Using mind maps, memos, and abductive reasoning to help theorise your findings

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This week’s blog is from Dr Susan Mowbray. Susan is the Academic Literacy Advisor in the Graduate Research School at Western Sydney University where she works alongside postgraduate students at all stages of candidature, supporting them to refine and progress their research writing. Susan’s interest in supporting doctoral students throughout candidature is reflected in her research and publications.

As Claire noted in June, writing the methodology chapter is a hard process. The learning and thinking involved is intellectually demanding and time-consuming (I’m speaking from experience here!) and also rarely acknowledged.

It’s some comfort then that this learning becomes increasingly visible in our writing as we synthesise our reading and thinking, knowledge and growing understandings. Continue reading

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The plan and the eventual reality

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by Katrien Pickles

Today our guest blogger is Katrien, a family studies researcher, picture book author and swimming teacher. She was raised on the Big Island of Hawai’i and now lives in Wagga Wagga, Australia. Katrien’s doctoral research is on family wellbeing and public playgrounds. Here she reflects on how to plan for the unexpected in research and writing.

When I began my PhD, I read a lot about being organised: how to set up an EndNote library; how to save the impossible amount of articles you will end up downloading; how to securely store your data; and, most importantly, how to manage your time. I created a Gantt chart, included clearly delineated writing time, and felt like a super-hero. Truly, you have no idea how big a deal that is. My husband was confused because the person he married had a deep hatred of Excel. I even colour-coded the months and tasks!

Throughout my experience in doing the PhD, two seemingly opposing themes have emerged: the planned ideal and the eventual reality. You can start out with high hopes, rooted in your ideal version of the research. Continue reading

How many research languages do you speak? (The answer may surprise you)

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Our guest blogger this week is Ailsa Naismith, a third-year PhD student at the University of Bristol, England. Ailsa is researching the active Fuego volcano in Guatemala through satellite imagery and interviews, looking to discover why the volcano erupts and how previous eruptions have been experienced by local people. We have thoroughly enjoyed her thought-provoking reflections on “research languages”—and we’re sure you will too. 

Ailsa can be found on Twitter (@AilsaNaismith) and through the occasional blog post (www.reasoningwithvolcanoes.com).

What language do you do research in? If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that it’s English, this being the “lingua franca” of much of the academic world. So far, so conventional. But – wait! Could it be that you are secretly more talented than you think? (Based on the overwhelming proportion of doctoral students that reportedly experience Imposter Syndrome, versus what it actually takes to achieve a PhD, the answer is probably “Yes”.)

Despite our fears and reservations, throughout the years we spend studying we learn a wide range of research skills, from communicating our ideas with confidence, through networking, to presenting our arguments clearly in written form. I think these skills can be viewed as a group of “languages” in which we become fluent during our training. Continue reading

Journal keeping and doctoral writing     

By Claire Aitchison

What’s the use of journaling during doctoral study?

In this blog I wish to explore the value of other kinds of doctoral writing; that is, the musings and note-taking, the random jottings and scribbles, that sit aside from the major task of thesis writing. I am concerned with what might be called journaling or diary-keeping, that is, writing NOT necessarily undertaken with an explicit intention (at least at the outset) to become part of the published thesis or journal paper.

Quantitative research often requires the keeping of careful notes and records in official Lab Books—but here my focus is the less formal, non-compulsory note-taking associated with qualitative research. Continue reading

Writing skills and post-PhD employment

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By Cally Guerin

Researcher development workshops are increasingly focused on what is learnt during the doctorate that graduates take into their non-academic jobs on graduation.  Here at DoctoralWriting we usually concentrate on the kind of writing that is undertaken during the doctorate, but much of that is building a skillset that is invaluable outside the academy too. The writing skills developed during a PhD are right up there at the top of the list of desirable skills that employers are looking for. Continue reading

Embrace the ethics application – it’s writing time well spent

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By Cally Guerin

I hear lots of groans when the issue of writing an ethics application is mentioned. For some this feels like a tedious task that is yet another bureaucratic requirement in a system that seems to thrive on endless electronic forms and paperwork. However, I truly believe that ethic applications are a valuable tool for thinking through the details of a research project in the design stage. Doing the hard work at the beginning will head off many of the problems of poorly thought through research – and, of course, ensure that the research itself is thoroughly ethical. An added benefit is the skill development of learning to write for a range of different audiences. Continue reading