Thesis Writing: Process and Package

The cover page to Søren Kierkegaard's universi...
Søren Kierkegaard's thesis (Wikipedia)
by Susan Carter, Doctoral Writing SIG:

I’ve been thinking about the divide between doing research and packaging it up into a thesis.

On one side, there’s all the thinking, sense of inadequacy and panic that goes into the research work, and on the other there’s the calm emotional-suppression of the doctoral thesis’s formal academic writing.

The thesis contains all the baggage of the literature review, methodology, theory, with aspects of research that entailed roller-coaster emotional highs and lows packaged up in pristine neatness. 

I’m thinking about how one crosses that divide in order to submit the thesis.

And about the role of creativity in problem-solving. I’m reading an interesting book called “Imagine” by Jonah Lehrer (it’s actually someone else’s book and after showing it to me he has taken it back. I’ve only had about an hour in it and I’ll probably need to find it in the library to finish it).

Lehrer’s premise is that the work of the imagination, in the right hemisphere of the brain, which interprets irony, metaphor, and art forms and doesn’t affect speech or movement, is more intertwined with logical thought than Western philosophy allows.

Creative, even metaphoric, ways of thinking can provide solutions to quite hard-nosed problems. Lehrer has some good examples (and he uses Dylan’s elusive-yet-evocative lyrics and their instant uptake to demonstrate how the right hemisphere works). You may have seen this man in the news for the ignominy of plagiarism, and in fact, for manufacturing a quotation from Dylan, so there is a moral there too.

But the book is stimulating - I aim to try relaxing a bit and giving my sometimes excitable right hemisphere space a bit more credence. I think Lehrer’s ideas are helpful to thesis writers, who almost by definition grapple with problems to be solved in their research. We don’t just have to rely on logic.

Then, once solutions to problems are found, the next challenge exists, which is taking the experience into the medium of the completed thesis’s academic prose. At the stage, when the work is done and the drafts are in, you need to cross that divide.

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