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Writing is Thinking: Why It Should Be Integrated Early in the Process of Earning Your PhD

One discussion during a November 2023 TAA Conversation Circle on Writing a Dissertation centered on why writing should be integrated early in the process of earning a doctorate. Three academics who have earned their doctorates weighed in. Here are their thoughts.

Dr. Vernetta K. Mosley, a consultant and writing coach with Cultivate the Writer, explains that in her experience, students in non-writing intensive PhD programs tend to wait until the very end of the program to focus on writing, when it should be part of the process from the beginning.

“It’s such a developmental process to master the genre of academic writing that under that time crunch and that pressure of having to produce, the learning curve is so steep that it can be difficult to help them to get up to speed,” she says. “Obviously, they know their disciplines very well and they most often have a clear research study, but really helping them to meet the standards of academic writing at a late stage can be a huge challenge.”

Dr. DeRome Osmond Dunn, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at North Carolina A&T University, said writing should be part of the learning process and happen all along the way. “It’s a chance to reflect, and I found that when I started writing, when I started making my charts, graphs and visuals, thoughts came to mind about certain things I could do or things that I didn’t need to do,” he says. “So that reflection process incorporated by writing should happen early on. It shouldn’t be that you do all the work and then you sit down and write. It should be continuous. We learn that in engineering everything is iterative. That’s part of the solution process. If you don’t iteratively include the writing into your work, you’re missing out on doing great work.”

Following up on Prof. Dunn’s statement, writing coach and editor Dr. Dave Harris, with Thought Clearing, said: “What we’re really doing as researchers, is we’re trying to think. Often people say, ‘Well, I’ll do the thinking, I’ll do the research, and then I’ll write later,’ but writing, as DeRome suggested, is a tool that helps you think better. When you try and write it down, it forces you to think through things.”