grow your own writing practice


You often hear writing described as a skill. And a skill is the capacity to do something well, to use expertise built up through practice. Skills are often seen as merely technical, but a skill requires specialist knowledge and often years of training. However, it’s the capacity/ability to apply and use that knowledge that matters.

We often think that skills are only needed for working with things – but the term skill equally applies to areas such as the cognitive and interpersonal. However, I am not convinced that it is particularly helpful to think of writing as a skill. Yes, writing needs knowhow and technique. But skills-talk about academic writing usually lapses into discussions of secretarial matters – the correct use of grammar and syntax for instance, or the ability to edit your own work. Reductive skills-talk in turn easily leads on to conversations about remedial support and better supervision.

When I start to talk with new PhDers about writing I usually avoid focusing on skills and talk instead about three important characteristics of academic writing…

1. Academic writing is a social practice

When writing researchers talk about writing as a social practice they/we mean that all forms of academic writing are produced in, and framed by, disciplinary, institutional and cultural relations, norms and rules. This is a bit of a mouthful. But essentially, for PhDers this means that what you write isn’t a matter of free choice. The university, where you are located and your discipline all shape the writing you do.

So part of the work of the PhD is to learn what these norms, rules and expectations are. Understanding the genres and codes that shape how academic texts are produced is part and parcel of the doctorate.

During the doctorate you will probably get to work on a range of academic texts – thesis, journal articles, conference papers, academic posters, blog posts, reports – as well as accompanying texts like bio-notes. You will also develop and build your own noting and recording system. And these all have their own conventions you’ll need to follow.

You do have some choice in how to write of course. You may decide to bend some academic writing conventions – for example you might engage with a range of narrative forms including fiction, performance, poetry and still and moving image. These are all now used as a means of presenting academic discussion and empirical research, so it’s not completely outlandish to stray into these text types.

2. Deep understandings about academic writing support you to write well

I think about writing as a craft that works from and with imagination and realised through connoisseur knowledges and artisan practices.The dictionary defines a connoisseur is someone who knows a lot about a particular topic – the arts, food, wine – and who can judge quality and skill in that particular area.

To be a connoisseur of academic writing means having a deep, and always growing, critical understanding of writing – genres, tools and techniques, histories, debates and traditions. A connoisseur builds a working knowledge of what they consider to be good/bad writing. They can explain to themselves and to others the criteria they use to make such judgments. A connoisseur of writing is able to use their understandings to evaluate their own work, to diagnose problems and to develop strategies that will help them to write ‘better’.

Becoming a connoisseur of any form of writing relies on lots of systematic reading, and on deliberate analysis of that reading. For PhDers, building depth of connoisseur knowledge means not simply reading for content, but also analysing what you are reading. Just as in other areas of your research, like methods, it’s helpful to read about writing. Writing research offers a language and theorised categories through which you can conduct your own analysis. You grow the habit of asking yourself why you think what you are reading is good or bad – what is it about the text that impresses or disappoints?

3. Writing muscles benefit from regular exercise

But why an artisan? The dictionary defines an artisan as someone who is highly skilled in a particular trade – they make by hand and with specialist tools. The artisan produces unique or a limited run of items, unlike a craftsperson who is generally engaged in a form of mass production. These days the artisan/craft distinction has been corrupted by advertising; it’s common to see signs about artisan bread, for example, when strictly speaking bread is produced by craftspeople – yeasty replicas made by hand every day. So if you prefer to think about writing as a craft, then focus on the commonality between the artisan and the craftsperson, that is, the development of highly refined and skilful processes.

Becoming a writing artisan takes continued practice. A writing artisan develops a rich repertoire of strategies for producing and refining writing. They build their writing muscles, and their flexibility, adaptability, dexterity and stamina. They equip themselves for the long research and writing journey ahead.

For the PhDer, learning to write means establishing routines for writing notes, summaries, journals and chunks for supervisors. It means taking time to try out writing in various styles, voices and forms. Working with description, quotations, with dialogue for instance benefit from experimentation. Testing out different approaches to anecdote, or writing with theory, means that you can choose which of your efforts seems to work best and why.

Sometimes you might get some help in building a writing practice. Perhaps the university might offer classes, writing workshops based around particular text types – journal articles and conference papers for instance. But more is required to build a sustainable routine and expertise. Generally, growing a writing practice is left to the individual PhDer. You have to design your own programme for acquiring expertise.

So what does this mean for you?

