The Evolution of PhD Writing

Three years is a long time and many things change as we learn and grow along with our thesis. Ana describes how her academic writing changed since the first year of PhD… 

It is November and social media, as well as my pending panel report, cause me to think about writing more than usual. About a year ago I shared my woes observations on academic writing and reflected on my own writing practice. Has anything changed?

It is scarier

My writing in the first year of PhD mostly came down to engaging with what other people have written. I wrote a lot and, in many ways, it was easier to have something to hold on to. Reporting on my analysis and its findings was exciting, but the stage that followed is less amusing. I am no longer securely anchored to the big names in my field; the time has come to brave the waves myself. This means building argument, making claims, defending them.

It takes me longer to focus…

With my analysis, I was able to make use of all my time, whether it was a whole day or just twenty minutes between sessions and workshops. But now, I need to put in a lot more effort into reaching the state where I can engage with ideas, evaluate them critically and relate to my framework. Quality time with my keyboard is not easy to come by. There are days and weeks when all my endeavours remain fruitless.

…but I write more efficiently

This does not mean that I do not make any progress. I am not at the stage where there is always something to write or rewrite, summarise or elaborate. I no longer wait for “inspiration” or moments when “I feel like writing”; I can attend to less creative parts of chapters on a dull Thursday afternoon and work on more mechanical tasks. Good news is this had positive impact on my writing and communication skills outside of PhD too.

Image credits: spaceamoeba / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I cringe at what I have written before…

When I go back to the text I have produced before I cannot help but cringe. How many times can you use the phrase “It is interesting that…” without realising how dull it actually sounds. I like telling stories but struggle to do that well within the thesis format. It is like every clumsy wording, imbalanced argument or overly descriptive sections screams “How will ever you finish this thesis, you can barely write a decent paragraph”.

…and cut text out mercilessly

I have no remedy for this apart from editing and cutting out what I do not like. Previously I would dread deleting a single, carefully carved sentence. And now? Luckily (or not?), I have had a mishap of writing more than needed so I can afford to lose words easily, hundreds, thousands… There is something almost therapeutic in letting them go. Moderation is the key here though, like with everything, really. You should edit to improve, not to stall the process and hide behind the red pen. Good thesis is a finished one, I have been told numerous time.

It is hard to tell what my writing will look like in pre-submission period, but I will cross (or crawl over) that bridge when the time comes.

Has your writing changed from the first year? Have you become more confident or more hesitant in putting words on screen and paper? Let us know in comments section. 🙂

Ana Kedveš (@anakedves)

2 thoughts on “The Evolution of PhD Writing

  1. Oh gosh.. I am experiencing the same thing now! With all the red marks (corrections) made by my supervisor, I was like “gosh.. do I really know how to write??”. Hahaha! I can so relate with this! Thank you for this wonderful article.. I am that kind of person waiting for the “writing mood” and now that I have read this, I realised that I should just keep on writing even on the laziest day of my week. Thank you so much! I am now inspired to write. =)

    1. Thank you for comment, I’m glad you liked the post. I’ve found that with academic writing, I’m never in the mood to do it. As much as I like writing, this does not extend to the academic sphere – there I prefer to DO things or even read (and I cannot bring myself for see writing as such practice).

      Good luck with your dissertation! 🙂
      Ana (PhD Life)

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