Showing posts with label dissertation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dissertation. Show all posts

Friday, 27 June 2014

7 steps to Prolific, or more Productive Writing



Most writers and intrigued by the idea that they might be more productive. Some writers want to become prolific. Some writers, such as Shakespeare, were able to churn out two or more major works every year; others, such as Charles Dickens or Walter Scott, astonish us by the sheer quantity of their work.

I was surprised to discover recently that my writing notebook lists plans for 23 books. Clearly some of these projects are little more than a title and an outline. So the problem is not having ideas, it’s more a question of having the time, the discipline and the confidence to see them through to completion as published works. In short, I am now trying to increase my productivity by researching some of the recurring ideas typically adopted by successful writers.

While doing some research recently on translations of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, I cam across the impressive productivity of JackLindsay, who produced 170 creative and non-fiction works during his long career.

But do you have to be a genius to be so prolific? Or is it more a case of responding efficiently and effectively to commercial deadlines?

1. The Necessity of Discipline.
“Rule your mind or it will rule you.” — Horace

Simply waiting for inspiration to drive your creative output is a highly risky strategy. Even the great romantic writers employed discipline. While it is essential to experience those fleeting moments of exuberant fancy and whimsical speculation, it is equally important to write them up in such a way that they will make sense at a later date. Your notebook is an essential tool for catching and capturing your creative flow.

2. The Benefits of Routine.
“I began to realize how simple life could be if one had a regular routine to follow with fixed hours, a fixed salary, and very little original thinking to do.” — Roald Dahl

Design and create your routine rather than following someone else’s plan. Some writers find that they work best early morning; others burn the midnight oil. Some writers need the silence of the monastery or the peace of the nunnery, while others prefer the bustle of a cafĂ© or the rhythm of a train or bus journey. Some writers work for thirty minutes, others for three hours. My advise therefore is to experiment with different routines and note down which combination of space and time produces the best results.

3. Maps, structures, outlines
“Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.” — Winston Churchill

Often there is a romantic sense that knowing your future direction at the outset will cramp your creativity; that writing becomes mechanical when it is strictly planned. On the other hand it is quite common to start projects with great enthusiasm but then to experience writer’s block in the more complex middle phases. Even worse, you may find that your work is fruitless because not matter how hard you try there is a lack of a suitable conclusion for your creative efforts. Radical uncertainty of this kind frequently leads to anxiety and paralysis. Moreover, there repeated experience of failure to complete leads to a weakening of your willpower and motivation in the medium term. By finishing projects your confidence grows and develops, allowing you to undertake more creative risks with a reduce chance of blockage or failure.

4. Speed Drafting
“Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.” — Henry David Thoreau

Having capture your key ideas and imposed a provisional structure it is now time to work in more detail. This means fleshing out your ideas and feelings. At this stage it is essential to write quickly and to avoid agonising over precise words and phrases. Don’t worry about writing the most astonishing and eye-catching first sentence; first paragraphs are often better written at the end of your writing phase.

5. Revisioning
“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Writing typically moves from fleeting moments of inspiration to the discipline of the draft: the process of revisioning. This process requires critical insights more than creative flow. It is also often best accomplished several day or weeks after your speed drafting. This period allows time for critical thoughts to develop and for your to be more objective. The revision stage often involves contraction as well as amplification of your ideas. So be prepared for cutting down, chopping up, and repositioning your thoughts.

6. Taming the Dragons of Destruction.
“Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity.” — T. S. Eliot

It is very important that we learn to apply critical perception to our creative works. However, for many writers the negative thoughts can crowd out the ability to write confidently. The inner voice that questions your skills and ability, that constantly interrogates your sense of having a worthwhile and unique vision is the viral plague that constantly affects the tribe of writers. With experience writers learn that each of the key stages outlined above requires different degrees of critical and creative insight, and they learn to enjoy the unique character of each of the different stages. Accordingly, switch of destructive and negative thoughts. Keep reminding yourself that others will want to read your work, and that your work has value because it is the product of your unique perspective on the world.

7. Learning from others.
“Learning never exhausts the mind.” — Leonardo da Vinci

Great writers are also great readers. By studying the work of others we improve our writing skills. By becoming critical readers we sharpen our creative tools. Also, the creative work of others can allow the writer to contemplate re-tellings and re-visioning of the body of experience. Remember that the vast majority of Shakespeare’s plays were derived from printed sources written by others. He also learned the craft of writing by collaborating, by being a member of writing community. Nor did he confine himself to the writer’s room. For writing is also a big, bold, bracing encounter with life itself, and that’s not be had by staring at a blank screen. Finding the most sustainable balance between real writing and real life might be your biggest strategic decision.

Writing Machine, Swift, Gulliver's Travels (1726)

“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” —  Paul J. Meyer

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

A Quick Guide to Writing an Abstract

But will your abstract fit inside the box?

If you have been reading my blog on The Art of the Abstract, are you now ready for the quick guide?

FORMAT

Use one paragraph.
Stick to the word length.
Check the format style guides for the journal or awarding body / institution.
Employ a professional style

STYLE

Use language that will be understood by readers in your field.
Consider also the needs of the general reader.
Think about the most relevant key words that need emphasis
Write short sentences. Very short.
Employ transitions between the sentences.
Use the active voice, rather than passive constructions
Use the third person singular. IT.
Choose the past tense in the main body.
Check your grammar
Avoid abbreviations.
Provide clear statements: avoid loose opinions.
Employ the present tense for the introduction and the conclusion.

