Dissertation Guide

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When do I use tables or graphs?

“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, where 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.”

“Vernon Booth, in his book on effective scientific writing, suggests that you construct your tables of results first and then write around them. Some people do it the other way round – they write their conclusions and then go looking for the detail. I have one friend who uses the expression ‘I’ll write it without the data’; she lays out the skeletal tables as part of her outline, even before she has started to collect the data. This has the advantage of making sure you don’t collect too much information or too little, and that all the data can be analysed.”

“Very often we are taught to operate – 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 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. It’s as though; “‘Isn’t that obvious?’””