Writing: my nonlinear system of chaos.

For me, writing is not always easy and it is never straight forward.  I try to follow a process, but it is crazy how often I get tangled up along the way. I just read these tips for peer review which are also great tips for people writing! It made me think a little more about the way I write. In general I try to:

Research the topic. Get a feel for the general area, try to identify the various approaches or arguments that different groups have and begin to think about which side of the debate I might naturally fall on.

Dig deeper. Start really diving into the different arguments presented, especially if there are conflicting views of vastly different approaches to addressing the issue.

Scratch out a plan. Open up the notebook, or Google Docs, and outline the general flow of the report / paper. This would include the high points of the introduction and stringing together the order in which I intend to present the main ideas throughout the rest of the paper.

My stance. Define my position on the topic. This is a critical step and will guide the entire tone of the work.

Nail the first few sentences. Before I do anything else, I try to write the very first few sentences, or paragraph. This serves as a focal point for the rest of the paper. End this with a strong thesis statement which captures my position and whether this is in agreement with or contrary to the general consensus.

Iterate section by section. This is the bit I always end up tripping over, and normally at great cost to my time! Ideally, I would fence off each section, read related material in depth and then draft it out. But… what normally happens is that I get onto a good thread, have some good ideas flowing and things get a little unstuck. I think the issue is that I begin to follow the ideas and arguments of my references too much, and as such my arguments start to be coloured by their research question and not my own. This often means removing entire paragraphs which have strayed from my core theme and having to go back and refind my focus.

I have a lot of writing to do over the next few months. Drafts and extended abstracts for thesis as well as critical papers in other areas. It will be interesting to see if my writing process improves over this time. I need it to, I just don’t have the time to redo work because I have strayed from my central focus. Hmmmm, perhaps I should be putting all my writings into version control and then use process mining to assess this journey? 🙂


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