PROCESS

Learn from other respected scholars in your chosen field.
Read journal abstracts in order to become familiar with the standard terminology.
Print out your draft abstract and check it again for errors, waffle and repetition.
Ask a colleague or associate to check your work.
Model your work on excellent examples of abstracts.

CONTENT

Employ an introductory statement and conclusion written in the present tense. (This research demonstrates that ...)
Answer the key questions: what, why, and how.
Follow your headings and subheadings in order to guide the sequence of  the abstract.
Don’t add supplementary information or ideas.
Do not cite the sections of the paper / article / chapter.
Avoid specific references to figures and tables included in your paper.
Avoid the repetition of information.
Check for accuracy of content.


Anything I've missed? Please add comments below.


Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(2013) Also available on Kindle, or to download.

Also worth a look: The PhD Roadmap: A Guide to Successful Submission of your Dissertation / Thesis.

Monday, 18 November 2013

The Art of the Abstract

 
' Supervisor, I found Yorick's Abstract. '


Do you hear, let them be well used, for they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the time. After your death you were better have a bad epitaph than their ill report while you live.” --- Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Nowadays there is more pressure than ever to publish often and early. Such is the plight of the doctoral student and the early career academic; such is the life of any career academic.

One of the tricks of the trade that every academic learns is how to write an effective abstract. Typically this activity was undertaken at the end of the third year of the Ph.D and was part of the processing of submitting your work for critical scrutiny.

But really we were abstracting all the way along. The ability to compose a quick summary of what you have been reading is the beginning of abstraction. It’s a useful habit to acquire early in one’s intellectual development.

What you find in the abstract will also be quite similar basically to the sorts of general questions that you will have been asked when seeking funding, or applying for a continuation of your research.

So when we are reading anything, we might want to be asking some questions.

What is this work about?
Why has it been written
What has been discovered?
How did the writer get there?

At first this can be quite bewildering because we are overwhelmed by the sheer plenitude and richness and depth of the writing. But God’s Gift to Scholars is the Abstract. This presents a ready-made solution to these probing questions. As I have pointed out in another post, How doAcademics Read so many Books? The abstract is the short cut for the overloaded, overworked, underpaid scholar-teacher. My intention was not to be cynical. In fact, more pragmatically, it is not possible to undertake wider reading and gain wider familiarity with a body of work without reading lots of abstracts. Abstracts help researchers to decide on what is most  and what is least relevant for their reading. While it may take three hours or more to comb through an academic paper, it will take less than ten minutes to skim and scan the contents. But I can survey the abstract in a matter of seconds.

Therefore, a well-written abstract allows readers to work out how relevant the research undertaken is to what they are trying to achieve. If it is highly relevant then there is a second virtue. The abstract becomes a useful reference point and benchmark for the longer and larger scholarship that follows.

If am I surveying the wider field, and therefore writing a literature review, the abstract is very helpful in providing a quick summary of the work that allows me to position it in relation to other work, either as a specialism, or a theme. The abstract tells me where the research belongs, as part of a cluster, and also, more significantly, provides a sense of its individuality or uniqueness. The sense singularity or originality of the contribution to knowledge is a valued aspect that the abstract must communicate effectively.

In this sense, abstract are useful signposts, they give me a sense of direction.

When I was writing my book The Art of Connection, I noted that one of the Nine Arts of Connection was the Art of the Summary. We are summarising all the time. Often this evident at the end of a paragraph or the end of an essay or speech. Summaries therefore have impact. In a very broad sense, we are already familiar with the art of the summary because we are doing it all the time in the process of reading and writing. Summaries are signposts and they help us to recall key points efficiently and effectively.

In the academic world the abstract is usually one paragraph consisting of about 200 to 300 words. It is situated just under the title of the paper or it appears at the end. It is very important to realise that this is not a supplementary introduction.

While the researcher may all along have had a vague idea of the summary of the work undertaken, the abstract is a precise and efficient of the published text.

The abstract offers a swift appraisal of the research. It is helpful to think in terms of the model that is generally followed. Typically there are four components:

1. An Introduction to the research

2. The Methods, or Methodology employed.

3. The Results of the research

4. The Conclusions reached.

It is useful to remember that the abstract should follow the key sections of your published research in sequence.

Specifically the abstract needs

  • To identify the main subject of the research and its purpose. This may point to the literature review element and provides a wider context for the work.

  • To outline the problem investigated and the approach taken. Explain your objectives and hypothesis precisely. Summarise your methodology.

  • To present your results. What was it that you found out?

  • To offer conclusions. This may involve policy implications.

These are the key words that the abstract-writer and researcher needs to think about clearly: problem, solution, example, evaluation/comparison.


It’s really worth spending a lot of time perfecting your abstract. 

Indeed it might be the only part of your work that most scholars in your field ever read. 

Perhaps it’s what you’ll be remembered by.
 
Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(2013) Also available on Kindle, or to download.

Also worth a look: The PhD Roadmap: A Guide to Successful Submission of your Dissertation / Thesis.


Wisdom is the abstract of the past, but beauty is the promise of the future.

--- Oliver Wendell Holmes