Here’s a signal boost for some recent writing advice I have found useful, or older posts that I’ve recently shared with my dissertation/thesis writing colleagues.
Here are notes on some of Patrick Dunleavy’s always great structuring/editing advice for papers and dissertations.
Reading, planning, starting writing
Raul Pacheco-Vega has excellent posts on planning and doing your writing and reading. They are aimed at developing academics but have use for students too. I especially like this quote in How many sources is enough? (Number one question I get from students):
How many sources should I read for my literature review?
This is an absurd question that is prompted by arbitrarily setting a random number of sources as “enough”. If you read the right five sources, you’ve probably covered a full field. But if you read 40 sources that all tend to pull in different directions, you’ll still be unable to cover all the sources.
And this too:
“When should I stop reading and start writing?”
My answer to that question is: you should be reading AND writing. Apparently, a lot of people feel like they need to Read All The Things before they can write a literature review… But you should ALWAYS be writing as you read.
In that post, there are a few links to ways to write notes and memos while reading. My own approach has been something like that too: read with the purpose of your writing in mind, and construct your own sentences that might be lifted into your writing. even if they start off descriptive, you can work on making these sentences more explanatory and analytical later.
Writing literature reviews
Wendy Bastalich’s in depth explanation of critical literature reviewing is an important reminder to go beyond describing the previous research and make it work for you.
On a similar note is Pat Thomson’s point about not just naming the authors, but using the literature to frame your own study. I call naming the authors the ‘shopping list’ approach to literature reviews. Smith said…; Jones said…; – in this, your own voice is lost and the reader knows nothing about what you think about all these sources. If you’re a student, you’re probably partly being graded on your knowledge and understanding of the issues. For all writers, it is important to build your own argument, starting from signalling what the literature offers you and how it links to your purpose – not making the reader do this work.
Analysis needs to be so much more than coding and comparing your data to the literature. It sounds really obvious to say but your results chapter must use the data to answer the research question. The number 2 question I get from students goes something like, how do I turn my qualitative data into a results chapter? When I studied my Masters at Sussex, my dissertation was supervised by Dr Alison Phipps who a little while ago wrote about taking analysis beyond the coding and organising stage to interpretation stage, to really look at what your data say, how to build theory, and what you can conclude from the data.
And back to Raul Pacheco-Vega, who has this post on the difference between analytical and descriptive writing. The number 3 question I am asked!
If you’ve reached this point, I hope there is something useful amongst these links for you!