Well, if you take on board my three points – writing as a social practice, building connoisseur knowledge and an artisan repertoire of strategies – at the very start of the PhD, then you know you have to set aside regular time to work on your writing, as well as on your substantive topic. And given that the test of the PhD is the production of a persuasive, trustworthy well written and structured text, you also know this will be time well spent.


Photo by Clique Images on Unsplash

Posted in artisan, connoisseur, PhD, practice, reading, routine, starting the PhD | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

a planner’s approach to the first draft

Writing a draft. Mmm. The word ‘writing’ suggests that all you have to do is sit down and type or scribble away. And lo and behold a text is born.

But there are different pathways to writing a draft. Some are less freeform than others. As Helen Sword suggests, academic writers are generally either planners or free writers. And if you are a planner, writing a draft is often as much about assembling and choreographing as it is working with either a pen and paper or on a keyboard and screen.

For planners, ‘writing a draft’ is not simply about generating text. That’s necessary of course and you can’t do without all the words. But planners see the real work of drafting as ‘getting the right stuff in the right order’

That phrase –  getting the right stuff in the right order – is important to the planner.

Planners like to make sure that what is eventually down on the page is roughly the shape of the final text. None of this thousands of words too much that need to be organised. Planners like to write to a word budget. Planners need to make sure that the moves in the paper make sense and are sufficient to make their case. Planners need to see that they don’t have to move huge slabs of text somewhere else. Or get rid of giant bits altogether. Or go and find lots more references. Or add in more data. 

So for a planner, writing a draft text, one that is ready for refining, usually consists of several steps. Some of these steps might be combined. But they are specific activities.

I’m a planner, just in case you hadn’t guessed. I usually set out writing a draft in these five stages:

  1. Work out what the text is going to be about – grasping the big idea

Most academic texts, be they a journal article, a chapter in a thesis or book, a professional paper or even a blog post, have a big idea. Lots of journal articles and books and chapters are rejected because they don’t have a big idea, or because they try to fit more than one big idea into one paper.

Here’s some strategies you might try to locate your big idea.

  • Writing chunks about bits of stuff that seem to be both important and part of the picture. Once these are written, you can think about what they have in common or what holds them all together -that’s generally the big idea. 

2. Sort out the argument or narrative.

This is a step on from thinking about the big idea. You first of all write about the big idea as the contribution that you are going to make. You then sort out how that contribution needs to be staged. What moves you need to make. Whether you think about your text as a report, narrative or argument (and a lot of academic writing is an argument), you have to get clear how you’re going to present – or choreograph – it. 

Here’s where these next two strategies can be very helpful.

  • Writing the title can help you hone, pare down the big idea into something short, snappy and punchy.
  • Move on to a Tiny Text. Writing small allows you to work out the composition of the major moves you need to make. You can of course make an outline now, but the problem is that outlines generally name the content rather than actually construct the argument/narrative. Working on a mini-me of the text to come is an economical way to test out various options. And the order of the stuff. 

3. Get the stuff – the raw material – sorted out

It’s important not to ignore your writing preparation, your mis-en-place. If you anticipate what you need, you don’t have break your train of thinking/writing too much by going off on a search. 

Getting the stuff sorted means pulling together the spread sheets, written chunks, mind maps, things you are going to reference (maybe as sub-libraries in your bibliographic software and piles of stuff on the floor), analysed data, notes, images and so on. Once upon a time you might have got this together materially, in a folder or filebox. These days you’re more likely to use software like Scrivener or a simple desktop digital folder to do the same compiling work. I still find I have some books in my heap, but you may not.

4. Sort the stuff into the right order. 

Once you have a Tiny Text and all the stuff you think you will need, you can then roughly assemble your paper. As you are doing this, you may find you need to circle back to points 1-3 and adjust them. Or you may even have a new and better idea to work with. or you may find that some things you initially thought would just be a small point actually turns out to be bigger – and vice versa. 

There are a lot of ways to combine the stuff you have gathered together with your Tiny Text. Your goal is to make the Tiny Text bigger but not write the full draft. So you might find it handy to try any or all of the following:

(People often send me pictures of this stage of their writing – often whole walls covered in postits and bluetacked notes. )

Once you’ve adjusted what seems to be the right order-right stuff, you can now go on to generate a full draft. 

5. Check for content and order. 

Once you’ve got your full set of words, it is of course entirely possible that the text still needs some adjustment.

