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By Susan Carter, Cally Guerin and Claire Aitchison

(Pictures courtesy of MorgueFile)

We can’t give you a Christmas present at this distance, but hope an annotated list of books and articles that might be a perfect fit, colour and design for doctoral writers would be some kind of equivalent.Here are some that we think are great for specific purposes. We hope one is right for you.


The article that has got Susan excited recently is George D. Gopen and Judith A. Swan’s The Science of Science Writing (1990) American Scientist 78(6), pp. 550-558. It explains some of the principles of using syntax for clarity, and offers a set of simple rules. There is not much new with that, right? But what is new here is that they use quite hard science examples to demonstrate, and we find this manages to convince science-minded researchers who begin with the idea that writing is not really important because other people who are experts will be able to figure it out. In this article, Gopen and Swan point out the ambiguity caused by careless fact ordering of the kind that is ubiquitous in science writing, as it is elsewhere, and disprove the idea that semantics and syntax are not important. If you write in hard sciences, this article is handmade for you.


One book firmly counters the belief that writing takes forever: Joan Bolker’s (1998). Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis. New York: Henry Holt, 1998. First, the title itself is encouraging. There’s a section on ‘Getting to the Midpoint’ and ‘Interruptions from Inside and Outside’ that offer suggestions for how to handle some of the setbacks of doctoral writing in that mid-thesis slump lots of doctoral students find themselves in (as well as other useful chapters). If you despair of the time your writing is taking, this is an attractive one-size-fits-all option.




For women engaged with doctoral writing, Diana Leonard’s (2001) A Woman’s Guide to Doctoral Studies (Buckingham: Open University Press) identifies some of the pitfalls of doctoral level study and suggests ways of coping with (or avoiding) them. Women students are likely to find this book’s focus resonates well with their own experience.

Rowena Murray’s (2011) How to write a thesis, Maidenhead: Open University Press, takes a matter of fact approach to getting the writing done—it’s intelligent and practical. Murray believes that it is possible to routinely write 1,000 words an hour, and suggests ways to reach this level of competence. She does this without glossing over the challenges and complexities of doctoral writing. It is one of those books that might make writing a professional skill that you can acquire, and need to if you intend to seek an academic career.

Then for a concrete explanation of the machinery of language within the genre of the thesis, Brian Paltridge and Sue Starfield’s Thesis and dissertation writing in a second language: A handbook for supervisors, London: Routledge, remains hard to beat. This book is for doctoral students who haven’t studied linguistics, and suspect that their supervisors and advisors are not that clear with spelling out how to meet the criteria that will please examiners. We’ve found that the focus on second language explanation makes this a wonderfully clear book for anyone.

One recently discovered gem is Maggie MacLure’s (2013) ‘The wonder of data’, Cultural Studies <=> Critical Methodologies 13(4): 228-232. MacLure legitimises research that chooses to focus on the the data that ‘glows’. By that, she means the items of research data that seem to stay with us, that are not necessarily part of the main argument, nor the information that makes it into the neatly coded themes from an Nvivo analysis. These ‘glowing’ findings are the details we return to again and again, knowing that they mean something important, even though they lie outside the main research project. If you do any kind of qualitative research, this article is bound to resonate with your experience—and maybe it will encourage you to take up some of those interesting, unexpected elements turned up in your research and write about them.

Claire’s top recommendation for Christmas reading is the very wonderful and thought-provoking, Risk in academic writing: postgraduate students, their teachers and the making of knowledge (2013, Multilingual Press). Lucia Thesen and Linda Cooper have brought together a great collection of authors (including some big names) to explore the idea of risk and writing as it plays out theoretically, and in practice, for a diverse range of postgraduate writers and those who work with them. Beautifully written, this book is intellectually rich and engaging. Contributors interrogate risk and agency within broader discussions of centre and periphery, scholarship and knowledge making – and there are also powerful and moving stories of writing in practice.

Finally, the three of us at the DoctoralWriting SIG wish you a great Christmas season and will be posting again towards the end of January 2015.