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Developing writing and reading skills for PhD research Dr Desmond Thomas University of Essex Desmond Thomas LTU 2009
Module sessions (suggested) • Choosing a feasible topic • Breaking down a research topic • Generating research questions • Formulating claims/hypotheses • Strategies for reading and writing • Concept development • Structuring a PhD thesis • Planning and writing chapters
The early stages of PhD research • Developing a research topic • Generating research questions/hypotheses • Identifying a research problem to investigate • Conducting a literature review around the research problem • Developing a research methodology • Providing a draft structure for the thesis • Producing a detailed research proposal Desmond Thomas LTU 2009
Discipline-specific elements of PhD research • The content • The methodology (in most cases) • Data collection methods • Data analysis frameworks • Supervisory input • Referencing systems and formats We will not be dealing with any of these!
Generic skills for PhD research http://www.vitae.ac.uk/CMS/files/upload/RCUK-Joint-Skills-Statement-2001.pdf http://www.vitae.ac.uk/CMS/files/upload/Researcher%20development%20statement.pdf
Not included: Managing a PhD project Desmond Thomas LTU 2009
Included: The writing process • Myths about writing • Writing as a multi-stage process • Writing providing a point of reference for working with supervisors • Different kinds of writing: from analytic notes on reading to entire chapters • Writing the first draft vs editing Desmond Thomas LTU 2009
Included: the reading process • Different types of reading aims • Developing critical reading strategies • Keeping effective records of what has been read • Turning reading into writing
Also not included .... • Detailed feedback on the quality of your writing – the task of the supervisor (although this may be available as part of the language improvement classes). • Detailed feedback on your approach to your reading – once again, the task of the supervisor
Q: When do I start writing? A: From Day 1 This does not mean completed chapters or even sections of chapters. The early stages of PhD research require other types of writing.
Writing as thinking Writing as the end product? OR .... Writing as a way of clarifying thinking?
Stage 1: Developing a topic • Topic vs title • Finding a topic that is feasible • Finding a topic that is specific • Finding a topic that is significant • Cross-disciplinary topics vs those that are disciplinary-specific Desmond Thomas LTU 2009
Topic feasibility criteria • Size/scope/scale • Focus • Time • Resources • Skills • Accessibility of data • Risk level • Theoretical basis • Distance • Sustainability of claims • Ethical considerations Desmond Thomas LTU 2009
General ethical principles • Physical, mental, social damage • Special care for the vulnerable • Environmental damage • Informed consent from participants • Confidentiality • Damage to reputations • No conflicting interests • Honesty: no manipulation of facts and data • Respect for laws & regulations
Breaking down a topic Socialism /Communism Influences Bulgaria Educational reform 1989-1995 Post-1989Influences Pre-WW2 Traditions Effects on teachers? Subject areas Perceptions of reform Other effects of change? Desmond Thomas LTU 2009
Generate questions such as … • What have been the attitudes of Bulgarian post-communist governments towards educational reform? • To what extent is educational reform seen as a reaction to socialism/communism? • To what extent have pre-WW2 educational traditions been re-introduced? Desmond Thomas LTU 2009
The ‘big question’? • Is secondary education in Bulgaria undergoing a process of reform or returning to its traditional roots?” Desmond Thomas LTU 2009
How to find the ‘big question’? • Talking to others, taking part in discussion and debate, presenting work in progress. • Reading: detecting contradictions, inconsistencies or incomplete explanations. • Brainstorming the topic and generating multiple questions, especially when connections are established in this way. Desmond Thomas LTU 2009
A possible claim? • “In spite of claims made by the government that Bulgaria is undergoing educational reform, what is really happening is a return to pre-WW2 traditions – a step backwards rather than forwards” Desmond Thomas LTU 2009
Claims should be qualified • Claim 1: It will be argued that the 1989 ‘velvet revolution’ in the former Czechoslovakia has brought considerable economic benefits to all sections of society, provided that the cases of those with military pensions are excluded from this analysis. • Claim 2: We can conclude that the famine in North Korea in the late 1990s was more widespread than has been reported, assuming that the testimony presented by refugees is considered to be reliable. Desmond Thomas LTU 2009