Writing the dissertation


After my results section was written (a series of stories) I felt that I’d done most of the creative work, the rest of the dissertation was just framing really, pretty straightforward. I am here to tell you that this was somewhat misguided.

I started with the discussion section next because the results, stories and transcripts were still very much in my head. That was a good idea, but I struggled on a couple of levels. The first was that I kept finding big gaps in my literature review (from my original proposal). My section on “coming out” for example, was about a thousand words. As I wrote, I realised that probably wasn’t enough depth for a doctorate on …. coming out. So, I hit the books again and started to rewrite that section. Turns out there are a lot of models and theories on coming out, that section ended up being half my literature review and about 7,000 words. Cue two months of work.

I also struggled with how to write the discussion. In most projects you’d recap the results and bring in other people’s work to support them as well as revisit your research questions. But I was confused – was my data the interview transcripts or the stories I had written from them? I started off trying to fit them both in and it was a hot mess! My supervisor saved the day by telling me to look at the interviews as the raw data (if we were being positivistic) and the stories as the interpreted and shaped data.

In the end, I set the discussion aside and went back to finish the literature review. It did become a bit of a monster – what ISN’T important when you’re setting the scene? It’s hard to know! I have a lot of words but, damn it, they are good words and I don’t want to slash any! I know there will be an editing session in my future as I get a better sense of what’s extraneous and as my introduction comes together, but for now that massive chunk of wordage represents months of slog and it’s staying.

Next, because I was still scared of the discussion section I wrote the methodology. I did have some text from my proposal but of course had to add what I DID as opposed to what I had planned to do. It wasn’t the same, things didn’t work out as planned, so I had to explain that. I also added a section on reflexivity and this blog was very handy for reflecting back and what I had been thinking as I pondered my research question and how to tackle it. I added sections from the blog as well as my research journal.

I’ve had some issues with my referencing software – it has a mind of its own. I also routinely forget how to format a reference manually despite having done a gazillion. So, I rely on the goodwill of the magical Word plug in. My references are supposed to be APA, mostly it seems to get it right – but what the hell are you doing to my DOIs Mendeley? When I send the drafts to my supervisor they are full of caveats like “I am SO SORRY…I will fix these terrible references!” I can sense her gritted teeth from a few thousand miles away as she once again points out that you don’t capitalise book names (why, though??)

I’m currently on a writing leave and yesterday I sent a draft discussion section to my supervisor. Yes, it contains terrible references as always, but it’s a good start and a weight off my shoulders. I readdressed my research questions and (somewhat surprisingly) found I’d actually mostly answered them. I’m currently reading about truthfulness and credibility as I missed that in my methods. Full disclosure – rereading about subjectivity and standpoint epistemology is actually why I am procrasti-blogging!

There’s a way to go. I have to do a conclusion and introduction next but they don’t loom as large as the discussion section did. So there’s a chance I’ll be defending this year – wish me luck!