Sunday, 6 March 2016

#14daypaper Part 3. Write, Write Again

Welcome back to  #14daypaper - the short series in which I try to write a conference paper in a fortnight. As always, this is not the definitive way to write a conference paper. It's just the way that I'm going about writing this particular conference paper. I would love to hear how you handle these challenges, so please join in the conversation!

Introduction: How to Write a Paper in a Fortnight
Part 1. Planning
Part 2. Research

Day 9 (Half Day)

Extra work pressures mean that I only have a day and a half of PhD time this week. I get through my admin tasks surprisingly quickly. With no excuses left, and a full plan, I start writing. At this point, I remember something: introductions are HARD.  Or rather, I find them hard.

I know historians have a habit of start by describing a moment, an event, or a quote. I'm trying to do the same. Since I'm late Medievalist, this (of course) means quoting Chaucer. But there's a fundamental problem: I find this method effective when other people do it. But when I do it? I want to punch myself.

I cringe and keep going. By the end of the afternoon, I've written the literature review section. 600+ words down. I congratulate myself and spend the night knitting.

Day 10 

I write best in campus computer rooms. With this in mind, I arrive early and start writing. Within three hours, I have a first draft. Hurrah! After running some errands and having lunch, I begin re-drafting. I re-draft using a pen and paper because I find it easier. Most of my edits are to clarify points. I take this as a good sign: no restructuring!

The only problem: that Chaucer-themed introduction still seems a little tenuous. I spend ages fiddling with it, re-writing it in my head, approaching it in different ways. Finally, I accept what I have.

Since it's Friday, I'm heading out for beer and pizza with my other half. I end the day feeling pleased with my progress. But also mindful that I only have four days left!

Day 11 (Half Day)
Studying part-time means it's hard to build momentum for writing and redrafting. I come back to my fist draft 5 days after making my initial edits. I type up my edits. 

In the evening, I seek feedback from my first port of call: my husband. Usually, he reads a printed copy of the paper. I suggest something different. I read the paper to him, as if I were presenting. I figure that what is clear on paper isn't always clear when read aloud. I feel  self-conscious, but this helps. He identifies a few areas where the argument isn't 100% clear. He's also thinks the Chaucer introduction needs more clarity. I take notes.

Day 12
Usually, I do a lot of ad-libbing when reading papers. While ad-libbing works for training, it doesn't always work for presenting a paper. So, today I focus on polishing the paper so I can avoid ad-libbing myself into a tangent.

I record myself reading the paper aloud. Like last night, I feel self-conscious. And I feel even more self-conscious listening back to my recording. I sound posh and pompus, but also young and terrified.

However! This is a brilliant approach. So much of the phrasing that works in written pieces doesn't work when speaking aloud. Recording means I can correct these now, rather than risk being unclear. 


And with that, I only have two days left. I still need to design my power point. I also need to design a handout so that the audience has quotes to hand. But at this stage? I feel good. I have a lot focus because I know that I'm going to have to document my progress.

But I still struggle with my introduction. And I'm having a crisis of confidence about using handout. What are your thoughts? How do you approach introductions? And are handouts passe? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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