Well, all that pain-staking data gathering work, subsequent data analysis and theory generation would be pretty much pointless if you can’t put it all into words. Not unsurprisingly, a lot of doctoral candidates ultimately get stuck at the thesis writing phase.
There are certainly a lot of horror stories abound about writer’s block, writing that gets nowhere etc. I’ve shared in an earlier post in this series of my game plan: “Start publishing early.” I had the best of those Singaporean traits: kiasuism. My thesis submission was due in Jan 2007. I started writing for the thesis through my first paper with Elina… in Mar 2004 – 3 years before the deadline LOL.
I don’t know how the other researchers in my office handled their own thesis writing. I imagine that every one had their own special strategy to deal with the huge mess of data, methods, techniques, instruments, theories, frameworks, and paradigms. In retrospect now after the event, I don’t think writing my magnum opus was all that traumatizing!
For starters, I didn’t even bother trying to write in sequence. I determined the structure of the thesis early on by creating the individual chapters first, and then followed by a general outlay of each section. Then I simply wrote bits and pieces, every day, somewhere. One day I could be writing chapter 4 section 3. The next day I’d write on chapter 2’s conclusion. The next, on chapter 7 section 2.
What was the benefit of this unstructured approach? Well, I was constantly writing and refining what I wrote. I never got stuck. If I got to a section where I didn’t know what or how to write, I simply bookmarked the page, then went to write something else, elsewhere.
The down side? Well, it was a major, major effort trying to keep track of what I was writing, since it was all coming gradually together in piecemeal fashion! It helped that I (think!) find it easy keeping track of multiple things at a time. Ling looks on in envy: she says her CPU can handle just one major process at a time LOL. Secondly, I had to do a lot of regression writing, or having to keep going back to double check in multiple spots that you’re consistent in what you’re saying.
I actually even had a little internal target in writing productivity: basically, write 2 pages a day. I wasn’t too dogmatic about following this though, since on some good days where I had inspiration or some idea made better sense, I’d be be on a roll and get out 5-6 pages. And would you believe it – I wrote big sections of the thesis at Mcdonalds when I was back in Singapore in June for semester break LOL.
Another little thing I’m proud of was that while I was allowed the option to get my thesis professionally proof-read for language, I didn’t take up that option. I felt if this was going to be genuinely my work, I had to be all my words and no one else’s. So, those few instances of funny language, idiosyncratic phrasing, and maybe even a couple of fossilized stylistic language quirks that are unique to Singaporeans… it’s all there in my thesis.
When the thesis was gradually approaching completion, I had a good fix of the date I was going to target completion. Here’s one thing I’m very grateful for: that our Lord not only blessed me with being able to finish before my Jan 2007 deadline, I was able to finish it a year ahead of time even. I’m not certain of this, but I think I may have finished my thesis first among my peers in the office who started their doctoral programs at about the same time.
But it sure was a mad rush towards the end! When you’re writing a work of 100,000 words, a single proof-read would easily take half a day. I lost count of the number of major revisions I had from the point when the first draft was completed in mid-November. By major revisions, I mean the accumulation of changes and improvements that warrant a reprint of the thesis for a next round of checking. I’ll put the number of such revisions, conservatively, to 25 or so. You can imagine the amount of paper that was being used just for my one thesis alone.
And on the 24 Jan 2006, it was a wrap. I didn’t print my thesis. As I understood from the university’s exams office, my thesis was the first digitally submitted thesis for examination in the university. I simply had to make a few copies on CDR and accompanied with the necessary paperwork. Before you say, “Ah… the wonders of modern technology”, that digital submission turned into a bit of a fiasco – because it’d get lost for a couple of months before it was found again, delaying my graduation by half a year.
Still, on the 24 Jan 2006, I was feeling quite at the top of the world. I immediately got to packing my bags, disconnecting my utilities and telecommunication services, clearing my office and apartment, and saying my goodbyes. And on 29 Jan, I was back in Singapore for good.:)
And the last post in this series, finally! Wrapping it all up, and in retrospect next.