Should I blog about my studies? Some thoughts…

Perhaps the first port of call to ask these questions should be your supervisor(s)? They will be aware of assessment criteria for your programme and the codes of conduct for the University. Or maybe you’ve already been provided with these?Read More »

A new tartan

“Sumo” flickr photo by Better Than Bacon shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

As thesis drafting has increasingly occupied my time, posts on here have become noticeably less frequent. I must confess that I’ve been finding it realllly tough going! I can knock out a 1000 word blog post in three hours or so, but the same amount of time is often only delivering a tenth that towards my thesis. I suspect that’s because I’ve elected to start with (WARNING: the following terms will not survive through to the final thesis!) a discussion of the literature, the theoretical framing and the methodological approach. All sections draw heavily from the literature so when you’re constructing an argument, you need to pull together the ideas expressed by a number of authors. Although I (usually) know the arguments I want to make, finding the references within the literature is incredibly time consuming. Clearly the notes I made during the earlier stages of my research weren’t up to the job and I now begin to see why some doctoral programmes require you to produce literature reviews very early. I must confess though, that I was in no position 12 to 18 months ago to do that. I’ve only recently begun to feel capable of writing about actor-network theory, sociomaterial approaches and other poststructural and new materialist ways of thinking. For me, there was no shortcut to getting some sense of understanding; it simply needed time for me to grapple and wrestle, to chew and chomp, masticate and munch.Read More »

But it’s only 300 words”

flickr photo by Chrispl57 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

I’ve spent a substantial part of this weekend writing less than three hundred words … and I’m still not happy.

In addition to the report I need to produce as part of the Confirmation of Candidature process (more to come on that!), I also need to give a verbal report. Usually this is in the form of a presentation to a small group composed of your supervisory team and a rapporteur, followed by a Q&A. A mini viva in effect. My supervisor asked if I’d prefer to do a seminar; much the same format, but invitations would be extended more widely within the Institute. That seemed like a good opportunity to speak to a wider audience, perhaps people I’ve not met before, and possibly attract a wider range of feedback. So I went for it.

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Slipping standards

I’d like to apologise for my last post; in fact for a number of posts in this, my new blog. I know that my writing has been slipping recently; it has lacked clarity, flow, conciseness and precision. Consequently I’ve been trying to; a) figure out why and b) how to resolve it.

Last night I was sifting through a few resources I thought might be of general use as my studies unfold, but one seemed particularly relevant:

(You can view or download the video and presentation at JCU by clicking on the image )
(You can view or download the video and presentation at JCU by clicking on the image )

Some of it is more pertinent when writing the whole thesis, but much of it speaks to any form of writing.

Writing with clarity is the key message with which the presentation opens and underpins the approach you should adopt. To do that, you need to constantly keep in mind your audience, or as Dr Tynan suggests, your ‘archetypal reader.’ Imagine yourself reading your writing through their eyes and with their purpose. This was an issue for me from the start of this new blog; a question I only partly answered by choosing to write as a source of reference to which I could later return. Having no other reader in mind made me sloppy; less fastidious. Clarity can slip away when you use long sentences, complex grammar, abstraction or ambiguity. Your reader will struggle because you’re forcing them to interpret your writing, rather than allowing them the pleasure of following your ideas.

Better writing starts then by establishing what the reader needs to know, then drawing up an outline to provide the overarching structure. Paragraphs are the building blocks to construct your essay, with each constituting a ‘unit of thought’ in which you introduce, discuss and elaborate a point. Opening with a ‘theme’ sentence provides a signpost for the reader and introduces your main argument to which subsequent sentences can refer back. In academic writing we often see sentences opening with author’s names, however, it is much better to start with a strong keyword, thereby providing another way to help your reader absorb your message. So we’re seeking coherence in our writing, where paragraphs and the sentences within them are arranged logically to develop arguments in an understandable way for the reader.

So do my previous posts fail to follow the advice that Dr Tynan provides? I’m afraid in many cases that they do, especially the ones where I’m attempting to summarise the contents of a book in a single post. I’m particularly guilty of using abstraction; possibly because that’s what author(s) did and I failed to turn that into meaningful, concrete ideas. I also feel that I’ve not always achieved a coherent structure and flow, perhaps as a result of trying to cram in cherry-picked details, rather than aiming for my interpretations of the big picture. (Was that just another abstraction?).

Readability may not highlight all the issues for a piece of writing, but it does provide a few measures of  the impact your writing might have on readers. I turned then to two online tools1 for assessing writing and pasted in both my last post and this one, to see if I’ve been able to bring about any improvements. The news is good; the average word length, sentence length and particularly readability have all improved. Whether my message has been conveyed with greater clarity is perhaps for you the reader to judge, but you’ve been in my head the whole while.

1Analyse My Writing and the Hemingway Editor