Chapter 17: The Challenge of Writing Up
A. Steps in Constructing your Storyline: Constructing your ‘story’
- Think of your research account as a ‘conversation’
- Become familiar with the craft – Very few authors are not avid readers. One of the most effective things you can do is find ‘good’ examples of what you intend to write.
- Find a voice – There is likely to be a tension between ‘engaging storytelling’ and ‘take me seriously reporting’. How to best negotiate this tension will depend on you, your goals, and your readers’ expectations.
- Develop your structure – Decide on a structure and work up an appropriate outline for your write-up early on.
- Craft the storyline – Whether you opt for a traditional or alternative structure, your report will need to take your readers through a clear, coherent, and hopefully compelling storyline with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
- Be ready to make convincing arguments – It is essential that you write purposefully. The quality and credibility of your write-up is largely dependent on your ability to construct logical and convincing arguments.
- Write/construct your first draft – You can think about it, and you can keep thinking about it, and you can think about it some more, but it will not happen unless you do it.
- Get appropriate feedback – Reader expectations can vary widely, so do not wait until the last minute to find out that your approach is inappropriate.
- Be prepared to redraft – This should be an expectation. In fact, as discussed below, very few people can get away with submitting a second draft or even third draft, let alone a first.
B. Checklist for Drafting and Redrafting
1. Reworking the first draftIt would be nice if your first draft were it. But it rarely works that way. When you step back and take stock, you are likely to find that the process of writing itself has evolved your ideas; and that your thoughts have moved beyond what you initially managed to capture on paper.As you work through your first draft ask yourself:
- Is this making sense? Does the logic flow? Do I need to alter the structure?
- Am I using a ‘voice’ I am comfortable with?
- Do I need to incorporate more material/ideas – or are sections repetitive?
- Am I happy with my overall argument, and is it coming through?
- Does each chapter or section have a clear and obvious point or argument?
- Have I sought and responded to feedback?2. Reworking the second draftOnce you are happy with the overall ideas, arguments, logic and structure, it is time to fine tune your arguments and strive for coherence and consistency. In doing this, ask yourself:
- How can I make my points and arguments clearer? Do I ‘waffle on’ at any point?
- Am I using lots of jargon and acronyms? Should I incorporate some/ more examples?
- Do I want to include some/more diagrams, photos, maps etc.?
- Is the structure coherent? Are there clear and logical links between chapters/sections?
- Is there consistency within and between chapters/sections? Do I appear to contradict myself at any point? Is my voice used consistently throughout the work?
- Is the length on target?
- Have I sought and responded to feedback?3. Moving towards the penultimate draftBeing ready to move towards a penultimate draft implies that you are reasonably happy with the construction and logic of the arguments running throughout and within your document. Attention can now be turned to fluency, clarity and overall readability. Ask yourself:
- Are there ways I can further increase clarity? Are my terms used consistently?
- Have I got rid of unnecessary jargon?
- Are there ways I can make this read more fluently? Can I break up my longer sentences? Can I rework my one-sentence paragraphs?
- Are there ways I can make this more engaging? Can I limit the use of passive voice? Do I come across as apologetic? Are my arguments strong and convincing?
- Am I sure I have protected the confidentiality of my respondents/ participants?
- Have I guarded against any potential accusations of plagiarism? Have I checked and double checked my sources, both in the text and in the references or bibliography?
- Have I written and edited any preliminary and end pages, namely title page, table of contents, list of figures, acknowledgements, abstract, preface, appendices and references?
- Have I thoroughly checked my spelling and grammar?
- Have I done a word count?
- Have I sought and responded to feedback?4. Producing the final draftYou would think that if you did all the above, your final document would be done. Not quite; you now need to do a final edit. If it is a large work and you can fund it, you might want to consider using a copy editor. Some things you may want to ask prior to submission are:
- Have I looked for typos of all sorts?
- Have I triple-checked spelling (especially those things spell checkers cannot pick up like typing ‘form’ instead of ‘from’).
- Have I checked my line spacing, fonts, margins, etc.?
- Have I numbered all pages, including preliminary and end pages sequentially?
- Have I made sure they are all in the proper order?
- Have I checked through the final document to make sure there were no glitches?
C. Checklist for Creating a Powerful Presentation
Things to consider include:
- Expertise and knowledge – Without a doubt you need to know your stuff. You do not have a right to present, if you don’t know what you are talking about. Knowing your stuff gives you credibility and confidence.
- Your objective – You will undoubtedly have an objective related to your study. Say, for example, ‘to outline your study and communicate findings’. But also stop and think about what you want your audience to achieve.
- Story telling – Without a doubt the best presenters know how to tell a story. They tell a tale, they build anticipation, they shoot for ‘aha’ moments, they use anecdotes, and they are not afraid of weaving in appropriate bits of emotion.
- The power of you – People are motivated by people. Your presentation needs to have your stamp on it, you need to ‘show up’.
- Audio-visual aids – These should support you, not replace you. If you are using PowerPoints minimize. I recommend no more than 1 slide for every 2 minutes on stage - less if possible. Also try to move away from text based slides to more powerful visuals. Think about video as well - internet streaming is not as problematic as it once was. Also think about animating yourself. I always use a lapel microphone and a wireless mouse so that I can move around and draw focus. Hiding behind a podium is less likely to be engaging.
D. Checklist for Getting Published
If you want to get published it is a good idea to:
- Find academic journals directly suited to your area of expertise – most journals describe their focus and scope on their website. The closer your work is to their core agenda, the better the likelihood of acceptance.
- Review submission guidelines and stick to them -this means modifying your article so that it pedantically follows required formatting, word length and referencing system.
- Write a professional cover letter that includes all relevant information, including contact details.
- Share your contribution and where it sits within the wider scholarly landscape
- If you are asked to recommended reviewers, do not pass on this. Take up the opportunity. Your supervisor is likely to be a good source for contacts here.
- Breathe deeply when your reviews come in. If you feel gutted – step away and reread later. I guarantee that it’s not as bad as you thought on first read.
- Revise and respond to reviewers’ points when you resubmit. If you are rejected, see it as an opportunity to get more feedback, rewrite and try again.