patter is eight and celebrating with writing skeletons


Happy birthday to me

July is patter’s eight birthday and this is my 784thpost.  That’s a lot of words. At about a thousand per post, well, there’s about ten books worth buried in this blog.

I’ve had a bit of a look back over my very first posts. I can immediately see that my writing has freed up a lot since I first started. I’m a lot less fond of the orthodox paragraph and sentence than I used to be. But the reader I was writing for hasn’t changed. I was clear at the start that I was writing for doctoral and early career researchers and those who work with them. And I still am.

There’s so much stuff now sitting on this blog that even I can’t remember what’s there and what isn’t. In my look back I noticed that one of the earliest posts was about using writing skeletons.

Writing skeletons were good, I said at the time, as a way to get the hang of how other academic writers structured their arguments. I’d add to that now. Id probably explain more about meta-commentary as a way of staging an argument. It’s not just the content that matters but also the moves you make to string the content together.

I now also always emphasise that writing skeletons are a good way to help you sort out what you want to say. Forcing yourself to write small and get the key points down in the right order saves a lot of time when it comes to writing the final thing. A writing skeleton is a tiny text that can do big work.

So in honour of the writing skeleton and patter’s birthday, here is one new skeleton to use when thinking about the warrant for a paper – be it conference or journal. This is one I use in writing workshops around papers and chapters and sometimes the thesis.

Example One:

  1. There is a growing research literature on ….. ( broad topic)
  2. Researchers have examined ….., ……, ….., ……., and ……… ( examples of aspects of broad topic with one or two references after each)
  3. However, there is as yet little which addresses …… (the focus of this paper, also an aspect of the broad topic)
  4. The inspiration for this project came from…. ( either your reading, an experience or seeing a policy effect or social phenomenon)
  5. This example suggests that….. ( what you think the example might show about your topic and why you need to research it)
  6. My research set out to test this assumption or investigate further or explore the (specific issue) by…. (describe the research in brief)
  7. The paper reports on ….. ( the results that you are discussing)
  8. I will argue that …..

And here is one of the originals. An oldie* but a goodie.

  1. The thesis/chapter/paper builds on and contributes to work in the field of …..
  2. Although a number of studies (   ) have examined ……., there has not been a strong focus on ………..
  3. As such, this study provides additional insights about ……
  4. This research differs from previous studies in ………….   by identifying/documenting/ ………….
  5. In doing this, it draws strongly on the work of ………… and …………. who……………

It’s important to remember that a finished skeleton may not be your actual text, the one you give you supervisor or send off to a journal. You may want to play with these somewhat dry bits of prose. But these skeleton tiny texts are a very handy ways to get to your final text. Once you have the content and logic of the moves worked out you can focus on how best to say them.


*Adapted from Dunsmire, P (1997) Naturalizing the future in factual discourse: a critical linguistic analysis of a project event. Written Communication 14 (2) 221-264.

Photo by Joyce Adams on Unsplash

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic writing, sentence skeleton, Tiny Text, warrant and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to patter is eight and celebrating with writing skeletons

  1. Julie Rowlands says:

    Congratulations Pat. Patter is such a wonderful resource for research students, ECRs and, dare I say it, all researchers. Thank you. And this is a fabulous post as usual.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Congratulations on your 8th year blogging and your 784th post. Your blogs helped me finalise and get that PhD and I still use them to write the next conference presentation and hopefully soon some journal articles. Thank you for being a part of my researching life.


  3. prateeksha sharma says:

    Congratulations Dr Thompson. Just last night I took two of your blog posts and copied them into documents as a ready referral for my ongoing thesis. And trust me, for someone like me, who has had practically the least mentoring a doctoral researcher could get…a goodly contribution has come from Patter.

    In fact, i distinctly recall reading one of your posts in which you address the issue of writing multiple things- including (possibly) dissertation chapters, journal articles and so forth, at the same time. You mentioned about a chapter in an expensive international volume there. Once I read that, my heart winced in grief, because I thought then given the circumstances of my work, possibly that would never happen in my case. So let me at least focus on writing the journal articles- to ensure my work is at par with the better researchers anywhere. Later this month (July 2019), I also complete three years of doctoral research and am due for submission within the year (as my supervisor retires next year!)

    But anyhow thanks to the distant, remote and timely guidance which you rolled out to people anywhere in the world, today I have three journal publications (already published), one forthcoming and guess what…even that unthinkable, invited book chapter in an expensive international volume (in a new, emerging area) undergoing the peer review process! Everytime I think of the book chapter, I uncannily think of you- for here was something I could never have even remotely thought about!

    But thank you so much- it has been so wonderful and yes even though your books are not so readily available in India where I am located, I got one from the US, thanks to my brother; though foolishly I choose the one for supervisors! (Helping doctoral students…).

    I really have the greatest regard for the sort of work you have done and continue doing- it is amazing and I certainly will write about it in the acknowledgement section of my dissertation; though possibly it would not meet your eyes. But thank you again and god bless you for this great service you have rendered to thousands of us all over the world


  4. V. Pakkanen says:

    Happy birthday and many more to come! Thank you for sharing your knowledge with all of us.


  5. duga ewuga says:

    Congratulations Patter on your 8th anniversary writing this blog. You have been of help too many. Thank you and we look forward to learning more from your experience. WELL DONE!!!


  6. Ciaran says:

    Happy B’Day Patter; keep on blogging!


  7. colin mills says:

    Many, many thanks and good wishes, Patter! You have helped me a lot in many posts: in my teaching; my research; my assistance of others; my thinking. Your generosity is boundless (I hope!). Warm wishes, Colin


  8. Jean Courtney says:

    Congratulations Pat! Your posts have informed, inspired and encouraged me and I am in total awe of your productivity. Thank you for your commitment to this blog. I love it. Well done!


  9. samscer says:

    Congratulations!! Thank you so much!! You have been helpful during my PhD process and now you are also of assistance to my students!! Best wishes, Clarissa


  10. Haitham Al-Sheeshany says:

    Happy 8th birthday Pat!
    I started my PhD in 2012 (Sep.) and been benefiting from your posts since 2013!

    Thanks, A LOT.

    * 2 paragraphs before (Example one): key not keuy 🙂 – for a moment I thought it was a brand new word that I often learn from you


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