by Susan Carter, Cally Guerin and Claire Aitchison
It’s now the 8th anniversary of the first DoctoralWriting SIG post. To celebrate this with a quietness that befits doctoral writing in the time of Covid 19, we’ve chosen what could be regarded as the eight top posts, with links to these posts so that you can view them if you haven’t already. That slyly evasive passive verb ‘could be regarded’ of the last sentence is deliberate: it was a tough job choosing 8 bests from 344 posts, and other options would be equally defensible. So, although we have numbered these to ensure there really are 8, the order has no significance whatsoever.
First criteria for our choice was most viewed. Views give an inkling of what people in the doctoral writing community are looking for. We think that this signals more than just how cunningly baited the click bait was, and points instead to topics that are troublesome or that matter to doctoral writers and those who support them. We began the best eight with the three most viewed posts. The most viewed by far and away (209, 377 views) was, surprisingly … [DRUMROLL]
ONE a post on writing the acknowledgements, the etiquette of thanking. The popularity of this post maybe shows just how much the people matter who sit on the fringe of each doctoral project and support it. If you are one of those who support doctoral writing, the popularity of the post indicates your worth: you matter. Comments on the acknowledgement show too that the topic is picked up because writers grapple between a sense of convention (must thank funders and supervisors) and their own perspective of who was most valuable (sometimes the cat, or the friend who brought hot chips). The completion of a thesis is momentous, and acknowledgements need to be taken as seriously as inscriptions on monuments.
TWO The second most viewed post (35,234 views) tackles the burning issue of making a great conclusion. That is not surprising: the conclusion plays a key role in impressing examiners. It’s often also the last thing generated, written at a point of exhaustion in the doctoral journey, so of course advice is welcome and often urgently needed. Supervisors too may welcome advice they can pass on to their students.
THREE With 33,280 views, the third one down the list was Balancing simplicity and complexity in doctoral writing. The title captures what is so often taxing: writing needs to be clear and accessible to readers while looking expert. Doctoral writers know to avoid looking pompous and over-inflated, but also must avoid seeming unsophisticated or naïve.
We are also interested in celebrating how many comments a post attracts from you our readers. Although we usually invite comments at the end of our posts, most of our followers are silent watchers (as is the case with many blogs). So we know when people actually click and add comments, we have struck a chord and jolted them into action. Here are the two posts with the most comments.
FOUR A post dealing with the ‘mother guilt’ that women candidates with children feel attracted the most comments; these weave together into a moving narrative. There’s shared grief and emotional torture, but also shared strategies and celebration. The wisdom of the blog community shows here—it is well worth reading the comments along with the post.
FIVE The next two most commented upon posts are already covered above: Writing the acknowledgements: the etiquette of thanking (49 comments)( and How to make a great conclusion (31 comments). So next on the list with 30 comments touches on the troubling issue of Recycling old papers and self-plagiarising—is it a sin. Again, comments on this post are worth reading for a sense of how we choose, who we think we are, how we judge boundaries.
Then we turned to our personal favourites for the next three of our 8 over 8 best posts. We agreed that we would each choose one of our own blogs that we would like to remind readers about.
A post I use often lays out a series of strategies for thinking about contribution – and for handling the fear, shared by both candidates and supervisors, that the work has been of value. In short, the post aims to help us answer the confronting question ‘So What?’. As you see, I wrote it before I got sufficiently savvy about making titles snappy and searchable: Done all that work – but has this thesis really got anything to say?!: Strategies to regain perspective on research contribution
The post that I come back to again and again when working with doctoral candidates is Literature reviews – Trust yourself! For lots of candidates, the literature review section of a thesis can feel like an overwhelming task – there is simply too much information to form into a coherent chapter. It’s not possible to include every single thing that has ever been written on the topic, and, in fact that’s not the point. Rather, the focus needs to be only on what is relevant to this exact project that tells the story from the doctoral writer’s perspective.
I’m choosing Turning facts into a doctoral story: the essence of a good doctorate because it echoes a commonly expressed idea—the thesis needs to be a story rather than a list of facts—but with multiple stories from my own experience framing and demonstrating the importance of the idea. I love about this blog that is speaks into and out of experience.
We three remember back to Inger Mewburn’s generosity in getting us novices started on blogging back in 2012 after the Quality in Postgraduate Research Conference and how nervous each of us felt clicking the publish button the first time we sent our thoughts out into the world. Now, we are so pleased that we took that leap. We thank those who contribute posts, enriching our perspective, and those who keep conversations alive in the comments.