Pinterest for doctoral writing: Learning from creative writing


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By Cally Guerin

Searching around for new ideas for my doctoral writing classes recently, I found myself perusing the endless array of pins on Pinterest. Academic writing, and especially doctoral writing, is often regarded as being almost entirely separate from creative writing: doctoral writing is supposed to be objective, direct, dry. However, a short foray into the world of Pinterest quickly reveals that much of the advice to novelists is relevant to doctoral writers, so I started compiling my own board of pins that were aimed at aspiring fiction writers but also useful for academic writing. Continue reading

How to work with a thesis editor


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Dr Kerrie Le Lievre is a former teacher of business and academic writing at the University of Adelaide, and a current freelance editor. She is a professional member of the Society of Editors (SA), a branch of IPEd. You can find her blog, which includes thesis-writing tips, at

By Kerrie Le Lievre

It’s becoming increasingly common for PhD and Masters students to employ professional editors or proofreaders when finalising their theses. However, many editors report that the students who contact them often know very little about what a thesis editor does, how to work with one, or even when to approach one.

While Australia’s Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd) has some useful information available online both for supervisors and for students, these mostly focus on what happens once an editor has been engaged, and cover only a small portion of what students need to know to ensure that they can work effectively with their chosen editor. Similar information is available from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) in the UK, and multiple bodies in the USA. This post uses Australian practice as a model, but the advice given here will be useful in other contexts too.

Preparation phase

Well before students complete their thesis drafts, they need to know what a thesis editor does, how to locate one and when to contact one. Continue reading

Moving beyond ‘because I said so’ – motivation for thesis writing


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Dr Kay Guccione (@kayguccione) works at the University of Sheffield. Kay designs mentoring programmes for researchers and her work is centred on linking people together to talk about the things that matter to them.

By Kay Guccione

Writing a thesis of 80,000 to 100,000 words is something we expect of everyone in almost all forms of doctorate. In a PhD it’s impossible to avoid doing some writing — our writing is what we are assessed on and how we communicate our research in conventional forms. With ‘publish or perish’ resonating down every corridor, our attitude to writing is our gateway to the currency of research careers. We are emotionally preoccupied with the fear, excitement, dread, satisfaction, guilt and elation of writing (Wellington, 2010) — see #AcWri #AcWriMo #shouldbewriting #shutupandwrite…

But for some, writing in thesis form seems a futile endeavour at first glance. Continue reading

Revision: Turning literature review lists into logical argument


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By Lawrence Zhang and Susan Carter

Professor Lawrence Zhang is a much sought after supervisor at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, who takes a large number of mainly Chinese doctoral students through to successful completion and employment following that. One comment of his on a student’s oral presentation seemed so helpful and of use to many other students that it triggered this post.

The oral presentation was for the committee who were reviewing at the end of the provisional first year. They worked within the discipline but not within the particular field.

Reviewing the candidate’s PowerPoint, Lawrence wrote in an email:

You have listed all the authors, and this is not as good as what research has been done. Can you list all the challenges that are pointed out by these scholars instead of just name-listing? Your purpose of citing these authors and critically appraising their work is to argue for the validity of your study, especially showing any possible research gap that you intend to fill. In a way, that will be how you will be regarded as making contributions to the existing literature. It is not only about the presentation per se, but instead it is really about the Introduction of the thesis where you have to really spend time presenting your argument systematically and coherently on the basis of what you have briefly reviewed about “the state-of-the-art” in the field on this particular topic or subject. It is not about piling up all the names to impress your reader or your audience, who are more keen to know what these authors have done in terms of how that relates to what you will be doing.
Continue reading

Achieving writing precision: applying simple activities to complex thesis writing


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By Susan Carter

When…you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out in the open and has other people looking at it.                                   (A. A. Milne, 1961, p. 101)

In last week’s workshop with a group of doctoral students, we began by talking about what was puzzling, troubling or interesting people currently about their doctoral writing. A couple agreed that it was really hard to put ideas that are good in the mind onto a page–like Pooh Bear above, they found quite good thoughts somehow looked much less convincing in a draft of writing.

Some common disgruntlements emerged: feeling your own writing is boring to read and boring to write, and wondering whether the current writing might not end up in the thesis so feeling all that work might be a waste of time.

The potentiality of ideas seemed to be shut down when packaged into linear writing, in the same way that the pleasure of having inviting purchase options is gone once you spend your cash. You get one thing, and that is all.

A challenge those with English as an Additional Language agreed on, however, was how hard writing was at doctoral level, because ‘literacy’ suddenly became ‘much more complicated.’ So this week, we met again for a small exercise that comes from Linda Evans on developing precision in expression.

It begins asking students to take approximately three minutes to write down a good definition of a chair. Continue reading

Decongesting writing through revision: The unwriting workshop


By Susan Carter

Sometimes students have writing habits that make for bulky prose where the content to word ratio is low: too many words and not enough content. Often decongesting writing can be achieved through revision in peer review–in our posts, we often mention this. This post proposes the idea of a new group workshop for doctoral and academic writers: an ‘unwriting’ workshop where peer review focus is on trimming verbal excess. As someone who puts on writing workshops commonly, I like the idea of an unwriting workshop.

My own writing is always more stylish when I am forced to shed words. Usually I begin culling words due to journal limitations on length, and then later see how much stronger the writing is, and easier to read. (Sometimes my academic friends suggest some chops. This paragraph’s first sentence is better for the unwriting I have done, prompted by Claire. It was originally  I’m prompted to have an entire workshop focused on unwriting by the way that my own writing is always more stylish when I am forced to shed words. I like the trimed version much better.) Continue reading