I coordinate a generic doctoral programme at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and teach most of the academic sessions, including some on doctoral writing: structure; style and voice, strategies for defence; citing and avoiding plagiarism; introductions and conclusions; the abstract; and grammar. What interests me about doc writing is the complex social manouvres the text makes. (I did my own doc in English Literature Studies stringing a few quirky medieval stories on a vector–the way text tells you about social beliefs and biases interests me.) Thesis writing has to satisfy examiners, who read aware of their ponderous responsibilities in affirming that it meets a fairly prescriptive set of criteria. Thesis writers from across campus, from the edgiest constructivist to the most entrenched positivist, including those who talk through formula, must all demonstrate that their writing meets those criteria. So the doc thesis is a genre.
Within the generic expectations, a thesis also must pay respect one way or another to discipline conventions and culture. Then, the writer can develop responsibility to their data too, wanting to be true to it somehow amongst all the other strictures. What finally makes this a truly spectacular juggling act is the issue of voice, the fact that as you write, you situate yourself within your discipline, and build the voice, the presence in text, who is you. This aspect is closer to the bone than the others, and can be both troubling and exhilarating. Some of the above work is done through manipulation of the mechanics of language: grammar and punctuation. I’m interested in (teachable) ways to grapple with all these multiple demands. Growing to enjoy the grapple is one goal.
And my job allows me to be a spectator watching those who are risk-averse find routes with handrails and safety nets, and those who love challenging boundaries finding ways to push the fences out without smashing them and falling outside the pale.