Ellie Mackin is a third year PhD student in Classics at King’s College London, and is working though Wendy Belcher’s ‘Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks’ while attempting to finish her thesis.
I can’t believe I’m almost half way through the programme now, and my article is starting to take shape and I am starting to feel good about writing – both the article and more generally, which is lovely.
This week has been crazy. I ended the week pretty close to having a full first draft of my PhD, which I’m hoping to submit in two weeks. Some parts are a lot closer than others but it’s coming together and I’m feeling confident about it. As a result I was glad that this week’s tasks had a lot of reading components, because I knew I wouldn’t want to do too much writing other than my thesis. That’s also why this post is a little bit late.
This week started with a pep-talk that I really needed, the gist of which is DON’T FEEL GUILTY! Don’t feel guilty if you’re not working as much or as hard as you ‘think’ you should be working, because that guilt makes it even harder to get going. In that vein I’m going to share with you my answer to Belcher’s request this week to write something positive about your own writing: ‘My prose is improving, my editing is improving, my ability is improving. I’m not there yet, but writing is not as scary as it used to be.’ Okay, so not the overwhelmingly positive gush that it could be, but considering how I felt about writing in the week one tasks, I think I’m made some pretty significant improvements.
This week I went through revising the relevant literature, by first learning about the types of literature that there are: original (or primary, of which I have a fair amount!), derivative (or tertiary sources, or ‘classroom’ articles, encyclopaedias, etc. – should not be used!), contextual (for background information on the context of your topic), methodological, theoretical (both, I think, self-explanatory), and related literature (that is, scholarly work that is directly related to your topic.) Belcher then goes into how to read two specific types of literature: theoretical and related. Honestly, I wish I’d read the section on reading theoretical literature six years ago before I started my undergraduate thesis. My life would have been a whole lot easier then and now. One tip in particular, which I’m sure many students (and scholars) feel inadequate when and if they do it, is using reference books. I know this from first-hand experience of reading Kant and needing not only a book to explain the book, but a book to explain the language used in the book explaining the book! An interesting suggestion from Belcher is to read biographies of the theoreticians, which I had never considered but is actually a great idea!
Belcher moves on to how to read related literature and this is a much longer section, understandably. Belcher suggests that you limit your reading. This goes against what we’re always told, and what many scholars feel they need to do, but it does make sense. She suggests several ways of limiting research, and states that your article doesn’t need to be the comprehensive last-word on your topic. Next she talks about finding your way into the scholarship and how to start the conversation – the analogy here is that you wouldn’t walk into a party and just start talking about yourself, you need to engage first. I found a lot of this stuff common sense, but it’s always a good thing to revise (in fact, that’s a pretty good way to describe this whole week, particularly the section on avoiding plagiarism, which is always good to remind yourself of!).
For the first time in this process, I found the tasks to be a little bit tedious. I understand the point of going through citations, but seeing as I started with a piece of writing that was fairly comprehensive anyway I found it a bit over the top. One of the tasks (‘Identifying and reading the related literature’) was something I’d done pretty recently, and I am the kind of person/researcher that adds in new information and references as I find them, so my article is fairly up to date. Finally, I am not the sort of reader that appreciates an extensive literature review in an article (certainly some literature review is good, but too much just eats into the article’s own argument) and so I found the drafting of a literature review that I probably wouldn’t use most of a bit over the top.
The week certainly made me think about some things that it’s good to review, but so far this was, I think, the least successful week. Perhaps if I didn’t have so many other things going on I would have appreciated it more.
Hope everyone’s AcWriMo is going well!