What is your writing process?

Hello blogland,

One of the best courses I ever took was a tutor training course. The first day of class, Cynthia Haynes-Burton gave us an assignment. She asked us to write 500 to 1000 words describing our writing process. I had been writing since I was very young, but it had never occurred to me to think about my writing process.  I stayed up until the very wee hours analyzing and pondering. This is what I came up with:

1. I must plan (this plan will be thrown out eventually).

2. I must write my plan out with a marker pen in very large letters with pictures. This helps me see my eventual transitions (which is where my originality is usually found).

3. I must write more than I want to. I have a tendency to write strongly and with focus for 45 minutes and then to drift off into other things. I must not do this. I must write through this lull and find that sweet writing zone.

4. I need one week extra time before I hand anything in. I use this time to edit, proofread and generally fuss over what I’ve written.

What is your writing process? When do you write?



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Part II: ‘Writing Your Master’s Dissertation/Thesis’

15 – 20 September 2012. This is the deadline for handing in most Master’s dissertations/theses in the UK. That gives you 5 months. No problem, right? All you need to do right now is finish your papers for the spring term, take a bit of time off and then start reading for your dissertation in late July. Right? Wrong. If you go about it that way, you’ll find yourself hard up against your deadline in September.

Here are my tips for getting your Master’s dissertation/thesis in on time:

 1. Get organised.

First, organise your notes. You’ve taken a bucketload of notes and now it’s time to find out which ones apply to your chosen topic. Sit down, read, create a file and copy all the relevant information into that file. By doing this, you will not only remind yourself about what you’ve studied, you will also create connections between ideas that at first seem disparate.

Next, place your notes or resources under category headings. For example, if you are writing about the revolutionary impact of graffiti in 1970s New York, you may want to consider category headings like: the economic climate of post 1960s New York, the history of racial tension in New York City, the impact of street culture on dominant culture, the history of graffiti style, etc.

Finally, whenever you find new information, categorise it using your system. This will help you to clearly see what information you have and what you still need to find. It will also, and this is important enough to say twice, help you to make connections between different resources.

2. Research and narrow.

Once you’ve organised what you know, compile a list of what you don’t know. Make the list narrow (i.e. focus on a few relevant topics). Try not to get distracted by covering everything on your list. You might find that one topic, when adequately covered, provides enough material for your entire dissertation/thesis.

Not sure where to begin your research? Start with the electronic databases relevant to your field (MLA for Modern Languages, SSN for Social Sciences, etc). If you’re unsure where to look, ask your university’s librarian. He or she will point you in the right direction. These databases offer a broad view of the current debates taking place on your subject. They also provide you with an understanding of the primary texts other academics are using.

 3. Create a Bibliography.

As you research, build a bibliography/works cited page. Format your bibliography pages in the style guide you are expected to use for your dissertation. Do this now and you will save yourself time and anxiety later.

 4. Write.

Do not wait until you have finished your research to begin writing because your research will never be ‘finished’. Write every day. You may want to divide up your time consistently each day. I tended to write in the mornings and read in the afternoons when I was doing my thesis.

Writing every day not only helps you meet your deadline, it also clarifies the originality of your argument. Being clear about what you want to argue will give you confidence about your writing. Soon enough, you will find that the joy of writing a research paper is discovering the originality of your own ideas.

 5. Rewrite and edit.

This final stage is the most ignored and the most important. Rewriting is more than simply checking for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. Rewriting requires you to read over your text carefully, looking for gaps in your argument, false statements and possible errors in attributing references (i.e. plagiarism).

First, consider the organisation of your paper. Ask yourself the following: does one idea lead clearly onto the next?; are the transitions smooth?; do the introduction and conclusion make the originality of the paper clear?; have you supported your claims adequately?

Next, consider how your sentences are structured. No one wants to read a 15,000 word dissertation composed entirely of five line sentences. Nor do they want to read only short, staccato sentences. You want your examiner to enjoy your work! Sentence length is fundamental to capturing the attention of your reader. Make sure you mix it up and give it texture. Use short sentences to accentuate a point. Use long and medium length sentences to inform.

