When writing your dissertation, look at it from several perspectives

writingThe project is not the subject. The project is not the thesis. Whether you are writing your dissertation, a journal article, or a book, the project is not simply the thesis. When I ask people about their projects the answer I get is always (or almost always) the subject of the project. Sometimes I ask specific questions like “what kind of project? Is it a dissertation? A thesis?” And still the answer I get is the subject of the project. But your project is not just about a subject; it has a certain form. It is a journal article, a dissertation, a book. It has a certain intention—to share a discovery, to support a position, to instruct others. It is aimed at a certain audience—peers, or students, or educated lay people.

If you can see that form, and understand how that form relates to the work you’re trying to accomplish, then the writing process becomes much easier: it’s less a shot in the dark, and more a purposeful action. [Read more…]

Punctuation, other stylistic rules: obstacle or opportunity?

Punctuation, and other stylistic rules, with all their exceptions and apparently arbitrary forms, can seem like a massive obstacle to writing. If you’re unsure of punctuation (which is reasonable, given all the conflicting opinions on punctuation), the rules are more than a nuisance; they conspire to break into the writerly flow with their demands for figuring out, for example, where to put a comma. Punctuation and other rules are enemies to many writers. Certainly most of us don’t enjoy reading Strunk and White or the massive style manuals that define proper writing style in many academic fields.

But if you think of writing differently—not from the perspective of getting it all down on paper, but from the perspective of reaching interested readers—then these take on a different appearance; punctuation affects meaning and interpretation; to a lesser extent other stylistic elements do, too. And the meaning that the reader can gather is one of a writer’s main concerns. [Read more…]

13-Step checklist for submitting dissertation, journal article

checklistIt may be intimidating to have to turn in a paper according to a specific set of style guidelines, but if you just follow a step-by-step process it’s not all that difficult. Here’s a basic checklist of the fundamental issues. It’s just a starting point, but check it against your style guidelines and you should be set. Style manuals are hundreds of pages; universities and journals often have additional specific requirements. But don’t be intimidated. There’s a lot of detail that you probably won’t face. This list is primarily aimed at dissertation writers, but the principles are the same for journals. [Read more…]