A really simple way of checking whether you have the right stuff in the right order is to try a reverse outline. This is where you simply write the headings and the first and last sentence of every paragraph into a separate document, read them through and then see if they make sense. You check for order and for omission and repetition. You can also check whether the weighting you have given to particular moves in the argument/narrative seem OK. 

So there you are.

That’s a planning approach to drafting. It’s not the only one around. But you may like to try it out- or even a selection of the strategies – to see how it works for you.


I was reminded of the importance of the phrase ‘getting the right stuff in the right order’ a couple of weeks ago when talking to my colleague Dr Lynn Nygaard. Lynn is a former editor and knows a lot about writing and you can find some of her work here. So thanks to Lynn not only for the coffee, but also for the big idea for this little post. 

Photo by Felipe Furtado on Unsplash

Posted in academic writing, free-writing, looping, planning, planning a paper, poster, powerpoint, storyboard, storyboarding, Tiny Text, titles | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

oh no, it’s thesis hand-in limbo

It’s time to talk about the phenomenon of thesis limbo-land. That’s the unknown number of days between handing in and the examination.

Handing in the thesis is both a triumph and exhausting. It’s no surprise that many people think of it as finishing a marathon. Perhaps an ultra-marathon. The uber marathon. The marathon to beat all marathons – it’s taken several years of your life to get done. A marathon where, regardless of how well you’ve paced yourself, you still have to summon up every last ounce of focus and energy to get past the post, to make sure the final text is handed in.

And handing in is a great moment. Whether you hold that bound copy in your hand and take it in to the relevant office yourself, or you upload a PDF, this is a moment for real celebration. And celebrate you probably do. And so you should. It’s a real achievement.

But then. And then. And more then.

Your results can never come quite quickly enough. No matter if your exam is a viva, a set of written reports or a public defence, the waiting time drags on.

So what’s happening during this time? Perhaps your supervisor has to fill in some forms and contact examiners – although generally this has happened before you hand in. The office has to send out your thesis to examiners. The examiners of course need time to read. And this may take many days. Examiners are likely to be busy people. Despite their best efforts, you are probably going to be waiting longer than you want.

And you can’t really hurry the process up. In a viva or defence there’s a point when the examiners find a time when they can meet with you. And it’s at this moment that you know how much longer you have to hang around. But with reports… just becalmed in the great sea of waiting.

And this waiting time can be pretty awful. You may be running short of energy, but also short of money. Many of us well and truly max out our credit cards by the time we get to hand-in stage; the prospect of even more time without work and income can be pretty scary. If you don’t have work, then finding it is a priority. Some people of course are lucky enough to have a permanent or new job at the end of the doctorate; they still experience limbo-land but it’s a lot less painful than not knowing what you are going to be doing, where and when.

Of course, job applications take up some of your time, but they don’t change having to wait around. Both the thesis and job applications actually depend on other people – taken together they mutually reinforce the sneaky feeling that your future now depends on decisions that other people are going to make about, and for you.

It’s the lack of control combined with exhaustion and the stress of not knowing what the result will be that is so difficult. But there are things that you can do and you can plan to do if you are close to handing in.

You can occupy a little of your time preparing for your viva or defence. You can also get cracking on some publishing, or at least making a plan about what you might write. Your supervisor may help with thinking about publication, as well as support your viva/defence preparation.

And you can go to seminars, write blog posts and you may even get a little money from your institution to present a paper at a conference. You can of course read some of those things that you spotted while you were finishing off but, with great resolve, put to one side. You could get back to making – I know of one person who crocheted several thesis blankets. Or you might decide to do some volunteering.

You will certainly find a sympathetic ear from everyone who has been through the limbo process. But be careful. You don’t want to hear all the war stories. Some of us do have horror experiences that we hardly ever share – my wait was far more lengthy than I like to remember and I almost never talk about it. It did involve, at one point, someone who was set up to be an examiner saying to me at a conference “Your university forgot to send me your thesis.” I won’t say more and university systems have got much better since then – my experience won’t be yours, I promise.

It’s important when you’re in hand-in limbo that you don’t lose sight of your wellbeing. If you were eating badly during the last stages of the PhD, had become very sedentary and/or had stopped getting out and about, then now is the time to change these patterns. If you can take a cheap holiday, then do it now. Sitting on a beach or hiking up a mountain can do much to restore both your sense of self and Your connection with the wider world around you. You do have me-time and it is possible to convert some of that anxiety and restlessness into re-establishing life patterns that are more nurturing.

