One of the key things I’ve been doing recently is thinking about structure in my thesis. I am investigating the writing that girls do, and what that tells us about girlhoods (elevator pitch: girls write stories write girls) and the nature of such a project means that it is fiercely interdisciplinary in nature. I’m trying to connect to a lot of points of theory, located in different disciplines, and to do so in the middle of a pandemic. And so, structure has become increasingly important, not only to keep my stuff together but also to give me something concrete to hold onto during this process.
Here’s a method that’s been working for me, and I share it in the hope that it might work for you. I have found a lot of benefit in looking at what other people do, and this is an adapted version of the very useful: Top 40 Potential Viva Questions. It struck me that asking myself these now -and providing the questions – would function as a pretty excellent method for giving me the structure I craved, and also a pretty damn solid outline in the process.
I wrote all of the questions out, cut them up, and put them in a plastic pocket before taking them out one by one. It’s a satisfactory process to work through and one you can do that doesn’t involve typing or reading! I did it while listening to some lectures as part of an online conference I was attending – this also helped a lot in generating further questions as I could reflect on their own projects as much as mine.
Questions to ask your PhD thesis
- What is the thesis summary?
- What are my research questions?
- What is the problem I’m tackling?
- What is the relevance to teachers?
- What is the urgency / timeliness of the project?
- What is my positioning as a researcher?
- What are the two / three most important papers for this study?
- How did my research questions emerge?
- What sort of a study is this? (Interdisciplinary / quant / qual etc…)
- How do I define [key term]?
- How do I understand [key term]?
- How do I apply [key term]?
- Why did I choose to do X rather than Y?
- What have I not done here?
- What are the limitations of the study?
- Why do I analyse my data in this manner?
- How do I generate data?
- How did I design my methodology?
And here’s an example of one question with an answer so you can see how it all goes together. The first line is the section and summary so this one will go into the introduction and talk about how the project is relevant to teachers. And the bit at the bottom talks about what readers will need to know before they read this section in the thesis. You’ll note that it is very ‘signposty’ at the moment but that’s precisely what we want.
Question and answer
Introduction: Relevance to Teachers
This research is relevant to teachers because it offers an opportunity to investigate creative writing not only through issues of gender, but also on commonalities of age and location (ie: the school setting). It offers teachers a chance to see the representation of gender in girl’s creative work and how they can offer opportunities to creatively explore the performances of gender within their own classroom. In addition it offers a model for running creative writing workshops which can be adapted for their own purposes.
Things you need to know before this section: This is very early stuff, so this will be in the introduction just after a general idea of the project itself.
The final part of this process will be to get all the blocks in a logical order and delete the ‘things you need to know before this section’. That’s still a while to come yet, because this has also highlighted some gaps and things I need to drop / rework. It’s been a really valuable thing to work through, so thank you to the authors of the original post which prompted the idea and I hope this iteration of it offers some support to everybody else who’s been going “how on earth do I write a thesis or research a project in the middle of a pandemic?” We’ll get there!