriously need to figure that one out!

 

I know, you might say ‘Join the club!’

 

But I ask you ‘Any ideas?’

 

https://patthomson.wordpress.com/

http://thesiswhisperer.com/

www.literaturereviewhq.com

 

Two exercises to help you with your writing life

It is so interested how I also like reading about writing. A lot. I’m reading about writing much, much more than I’m actually writing. It’s actually my favourite and most useful way of procrastination, thinking that at least, I have done something ‘useful’ if there were not letters on the screen….

The Thesis Whisperer

I love books on writing. I have many, many books on the subject, but I continue to buy more because, well – I simply can’t resist them. Just as it’s more relaxing to watch people cook and do gardening on the TV, often reading about writing is so much nicer than actually doing it.

to do listOne of the reasons reading books about writing is so much fun is that they often include writing exercises. I LOVE reading about writing exercises even more than I love reading about grammar and sentence structure, despite the fact that I rarely, if ever, voluntarily sit down to do one myself.

I will, however, happily do a writing exercise in a large group setting and enjoy every second of it. I am sure I am not alone in this. The most insanely popular writing workshop we run ANU is the Thesis Bootcamp, an idea we imported…

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Academic (non)writing

Being in this PhD journey for the last nine months, I’ve learnt a lesson about writing procrastination. That’s one of these ‘everybody does it’ things among PhD students. You know that you need to write the journal, or the report, but you also know that ‘there is time for that’, as you are supposed to have more relaxed deadlines in working independently.

How helpful are the deadlines for you?

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I think that I wouldn’t produce any written material without setting deadlines. Most recent, for example, is the writing of my report. I set the deadline for submitting the first draft last week, and guess what? I’ve only started my writing last week. It is so typical of me. Somehow, I simply cannot function without deadlines and I need to do things (or, at least, start doing things) in the last moment. Only when the timing is tight can I actually feel the adrenalin and get the required energy to embark on the writing process.

You might say it is a wrong approach, and I would agree with you. It is certainly not the best one. However, it is the only one I have now. Trust me, I know all about the scheduling writing times every day to keep up with writing, to approach writing as the crucial part of PhD journey, as writing is thinking, ……. I know it all. I mean, I read about it all. And realised it is a good approach. Only – doesn’t work for me.

I suppose it is because I’ve been always doing things in the last moment. Not in terms of enjoying life and being lazy before the ‘last moment’, but I was always a ‘busy bee’, doing so many things that ‘last moment’ for me was lasting continuously, as there was always something to be done.

I just wonder – is it a personality trait or only a habit that can be directed into new direction?

PhD world out there – what are your recipes for writing tasks and how you deal with it? I’d like to hear some new ideas.

In the meanwhile, find many great resources on the amazing blog by my academic hero, Pat Thomson.

https://patthomson.wordpress.com/

Literature Review, or a Dinner Party?

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The most daunting and difficult part of writing an essay, thesis or PhD dissertation is definitely Literature(s) Review. No matter how many books I have read on the topic of  “How to write a literature review”, and assuring myself that I know the process, I know how it works and how to deal with it, still, get going and writing down seems like quantum physics sometimes.

Recently I have heard an amazing metaphor about literature review – dinner party. Literature review is like a dinner party where you, as a writer, are a host and other writers (scholars) are your guests. You are the one to decide whom to invite on the dinner table, and whom to omit. You are placing the name tags for your guests on particular seats, closer to you or further from you, depending on their relevance to your study. You are the one to choose how long will you have a chat with particular guests and how much time will you devote to them. There is no right or wrong way of hosting – it is your dinner party and only you decide about everything really.

Although a great metaphor, still, it doesn’t put the words down on a paper. Now when we know what is a good approach to structure the Review, it would be good to hear more about the actual process of writing.

There is good news! Your Literature Review doesn’t need to start with looking at a blank word document in front of you, trying to type your first words. Usually, these first words are the most difficult ones to write.  There seems to be so many things you need to say that it is difficult to find the ‘proper’ starting words or order. Or else, when you think you have just spotted a good starting word, you start editing and changing it into another words, and after couple of minutes of writing and editing – you just delete it all. And again look at the blank screen in front of you. Sounds familiar? No matter of the way you work, getting started is a daunting process. Unless you are that talented geek who can just sit down in front of the computer and write hundreds of words that actually have academic value. Lucky you.

For the rest of us, who need to write because of the deadlines and the sake of research (not because of the pleasure of creatively writing academic literature), there is a way to get going. That’s the reason why Literature Review should start much before we actually decide to write it down. It starts with reading. Academic reading. That is not any kind of bedtime reading, or interesting reading material for coffee or leisure time. Academic reading is active reading followed with writing down your notes in a word document (presumably you’re using computer and not a manuscript paper). Yes, academic reading actually means writing. As you come across some interesting quotes, ideas, definition, finding or research agenda in the paper you are reading, it is very useful to copy paste it to your document, with reference. I think of purely copy paste, without adding your opinion or without paraphrasing. Although many might disagree with me, I would say it is a better solution, instead of writing down your opinion, thoughts and paraphrases, which may cause confusion later and getting the core argument of the source, and it relation to your study. In that way, after reading around 20 different sources, you already have a good material written down.  By that point you already know what is your current body of research and you are thinking how it might inform your study and help you frame your research question(s).

Finally, when you decide to get going with writing of your literature review, at least you already have substantial material written down. Of course, you won’t copy paste it to your draft, but it will be much more easier to start your actual writing by looking at some text on the screen instead of a blank document. Also, having notes can help you enormously with structuring your review. Through reading of your notes, you might find useful to categorize and group certain studies into one title or subtitle. Following that ‘coding’` process you will soon have some categories that might become subheadings for your review. And that is the good way to start writing. In other words, literature review is all about classifying relevant studies, grouping them together and exploring their relation to your own research and contradictory studies.

Remember:

  1. You are the host of your Literature Review Dinner party – you choose!
  2. Writing down literature review starts with active reading and writing
  3. Code you literature notes and classify them into categories
  4. Having done all of the above, you are ready for the actual ‘thinking and writing process’

Or, at least you can warm up a bit and write a blog post – for your motivation.