Mapping your ideas for planning, writing and more

When you are faced with a blank page, consider creating a mind map.

Mind map showing some of the benefits/uses of mind maps
Photo credit: Fernandosca

A mind map is a visual way to capture thoughts and ideas as they occur to you, and to indicate relationships between those ideas.  Because they do not need to be created sequentially, they are ideal when you are just getting started and your brain is full of stuff.  Examples of when you might find a mind map particularly useful include: writing a new chapter/article; project planning an activity for your research; and creating your to-do list.  There are many more examples of PhD researchers using mind maps on Twitter. Continue reading “Mapping your ideas for planning, writing and more”

Helen writes: reading to write

In the third of an occasional series, Writing Skills Advisor Helen Williams talks about how reading previous theses can contribute to your writing practice.

If you saw last month’s posts about perseverance and The Conversation, you’ll have picked up on the fact that November was #AcWriMo (Academic Writing Month) – an annual, month-long, communal attempt by academics at all career stages to focus on their writing. In thinking about what can be most helpful in both facilitating and improving writing however, I keep coming back to how important reading is as part of this process.

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot." Stephen King

Continue reading “Helen writes: reading to write”

The PGR Writing Summer School 2019 eased the PhD journey for me

Last week was the PGR Writing Summer School 2019, and Eric Ngang, a Global Challenges Scholar in Law, was there.

PGR WSS Pen Shield
To follow the links in this post, self-enrol on the PGR Writing Summer School 2019 Canvas module: https://canvas.bham.ac.uk/enroll/Y6HXJ4

If you want to get top tips on how to navigate your PhD journey irrespective of the stage at which you are in the process, the PGR Writing Summer School is the ideal opportunity. I took part in the 2019 Summer School and it has been the most invaluable opportunity for me to reflect on my PhD journey after one year.

The first two days of the School were made up of well-structured packages covering specific modules including academic writing for your thesis, and writing for publication: the publication process, ethics and article structure. Continue reading “The PGR Writing Summer School 2019 eased the PhD journey for me”

Helen writes: explicit content!

In the second of an occasional series, Writing Skills Advisor Helen Williams gives advice on writing more clearly.

I am often surprised by the difference between what people think they have written compared to what is actually on the page. I was reminded of this recently when helping a friend with a chapter of her postgraduate work; she was confident that she made frequent links back from her literature review to her own research. Trusting her opinion I had a look, but soon found myself writing comments like “How does this inform your approach?”, “I’m not sure how this relates to your topic” and “Can you link back to your own research here?”

Parental_Advisory_labelEither you are explicit in how you set out your ideas or discussion, or you are expecting your reader to pick up the implicit connections. Something about doctoral-level writing in particular seems to breed a fear of being explicit. Certainly on my part I always felt that the more complicated I made my writing and argument, the more ‘intelligent’ it would appear. Setting everything out clearly for a supervisor or examiner felt overly simplistic or even patronising – as if they couldn’t work out the links for themselves.

The reality is that no-one should have to ‘work’ to understand your writing; there is a difference between complex ideas (which a doctoral thesis should engage with) and complex writing. Continue reading “Helen writes: explicit content!”

In the footsteps of others

The University of Birmingham eTheses repository has a fantastic new look and improved functionality, so now is a great time to have a browse through previous UoB theses.

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A research thesis is a very different piece of writing from anything else you may have produced before, and from anything you will need to do in future, and as such, it can be difficult to understand exactly what is required, particularly in terms of structure and style.  Looking at previous theses can provide really useful examples to help you navigate this unique form of academic writing.  Continue reading “In the footsteps of others”

Helen writes: getting started

In the first of a new occasional series, Writing Skills Advisor Helen Williams gives advice on getting started with your thesis writing.

In 2018 I started at the University of Birmingham as a Writing Skills Advisor, and when asked to contribute to this blog I considered the hardest part of writing my own thesis.

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Helen Williams, Writing Skills Advisor, Library Services

Fittingly, ‘getting started’ was often the toughest task for me, which also felt apt for a first blog post. Preparation is essential in drafting effective writing, and there is a lot that you can do encourage this process before putting pen to paper. So, to start, here are four tips for getting started. Continue reading “Helen writes: getting started”

Writing productively during #AcWriMo

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Image credit: Raul Pacheco-Vega

November is Academic Writing Month or #AcWriMo.  Set an academic writing goal, and work alongside the online #AcWriMo community to achieve your goal.  We have talked about setting an appropriate goal for #AcWriMo in a previous post, so this year, we’re going to look at being a productive writer, to help you reach those carefully set goals. Continue reading “Writing productively during #AcWriMo”