Backstage of my thesis writing-up process

As one of my colleagues has said… ‘I have been silent, but BUSY.’ This July I have been writing up the second draft of my thesis, trying to cover all details, references, and making all chapters part of a complete unit. Of course there are still point to polish and change. To some extent, I think a thesis will never be perfect; there is always something else to add. But I am happy, even though I know there’s a lot to finish yet, the more I write, the more things start to find their place and make sense (at least in my head!).
Anyway, coming back to this post…during the past weeks, I realised that writing up a thesis has commonalities with mathematics and design. Wikipedia defines Mathematics as the study of quantity, structure, space, and change, which seeks out patterns, formulate new conjectures, and establish truth by rigorous deduction from appropriately chosen axioms and definitions. And Design is a thinking-executing process, which deals with analysis, selection, simplification, organisation and communication of messages in an effective way. So, let’s see how these three elements can be related.

A thesis is not all about reading and writing and writing and reading. The writing up process, which I refer to as surgery process, involves much of strategy and selection, than a mere act of writing. It is also about thinking, searching, researching, regrouping, reorganising, classifying and explaining with logic and clarity every step, word and decision, but, at the same time, not all of them, only those that are essential to properly communicate what you have been working on for the last years. With properly I mean go further into: what (aims, contribution), why (context, background) how (action plan, outcomes, methodologies, research process) points
From all those actions, I find simplification and selection, the core ones. On the contrary of what most people may think (included me at the very beginning of my thesis!) the problem is not to write the required word count, the problem is what should be included there and what should be left apart. In general, in a practice-led research the maximum is 40,000 words, which are not that much at all! Part of this process is to learn what, in terms of design, is called ‘simplification process’. In the creation of diagrams, this is one of the most important stages, as diagrams cannot show or represent everything. To some extent, a researcher’s learning-process relies on its ability to distinguish, select and decide whether information is more important than other, and worth to be included in the final piece of writing.

Chapter 4 of my thesis. July, 2010

As I have argued before, for diagrams it is fundamental to select and translate the appropriate information to create effective and comprehensible messages; thus when writing up a thesis, the same rule applies. Going further, a thesis writing-up-process may involve three decisions:

– The type of information that is better to include (main info, reports, analyses, findings)
– The way this information may be organised (plan, chapter outline)
– The reference data (footnotes, images, tables, page numbers)

Particularly, in a previous post, I have highlighted the need of having a plan or strategy before starting with the writing-up process. Now, I have to restate that. Having a plan is crucial, no matter which one. I have read several theses about different subjects (i.e. design, chemistry, mathematics, architecture, history, art) trying to find out a proper thesis organising-structure, but then I realised that it does not matter which structure it is followed. The key is to have your own thesis structure, where the included content covers all the essential points, such as give the readers all necessary clues to get into your subject area, define scope of analysis. Another tip, which my supervisors keep telling me, it is that each chapter has to work by its own. Chapters compose the complex structure of a thesis, but at the same time, they should be independent units, with their one structure, objectives and purposes.

No matter the field of a thesis, organisation, strategy, defining a plan and clarity are essential elements to keep in mind during the whole research process.

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