Often I am asked what the most important tip is for writing effectively. Of course there is a lot to say about that, you can become more effective in many different ways, but the most important thing you definitely need to do is to separate the different phases in writing. What do I mean with that?
A lot of PhD students just start writing. They sit down at the computer, type a few bits and pieces, read again, look for some literature, do some cutting and pasting, rephrase a sentence or two, think of a new title, work on their conclusion, notice that their theoretical framework is not yet complete so do some more research and think about the implications for the method section, analyse their data a bit further and then have to go back to their framework again…
This description might be a bit exaggerated, but it is what I see happen very often. Most PhD students do a little bit of everything. They are – so to speak – juggling with to many balls at the same time; they are busy with:
- working on the structure of the text
- getting clarity on argumentation
- checking literature
- thinking about the content
- wondering whether they need more information or if they have already enough
- rephrasing titles
- changing paragraphs
- wondering if the different parts they wrote really fit together
- asking themselves what their supervisor will say about their text
- scrolling back and forth through their text
- changing the order in the text
- checking their grammar
- writing up their figures and tables
- analyzing their results
- looking for new literature
- polishing up their lay out
And I can expend on this, you probably as well….
You can imagine that it is not very effective and efficient to be busy with so many things at the same time, it makes your brain spin, you simply cannot handle all those things at the same time. It is like juggling with a lot of balls at the same time, virtually impossible for almost everyone. Juggling with two or three balls, that might be doable, but not with more…
So what you need to do to write more efficient and effective, is to divide the writing process in different phases. And those phases are actually quit straightforward; they are called preparation, (free) writing en revising.
What is what?
Preparation means thinking about your structure, finding literature, thinking about your audience, knowing what goal you want to reach with your text, making sure you know the deadlines, planning. So preparation is everything you need to make sure you can actually start writing.
If all goes well, you will have a design for your text when you have finished preparing. And the more detailed your design, the easier it is to write. So it is very helpful for yourself to not only write down a few key words as your design, but to actually make a detailed table of contents or some kind of ‘construction plan’. There are a lot of books in which you can find different methods for that.
In the next phase, the (free) writing, is is important that you write as fast as possible. Not producing perfect sentences and paragraphs, but actually filling in your design as fast as possible. No worries about grammar, style and so on. Because that belongs to a different phase: the revision. Whilst writing, all you do is jot down everything that should be on paper, based on your design.
When revising, you start to correct your text at different levels: you look at the structure as a whole (is the design I made visible in my text?), you look at paragraphs (are my paragraphs actually paragraphs, according to the rules?), you look at sentences, at grammar, spelling and lay out.
If you divide your writing in those small portions, and actually start to write according to the different phases in the writing process, you turn writing into manageable tasks; you are able to juggle with a few balls at the same time, instead of trying to keep all balls in the air!
And it’s a guarantee: working like this makes you much more efficient!
photo via Flickr, many thanks to Helico Do you want to receive more tips, tricks and tools? Subscribe for the newsletter and receive 244 #phd tips. Click here.