Grad School


Today I’m going to write about the editing process to take a 1st draft and polish it into a 2nd draft. Just like with the writing process, I did some reading about editing to give myself guidelines for turning the first draft of thesis chapters 1 & 2 into a second draft I’m not afraid to give to my advisor.

Two books I found useful for outlining a process for editing were Write It Right: The Ground Rules for Self-Editing Like the Pros and Edit Yourself. Write It Right included guidelines for making it through the editing process, including preparing to edit by identifying problem areas (mine include passive sentences, word repetition, and usage of which vs. that) and then creating a checklist to use while editing including all of those problem areas. Then you read the draft over many, many times including once for each item on the checklist. Here’s my editing steps and checklist.

As you can see, I even edited the editing steps, switching around steps 2 and 3.

The Edit Yourself book also includes a checklist of items to check for while editing (some of which I added to my checklist), but the most useful idea was to create a style sheet to ensure consistency in words and terms. This is something I hadn’t ever considered doing before, but can see will be very useful, especially since I deal with many Greek words that can be transliterated multiple ways (Iklaina vs. Iklena). Here’s my style sheet so far.

Of course, these steps will be backed up with grammar and style guides. There’s good old Strunk and White The Elements of Style (I have the 3rd edition). There’s also The Classic Guide to Better Writing. And where would I be without The Chicago Manual of Style (I have the 14th edition, but I think they’re up to 18 by now) and Kate Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Thesis, and Dissertations.

With all of this in hand, I edited all 4 pages of Chapter 1 today (it’ll probably get beefed up after I finish the rest of the thesis and need to extensively revise the introductory chapter). I found editing those 4 pages to be just as exhausting as writing them in the first place, if not more so. I still have all of Chapter 2 to edit this week (substantially more than 4 pages) and it will be a struggle to get it all finished. I think after this, I’ll try to edit each section a few days after I write it to break up the editing into more reasonable pieces.

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I submitted an abstract for the big Geography conference (AAG) for my thesis research back in the fall. I knew it would be accepted (think they accept close to 100% of papers) and have a plan for practicing my presentation a few weeks early at the annual Spring Symposium the graduate school sponsors (very low-pressure environment). Then I checked the schedule for my paper…

And what’s freaking me out is that I’m the chair for the session!! How do they decide these things? Do they know that I’m a masters student and not even a PhD. student? Am I the chair because they scheduled my paper last?

What I need is someone to talk me down. So if you’re reading this, please give me some info about chairing a session or some general encouragement by commenting on this post. You don’t want me to have a total mental breakdown and stop posting about my knitting, now do you?

I’ve been plagued with writersitis for a long time. Since at least college – and possibly even longer – I’ve been afraid to write or convinced of how badly I write that I don’t work on my paper/thesis chapter until it’s due and write it all at once. This binge writing is very unhealthy for me (just promotes more writing anxiety) and makes me feel awful about myself. I’m trying to combat this last-minute binge writing tendency of mine, but learning new techniques to get through writing. I’ve been reading two books that I think will get me into better writing habits.

The first book I read was “How to Write A Lot” by Paul J. Silva. In this book, Dr. Silva focused on creating a writing habit by forcing yourself to write everyday (or at least 5 days a week). One of the chapters was a list of reasons not to write (don’t have a good environment, computer old, etc.) and arguments for why each of those reasons should not keep a person from writing. There was also a chapter about starting a writing group that sounds like excellent advice, but I’m not sure I can follow up on since most of my fellow grad students are deciding to go the comprehensive exam route, rather than writing the thesis.

The second book that I am now reading is “Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day” by Joan Bolker. Dr. Bolker, like Dr. Silva, recommends writing every day, but advocates starting with freewriting or slightly more focused writing about research ideas. This is the zero draft, from which the ideas/arguments/structure of the first draft emerge. I’m planning on trying to use this approach on the second half of chapter two that I’m currently working on and implement it fully when it comes to writing the remaining chapters of my thesis. I think that either book or the combination of both books is an excellent way to get working on a thesis or dissertation.

Yes, I’m submitting myself to the torture that is the GRE in 8 weeks. Unfortunately, I’ve already taken it twice, but since that was over 5 years ago (fall of 2001, to be more precise) I must retake the GRE as part of my application for Ph.D programs.

I did fairly well on the GRE the first two times (only took it again because an advisor suggested that my verbal score should be higher), but I’m determined to really kick its butt this time. I’m using the Princeton Review’s Cracking the GRE (2007) to prep for the exam. This is especially important because they’ve removed the analysis portion (with those fun logic games) and replaced it with the writing section. Writing makes me nervous, which is one of the reasons why I’m trying to post regularly to this blog so I can get in the habit of writing. Plus there’s a strategy involved in answering the questions, which the prep book explains throughout. I created a schedule to keep me on track with my prep work for the GRE, which I’m posting here as added pressure to adhere to it.

Meanwhile, I also have to choose which grad schools I’m applying to so I can have the GRE scores sent to them and keep working on my thesis (schedule for turning in chapters here).

I’m not going to have perfunctory preparation for the GRE, which would enervate my chances of getting into the grad school of my choice. Although ETS equivocates in its vocabulary, I will avoid becoming irascible and not let the GRE stymie me from my goals. (All vocab words I need to learn in Hit Parade 1).

I would not call myself a good writer, but merely adequate. I fear writing sometimes, putting off writing papers until the last minute, when I have no choice but to write. This tendency to put off writing until the last minute is something I’m trying to get over, especially since I have to write not only my M.S. thesis this year, but also a book chapter. Plus I would like to get over that fear and be in a groove with writing before I start a Ph.D. program next year.

In order to get into a writing groove, I’ve scheduled 2 hours of writing for myself every weekday. I don’t have to write for those entire 2 hours, but at least it’s on my calendar reminding me that I need to do a little bit of work every day. Since I don’t have much (or really anything) written on my thesis, I’m also starting work on that by going through two books. One is The Classic Guide to Better Writing: Step-by-Step Techniques and Exercises to Write Simply, Clearly, and Correctly (R. Flesch and A. H. Lass, 1996). This book starts with the beginning of writing anything (making a plan) and goes through tying together paragraphs and using correct grammar. The other book is The Craft of Research (2nd edition. W. C. Booth, G. G. Colomb, and J. M. Williams, 2003). This second book goes into more depth on topics of use to someone writing a term paper, thesis, or article. For example, one of the first chapters describes how as a writer, you must think about your audience. In order to neither talk up or down to the readers, you must first decide who will be in the audience (depending on where the paper will be seen or published), their level of interest in your paper topic, and what types of information are they going to be looking for from your paper.

Between these two books, I’m considering (again) how to approach my thesis, before I really start writing. I also have a schedule for getting chapters to my advisors (posted on a page on this site) to keep me on track. Hopefully with all of these resources and some determination, I’ll become a writing machine. Or maybe, just a little less fearful of writing.

My to-do list for today

My to-do list for today

An ode to the to-do list (the most marvelous of inventions)

What would I do without my to-do list

that keeps me so organized?

Would I remember that paper or chapter

that just needs to be written or finalized?

Would I forget to return emails

and never finish gifts for my friends?

For without my to-do list, I forget so much

and more often I would need to make amends.

Today is the first day I’m trying to get into the routine for this next year. The year when I must finish my thesis. I’m also going to be applying for Ph.D. programs, which entails taking the GRE again (hello new writing section!) and filling out applications. The most important thing this year is that I must write, write often, and write well. This needs to be the year I finally get over my fear of writing. This blog is one attempt I’m making to get used to writing everyday. Let’s hope it works.