In this guest post, University of Glasgow PhD researcher Shelby Judge discusses her experiences with redrafting her thesis chapters and offers some advice on how to make the most of a redraft. You can read more about Shelby in her ‘5 Minutes With’ interview.
In a fit of grandiosity, I have labelled my current stage of thesis-writing ‘The Era of Redrafts’.
I am in the third year of my PhD, and I’m in the fairly nice position of having a draft of all the “main body” chapters (that is, not including the introduction and conclusion, literature review and methodology). Everyone has a different process when it comes to producing a thesis – during my own thesis-writing, once I’d finished a draft of a chapter, I emailed it to my supervisors and then I moved on. When I completed a chapter, I had written down literally everything I knew at that stage on that topic, and after a (in no way comprehensive) proofread, I was sick of looking at and thinking about that specific area of my research. So that’s how I’ve ended up with quite rough drafts of all my chapters with my supervisors’ constructive feedback all in the comments.
Going back to them now, one after the other, with much more knowledge on my subject and a better vision of how my thesis will look overall, has been incredibly useful. Personally, I’ve found that the word ‘redraft’ best fits what I am doing. This is because each of my chapters has been completely overhauled and, for the most part, they look completely different once I am done with them. But, if you prefer a word that doesn’t feel quite so much like a complete revision, then ‘editing’ or ‘reworking’ are also great options.
At the time of writing this blog post, I have redrafted four of my five chapters and my supervisors have been quite complimentary about how the edits have changed my work for the better. The sentence “whatever your editing process is, it’s working” has been bandied around. So, I thought I would share with the lovely SGSAH readership some tips and tricks that I have picked up along the way.
Listen to Your Process.
Though you may not have redrafted a PhD thesis before, you have (presumably, by definition of editing) produced some work for your PhD, and you’ve probably completed some degrees in the past. So, really, you know how you work best. If you’re a morning person or if you don’t really get into the swing of things until after dinner; maybe you work best with set goals or maybe you just go with the flow; perhaps you like hard copies of your work or you might have a more high-tech approach. My point is: you know how you write best, and those methods will probably be the best for editing, too.
To Do: Write ‘To Do’ List.
When faced with a 10,000-word chapter that needs completely rethinking and rewriting, it is pretty easy to become overwhelmed.
I break everything down into manageable chunks, and I find that writing down everything that needs to be done to a chapter is really helpful for visualising how the chapter needs to change. So, why not try a ‘to do’ list? And I don’t mean “To do: rewrite 5,000 words or else you’re a garbage person”, I mean “To do: Small task 1; small task 2; small task 3; reward”. There is truly no better feeling than that little burst of dopamine you get when you tick something off, especially if it’s something that has been lurking on your list for a while.
Personally, I like to do an “overall” to do list, with everything that needs doing for that chapter, and then start each day with a daily one, because double the lists mean double the ticks, but once again, you know best what will work for you.
If you can, print.
It would be understandable to think that editing works best on your computer, because the electronic document is right in front of you to make changes on. However, the pressure of that ticking cursor and the temptation to flick over to Twitter and start scrolling is just too much at the beginning of the redrafting process. Also, if it’s all sitting there as one big block of work, it can feel a bit daunting.
Instead, I find that printing the chapter out minimises distractions as well as just helping it to look like a proper document. If you’re anything like me, you might find an errant two-page long paragraph or a 100-word long sentence when redrafting, and they are much easier to locate on a hard copy. Then, you can go back to the document on your computer with an annotated draft, with a vision of what needs to change.
Now, my final, and most important piece of advice…
I would like to dedicate my thesis to nice felt tips.
Yellow highlighters, colourful felt tips, multicoloured fine liners, a biro that writes so smoothly you want to weep. Rulers, and pencils sharpened to a satisfying point. Post-it notes of various shapes and colours, paperclips, bull-clips. Glitter glue. Even writing this list, just thinking about exciting stationary, has put a big smile on my face.
I would recommend colour coding your chapters, too! My first chapter is pink, my second chapter is purple, third is blue, fourth is red, and fifth is orange. Or maybe you’d like to go with the traffic light system: red for the bits that need to be cut, orange for the parts that need improving, and green for the bits you want to keep.
The printed-out hard-copies of my chapters, that were once just piles of anxiety and imposter syndrome, are now a rainbow of improvement. There is just something so cheerful and cathartic about crossing out parts of your work with a purple felt tip, or drawing arrows with a pink fineliner, and it just makes what was previously quite a daunting or arduous job much more fun!
Shelby Judge is a third year English Literature PhD student at the University of Glasgow. Her thesis topic is “Exploring contemporary women writers’ adaptation of myth for feminist purposes”. In this thesis, Shelby is researching what impact contemporary adaptations of Greek myths can have upon the feminist movement. Shelby’s overarching research interests are in feminist and queer theory and contemporary British and American women’s fiction. Shelby also runs a PhD-related blog at TheShelbiad.blogspot.com, and you can find her on Twitter at @judgeyxo and on Instagram at shelbyjudge.
If you’re interested in writing a guest post for the SGSAH blog, email Danielle.Schwertner@glasgow.ac.uk.