#PhD students: Tips for writing

23 10 2012

PhD students: Tips for writing

I attended Craft of writing workshop by Emeritus Professor Anne Murcott and learned a few good tips of writing. I used to think that writing is extremely hard for me because I’m using a second language and I’m not confident enough of my grammar and writing style.  After attending a few writing workshops organised by the Humanity Faculty, University of Manchester, I realised that many native English-speaking PhD students found writing hard too. Like many students, I have anxiety and fear when I have to start writing. I enjoy collecting and analysing data, but find it really difficult to sit down and concentrate on producing words. The anxiety sometimes can take over and push me to do something that is a complete waste of time. Therefore, I’m interested in learning how to deal with these psychological problems and here are some tips I’ve learned in this workshop.

How to make yourself write regularly:

  • Have a draft by end of month
  •  Set up monthly deadline for yourself
  • Make a plan, but be flexible about it, don’t over plan
  • Free write—write 500-1000 words, whatever you think without reference
  • Write every single day—make it a routine

How to make efficient use of time:

  • Find the freshest time to do the most important thing in a day—find out what time of the day you work the best
  • Set up strict plan of not looking at Facebook kind of distraction
  • Make notes while reading, including page number of xx and this record will come back useful later. It can also remind yourself—‘why am I reading this?’
  • Keep a research diary of your thoughts—what is bothering you; what is disappointing; this is what I’m learning…
  • When you are finishing writing for the day, start with the next chapter when it’s still in your head—it will save you time the next day and make it a lot easier once you’ve already written the start for the next chapter

How to get positive feedback (instead of getting feedback that would crash your confidence):

  • Have a friend who is close to read your writing & think about write for a non-academic reader
  • Have someone who doesn’t know your research context. Eg., have an international audience & see whether your writing make sense

How to revise after a 1st draft?

  • First draft is for yourself—what I have to say; final draft is for readers—revise to stay to someone else
  • Writing style: Is a long sentence too long for the reader? Then revise it to two or three sentences.

How to deal with fear of writing and blockage?

  • To be confessional and use your own voice in the 1st draft
  • Put some pressure of limited time
  • Beginning of a draft can be very difficult—so start in the middle or the parts that you like the most

Some of these tips made me reflect on my own psychological problem and I realised that I did try to write as perfectly as I could in the 1st draft and that pressure brought anxiety. Maybe I should take it easy while drafting the first version. Hopefully these tips can help in my future academic life.


When technology goes wrong at presentation #phdchat

17 10 2012


I recently gave a presentation in Methods Fair organised by Methods@ Manchester.  My topic is “Why I use mixed-methods to research scholarly communication and academic use of social media”. It’s a one day event of many workshops and poster presentations for new PhD students from universities all over the country. My talk is about my methods for my PhD project, which incorporates both qualitative and quantitative methods. I had a PowerPoint presentation of 24 pages. Unfortunately, the PowerPoint went funny and kept running through by itself and wouldn’t go back to the page I wanted. I guess that this was because I was rehearsing timings and probably accidently clicked ‘use rehearsed timings’.  In that moment when I was in front of 20 people who were all looking at me, I had to stop the slide show and used ‘normal’ mode which the main screen was smaller than ‘slide show’ mode.  I don’t know if the audience could see the slides clearly in ‘normal’ mode, but it’s definitely a lesson learnt and to be improved next time! The slides for this presentation is accessible at http://www.methods.manchester.ac.uk/events/2012-10-10/documents/YimeiZhu.pdf