When trying to find relevant articles to share on our Twitter feed I seem to always go back to the…
The 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.
There’s a world of knowledge out there and it all intertwines. The study of any one subject begins to touch on the boundaries of others, motivating study into the new subject. When reading and when writing, we learn new things, which could lead to feelings of treading on unfamiliar ground.
I’ve met some brilliant and hard-working people in my life in academia. I’ve met people who read articles by the bushel and books by the shelf, but I’ve never met one who had read everything worth reading. There’s too much knowledge out there for any one person to know everything there is to know and to read everything that has been written. And, of course, we recognize this; it is the motivation behind the specialization all around us. Nonetheless, it is not unusual to become paralyzed by the sense that we don’t know enough.