Today’s session Welcome + Introductions SESSION ONE: Types of Writing - Presentation - Exercise One: Obstacles to Writing SESSION TWO: Case Study: Vicky’s Story - Read case study - Exercise Two: group discussion + feedback SESSION THREE: Audiences - Exercise Three: group discussion + feedback - Exercise Four: group work with writing samples + feedback
Types of Writing ‘For every research task, there’s a writing task’ Phases of Writing Diaries,notebooks, backs of envelopes ‘Free-writing’ Note-taking Literature reviews Frameworks Proposals / abstracts ‘pilot’ essays / chapters ‘Provisional’ chapters Draft chapters Edited chapters Final drafts of chapters Introductions and Conclusions Synopsis / Abstract
Types of Writing Routines for Writing Writing to supervisory deadlines ‘Incremental’ writing (small sprints of writing that accumulate) ‘Binge writing’ ‘Accretive’ writing (reading through / correcting as you go) ‘Slot’ writing
Types of Writing Modes of Writing Peripatetic writing (e.g. In cafes) Note-taking (in libraries etc) Diagram-making Computer-assisted writing utilizing downloads and cut and paste Long-hand first drafts Writing straight onto the computer from brief notes
‘Free-Writing’ Devised and developed by academic-writing gurus like Peter Elbow in the US in the 1980s; A widely-recognised technique used to address the various manifestations of ‘writer’s block’. How to do Free-Writing: Write continuously for a short, fixed period of time (e.g., 7 minutes). Write non-stop, without editing; don’t worry about grammar, punctuation or spelling but DO write in sentences; write without any audience (i.e., do not show this writing to anyone); try writing without a purpose, without a focus, allowing yourself to move from one topic to another when you want; structure is not important so you do not need to bring this writing to a conclusion at the end of 7 minutes. (Rowena Murray, University of Strathclyde)
Free-Writing Exercise In workshop situations, it’s sometimes useful to practice free-writing in response to a prompt; Have a go at some free-writing now in response to the following opening sentence: ‘The biggest obstacle I am facing in my writing right now is...’ WRITE FOR SEVEN MINUTES, FREELY, BUT IN SENTENCES IN RESPONSE TO THIS PROMPT.
Obstacles to Academic Writing Need for ‘quality’ time to write Laziness Not knowing one’s audience Confidence Getting started (‘the blank page’) Not feeling one knows enough yet External / personal pressures and distractions Fear of the supervisor /reader The size / scope of the project Not having done enough ‘research’ yet Not having a writing routine The absence of ‘hard’ deadlines Teaching commitments NOT HAVING A CLEAR RESEARCH QUESTION / HYPOTHESIS??
Solutions Keeping a notebook Practising different types of writing – e.g free-writing Learning to hand in ‘unfinished’ pieces of work to your supervisor (ie. ‘not trying to get it right first time’ – Peter Elbow, Writing with Power (1988)) Make good use of ‘hard’ deadlines! Learn to start writing even when the topic is imperfectly grasped Use writing to EXPLORE the problem / obstacle rather than solve it immediately Think of writing as a RESEARCH TOOL (not just the communication of completed ideas) Think upon writing as SKILL and a life-long process Experiment with style / voice / address Experiment with ‘free-writing’ Establish effective ROUTINES for writing DEVISE A WORKING RESEARCH QUESTION/ HYPOTHESIS EARLY ON!
The ‘research question’ or ‘hypothesis’ What is a hypothesis? A hypothesis is a speculative type of question designed to test out an idea. Dictionary definition: ‘A supposition made as basis for reasoning, without assumption of its truth’. ‘A starting point for investigation’ We need a hypothesis in order to focus our work – so that we can say not only what it on, but what it is about. We need a hypothesis or preliminary research question before we begin our secondary reading – otherwise every bit of every book in our chosen field might seem relevant! We need a hypothesis in order to engage with our chosen texts actively – without a question or hypothesis it is quite possible to read a text and forget everything about it afterwards.
