Thursday, May 10, 2012

Reflection on my writing workflow

I subscribe to several blogs dedicated to academic publishing and dissertation writing. At one point or another most of these fine resources suggests one step back and evaluate their workflow and writing process; this to refine the process for future efficiency in the name of expedient progress. This is something I have thought of off and on for many years but haven't had the time to focus on it. There are so many great suggestions from those blogs though follow through is less plentiful.

In this brief lull between chapters, while I work on other projects, I've had time to reflect on how it is I actually write. It's a common process I'm sure, but here's my version:
  1. The thoughts. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out a question and then agonize over my answer. Before I even set fingers to keyboard to start my outline I contemplate my question, supporting evidence, though the conclusion is never pre-conceived; however, I always hope that it will turn out as I hope. This is a stark shift from my approach in undergrad when I started with my conclusion, found supporting evidence, and then wrote my thesis. This worked for short papers when I wasn't really obligated to synthesize 'original material';

  2. The outline. I always start with my headings: Introduction, key points, conclusion. Slowly I start to fill out these sections; I usually follow this through sequentially, as it forces me to think linearly and conceive the chapter as a unified whole and make sure all of my supporting material and arguments related to my larger research question. This process usually takes longer than the actual writing, as I spend the bulk of my time actually working out the argumentation. When it's finished I feel fairly confident that I've the makings of a good paper/article/chapter. Chapter 5 of my dissertation was outlined out of sequence and I found that it required the most revision during my writing process. Normally, after I print my outline I make very few revisions, additions or deletions of my material. I didn't chapter 5 outline but worked off my laptop screen, switching back and forth between windows. I found it interrupted my workflow far more than looking back and forth to a hardcopy of my printed outline. This added many more hours to my writing and was horribly counterproductive;

  3. Writing: By the time I finish my outline I have most of my thoughts ready to commit to the digital screen. For every page of outline I normally get about four pages of written copy. I started working like this while writing the papers for my comprehensive exams and found it wonderful effective. The writing usually goes very fast since I have the thinking already done. Most of the writing process is elaboration on the key discussion points in the outline. Sometimes I have to make annotations as to other key points I forgot. Most of the expansion and elaboration in my writing is realizing that most of my key points are predicated on my own assumptions as to the reader's knowledge. I'm glad I discover these deficits early on because it helps pad my word count. I'm glad my supervisor is not entirely up to speed on my topic because it forces me to explain topics and ideas sufficiently for her to understand them and provide decent, constructive feedback. Thus far, I'm very fortunate that she is so forthcoming with comments, suggested revisions, and encouragement.

  4. Revision. Meh. It's a necessary evil and I don't really enjoy it. In one instance I've just axed an entire dissertation chapter because it wasn't really related to my overall research question. Not all is lost; I think it will make a decent long article.
I consider myself extremely lucky to have found a system that works well for me. Goodness knows I've tried a significant number of different systems but I've really hit my stride with this one.

No comments: