Organising your ideas when writing

I had a meeting with my tutor yesterday to discuss the first draft of my conclusion chapter of my thesis, and he liked it! This is a big thing for me because it’s the first time that I have ever submitted a first-draft of a chapter and he’s come back saying it’s fine.

Writing a PhD thesis is about many things. You have to be saying something new about your material, but that was never the problem for me. I tend to come out with a torrent of ideas that put new spins on things, the issue is organising them into a form that other people can follow. Usually this process of organisation takes several drafts before it finally coheres into something that is well-structured. For me, writing a thesis is about learning how to structure your ideas.

This time, when writing my chapter I went back to an old method I used back when I was doing my degree. I wrote my ideas out in my usual fashion, moving between topics in a way that felt natural to me, until I had reached a little below my target word count for the chapter (ten thousand words in this case). I printed it out, sat down with a pencil, and read through the whole thing, numbering the paragraphs and writing a few-word summary of what each paragraph was about. I then turned this information into a list of topics.

By looking at the summary of each paragraph it became far easier to see what overall points and patterns I was making in my writing. I then reorganised the paragraph-summary list until it was neatly grouped by subject. I then cut-and-pasted the paragraphs into their new order using the numbers that I had previously written on the hard copy. All that was then left to do was to ensure that they followed together by adding linking sentences and occasionally editing references to previously earlier points that were then made later in the chapter. The result of this process is a long piece of writing that has been organised quite quickly and efficiently into sub-headings that build into a coherent whole.

Sometimes it’s hard to get a grip on all of your ideas, but any task can be achieved if you just break it down into smaller pieces.

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