Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Writing about writing

Most of today was consumed with writing, talking about writing, or thinking about writing. My lab group gave comments on my review paper today. On Sunday while I was working on updating my review with new literature before sending it to the lab it became clear to me that I lost the big picture somewhere along the way. The organization just didn't make sense to me anymore. Nearly all of the discussion about my review centered on organization, which is what I expected and hoped for. Herb spent quite a while trying to explain how I should restructure my review. I still don't entirely grasp it, but his advice generally is:

-Ask a question worth answering
-Describe what is needed to answer the question
-Explain how the literature answers your questions (or not)
-Describe what research is still needed to answer the question (this gives people something to do)

I tried to frame my review around questions for this draft, but it didn't work like Herb describes/envisions it. I feel like I'm missing a piece of the puzzle in the process of conceptualizing my paper. I don't mean related to my topic, but related to what Herb is telling me to do. I think I just need to keep talking to him throughout the process and I think I'll know when I "get it."

Herb stressed today that it is difficult to write a meaningful and significant review that people actually care about. He thinks I can do it, which is encouraging (he said, "Once you know what to write, you write well- you just have to figure out what you want to say first!"). My next plan is to make a very thorough outline and discuss it with Herb, then start over with writing process. I think the review needs a fresh start with a new structure in order for me to progress.

I think the process of working on this review has been tremendously helpful in familiarizing me with the relevant literature and helping me to identify wide-open questions that interest me. I'm glad that I had to write it for class last semester, and I'm even more glad that I'm developing it further for Herb's class this semester. Working on something like this as a class assignment creates deadlines that might not otherwise be realized.

Like I mentioned yesterday, I'm working on grant E this week. The proposal for this grant is much broader and less methodological than all of the other grants I've written so far. I worked on it a bit yesterday, but especially after lab meeting I felt like I needed to think long and hard about the big picture before I started writing again. So, I found a big board where I could draw the big picture and I spent about 45 minutes staring at the board and slowly outlining the important points I needed to address in the proposal. Then I started over on the proposal. I think this method worked. It took me 2 hours to write one single-spaced page, but I think it's a good one.


jobless TA man said...

I <3 dry erase boards. They make life better.

EcoGeoFemme said...

Have you tried inserting subheadings? I sometimes do this to help me diagnose disorganized writing. Defining sections with a subheading can make it easier to spot the errant thoughts. Sometimes all you have to do is move a few sentences around to make it all fall into place.

Karina said...

Subheadings are a good idea. My next version will definitely have more of them.