Unfortunately, the reading, brainstorming, and organizing does not write the thesis. At some point, you have to sit down and put words on the page. During the research process, you may feel as though you have not done enough research or that the perfect document lies right around the corner. Chasing the perfect document is a sure fire way to avoid writing a thesis.
The earlier you start writing the better. Academics often acknowledge that the best works are those that are started early and go through the most revisions. The soul of history writing comes from reflection and revision, not the first draft.
When you are writing the first draft, do not edit and revise as you write. Instead, try to get your ideas on the page. You will not get the phrasing right the first time. Moreover, you might have to dump entire paragraphs altogether at the end.
If you struggle with staying on task, develop a system for getting words on the page gradually. Once you begin writing, try to write at least one page or for one hour, whichever comes last. This process will guarantee a gradual accumulation of pages and a great deal of thoughtful engagement with your thesis. In addition, this plan will keep you from marathon writing sessions the night before a deadline.
Start with one of the body sections. Do not write the introduction or conclusion until after you have drafted the entirety of the body. By starting with the body sections, your argument will coalesce organically and you will not have to shoehorn your data into an untenable and poorly conceived argument.
Resist the temptation to walk away when you come to problematic paragraphs. Instead, try to overcome difficult sections in one session. That way, when you return to writing, you will not have to start with a sticky section, which will make the whole process easier to restart.
Tips for Data Organization
- Centralize. Centralize. Centralize. – Keep all of your data in a single location, either online or in a folder. Keeping your data in one spot will save you time later when trying to find that killer quotation you read three months ago.
- Hard Copies – If your documents are digital, print them out. Using digital copies leads writers to ‘write to the documents.’ You are more likely to reproduce the language and structure of the document rather than use the document to strengthen your own argument.
- Physically Lay out the Data – Whether on the floor, a wall, or a bulletin board, laying out your documents in chronolog order can help you visualize your project.
- Ask a Professional – The library offers information and tutorials about citation management software, such as RefWorks, EndNote, and Zotero.