Matching Introductions and Conclusions

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By Cally Guerin

It might seem obvious, but it’s always worth reminding doctoral writers to make sure the Introduction and Conclusion to their thesis match. Sometimes, a lot of effort is spent writing an ‘Introduction’ to the thesis in the early stages of candidature. But over time, the focus or emphasis of the thesis can shift – new ideas come to the forefront, and some of the original ideas have faded away into the background. As Mullins and Kiley (2002, p.377) made clear: examiners do look to see whether the conclusions follow from the introduction. Continue reading

Preparing for AcWriMo 2019

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By Cally Guerin

November is Academic Writing Month (AcWriMo) – the perfect time to get some writing done before the end of the year. Inspired by Kay Guccione’s WriteFest at Sheffield University over the last few years, I’m trying out some extra events in my new role at ANU. I’ve reported previously on my experiments with AcWriMo, and am keen to keep refining the process. Things have moved on a bit since my first attempt in 2013, but the core concept remains the same. Continue reading

Writing the Doctoral Thesis Differently

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Our guest blogger this week is Ruth Weatherall, a lecturer in Not-for-Profit and Social Enterprise Management at the University of Technology Sydney. Her research uses feminist, queer, and ethical perspectives and is broadly concerned with how social justice, particularly related to gender inequality, is achieved in and through community organisations. She is also interested in how academics can write to achieve social justice. Two of her recent articles: ‘Writing the doctoral thesis differently’ (Management Learning) and ‘Even when those struggles are not our own’ (Gender Work and Organization) epitomise these concerns.

By Ruth Weatherall

Writing a thesis can be a daunting task. Where do you even begin? Happily, there are numerous sources offering guidance to aspiring PhDs. These books have promising titles like How to Write a Better Thesis or Writing your Doctoral Dissertation or Thesis Faster: A Proven Map to Success. Such books guarantee to answer key questions about doctoral writing: Do I write in the third person or the first person? What chapters should I include? How do I know if what I’m writing is ‘original’? How do I structure a literature review? What am I even doing here?

In the early stages of my PhD journey (in the field of organisation studies), I was a prolific reader of these books. I absorbed their advice and used it to start mapping my thesis in my mind. But the deeper I got into my fieldwork, the more I started to feel that such advice was constricting. The models offered in the books simply didn’t fit with my research experience. I felt like I was ‘reverse engineering’ my research journey into a neat formula. Importantly, it felt like this ‘formula’ was restricting how I was understanding the social world and the contributions I wanted to make. So I decided to explore how to write my thesis differently. Continue reading

Responding to supervisor feedback: do doctoral students have to agree?

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By Susan Carter

My eight years of being a consultant for doctoral students taught me what supervisors sometimes do not see: that candidates can struggle over whether or not to take supervisory advice. Here, I want to defend two suppositions.

1) It is always wise to pick your battles, and on that assumption, students do well to defer to supervisors when the issues are relatively minor.

2) When writing decisions are important, students need to learn how to refuse advice that they disagree with and demonstrate why.

Because students transition towards independent researcher status when they are able to make decisions and then make them work, academics who support them could initiate talk about how to manage disagreement with supervisors.

Often it is tricky responding to supervisor feedback on writing for candidates who don’t really agree with it. Learning how to negotiate diplomatically is a very useful skill that is not gained lightly. The power differential between student and supervisor can make it quite hard for students to hold on to their own choices. Those who come from a culture where it is inappropriate to contradict a teacher could be advised about Western expectations that there are intellectual benefits to arguing. It’s tricky, though, for many candidates, to disagree. Continue reading

Voice in doctoral writing: what is it? and can it be taught?

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By Susan Carter

This post reports on a workshop that proved illuminating, leading me to think that closer investigation of voice could be a research project for the future. Are the doctoral students you know conscious of developing their own voices in their writing, or still experimenting to find it, or a bit confused as to what voice actually is? And is this something that as supervisors we are certain about ourselves and can give support for? Continue reading

Doctoral writing: Playing in woods and trees

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By Susan Carter

Being unable to see the woods for the trees is a metaphor that is sometimes applied to thesis writing for when close attention to detail (the trees) causes an author to lose oversight of the purpose and shape of the whole thesis (the woods). Thesis writers sometimes mention that they pin their research question, or their overall argument, above their desk as a pointer reminding them that when they are focusing on detail, writing should always be within the framework of the big picture.

For a two-hour doctoral writers’ workshop, I drew on the woods and trees metaphor to encourage both an overview of the big picture and attention to detail. Continue reading