Doctoral writing: to think ideas or to sell them to the reader?

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by Susan Carter

This morning a colleague who was to provide a workshop for doctoral students phoned in sick. Stepping in at short notice to replace her, I’m used Amanda Wolf’s four sentence formula for writing a research proposal in the workshop.  As we worked through Amanda’s exercise, I noticed how this great post is an exercise about writing to sell ideas to the reader rather than an exercise in writing to think. In this blog I ponder two related aspects arising from my fill-in workshop using Amanda’s sentence formula. Continue reading

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A good argument: the thesis of the thesis

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By Susan Carter

It is easy (and sounds self-evident) to say that a thesis needs a thesis—i.e., an argument—but it’s easier said than done to produce that thesis in doctoral writing. This post proposes that the thinking done through writing is perhaps the most powerful route to developing a good argument. I’ll begin by considering the qualities of a good argument before pondering on ways to tell whether an argument has really developed to its best iteration. Often it is only once the whole project is completed that the author is able to say defensibly what the findings of the project mean. This means just before submission they need to make what is usually called an argument. Continue reading

Supervision: the key relationship to get right as a doctoral writer and researcher

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By Ian Brailsford.  Ian is Postgraduate Learning Adviser in the Libraries and Learning Services at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. With doctoral advising as his core work, Ian has an insightful approach to doctoral writing and the personal context that supports it.

Postgraduate research marks a transition from structured teaching and learning, with the lecturer deciding the course content, learning outcomes, assignment tasks and schedule, to fully fledged academic independence. To manage this in-between space, universities have for decades adopted an academic apprenticeship model where the less experienced researcher works under the supervision of a ‘master’. When it works well, as it does in most cases, postgraduate supervision is ‘win win’: the emerging early-career researcher is guided through the project to completion and the supervisor, as one experienced academic, Professor Robin Kearns, once put it, gains a new colleague. In an ideal world the balance of power shifts towards the end of the project; the postgraduate researcher becomes the expert and teaches the supervisor about their new-found knowledge.

However, we’re all human. Continue reading

Ahoy! what is so interesting about doctoral writing?

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By Susan Carter

At the Quality in Postgraduate Research conference (April 17-19, 2018), a group of scholars came to a doctoral writing special interest group (SIG). Why, you might wonder, when writing in and of itself might seem to not be a topic with an argument to make. Most were academics who support doctoral writing, and a few were those writers themselves. I asked them to jot down what they find so interesting about doctoral writing, explaining that I would construct a blogpost from these.

Their individual responses splatter around the complexity of the process and product, and led me to the metaphor of sailing. Continue reading

Reverse engineering of writing: Reading to see how ‘good, interesting writing’ works

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By Susan Carter

This post draws heftily on Gina Wisker’s website, the Good Supervisor, and directs readers to it: read to the bottom of this post for the password! Meanwhile, the post gives an example of one of Gina’s exercises that doctoral writers could undertake to improve their writerly skills. It’s a series of reverse-engineering prompts designed to help doctoral students learn how to ‘notice’ (Kumar & Kumar, 2009) the strategies that good research writers use. I noticed that Gina Wisker says to pick ‘good interesting’ exemplars—that is exactly the kind of writing that early career researchers should be encouraged to notice and aspire to produce.

Here’s Gina’s exercise. Continue reading

Reflections on the HERDSA Conference 2018

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By Claire Aitchison

Many of our readers will be familiar with the HERD Journal which has developed a strong reputation for its quality publications on higher education. All three editors of this blog, and many of our readers and guest bloggers, write and review for HERD journal, which regularly publishes on doctoral education and doctoral writing.

HERDSA (Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia) is the parent organisation for the journal and this year Cally and I attended the annual conference in Adelaide, South Australia, 2-5 July. The Conference attracts a range of higher education specialists including academic developers, management and those with a teaching focus. Continue reading