So this short post has now grown into 6, but hopefully some of you will find them helpful.

  • Formatting an argument.  I’m convinced now of a simple structure for abstracts, introductions, and proposals: context, problem, (hypo)thesis, and structure.  I preach this regularly in my classes and try to encourage others, particularly those writing proposals, to use this model.  Context: Give some detail about the big picture and about what people are saying about your issue.  Problem: What remains unresolved in contemporary discussions.  What question are you going to answer?  [Actually, clarifying and sharpening the question is,  I think, one of the most important parts of a project].  Thesis: what are you going to argue?  Obviously, you don’t always reveal this up front, but in abstracts, short essays, and proposals I often do.  Structure: Tell us how you are going to address the question.  The conclusion of many works just give these in reverse order.  It seems simple, even pedantic, but it clarifies things for readers, which is your primary goal.
  • Issues with writing multiple drafts.  Unlike shorter essays where you only make a couple of different drafts, each chapter will (and should) have multiple drafts.  Various naming schemes are out there, but I found the one that worked best for me was to just start at 0.1 and move up by .1 each time I made a substantive change.  E.g., Rom 8 0.1.docx, then Rom 8 0.2.docx, etc.  (If you do it by dates, you don’t necessarily want to update the file name for minor additions.)  Don’t ever label anything as ‘final’ until it literally is going out the door.  I’ve worked on projects with xxx final v2.3.docx, which is ridiculous.
  • Also, make regular backups of chapters and notes.  Computers break.  I kept all my thesis chapters and other works in a drafts folder.  Durham gives network space, and I found a computer program that copies the files from this folder to the network every day so that nothing was ever lost.  I also did periodic full back-ups to a portable hard drive.

In addition to my ramblings, I’ve secured word from my compatriot John Goodrich that he’ll also do a post (or more) on his thoughts about the PhD process since his project had some key differences from mine. Look for these over the next month or two.