Finally, have someone else read your work! None of us are brilliant at editing our own work. If you do not have a friend or a relative who you trust to read your paper, give us (thewritinglaboratory.co.uk) a try. Our tutors can guide you through every stage of the writing process. We can, for instance, offer comments about the quality of your argument or help to make sure you have not unintentionally plagiarised. We can also proofread and edit your text. If you include the code ‘AprilMayJune’ in your order, you will receive 10% off whichever service you choose.

I hope you have found this article helpful. I will be back in two weeks time with an in-depth look into how to research effectively.



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How to be Original: Part I ‘Where to Begin’

To get a PhD in the UK (and most of the world), you need to:

  1. write a thesis/dissertation that contributes to the field of knowledge in your subject
  2. write a thesis that is original, discovers new facts and/or demonstrates a keen exercise of independent critical power

If you are thinking of doing a PhD or have already begun one, these two requirements are daunting. How in the world do you come up with an original argument? If you are working in science or mathematics this path might be clear (although my new tutee, who is a mathematician, tells me this is not always so).

Let us begin by removing your doubt: you can, and you will write an original argument. No one doubts your ability to do so. If you have already been given a place to study, your supervisor, your department, your funders (if you’re lucky enough to have them!) and your university believe that you will finish your PhD.  It’s only you that doubts this fact. As many a famous philosopher has pointed out (name them if you can!), originality begins with doubt. In other words: if you doubt yourself, you’re on the right track.

One can’t spend all one’s time doubting, however. You must begin thinking! Where do you begin? The following are three suggestions to get you going. Do these three things every day. Yes, every day. This includes day 1. If you’re already at day 45, begin now. Right now.

1. Write

This might seem obvious. However, I’ve known quite a lot of people who’ve spent the first year of their PhD reading. Don’t make this mistake. Writing is thinking. Let me say that again. It’s important! Writing is thinking. The sooner you begin to write, the sooner you will begin to think. It’s that simple.

2. Disagree

You should be asking: how do I know what to write, if I haven’t read anything yet? The answer is to do both at the same time. As you’re reading, take notes on the following:

  • Write down what you don’t agree with and try to explain in writing why you don’t agree.
  • Take notes on arguments that don’t really make sense to you and write down exactly what doesn’t make sense.
  • After you have taken notes, write about why an argument might be false. If you can back up your opinion with other references, do so.  Once you can do this, you will be well on your way to writing your thesis.

3. Format the style of your text

It might seem strange to worry about things like spelling, grammar, page formatting, footnotes and a bibliography in your first few months of doing a research degree. However, taking 30 minutes at the end of each writing session to format and proofread your text will not only save you time and aggravation later, it will also make you very, very, (very!) good at checking for errors. After only a few weeks, you will be expert at formatting and pretty good at proofreading. Eventually, this will become second nature to you and you won’t have to panic about formatting when you submit your work to your supervisor.

Thanks for reading! In Part 2 of the ‘How to be Original’ series, I will help you analyze the writing you’ve already completed and give you advice on spotting the kernels of insight that set your work above that of the crowd.




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Welcome to the blog version of thewritinglaboratory.co.uk!


A while ago, I was having lunch with a friend. We were sat outside, eating soup and sandwiches, a very American lunch. American in nature, English in execution. The soup was celeriac.

I was telling my friend about the difficult time I was having finding work. I’d graduated with my PhD five months earlier. Once I’d accomplished this magnificent and stupendous feat (that was sarcasm), I’d expected the job offers to flood in! They did not. So we put our heads together and had a think.

Three months later, the fruit of our thinking, The Writing Laboratory.co.uk, was born. The Writing Laboratory is a small group of very talented writers who offer their editing, proofreading, content writing and tutoring skills to researchers, academics, students, corporations and even publishers. What sets us apart from the many, many other companies offering similar service is our flair for the English language. When you use us, you not only get meticulous attention to your document, you get creativity, intelligence and energy. And frankly, we’re not that expensive. Visit our  website to have a look. Or, contact us directly at contactus@thewritinglaboratory.co.uk.

One of the things we’re passionate about is helping young researchers find and voice their original ideas. This blog is dedicated to that pursuit. Each week, we’ll be posting in the series, ‘How to Be Original’.



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