During peer review for her forthcoming book, Alice Eden was asked to provide more information on a number of different areas in the text instead of assuming new readers will have specialist knowledge of secondary literature. Working through the re-write she has found it helpful to look back on various activities and different forms of communication undertaken during her PhD. In this first post of a blog series, Alice considers how these activities helped prepare her for the process of re-writing.
It is interesting to reflect on how valuable all parts of the PhD journey have been for me, particularly different types of writing undertaken and engagement with different audiences. During the re-write of my book, it has helped me to use techniques from various activities including writing lectures, seminar teaching, conference abstracts and papers, writing Calls for Papers for conferences (CFPs) and group emails, giving talks to a general audience or to the public. For me, each one of these modes of communication has been critical in developing my writing skills. They have created a portfolio or bank of styles and approaches which are always being revised and re-thought.
One example is a general presentation for an audience of mixed disciplines that I gave in the first year of my PhD at Warwick. This was a rewarding way to build experience in reaching wider audiences. This type of presentation can be quite tricky as you need to explain core elements of your discipline – e.g. methods of art history in my case – which take you away from your research focus. At the time this felt less useful like I was straying too much from my specialism, however, in the long run, this gave me valuable transferable communication skills for employment.
Further, I believe this experience helped nurture a long-standing interest in inter-disciplinarity which I have continued to advance since. I was nominated for a collaborative group project within Warwick in my third year PhD. After submission, I was delighted to also win a funded fellowship with an interdisciplinary research centre. Therefore, the work of broadening my communication skills was an area I had taken opportunities to practise and develop throughout my PhD and which has been increasingly valuable since.
During my current re-write, I have also drawn on the teaching experience I completed in my department. If you have taken up teaching during your PhD study, this will provide useful experience for future re-writing efforts. For example, if you are writing any lectures, you will need to reinsert general references and literature that you didn’t need to include in the actual thesis for your supervisor or specialist academic audiences in your field. Seminar teaching also requires overviews of materials and pictures, the ability to summarise a vast historical field with a few most pertinent references and explain complex academic arguments briefly and in an engaging way.
These sorts of challenges are similarly required if you plan to give talks for general audiences or the public. I have undertaken a number of these while I was writing my thesis and afterwards. They are very valuable activities enabling you to rethink your work and respond to questions and comments. In these cases, you are also likely to include a lot more detail, longer quotes and descriptions of arguments and primary materials. In the thesis, possibly without realising it, you will have summarised for your specialist readers – the PhD supervisor and examiner.
Often I have written sentences like: ‘this is explored literature by X and Y.’ For more general audiences I have needed to include further lines, such as ‘who argued that…in…’ ‘This was then challenged by…’ etc. For my current book manuscript, I also need to add how my book responds to, questions, modifies or challenges that summarised literature. There is a similar process of condensing and summarising material, re-framing to address new perspectives or angles when submitting abstracts or writing conference papers.
Writing for this blog has certainly helped me to practise zooming in and out from my material and to write clearly for new audiences who do not know my specific research area. Blogging has increased my self-awareness and facilitated more objective reflections about my writing approaches. These new understandings of my work have inspired me to investigate and learn from how others approach writing and re-writing.
What writing skills have you explored on your PhD journey? Have you undertaken similar, varied forms of writing or communication? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment below.
Alice Eden is a Research Curator at Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Early Career academic. Her primary interests are modern British cultural history, spiritualities and feminisms, with expertise in Victorian and Edwardian art history. She is an Associate Tutor in the History of Art department, University of Warwick and is writing a book based on her PhD thesis. Alice can be contacted via email and followed on twitter at @Alice_Eden4.