Archive for the ‘writing models’ Category

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A dissertation coaching client said that she stopped watching TV and picked up her writing pace in order to meet a deadline.  Now that she has met the deadline, she worries that she will be sucked into watching all of the TV shows that she recorded during her heavy-duty period of writing.

Do you record TV shows?  It’s just too easy, isn’t it?  I doubt that I’ll ever catch up on all of the International House Hunter shows that I seem to record every day. Occasionally I wonder how on earth all of the shows pile up, foolishly forgetting that I clicked on “record series.” And there must be at least 3 International House Hunter shows a day!

My client also worries that not only will she binge on watching all of the TV recordings waiting for her, but from experience she knows of the torpor that will hit her once she starts watching the hours of  TV.  It will be hard to get back into her writing routine. Digital stress strikes again!

Recently I stayed in a small town at an absent relative’s house (no I wasn’t a home invader–it was by invitation!).  This was a house with no TV and no internet access.  I was looking forward to seeing how the absence of TV and lack of email would affect me.

It was a little eerie, but good.  Many clients say that it’s hard for them to get into flow while writing and sometimes they find it hard to jump into a long book that is required reading for their topic.  Experience tells me that if you remove yourself from the easy temptation of  TV and the internet, flow will be much easier to accomplish than you might imagine.

With no TV and internet, I moved quickly into a reading and writing routine.   I gave no energy to avoiding writing and no energy to avoiding TV. And I wasn’t recording TV shows for later.  It was a win-win-win.

Often, clients who have a day job say that one change they are making in their lives as dissertation writers is to leave their blackberries at work.  I feel the same way about checking office email at home.  Too often employers expect the unreasonable–that is, that you are online, plugged in, no matter what time of day, no matter where you are.

If you can leave the blackberry and the office email at the office, cut way back on what you are recording on TV, and limit when you will check home email to an absolute minimum, you may be surprised how easily you, too, can move into flow. 

And you can control digital stress.

Do you have some strategies on how to avoid digital stress and the temptations of  TV and email?  I would love to hear from you.

All good wishes,


Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC


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Here’s a Smart Tip for all writers, editors, and professors:  Over the past year I have enjoyed a monthly e-newsletter called Ease in Writing: Writing Tips from Full Circle Communications. I think you’d like it, too.

It’s smart, focused, and free.

Paula Tarnapol Whitacre is a professional editor/writer, whose clients have sent her around the US and the world to attend meetings, gather research, and write or edit. Each month her newsletter is to-the-point, clever, and timely.
In one issue called “May I Quote You?” she raises the question, “How can you use those great quotes you dutifully wrote down?”  Her answer, “Sparingly.”

She does add a bit more on quotes, and, as always, it’s in her style of giving you essential info . . . sparingly.

In another newsletter (“How Long Will It Take to Edit?”), Paula gives us the answers that she gained when she asked several professional editors how long it takes them to edit a project and how they figure their estimates. Just as importantly, she describes different levels of editing.

Ease in Writing is a great model for a newsletter, and Paula is a marvelous example for writers.  She describes herself as a “creative, deadline-adhering writer and editor.”  Not only does she honor deadlines for work she does for pay, but she also meets her monthly deadline for sending out her free newsletter. 

If you’re not subscribed to Paula’s Ease in Writing newsletter, go ahead.  Try it.

Email Paula Tarnapol Whitacre at or go to her website (http://www.fullcircle.org) and sign up there. 

How are you doing with your deadlines this month? I hope you are having ease in your writing.


Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach


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An ABD student wrote to me about her advisor’s generous rewriting of the dissertation text.  According to the student, the advisor doesn’t change the thought, only the language.

The ABD student recognizes that the advisor’s writing is superior to her own, Her question is if the advisor has rewritten a lot of the language of the dissertation, is the ABD student’s dissertation still her own? And is this a common happenstance?

I agree that this advisor is amazingly generous and that the student is incredibly lucky to have such a responsive advisor.  I’ve had many clients who complain that their advisors mark up their drafts with little more than where to put commas.

The two or so clients whose advisors did some rewriting were glad to have the rewritten text.  In fact, when, down the road, one of those clients started to feel lost, I suggested that he go back and read what his advisor had written.  There was much to be learned in the advisor’s writing.  Not the least of which was the confidence in the student and the interest in the student’s topic that the rewriting suggested.

