Write harder: How to write a doctoral thesis 2

One of the nicest things about re-running a previous event for the Research Hive is the mix of old and new issues raised by the audience.

On Wednesday 28 June, the Research Hive ran a repeat session of the Writing a Doctoral Thesis drop-in discussion after the original session had generated such a high level of interest.

This event brought a brand new group of researchers alongside Craig and Chris (2 of the Hive Scholars) to discuss their issues and solutions to writing your thesis. 80,000 words can feel either tiny or infinite depending on your mood and productivity on any given day and it should come as no surprise that doctoral researchers often encounter a variety of obstacles and issues when tackling it.

What the latest writing discussion has proven is that there are several common issues but that they affect researchers in different ways. Problems such as writing in an ‘academic’ way, organising your material to avoid feeling lost by your research results and when to stop re-writing or editing are fairly familiar conundrums to most researchers.

The interest here came in the different ways some of these manifest themselves and the different solutions researchers have discovered in combatting them.

Writing in an appropriate ‘academic’ way without becoming staid or dull is a problem that confronts many of us, but what about those whose first language is built around long sentences and who now find themselves being encouraged to write in much shorter statements. Do you think you can adequately sum up everything you research in sentences of no more than 6 words even in your natural language? Give it a try; I’ll wait. Not easy is it? This issue of writing academically had been raised at the previous session but in that case it had been a researcher who wanted to try and take their shorter statements and stretch them out into a more recognised intellectual form. Same problem but two researchers coming at it from completely different directions.

We like to make it clear at the start of each session that as Hive Scholars we can’t actually offer correct answers to the problems as there are often better ways of working for one person and another. But through offering a relaxed group setting for doctoral researchers we can attempt to offer each other our own hints and tips. In the above case the audience suggested writing in a manner which the researcher found most comfortable and then, once they have their ideas on paper they can start editing it down into fewer words if needed.

One of the recurring topics of discussion in both sessions has been knowing when to stop writing or editing a piece. Both groups recommended that discussion with your doctoral supervisor can play a big role here but there was also room for peer review and discussion. Several departments and schools within the university have sessions where doctoral researchers examine elements of each others work and can deliver feedback. Obviously the group members will have different specialist areas but all are able to discuss in general terms the process of writing and whether a chapter or a paper holds together.

And maybe if you want to test your own writing try either stretching or shortening your own sentences for a period of time. You never know what skills you might pick up.

The benefits of sharing your ideas and problems (somewhere between a discussion group and a therapy session) have been reiterated by our participants in their feedback again and again. So why not give it a go? Share the pain and the tips of doctoral research.  One way you might want to do this is through the new coffee collaboration vouchers which are now on offer in the Hive – just approach a Hive scholar with the colleague(s) you want to share coffee with and the Hive Scholar can give you a voucher worth £5 for a limited period.


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