Tag Archives: dissertation

Give yourself a break

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Stop! I need a break. by Yoshi5000, Attribution-NoDerivs Licence

As a supervisor I see a lot of students struggling to get their thesis done in time. It seems to mostly be the other things going on in their life that are preventing them working on it. As a result I find myself generally trying to encourage students to work on their research more rather than less!

But sometimes you do need a break. As Rachna Jain explains in this post, you just get tired and you need to mentally escape from your dissertation. http://completeyourdissertation.com/blog/307/sometimes-you-just-need-a-break/

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What goes where in a research report?

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Milly by ☞Ћę ®ə◗ ℘∀ℕĐ▲☜,Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

This is a very useful guide for what each of the sections in your research report should contain and it also identifies common mistakes to watch out for.

Guide to science writing: Research manuscripts and review articles, UCLA Undergraduate Science Journal
http://www.studentgroups.ucla.edu/USJ/guide.pdf

Writing a great report

Professor Simon Peyton Jones is a very inspiring and interesting speaker and in this presentation he makes seven suggestions for writing a research report:

  • don’t wait – write,
  • identify your key idea,
  • tell a story,
  • nail your contributions,
  • put related work at the end,
  • put your readers first,
  • listen to your readers.

He makes some really important points here, particularly in relation to putting your readers first and listening to your readers.

http://youtu.be/g3dkRsTqdDA#sthash.ulUTlGcw.dpuf

Reading, reading, reading

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[127/365] Immersed by Pascal, Public domain

There is no doubt that a lot of the time you spend writing a dissertation will actually be spent reading, and reading and reading, and reading. You need to read a lot more than will go in your literature review. You are reading to find things out about what others have found, thought and said, but you are also reading to learn. Its only once you have really learned what others have found, thought, and said that you can work out what you have found, and think, so that you can say it in your writing.

Dr Inger Mewburn, from Thesis Whisperer calls this the reading marathon and has some advice for surviving it here.
http://thesiswhisperer.com/2013/05/07/surviving-the-reading-marathon-2/

Writing up the methods and results

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Brenizer Method Pumpkins by Nicholas Erwin, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

These lecture slides posted on the OpenWetWare.org site have some good pointers about what goes in the methods sections and what goes in the results section of a paper.

Some things to watch out for are:

  • put the methods into a logical order (not necessarily the order you did things in), and then mirror this order in your results.
  • Take care not to discuss the results in the results section. You need to just include facts in this section.
  • Make sure you include all the aspects of the methods needed to follow what you did.

http://openwetware.org/images/b/b5/WritingResultsMethods.pdf

Reverse outlines

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RSiegel_Week35 – Like Mother, Like Son by Rebecca Siegel, Attribution License

A reverse outline is something you do after you have drafted a piece of work or a section. It is a very helpful way to see if what you have written makes sense, if one thing follows from another and if it is all in the right order. It also helps you see if your paragraphs have a main point or not, or if they really are paragraphs.

This post from The Writing Lab at Purdue University explains what reverse outlines are and how to do them.
http://writing.wisc.edu/Handbook/ReverseOutlines.html

Overusing abbreviations

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Instant Messaging/Chat Acronyms by tuchodi, Attribution-ShareAlike Licence

It’s tempting to use abbreviations in your writing, but they are rarely ever a good idea. Helen Moody from the Professional Training Company explains why. Here is a quick summary of a few of reasons you might have for using them and what Helen has to say about why not to.

  • It’s shorter and so uses less space. Sure abbreviations are shorter on the page, but they take just as long to read, and can take even longer to read when the reader doesn’t know what they stand for.
  • It’s easier. Well it may be easier for the writer, but it isn’t easier for the reader. The reader has to translate every time they read them. By using them you are making the reader do all the work. This is plain unfriendly. You want your reader to enjoy reading your work, not be put off.
  • It’s easier for you to type. That may be true, but in this day of word processors that’s no excuse. You can easily replace abbreviations you have in a draft with the whole phrase with one quick run through of search and replace. Or set up an autocorrect entry to automatically enter the full phrase when you type the abbreviation. I showed you how to do this in a previous post here.

Helen Moody (2005) A modest proposal to eliminate “Acronyms”. Professional Training Company. http://www.plainlanguage.gov/news/Acronyms.pdf

Formatting in-text citations in Endnote

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When you are writing it is sometimes useful to refer to the authors of a paper in the sentence, rather than just including the citation at the end of the sentence. This means you can use more active language rather than the passive voice, and it can make your writing clearer and more concise.

For example you may want to say that
“Smith (2001) found that 6 of 8 dogs treated with…..”

When you insert the reference though with Endnote it will first appear as
“(Smith, 2001) found that 6 of 8 dogs treated with…..”
which is not correctly formatted.

To change the formatting of the citation, select it by clicking on it and then go to Edit and Manage Citation(s) on the Endnote ribbon.

Under Formatting choose Display as: Author (Year) from the drop down menu and then select OK.

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Your reference will now be correctly formatted.

Effective signposting

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the sentinel, Tim Snell, Attribution-NoDerivs Licence

When you first start writing on a new topic you are reviewing, the writing process is a stage of learning. As you get stuff down onto paper, you start to be able to see how the parts come together and start to actually understand and form your own ideas and opinions. At this stage when anyone else reads your work (eg your supervisor) it may be hard for them to follow and your own ideas may not be clearly articulated.

Once you have learned enough (through writing about it) to really get to grips with the material and work out your own opinions and what you are actually saying, you can begin to restructure your work to present your opinion and present the evidence and arguments that support it. This stage usually requires a major restructure of the work .

Later, once you have this restructuring done, you need to revise again to produce a draft that another person can follow. Part of this process involves effective signposting. In her blogpost Katherine Firth provides the best explanation of this that I have come across with some really helpful examples. A really worthwhile read.

Effective Signposting, Katherine Firth, Research Degree Voodoo
http://researchvoodoo.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/effective-signposting/

Taking a break!

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Too tired, Paul Squires, Attribution-NoDerivs Licence

From time to time we all need a break. We get tired and our brains need a rest from stress and from trying to think about too many things at once. You also need to spend time with loved ones and just “be”.

It’s also surprising how often stepping away from your project can leave you with a clearer perspective of it when you come back to it. Often, despite trying to rest and not think about it, ideas will just pop into your brain about your research that allow you to see things more clearly. Something to do with reduced stress maybe?

So planning breaks as part of your dissertation writing is important. My recommendation though is that you keep these to being 1-2 weeks in duration. No longer. The reason comes from remembering that your dissertation is a learning process. You are learning and creating new ideas and some of the stuff you have learned may not be too well solidified in your brain yet. If you leave it too long you can be a step behind when you get back to it. If the break is very long you can really lose a lot of traction and it can seem a big step to get back into it, which can result in your procrastinating about starting again.

So over this Christmas period, I hope you can take some time out to share special times with family and friends, and come back to your work all refreshed and renewed.