At the beginning of January I opened a word document and started to write my dissertation. I hadn’t collected a single participant and am probably a couple years away from defending my thesis. That being said, it felt good to start writing and here are seven reasons why you should be writing as soon as you begin anything related to your thesis collection:

Methods sections are easy to write when your brain is fried. You might already have a methods layout from your proposal, but there were probably changes as you started to collect data, so keep this updated as you go. That way, you are still moving forward. The same goes for reporting any equipment tests that are done prior to collecting any participants.

You sit around waiting for your computer to process data. This is a perfect time to do some thesis writing. Think of it as a way of pseudo multi-tasking.

New literature is being published all the time. Like I mentioned in my first GradHacker post on maintaining literature reviews, journal articles are constantly being published on topics related to your field (or all too related) so be sure to keep adding to your literature review as you go.

Spread your writing out. At one point or another you may have shuddered at the thought of writing. Well, yes, maybe you don’t enjoy writing, but I think you’re going to enjoy writing as you go in smaller chunks then doing it all at once near the end of your degree. There is a lot to write and leaving it in one chunk at the end may not be great for your motivation.

Save more time for editing at the end. When writing my proposal I had no idea how much time I would spend editing. If you use some of these freeform writing styles (no editing as you go) the review process will take a long time.

There are standard items that need to be included in all documents. Your university has a standard document format that you must follow for your thesis document. Create this document, especially your title page, and use it for…

MOTIVATION! There is a document at the end of this that will be completed and you are working on it right now! By writing as you go, you can keep your eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how dim it may be. The advice that Peg Boyle Single gave in her book Demystifying Dissertation Writing (one of Five Great Reads for Grad Students) was to print off your title page, post it in your workspace, and use it for motivation as a reminder about your final goal for the dissertation.

Have you been keeping up on writing parts of your dissertation throughout your data collection or have you found it difficult to manage? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

[Image taken by Flickr user NicoleAbalde and used under the Creative Commons License]

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2 Responses to 7 Reasons to Write from the Start

  1. Rhiannon Mosher says:

    Thank you Kaitlin, for outlining a number of reasons to start writing the dissertation. Your piece was brought to my attention by a fellow doctoral student in the Anthropology Department at York University. After reading your reasons to start writing early, I couldn’t help but feel while yours is good advice, it is also very discipline-specific. With reference to my own work and experiences in social anthropology, I hope that my response will open up this dialogue a little further across the disciplines.

    To echo your main point, it is good advice to keep up the practice of writing on a daily basis, perhaps even before you feel that you might have anything to really write about. If nothing else, it is a good habit to develop for when one finally does have something to write up. However, coming from the perspective of qualitative social science, not all of the reasons or suggestions for writing every day ring true across the disciplines. For instance, one can certainly maintain an ongoing dialogue with the literature that’s out there (which may help how you approach your methodology). This is likely to be true across all disciplines. However, how we collect our data, process it, and even how we frame it in our dissertations can vary widely across disciplines.

    Early drafts of one’s methodology section (for use beyond the proposal stage) simply aren’t likely to make it into the final draft in a field like sociocultural anthropology. The methodologies used in data collection in qualitative social sciences like anthropology do not move linearly, but cyclically through a feedback loop, with new data gathered continuously informing and shifting our research projects. Although we can predict some aspects of our methodological approach in advance (e.g. relying on semi-structured interviews or participant-observation), often what we find, who we recruit as research participants, and even what sites we choose to focus on are not known with certainty before beginning our research. These unanticipated research problems can require us to adopt unanticipated approaches to how we gather our data. Such changes, may also require us to return to the literature, or to explore literature we hadn’t thought would be relevant before beginning our data collection. What we learn through doing our research also changes our understanding of the literature we’ve already read, requiring us to return to it after conducting our research.

    With this said, the advice of writing early, and on a daily basis is good advice regardless of our field of study. We should be writing everyday, but not necessarily because it will save us time in revision later in the degree. It can help us to think through problems, and to keep us motivated. Early drafts help us to track our development as scholars, and discarding those (many, many files’ worth of) drafts helps us to understand that writing is itself a process of refining and honing our skills and analysis.

  2. I wish I had read this a year ago when I first started my PhD! I spent the first 8 months JUST reading and taking notes, and didn’t put a single draft word on paper. In the end I had so many half-arsed ideas that I almost lost tract of which notes related to what, and how, and indeed how different ideas might be linked. It got to the point where I felt like packing it all in, because I doubted whether I had anywhere near the intelligence to sort it all out.

    Then my supervisor told me to stop being silly and start writing. My immediate question was “but write What?” and she said “ANYTHING!” – quite right she was, too. I started by writing a chapter in my literature review that I _knew_ would be in there; the very core of all my thinking revolves around it. It did wonders! Back on track and loving it. :)

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