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June 23, 2017

Methodology Chapter: The Beginning!

With thirty eight pages of rough drafted notes on paper consisting of ideas, quotes, paraphrases, references, elaborations of thoughts along with goodness knows what amount of loose notes and ramblings on the hard drive all pertaining to the methodology chapter, the plan was laid out: to transform this mess into something that resembled at least the foundations of a draft of the initial parts of the methodological chapter! Well, that was the plan to begin the day but my inquiring mind had other plans……

“Where do I start?” “From what point do I begin?” “What on Earth did I write there?” “What on Earth did I say there?” “Was I high on Easter eggs when I wrote this?” “What is the meaning of what I wrote here?” “Why is my handwriting so shoddy here?” “Wait! If I get a magnifying glass I’ll be able to read this!” And other relevant statements started to ring out as I began to make sense and classify the unordered pages. After managing to make sense of the mess to some extent without wanting to throw the computer out of the window (even though I had not actually typed anything at this time) I began to stare at the blank page. The friendly black cursor thing flashed again and again, as if it was calling me to place my hands on the keyboard and write pages and pages of draft notes that in the future could be classed as meaningless dribble but that wouldn’t matter! What would matter is I would get raw ideas down and sort everything else out at a later point! Thankfully as I began reading through a couple of pages to remind myself of what I said when I originally wrote the notes, I was inspired to write, and throughout the day the following words echoed in my ears: Continuity! Consistency! Cohesion! Coherence! Honestly I felt like I was being invaded by a party political broadcast on behalf of the Let’s Have Another Coherent Thesis Written Party.

As draft formation began, my thinking became channelled. I reflected on what I was writing more intensely, reflectively, and critically than when I was jotting down lots of notes on paper during reading sessions of literature. I was scrutinising every word, sentence, reference and paragraph. I really questioned the purpose, meaning, positioning and context of each sentence. Is there something missing from I had previously written on paper? Can I say this better? Can I improve this in anyway? What ideas should come before this paragraph? What else should be included in this paragraph? Are there any alternative ways I can express these ideas? Have I correctly analysed the references?

All these questions and more ran through my head as I became more critical and reflective of my ideas, style of writing, style of using language to express my ideas and thoughts, the content and semantics of the ideas and thoughts, and the interpretations and representations of references. Perhaps some people might argue that at draft phase, my thinking and general approach might be too involving and too intense for the purpose of writing draft form chapters, but I disagree. In my opinion it’s important to practice self-criticism and self-reflection during academic writing not to the point where you go completely insane, but to the point where you can come away from whatever amount of words, sentences and paragraphs produced feeling satisfied. I am finding that I am much more critical of my thesis writing and any other academic writing than my blog writing. That doesn’t negate the importance of constructing informative, and (somewhat) entertaining blog posts that is as grammatically as solid as possible, but for me personally a blog environment is a bit more relaxed. In other words, I can write a blog post at about nine or ten in the evening when I am in a more relaxed mode: I cannot do this for the thesis.

As can probably be understood, my mind cannot fixate on the main purpose of a draft form: to simply get ideas down on paper and sort everything out at a later time. I like to edit as I write. I like to write a few sentences or even a few paragraphs at a time if possible, and then stop and reread, and edit. It’s quite surprising what you can observe as you reflect upon your own writing and the meaning of the content being produced. In a sense you are engaged with the simultaneous activities of writing and self-reflecting.

When I wrote the first initial paragraph, and without reading the rough notes any further, I started to form ideas of what I could discuss next, and began forming conceptions of what I could say before the paragraph. This initial paragraph discussed briefly as a starting point about human existence and the essence of existence in enabling the existence of social processes. Having reread the paragraph I realised that I should be talking about the context and placement of human existence; to transcend discussions of human existence from its impact on social processes to the concept of human existence itself, and what it means to exist: social ontology!

I wrote a paragraph on social ontology with suitable references, but I was being drawn into talking more about social ontology before even contemplating further discussions on the way that human existence impacts social processes, and what processes would be investigated to what extent and in what way from an ontological sense. This then lead to rereading papers on social ontology and I was picking up ideas and definitions of aspects of social ontology that I had not previously observed or interpreted before. As I was picking up different interpretations and definitions I was rewriting this same paragraph and I must have reedited it over ten times, perhaps even up to twenty times I actually cannot remember. This is the result of reflecting upon existing ideas, thinking about the new interpretations and definitions, and integrating these new ideas with existing ideas and trying to be as concise about these ideas when writing about them.

By the time I completed rereading the small set of closely relevant social ontological papers I had three pages of notes written as part of the draft, but the only piece of this I am actually happy about at this time is the very first paragraph! All the other sentences and paragraphs across the rest of the draft are ready to be linked together, edited, or discarded in some way in time. Even though I do feel happy with the first paragraph, due to the nature of research and editing there is no guarantee that this paragraph will be relevant in future drafts of the chapter, as ideas and directions do change. But, as it is, it’s the most “complete” part of the chapter. I could have easily wrote ten pages from the notes that I have written on paper without carrying out any further thinking, reflecting, critical analysis of the language used and meaning of the content, and reading, but that’s not the way my mind works.

Whilst I would have been able to say “I wrote ten pages wooooo hoooo what a productive time” that would actually be a meaningless statement. Simply because, it’s more important and beneficial in the long term in my opinion to craft a most cohesive, correct, logical and easily flowing paragraph that best represents current ideas and references whilst acknowledging that the paragraph could very well change drastically or even be dropped in the future, than to produce ten pages of what could effectively be meaningless ramblings most of which would be thrown away.

That’s the way my mind works and when I think about it, my writing sessions will not be based on the number of words or the number of pages I can muster in a single writing sessions: I want to make sure that every word, every sentence and every paragraph is as carefully constructed, is as meaningful, and is as grammatically, syntactically and semantically correct as is possible at the current time of writing. That, to me, is most important.

My advice? Don’t focus too much on quantity and go for quality. Even in just draft form, it is still worth taking the time needed to construct well-crafted paragraphs that expresses what you want to say as effectively as possible. Academic language is not easy to master, but pausing and reflecting on your writing, identifying knowledge and language gaps and really questioning everything that you write and the way you write shall benefit you more in the long run!

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