By Richard Parfitt |
Last year, I wrote a blog on here giving my best tips for planning and writing chapter drafts of your thesis. I was pretty confident back then. Writing is my favourite part of the PhD process. It’s just me, a laptop, and the beautiful prose that flows from the fountain of my knowledge. In theory. I’m now at the stage of my thesis where everything is, in some form, drafted. I had a vision of this moment when I set out. It was going to be a relaxing time, where I might shift a comma here, rephrase a sentence there, maybe move one paragraph into a different chapter if I was feeling risqué.
The reality is, alas, different.
Past me was stupid
The first thing I’ve realised is that past me was stupid. He had some bad ideas. A few good ones, but now that I’m cleaning up his mess, I find I’m focusing on his faults. The key in this instance is to recognise that past you tried stuff that didn’t work, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about ripping some of it up and starting again. You don’t owe any loyalty to your past self!
I’ve put this off for far too long
One of the first things I’ve realised as I’ve come to rewrite material that I haven’t visited in a while is that all the points I felt I had muddled through before, I had muddled through. You can’t put it off anymore! If you’re not sure what you’re saying, do you need to say it at all? Do you need to find more evidence? Whatever you need, be honest with yourself about it.
You already said that once
We’re creatures of habit, we PhDers. A lot of our favourite arguments, we make again and again and again and again. Some make a career out of it, and will publish several books saying pretty much the same thing. In your thesis, however, you probably want to avoid it, especially if you’re short of words. Find the places where you’re making the same argument twice, and pick a home for it.
The hunt for the golden quote
I’ve found that when I wrote things the first time, I would have a general point that I wanted to make, and that I would gather some evidence and then make it. In rewriting, there’s often one very specific piece of evidence or one particular quote that I want to get in. The problem is that I can’t remember for the life of me where I saw it or where in my three years of notes it happens to be. This involves extensive, time consuming frustrating searches. Take into account, when you’re redrafting, therefore, that a single sentence can take as long as a paragraph.
On a good day I end up with fewer words
The word count has been the most noticeable point of difference for me. In the first draft, I’d think things along the lines of ‘I wrote 2,000 words today go me!’. This time around, if I end the day having deleted a couple of hundred words, I feel I’ve done well. This may be less of an issue if you started with plenty of words to play with, but we academics do tend to bleat on about things.
Deleting Your Own Work is great
When you have too many words, or a point that isn’t working, there is something incredibly satisfying about hacking and burning away at something you’ve written like an orc through the forest. When you’ve been sifting through, carefully crafting a sentence, there’s a definite nihilistic joy in deleting something altogether. I deleted Bono from my thesis this week, next week I’m targeting Michael Flatley. I can’t wait.
Richard Parfitt is chair of Pubs and Publications. You can find him on Twitter and on on academia.edu
(Images: https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2894/10135243453_d66ac7be69_b.jpg; https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4119/4825613814_f94002a509_b.jpg)
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