Dissertation Guide

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How do I decide what to change?

“The rewriting is partly checking it for meaning and checking the structure, that there’s some sense of flow and the central arguments are there and they are reasonably clear and it’s in what (to my eye) looks like grammatical English and that the sentences are short. I certainly write quite long first-draft sentences but don’t worry about it any more because I know I can chop them all in half or better next time around. I try to apply some of the Plain English rules to my not-very-plain-English first drafts. That’s what I try to do.”

“Academics are always full of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ and ‘maybes’ and ‘might-well-bes’ and ‘furthermores’ and ‘we-may-see-thats’ and ‘neverthelesses’ and ‘moreovers’ and ‘on-the-one-hands’ and ‘on-the-other-hands’. They couch things in ways that imply they are nervous of their positions. Rather than stating things in positive way they will use a double-negative, because they are so scared of saying things directly.”

“Other common problems include too many irrelevant tables, too lengthy discussions, badly drawn diagrams, repetition of Methods in Discussion and so on. Most papers need a great deal of rewriting – you’d be lucky to be able to do more than one or two a week.”

“As we know, there are many forms and functions of language. The written code is one of them but there are many others. There are points where it is much easier to do it in a diagram or do it in a chart. It’s not just a convenient alternative to routinely written work but it actually crystalises for you what you’ve got to say. Diagrams and figures and all these things are often the solution. You’re wrestling with an issue and its four or five variables, and if you can begin to experiment with the shape on the page, whether it be circles, triangles, flow charts, whatever it is, at that point you have verbalised it or you’ve textualised it, you’ve re-presented it, you’ve got hold of it, and you’ve grasped it. Very often we are taught to – or we’re expected to operate – in quite narrow modes, or there are disciplinary expectations so we don’t recognise ‘Oh, I can use a diagram here.’ Or ‘This is where I really need to tease it out with lots and lots of words.’ When you recognise that, it’s a great relief, because you don’t feel that you’ve got an orchestra and yet you’re only going to play one instrument. There’s a panoply of ways of doing things. Sometimes, as we know, it’s when you get that one page with the one image diagram that you think ‘Yes, I’ve got it,’ and you’ve been sweating blood and going a dozen ways round, and often it looks the simplest and yet the most powerful thing in the world.”

“I think too many academics imagine they can turn out a book by writing at weekends, so they knock out a text and then hand it over. The second part of the process is ignored – refinement, sign-posting and clarification. Very often the material doesn’t fit together well. It has got all the parts but the transition of ideas and the stages and sequences are not easy to follow. There are structural problems.”

“I think one other thing that increased my confidence was watching my supervisor edit my work on the computer. I saw him transform my work bit by bit into something that sounded academic. My supervisor was a very logical thinker so that was very valuable. It was just his way of obtaining clarity. I’ve never really figured out the nature of the learning process that went on there – it just happened – but I know that he could make my work clear. And now I can see through his eyes. I look at my work today and try to think about it through my supervisor’s eyes. I think, ‘What would he think of this? He’d pick at that of course.’”

“Most [academic] authors have verbal diarrhoea and will ALWAYS write ‘utilise’ when they mean ‘use’ etc. There’s a misguided but all-pervasive school of thought that use of complicated words adds credence to scientific writing.”