Starting to write

Do I have to follow my outline?

“I think that the discussion will bring up two or three main points but you need to explain those main points, explain those main conclusions, give an argument to support those main conclusions. But the conclusion section just states those main points and doesn’t give the back-up for it. I like writing the conclusion. I like to pick out bits of the work that are absolutely fundamental because that’s the higher-order thinking. It’s not the detail. Introduction, method, discussion, that’s all detail, which is hard work, but conclusions are just main points. Of course, the abstract won’t report those two or three main conclusions. It will report what the main thrust of what those two or three main conclusions mean for the topic as a whole. Again it’s even less detail. In an abstract you can make some quite dramatic claims for your work. It’s only when they go to the discussion that they can see whether you have backed it up well. And I think the abstract should be about catching people’s attention and making it relevant to a broader area of the discipline than it really is and suggesting implications for broader issues so that you can draw as many people into the subject as possible. I’m thinking here of writing research papers, writing for journals.”

“My thesis was structured around five substantial chapters. Each chapter had an overarching theme – a bit like a pack of cards which could be shuffled as to which order I played them in. For almost the entire length of the thesis, the chapter on ‘new issues on the stock exchange’ was going to be my last chapter, and it was definitely the most difficult chapter to write. Then someone suggested putting this chapter in the middle rather than at the end. Why not end with a very strong chapter? And that’s what I did. It sounds very simple but I remember that it was a great relief at the time.”

“A synopsis is just a tool to help you, the writer, get moving on a first draft. The final structure should be chosen to help the reader. In between there may be all sorts of accidents and revisions. Sometimes, after I’ve written a first draft, I’ll note key points on white postcards and shuffle them around on the floor or a big table until I see a seemingly logical way through.”