SESSION TWO: Vicky’s Story Introduce Read Story Answer questions Group discussion + feedback ‘Answers’ (see handout)
Vicky’s Story: ‘Answers’ What could Vicky have done? Stopped teaching sooner Sought more explicit / immediate help from her supervisor Been more honest with herself about the extent to which she was struggling Been prepared to listen to her supervisor’s suggestions on how to shape her thesis / argument Been less ambitious with her project Taken fewer notes Thought about her project in terms of an ‘argument’ rather than a chapter plan / framework Nothing... [i.e., the experience she went through was, in fact, an unavoidable part of her apprenticeship].
Vicky’s Story: Answers Arranged for Vicky to come off teaching as soon as s/he saw how stressed it was making her Been rather less impressed by the quality of the writing / analysis and pushed Vicky more on questions and frameworks Made her stop and re-think after her second draft chapter rather than hoping that the solution would solve itself through more writing Seen sooner that a chapter plan wasn’t a substitute for an argument /thesis Intervened more with suggestions of how Vicky could develop her argument Intervened less with suggestions of how Vicky could develop her argument Been more directive, less sympathetic Been more experienced (i.e. had seen this before!) Nothing? This is Vicky’s PhD, her apprenticeship, and sometimes it’s simply necessary to learn things the hard way.
SESSION THREE: Audiences EXERCISE THREE: How many different ‘readers’ or ‘audiences’ are typically addressed in a PhD? What types of ‘address’ does each audience require? How can we negotiate multiple readers / audiences when writing our PhDs?
Audiences: ‘Answers’ Your supervisor Your PhD Examiners Specialists in your field (‘the wider academic community’) Potential publishers Student readers Non-specialists (‘the general reader’) Other PhD students Sympathetic readers Hostile readers (e.g., potential reviewers, critics) ‘Ideal’ readers (i.e., those who both know the field and are sympathetic Competitors (e.g., other academics working in the field)
Audiences EXERCISE FOUR: Read through the sample extracts from x3 PhDs quickly, focusing not on the content as such but the way in which the authors have positioned themselves in relation to their audiences; - Who is the text addressing? - What is the power dynamic between author and the audience(s)? - What is the power dynamic between the author and her primary / secondary sources? DISCUSS IN YOUR GROUPS WHEN READY
Audiences: ‘Answers’ Mike Greaney Remarkably confident and assured for a PhD student Appears to be writing for his peers / experts in the field rather than either his supervisor or his examiners Not obviously a piece of student writing or a PhD Elegant but quite colloquial writing style: reads easily. Dismisses other critics / commentators with remarkable confidence. Possibly over-confident / casual in the way in which others are dismissed (e.g. Ian Watt!) Stylistic cues signal confidence – e.g., use of word ‘clearly’ to enforce argument / point of view No obvious tension between different audiences No visible pandering to examiners
Audiences: ‘Answers’ Sally Bushell A rather more ‘defensive’ piece of writing (though this is the ‘Introduction’ rather than the conclusion). The examiners are very present in Bushell’s extract (as are other experts in the field) The discussion focuses on all the things the PhD isn’t going to do – presumably to pre-empt criticism / attack The tone is nevertheless confident and authoritative
Audiences: ‘Answers’ Linguistics PhD # 1 The extract reveals the student to be defensive – perhaps even apologetic? – about all that his / her thesis hasn’t done The extract has far less visible confidence / authority than the Bushell and Greaney extracts The text engages with experts in the field, but rather more in the sense of a literature review; there is less sense of the author taking her place amongst them as an equal, even though s/he identifies the contribution the thesis has made The reference to future research could, in this case, be read as a sign of lack of confidence in the present thesis
Final Words There is evidently no single, ‘correct’ way of writing a PhD thesis or developing your skills Some floundering and ‘wrong directions’ are an unavoidable feature of research – and true learning Evidence nevertheless suggests that as long as you keep writing –regularly – your skills and confidence (empowerment) will improve Learn to make the most of the different types of writing associated with PhD research (notes, literature review, diaries as well as chapters) Learn to share your work with supervisors and friends in an ‘unfinished’ state Identify some friends / colleagues as ‘sympathetic readers’ with whom you can share your work before you show it to your supervisor (you might even form a thesis writing group) Remember that writing is a ‘means’ and well as an ‘end’: think of it as a tool to help you conduct your research as well as the means of presenting it to your examiners – and the world!