Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Post 34: Paragraph Thinking and Writing

I write this post with gratefulness in mind for my colleague Garrett Richards, whose brilliant conversation, friendship, and mentorship was immensely valuable to me when we were able spend time together for a month and a half this summer. We'd meet up to eat lunch together several days of the week, discuss a wide variety of fun topics, including the thesis work we were doing.

As a PhD student, his slightly more advanced (in academia) perspective was fantastic: he'd finished his master's not-that-long-ago, and so was able to provide some phenomenal advice. He was also really getting into writing his thesis at the time, so a number of the conversations we had were around me asking questions like "How are you organizing your chapters?" and  "How do you sort out what information belongs where? How do you plan your writing?"

So with my thanks to Garrett, this blog post is dedicated to the few (awesome) conversations about thesis writing and thinking in paragraphs.

Thinking in paragraphs is the way he structures what he has to write. The paragraph is a great unit to organize thoughts by, because it's a nice balance between the tiny details of a specific point that one research paper makes, and the overall aim of a thesis chapter.

A paragraph has a logical organization, beginning with the topic sentence that informs what the paragraph will cover (and consequently, Garrett said, he had the tendency to write long paragraphs), and finishing with a sort of wrap up of what that paragraph then said (the concluding sentence), with related sentences in between. Then, you can organize sections of the chapter based on laying out which paragraphs speak to the others around it, and which ones need to be in there, etc.

On my walk to the library, being charmed by the big maple leaves! 
Having this kind of tool was really helpful for providing advice to one of my colleagues recently! In one of my Thesis Completion Group meetings,  a colleague was dealing with writer's block, and the fellow sitting next to me said to him, "D—, are you trying to write a whole thesis at once?!" And this got me to thinking about what was helpful for me for breaking down the intimidation involved with setting out to 'write a thesis', and well: you don't write a thesis all at once; you write word that builds a sentence that builds part of a paragraph, one piece at a time. Or, one thought at a time, and I chatted about this with D— when I invited him to my thesis writing group the following week. In short order, we'd discussed what he'd be working on writing, in smaller, manageable paragraphs, and he set to it!

Therefore, paragraph thinking (and writing) is an extremely important tool for chapter organization (on top of writing!) that helps to break down the concerns about writing a whole thesis at once. :)

Hope this was helpful!

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