But this all takes energy, will power and mental strength. Who better then than your nearest and dearest? Your friends and family are very important at the limbo point to provide non-thesis focused re-energising activities.

And above all, do know that hand-in limbo is a thing. You are not alone. And if you see, now you’ve stopped the thesis marathon, that you are really not well, then do seek professional help from your university or local health service.

Posted in academic writing, hand-in limbo, handing in, phd defence, thesis, viva, wellbeing | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

20 reading journal prompts


You’ve decided to keep a reading journal. You have a lovely new notebook. But now you’re just staring at the page. You don’t know how to start.

Perhaps you’re wondering how writing in a reading journal might be different to the notes you’ve already taken on your reading. This journal surely isn’t meant to be another place where you write summaries. Where you do the same all over again.

You’re right, it’s not.

A reading journal isn’t for making notes and summaries.  A reading journal is sometimes where you write down key ideas and themes from your reading. More often it’s where you record any random thoughts, quotes you want to think about, potential links between texts.

A reading journal is a place to let your creative juices flow. It’s where you use your reading to stimulate your own thinking and imagining. A reading journal is where you try out interpretations and potential new lines of thinking.

A reading journal is just for you – you are it’s primary reader. You don’t have to show your journal to anyone else. It’s your private conversations with the books and papers that you read.

But still, here you are with the brand new notebook, a load of good intentions – and stuck. Never fear, patter is here to help.

Here’s a few possible starters you might like to try out. Just pick the one that seems to call to you right now and write one sentence. One sentence only. One sentence to start with.

Once you’ve written your sentence, you might be moved to write a bit more. Or you might want to move on to another sentence. Or you might want to just close your notebook and come back to it another time.

Whatever you decide is OK. You no longer have a blank page. You have a thought. You’ve made a start. And as Stephen King often says, this is how you write. One word and one sentence at a time.

20 prompts to try out

What was the last thing that you read on your topic? Write the title down. Then answer one of these questions:

  • What’s the first thing you remember about this text? Write a sentence.
  • What was something that puzzled you about it? Write a sentence.
  • Was there something you disagreed with? What? Why? Write a sentence.
  • Was there something that linked to your work? What? How? Write a sentence.
  • Did the text give you an idea? Write a sentence.

Think of a book or paper you’ve read on your topic that stays with you. Write the title down. Then answer one of these questions:

  • What was the most memorable thing about the text? Write a sentence.
  • How are you going to work with the text? Write a sentence.
  • What did the text make you think about? Write a sentence.
  • Does this book or paper connect with something else that you’ve read? Write a sentence.
  • What do you need to read more about now? Why? Write a sentence.
  • Who would you really like to read this text? Why? What would reading it make them say/see/do? Write a sentence.
  • What question would you like to ask the author? Write a sentence.

Think of something you’ve read that was written really well. Write the title down. Then answer one of these questions:

  • What do you most admire about the writing? Write a sentence.
  • How does this writing differ from other things you’ve read? Write a sentence.
  • What would you have to do to make your writing more like this? Write a sentence.
  • What are you afraid might stop you being able to write this well? Write a sentence.

Have you recently read or watched anything on media – newspaper, television, social media, films – that speaks to your research? Write the title or topic down. Then answer one of these questions:

  • How did the way the topic was presented compare with what you are reading? Write a sentence.
  • What would you say to the writer of the media clip if you could meet them? Write a sentence.
  • What other text immediately came to mind when you encountered this media text? Write a sentence.
  • What media text would you write to answer back to this one? Write a sentence.


(I’ve written more about reading journals here.)

Photo by ASHLEY EDWARDS on Unsplash



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orientations to reading – the literature as ‘resources’


Everyone knows that doing research means doing lots of reading. And that Reading leads to literature reviews which are crucial to research proposals, theses and papers.

The most common way to think about working with the literatures is to use the term ‘review’.  As I have above. And the clear and present danger in ‘reviewing’ literature is that it leads to a kind of essay-like writing – a listy run through of everything that has been read.

NO NO all the advice literature says – including patter –  no lists. A literature review is not an assignment. You don’t listicle, you need to say how you are using the literature in your work. And that means… deep breath…

You’ve got to say where your work is positioned in the field and what your contribution is going to be, and you do that through situating your work in the available literatures. And you need to say just which of the literatures you’re going to build on and how. And you want to indicate which of the literatures are key to helping you make sense of your work – you specify what texts you use in your research design and your analysis. And of course, you’ll need to refer back to the literatures at the end of your research in order to say what you have actually contributed.

