In This Issue:
You’ve got your workspace set up and your 12 minutes (or longer!) scheduled to work on your thesis, and you’re FINALLY feeling motivated to write. But when you actually sit down and stretch your hands to the keyboard … nothing. Not a word is coming to you; your mind is as blank as the screen in front of you.
If you suffer from writer’s block, don’t dismay. It happens to the best of students … and the best of writers. Moreover, this type of phenomenon isn’t limited to just beginning the process. Many students face the same type of frightening “beginning” each time they sit down to write!
Never fear; help is on the way! Whatever your reason for having writer’s block, there are a number of strategies that can help you overcome this frustrating phenomenon. Whenever you’re “stuck,” try using one or more of these to help get you writing again.
#1. Read previous papers that you have written well.
Simply rereading previous class papers will remind you of the work you are capable of doing and the fact that you really can write well! In addition, past papers can give you clues regarding the best aspects of your writing. Focus on areas where you received praise from your instructor, and look for patterns of writing, key words and phrases, or organizational strategies that worked well. All of these elements will help you to find the strength in your writing, and hopefully motivate you to start typing again!
#2. Free write without editing or worrying about the grammar.
The first step to overcoming writer’s block is just to write something. Keep in mind that your first draft doesn’t need to be perfect; the most important thing is just to get your initial thoughts down on paper. Pick a section and just “free write” for 15-30 minutes and see how much you can get done. Don’t edit, cross out or spell check, and don’t judge or censor what you are writing; just write whatever pops into your mind. Don’t stop; keep writing, even if you have to write something like, “I don’t know what to write.” Strange as it may seem, even writing about why you can’t write helps dissolve anxiety and clears your mind! Most often, just the act of writing itself will eventually stimulate your creative juices, and your only problem will be that you won’t want to stop!!!
#3. Write in your own voice or language and then translate it into academic ease.
Just as “free writing” can help you to get your initial ideas on paper, so can writing in a familiar language more comfortable to you than academic prose. Clearly, academic writing must be far more formal than other types of writing, and your writing structure, style and language should reflect the same elevated aspects that you find in other academic materials. But you don’t have to get there on your first pass! To get started, find your voice by writing a section as if it were a letter or email to a good friend or grandmother. Sometimes setting aside the more formal, academic prose and just writing informally to a buddy can be liberating and help you get the ideas on paper. You can make it sound “smart” later!!!
#4. Journal every morning to clear your mind.
Keeping a journal is an age-old technique that writers have used to get their thoughts down on paper and keep track of what they learn. Many writers use a journal to write down facts, brainstorm ideas or “free write” a stream of consciousness to get their creative juices flowing. Others use it to vent their frustrations, which can help them move past the emotions of writer’s block.
I highly recommend using our TADA Methods Journal. You can use our Methods journal to write down random thoughts and ideas whenever they strike; it can also serve as a central depository for data that can be mined in the future. There is also a “Issues to be Resolved” section, and a half page of graphing paper to create hand drawings of the elaborate tables and graphs you plan to include in your thesis/dissertation. You can run these “rough” drafts by your advisor for approval before investing a lot of time mapping the final versions.
#5. Use “Mind Mapping” to draw connections from one concept to next.
Let’s face it: most of us aren’t linear thinkers. Our thoughts don’t come to us in an already organized manner; rather, our minds jump around from one point to another, and ideas strike us from all directions. It’s no wonder, then, that many people get stuck trying to write in a linear fashion, starting with an introductory paragraph, and trying to write the entire document in order from start to finish. Instead, start by writing down your thoughts in the same way that your mind works. I suggest using a two-dimensional “flow chart” that allows you to write down your thoughts in the form of free-association diagrams. This popular brainstorming technique is also called “Mind Mapping.” Using “Mind Mapping” helps writers to draw relational connections between ideas that they might not otherwise see if they were using traditional linear outlines.
One way to use this technique is to write the title of the subject you’re writing about in the center of a page and draw a circle around it. Start scribbling all over the page any ideas that come to you regarding this subject. Eventually you’ll notice patterns that pinpoint major subdivisions or subheadings of the topic (or important facts that relate to the topic). You can identify these areas by drawing lines out from the main circle and labeling them with the subdivisions or subheadings you have discovered. As you continue to “burrow” further into the topic, you’ll be able to begin linking all of the individual thoughts and facts you write to a particular subhead or subdivision. Draw lines to link each of them to the appropriate section. This process will help you to organize your thoughts by showing the overall structure of your topic, the relative importance of each thought, and how each of your thoughts relate to one another.
#6. Separate out your chapter, section, paragraph from the rest of document.
Let’s face it, not too many people, including your entire committee, will read a master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation cover to cover. A thesis or dissertation is not the type of document that piques the general public’s interest mainly because of its academic rigor and writing style. The topic is generally of interest only to the student, experts in the field and the student’s advisor and committee members.
Your committee will focus on the area that interests them. Each section should be clear and succinct on its own. Approaching the document piece by piece not only makes the task seem smaller and less intimidating, but it also frequently produces a much stronger document, because each of your sections will be able to stand on their own.
#7. Use a recorder or cell phone and leave yourself a message about your paragraph.
Some graduate students are very good at verbalizing their thoughts and ideas, but have a difficult time putting those same ideas onto paper. If you are struggling with writing you may consider using dictation as a method to write. Talking your way through the subject matter helps to provide clarity. Consider transcribing your words into text, or further simplify the task by taking advantage of recent speech-to-text software. You will definitely need to edit your work afterward, but using this text will provide you with a solid first draft. While this process may be somewhat time-consuming, it is a proven method that can help you to move forward when you find yourself in a rut.
#8. Put some distance between you and your writing to give yourself some time to re-read it with a clear mind.
Once you have a first draft completed, take a significant break before addressing the paper again. Putting time between the writing and reviewing process will better help you to discover weaknesses, errors and omissions that weren’t clear at the time of initial writing. New thoughts always come to you as you read through a second time; in addition to correcting typos, you’ll find yourself challenging your own ideas and deepening and strengthening your argument. Another great review technique is to read your paper in reverse order, starting with the back page and working your way towards the front. This technique takes away some of the familiarity of your initial writing, which will allow you to better pinpoint errors and other areas of weakness.
#9. Use an outline with a thesis sentence for every paragraph you will write.
To start this process, make a list of all the ideas you want to include in your paper. This simple task will help clarify your thoughts and provide you with the words to begin. Then organize those ideas by grouping all of the related points together. Once you’ve completed this process, attach a main title or subhead to each group.
Outlining your document in this manner will help you to organize all of the ideas running around in your head; show the relationship between all of those ideas; and present your material in a logical form. It will also show you any gaps that may exist in your thought patterns and/or research. Another benefit of an outline is that they are quick and easy to review, so your professors will be more willing to look them over and make comments.
#10. Leave the transition sentences until the end.
The purpose of transitions is to help the reader follow your train of thought and make a connection that may otherwise be overlooked or misunderstood. They also help the reader to anticipate or comprehend new information that you have yet to present. Transitions can take the shape of a single word, phrase, sentence or even an entire paragraph. Regardless of their form, they should summarize for the reader the information you have just covered, and specify the relevance of this information to what you will be discussing the following section(s). Because of this, they are best written after all of your paragraphs (or “summaries”) are already completed. If your transition is well done, each paragraph/summary should flow smoothly into the next without obvious shifts or jumps.
Use any one or all of these tips to finish your thesis or dissertation. By setting small goals for yourself around the chapter production, you will find the tasks of writing readily begin to fall into place.
Email Question of the Month:
I need to ask something. I need your assistance. How can I finish my thesis writing on July, 2008. I need to be in a hurry. What methodology can I use in all aspects.
Thank you for contacting us at TA-DA!Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. I read your message several times. I could not really figure out if you were asking a research methodology question or whether you were asking a time-management question.
We at TA-DA clearly can address the time-management question because we believe in starting with a deadline and working from there. TA-DA Online at www.tadafinallyfinished.com can help you figure what you have to do and when you have to do it. It can also help you continue to move the document forward even when you don’t feel like writing. That’s what we do, we help people finish their document especially when they have a set time-frame in which to work from.
I hope I interpreted your question correctly and I hope this answer moves you forward. I wish you all the best,
Congrats to Emily M. for finishing her Ph.D.
One of our Dissertation House graduates Rodney H. has completed his dissertation at UMCP!
Join us for our Summer TA-DA! Challenge and participate in our online Dissertation House July 8-26th, 2008.
About the Author: As a single mother, professor Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D., completed three masters’ degrees and a PhD. Her motto is a Good Thesis/Dissertation is a Done Thesis/Dissertation. She is the creator of a new innovative interactive resource tool on CD—TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. To learn more and sign up for her FREE tips and teleclasses, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Privacy is our policy. TADA™ Finishline does not give out or sell our subscribers’ names or e-mail addresses.