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Stuck? Write about your ‘stuckness’

Getting the Best of Your DissertationA good writing practice is the foundation of good writing. A good practice is built on regular action, and depends on the ideas or perspectives that lead to effective action. When faced with a large writing project, it is important to keep working and to keep writing when stuck. The more regular the practice, the more effective it will be. One way to keep writing is to have something to write about when you’re stuck.

The following is a slightly edited excerpt from my book, Getting the Best of Your Dissertation: Practical Perspectives for Effective Research:

If you’re stuck, write about it

If you’re ever wondering what to do next, and this uncertainty is keeping you from making progress, write about it. Write down what you’re thinking about. Write down the problems you face. Write down things that you could do. Write about what you do want to do, and why. Write about what you don’t want to do, and why. If you’re having conceptual difficulties in your work, practice writing them down.

Some of the questions you could address:

  • What are you stuck on?
  • What is the main issue?
  • What is one specific problem you’re faced with?
  • What are possible approaches to that problem?

These questions can be applied in almost any situation. Can’t decide which book or article to read? Write about the works that you’re considering—what’s good about them? What’s bad? What parts of it agree with the work you’ve already done? If you do this, you’ll have a written record of the book that you may be able to use later, but more importantly it will help you focus your attention on possible next steps with respect to that work.

When you’re stuck, writing about your “stuckness” is a warmup practice: it helps you find ideas and get moving without any of the pressure to get things right. The point is not to create something that you share with others, so don’t worry about its quality or what others would think of it. Use it to tease out different possibilities and find useful steps that could move your dissertation forward. Such writing has the added benefit of practicing writing and helping you develop your writing skill.

Dave HarrisDave Harris, Ph.D. seeks clarity in thought and expression. As a coach, he helps writers develop a good relationship with their research writing and a successful writing practice. As an editor, he helps writers develop, focus, and finish the written presentation of research. He is author of Getting the Best of Your Dissertation (Thought Clearing, 2015) and second author with Jean-Pierre Protzen of The Universe of Design: Horst Rittel’s Theories of Design and Planning (Routledge, 2010). Dave can be found on the web at

The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of the Textbook & Academic Authors Association. Read more about TAA guest posts here.