Book: “How to Write a Thesis”

I got a book from my university library, called “How to Write a Thesis”, by Rowena Murray (I’ve got it on 3-day loan only, which is a pest, so I might buy my own).

I’m not much through the book yet, but I am liking its encouragement and guidance for writing early and often, which matches advice from Prof. Malcolm Crowe at our induction day for new research students (waaaay back in September). It is particularly good at encouraging action in the here-and-now, rather than waiting until you ‘feel ready’, and in so doing, seeks to portray writing as a discipline, rather than an art, for academics (even one only just starting his PhD!).

Part of the aim of the book is to get its readers able to write 1000 words an hour, and it labours the point that is might seem scary and unobtainable… but that is is achievable if I follow what the book says. Sure, it might not be the most polished, high-quality 1000 words ever, but it ought to be decently coherent and have at least some semblance of structure. As such, I tried one of the first exercises, which was to write (i.e. type at the computer) for five minutes, on the topic of “what can I write in five minutes?”. Somewhat vague target, but I thought I’d give it a go anyway, under the book’s guidance to write non-stop, in complete sentences, using the first person (i.e. “I do this…”).

The result? 275 words which are in fact rather coherent and structured. I won’t post them here, but suffice it to say, if I kept that rate up for an hour, I would have 3300 words! I figured it could be a fluke, and that maybe I couldn’t keep up that rate for more than 5 minutes.

Indeed, I was proven correct… somewhat. Next exercise was to write, for no particular amount of time, about what particularly interests me regarding my research area. I ended up writing for 19 minutes, producing an oddly well-structured and coherent piece of writing, totalling 818 words. If I kept up that rate for an hour, I would have written around 2583 words. A little slower than the 5 minute flurry, but still rather faster than the book claims to help me achieve if I follow all its advice!

OK, OK… I know it’s not about word count. Of course, it helps that after 18 years of being a pianist (which helps with dexterity) and a number of years’ computer programming, I can type a little more quickly than your average computer user (>100 correct words per minute if I’m copying text verbatim). So I won’t be benefiting much from the book’s writing speed claims… but I’m sure it will help me structure stuff better, which is the important thing. 🙂

I’ve got to get into this other book too now, which is recommended everywhere… “How to Get a PhD”… sounds like the book for me!

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