Sorting the literatures out often seems like fighting your way through fog, not knowing where you are going or why. Chewing cotton wool, not knowing what to swallow and what to spit out.

And that’s a lot of work to be covered through the reading. I often ask myself, are all of those tasks most helpfully named as ‘review’?

Well, how about thinking about the literatures as a RESOURCE.

A resource to help you think.

The literatures don’t do the thinking for you. The thinking is up to you. But you don’t do it alone. You’re in the company of loads of other scholars who’ve thought about the same topic and left resources for you to use.

Let’s unpack this a bit more. The resources in your reading provide ideas, theories and concepts. They offer specific terminology. Approaches you might take. Results you can build on.

And you have to find the resources that are going to help you. That means searching and sorting out what’s useful to your particular research and what’s not.

So what resources are you looking for?

You’re looking for literature resources which offer

  • “evidence’ you can use to justify what you want to do
  • concepts, theories and language that you can use to focus your question, refine your research design, help you analyse and make sense of your results
  • results and interpretations which you can compare and contrast with your own results

As well, you’d really like to find literature resources to challenge you, resources that jolt you out of the usual way you’ve found to approach your topic.

Part of the purpose of reading then is about becoming resource-full, having abundant ideas, theories, concepts, evidence and language you can call on.

So perhaps the point of the literature review is now more focused and less diffuse. It’s tied to the stages of your research. You focus on your research rather than ‘the review’. And perhaps thinking of your research first makes the reading a little simpler to scope and do.

First of all you read and review the literatures to understand where you are – to orient and position your research and its contribution in the field.

And secondly, you also read and review so you can locate the resources that are going to help you think through the various stages of your research.

Then. And then.

You can then think about how you write about the literatures. If writing about the literatures isn’t an essay or a list, what is it? Simple- it’s two related and overlapping chunks  –

  • one part about the field its traditions, debates, histories and the location of your research and
  • the second part about the resources you have identified that you are going to use in sorting through the various stages of your research.

And of course, you may not know at the start which resources are going to help you to makes sense of your results since you don’t yet know what these results are. And that means you can’t write the final final version of your literatures work until you know what resources you’ve called on and how you’ve used them.


Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

Posted in academic writing, literature a resource, literature review, literature reviews, literature themes | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

conference tips – the old-school handout


We’ve all been to that conference session where the presenter puts up a slide with a really complicated table. Or a very dense set of quotations. They don’t do this to deliberately confuse people or give them eye strain – they want to show their evidence. Without this table or set of quotes their argument might not fly.

But a screen filled up with a table in tiny 10 point? A three paragraph quotation?We can barely read what’s on the screen. And we certainly can’t read all of it in the time allowed, make sense of it, and take in what is being said at the same time.

So if you want avoid the cluttered evidence slide, what can you do? Well, there’s one old school-strategy that still works – the conference handout.

Here’s some handout basics.

  • Use a single sheet of A4.

Put the table or complicated quotes onto the sheet together with the title of the presentation and your contact details. You might add a lead to a published paper if the material is already out in the open. But nothing more than these essentials.

Use a largish font. Take some time formatting the handout. Draw attention to the information you want people to focus on– use highlights, circles, annotations – new school capacities now available on every desktop/laptop.

  • Put the handouts on the seats before people come in rather than try to hand them out in the session.

Handing out your sheet wastes time and if you talk as well as hand out people are easily distracted and may not hear what you are saying. That defeats the point of the handout.

The downside of putting the handout out early is that people might read while you are talking – the way to try to avoid this is to announce at the start that you will be referring to the handout later and please don’t read now. You also need to be sufficiently engaging so people want to listen to you rather than read your handout at the wrong time.

  • When it’s time to use the handout, tell people to turn to the page.

Walk the audience through your content making very clear the point you want them to remember.

  • Pick up any handouts at the end of the session so they don’t bother the next presenter – and find the nearest recycling bin.

The downside of handouts is that you may not know how many to print. If you have a packed house you may just not have enough. But sharing is OK. It’s just as likely that you’ll have some left over. And that points to the problem with handouts – they are paper and create waste.

So that’s a very helpful pointer. We all need to think about whether we actually do need that table or complex quote at all. Is there any way you can do without it? If you really really really must have it, then you’ll need to add the paper to your conference carbon footprint.


Ive written a lot about conferences  –  you can find most of them by searching the keyword ‘conference’. Or you might like to check out these particular posts:

Choosing a conference

Conference survival essentials

Should I go to the conference dinner?

Who’s coming to my paper?

 Dealing with ‘post paper’ questions

Post conference follow up


Photo by ål nik on Unsplash


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three thesis writing modes

It’s pretty common to hear academic writing described in three stages – (1) thinking and preparation or pre-writing, (2) writing, and (3) post writing revision. In the doctorate you do pre-writing until you get to ‘writing up’. And that’s when you write and revise.

But it’s not really like that – lots of thinking goes on as the thesis is being written and polished. And there’s been lots of writing in order to get to the point of thesis writing. The reality is that you think and write all the way through the doctorate, and most of that thinking and writing is directed to the final thesis text.

I’ve often wondered if there was a better way to describe the way that writing happens during the doctorate. Something better than pre-writing, writing and post writing revision. I think I’ve finally come across it in one of the many books about creative writing I’ve been accumulating.

Graeme  Harper tackles the problem of the three stages writing model in his book Critical Approaches to Creative Writing. (2019).

71TNomO7CsL.jpgThe problem with the very idea of three stages, Harper says, is that it’s linear.  The writing process  is represented as the writer moving through each stage in turn. One after the other. First of all you prepare, then you write and then you revise.

 But this is not what actually happens in practice, he says. While you might do a lot of preparatory work at the start of writing a novel, you may not actually stop doing thar kind of work for quite a while – you may well find that you have to go and search for additional information or do some additional plotting as you are writing. And you may find you are revising some parts of the text as the same time as you are writing new sections. It’s not a question of a neat sequence of steps, each distinct and separate from the other, but something much more messy.

Harper’s description of the creative writing process rang bells for me. His description of overlapping processes seemed a lot like thesis writing where there are often various types of writing happening at once.

Harper doesn’t stop with debunking the three stages approach. He offers an alternative framework for thinking about creative writing. Rather than serial stages, he proposes three modes of writing which are blended throughout a project. He calls these three modes foundation, generation and response.

  • Foundation is all of the work that underpins the actual writing – think of it as architecture or infrastructure, Harper says. Foundational work grounds and holds writing together.
  • Generation is writing new text. Generating text involves drafting and some redrafting until you get to the point where you have a whole working text. Harper says generation is best thought of as a process of initiation and creation.
  • Response is when you come at your text anew, reflect on it in its entirety and refine it. Response takes something which is not yet fully fashioned and fashions it. Response is the writer reflecting on their own text, but could also include other readers’ responses too. Harper argues that response also encompasses thinking about how the final text will be published and distributed for wider public response.

Now the key to Harper’s argument is that these three are not linear stages. They operate as a kind of plait. While foundation might be dominant at the start of writing, the other two are also often involved.

I reckon Harper’s three modes of writing are helpful in thinking about writing a thesis too.

In the doctorate we can therefore think of:

  • Foundation as – reading and noting, keeping a research journal, field notes, transcripts, data files, records of analysis, mind maps, plans, spread sheets, storyboards, emails, blog posts, writing for supervision purposes, annual reports and reviews, chunks about specific aspects of research…
  • Generation as – producing a research proposal, writing a confirmation or upgrade paper, writing a conference paper, journal article or book chapter, writing the thesis text…
  • Response as – getting feedback on and refining the research proposal, a confirmation or upgrade text, a conference paper, journal article or book chapter, and the thesis text. Developing a publication plan from the thesis…

We can see that these three modes helps us to see the writing going all the way through the doctorate. And to see that each mode of writing is important and can’t be ignored. Failing to do enough foundational work means that both the generation and response writing stages will be stymied. They won’t have the necessary strength to stand up. And failing to spend enough time on response, thinking that generation of text is sufficient, means that the writing will be incomplete and unrefined.

And an added bonus. The three writing modes can be used to begin to (re)think how writing gets done in the doctorate. Harper’s three modes shows time marked not by linear stages but by the various kind of texts that need to be produced at different times.

I imagine a doctorate might go a little like this.


OK, so I’m not the best at illustrating but I’m sure you get the idea.

But perhaps you might like to play with your own doctoral timeline, thinking about the ways in which the three modes of writing might occupy your week and year variously, depending where you are up to in the path to the final doctoral thesis.

And perhaps you too will find Harper’s three modes of writing a more helpful way to think about the writing that has to be done – all the way through the candidature – in order to produce a good thesis.

Posted in academic writing, creative writing, foundation, generation and response, Graeme Harper, three modes of writing | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments