Ellie Mackin is a third year PhD student in Classics at King’s College London, and is working through Wendy Belcher’s ‘Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks’ while attempting to finish her thesis.
This week was all about opening and concluding the article, and the irony of the situation is the number of times it took to start writing this blog post. I wanted to open with a joke, to emphasise the ‘good opening’ point, but I’m not very funny and I couldn’t think of anything. So instead, I will just open by saying that this week I learned that I’m good at something. Title writing! The first task this week was to revise your title, making sure it’s not too broad or too vague, that it names your subject adequately, that is at least hints to your argument, that it contains keywords that are searchable, and isn’t overly dense. It should, I learned, also include a verb. I only had to insert three words (‘an examination of’) into my title to make it conform to these rules, and so I’m pretty happy with that. I think it’s important to have a title, even a working one, that reflects what you’re doing and can keep you on track a little bit. I have written my PhD with that in mind, and I’ve already previously revised my title the week we did the argument alterations.
The next two days of tasks were all about rewriting your introduction, and that’s where my elation fell flat. My opening sentence is yawn-inducing boring. It didn’t fit into any of Belcher categories (anecdotal, subject, critical, significance, historical and argumentative) but instead was vague and said nothing. Certainly not ‘gripping,’ which is the next exercise. Needless to say my answer to ‘Could my first sentence be more gripping? If so, how could I accomplish this?’ didn’t fit into the box provided in the book. One thing my opening sentence does do is introduce basic information about my topic, which apparently a lot of young writers forget to include. So, at least the information is useful and usable. Just perhaps not right at the start.
I don’t do any of the things Belcher suggests: stating my argument (that comes around sentence eight, roughly – so well into the introduction), I don’t identify my position in relation to previous research (which is something that I need to work on in all my writing!), but I do provide something of a roadmap of my article (although this does come in the introduction, and probably doesn’t need to be right up the front for my article). So, over the next two days I did a lot of work on my introduction and fit all of these things in. My opening sentence probably still needs a little bit of work, but that can happen.
The next day’s task involved revising the abstract, related literature review and author order (only relevant to those producing multiple author papers). We have done a fair amount of work on the abstract, and I am pretty happy with how mine looks at present. The advice is to go back and repeat the week 2 revision tasks, which I did, and have updated my abstract to take in the changes I’ve made over the past few weeks. My related literature section is a constantly evolving thing so I didn’t do too much work on it.
Finally, the week concluded with the conclusion. I’m a particularly weak conclusion writer (so I have been told) and so I really took the opportunity to go back and re-read my article, making notes about my argument (which has been tightened up significantly during this process). This, I’ve discovered, is where I need to point to the significance of my article to the wider field, and so I’ve introduced that information into the conclusion. All in all, I’m not 100% happy with the conclusion, but that will come with a bit more work. I hope.