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PhD Writing Hacks

As I near towards writeup on my own PhD work, I inevitably have to turn my head towards writeup.  Luckily, there are a number of ‘hacks’ (as in shortcuts, not breaches of privacy) available online. Writer’s block? The Academic Phrasebank is a wide-ranging resource of appropriate scholar-speak that goes right through the parts of a thesis from introduction to conclusions. When it comes to the more repetitive literature review (how many different ways can you write that an academic ‘says’ something?) Dr Inger Mewman aka The Thesis Whisperer has created a cheat sheet that lets you not only have a bit of variety, but also subtly suggest your opinion of the work:

Verbs are judgmental. The verb you use to describe someone else’s work indicates your feeling about the quality of the work. For instance, “Mewburn (2010) argues…” is kinder than “Mewburn (2010) asserts…” (a scholar who asserts is not really a scholar at all).

I’m never going to be able to use ‘assert’ in the same way again. In a similar vein, ‘How to Write Clear, Concise, and Direct Sentences’ [PDF] is a paper-focused condensed version of Strunk’s The Elements of Style.

Web SEO experts and newsmen(people?) alike know that page titles are key, and a paper title is just as important. The Impact of Social Sciences blog has an article on just this: basically, don’t bury the lede (not only what your topic is, but what your conclusions were as well). Of course, abstract are just as important.

Finally, in the ‘what not to do’ category is ‘how not to write a PhD thesis’. This article bubbles up through academic social media every six months or so, but with good reason: it’s a heady reminder of the traps that are all too easy to slip into as a doctoral student.