As might be expected, my clients also weren’t sure if they could use the text written by the advisors as their own, and so one of them bravely asked.  The advisor said yes. (I think the advisor assumed his language would be adopted.) If this is your problem, please ask the advisor if you can use the language as written.

If your advisor replaces your language with hers, I can see that you might feel your revision process is truncated.  It might even raise questions in your mind about how you can learn to write if your process is limited in this way. As for how you can best learn to write academic discourse, you can learn by writing and rewriting and rewriting again—at the request of your advisor—but the down side might be that you would feel anxious and uncertain in trying to interpret what the advisor actually wanted you to do.

Another way to improve your skill as an academic writer would be to follow the model offered to you by your advisor.  Analyze her discourse—her use of words, her sentence structure, the argument.  Put your text side by side with hers and look for the specific differences.

The dissertation is more about learning than it is about producing a completely original work or an amazing contribution to your field.

Some of my clients have procrastinated submitting early drafts to the advisor because they know they can’t write as well as the advisor.  Well, duh! Advisors are tenured, published, and have been through this writing and rewriting and editing process umpteen times.  Their use of language shows what they’ve learned.

If you would rather your advisor give you more open-ended questions, such as “What do you mean here?” you can always ask for that kind of response.  If you have a good relationship, she will most likely give you what you ask for.  It will take a lot of courage to say that you’d prefer to use your own language, but if it’s important to you, speak up.

I would be curious why an advisor might be so generous as to rewrite part of the student’s text.  It would be interesting to have a discussion with the advisor about her style of responding to writing.  I’ll bet she’s trying to give you something that no one ever gave her — specific examples on how a certain sentence/idea/paragraph could be better stated.

Readers, if you have a thought you’d like to share on this topic, I’d be delighted to hear from you.

In addition, if you are one of those people who procrastinate on sending a draft to your advisor because the draft isn’t perfect, I’d like to hear about that, too.  Procrastination is the #1 problem among dissertation writers.

All good wishes,


Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation and Academic Career Coach



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Have you heard the sarcastic references to Obama’s having written two books?  Of course, it’s politics to make a negative out of what would ordinarily be a good thing, but I’m wondering if the people making the jabs believe that large numbers of voters denigrate writers and writing.  I don’t know what large numbers of voters think, but we don’t have long to wait.

As for me, I know that writing is hard work and that a person can learn a great deal about his or her own character as well as his or her ideas by writing. 

As a writer, Obama modeled a strategy to all would-be writers. He was photographed writing his acceptance speech in a yellow legal pad in a hotel room.
Where do you go when you absolutely have to write – whether it’s the acceptance speech to be a presidential nominee or to move through a hard patch of your dissertation? 

Do you tolerate distractions?

If you really want to get some writing done, it’s worth the effort to get away from the distractions of home or office— away from the distracting comfort of friends and family and  refrigerator.

Where do you go?  The local coffee shop?  The library?  Both are good choices, but if you take your computer along, you’re probably taking a major distraction right along with you.  Carrying access to email with you may be setting yourself up for a less than productive session.

Here’s an idea — leave all electronic devices behind and just take a notebook and a pen. Give yourself the opportunity to write what you know with no possibility of skipping out to check on email. 

Why stare at a screen?

Legal pads are perfect if you’re trying to produce a quantity of text in one sitting. If you want to have movable draft, buy a notebook. Writing in a notebook is almost a lost art, and it can be fun.  Invest in a new notebook in a color you especially like.  Put a sticker or two on the front, just the way you did in junior high.  Make a date with yourself and re-discover how much pleasure you can have in writing what you know, with no books to quote from, no articles to check and check again, and no tempting email at your fingertips. 

You will remove the pressure of the blank screen staring back at you, and you will give yourself the opportunity to ease into what can be a productive writing session.

What about you?  What have you found to be a reliable way to resist distractions and to produce a quantity of text?

I’d love to hear from you.

Here’s to producing text,

Your Dissertation and Academic Career Coach


P.S. The new issue of my e-newsletter Smart Tips will feature an article on procrastination.  Sign up at my website — www.nancywhichard.com.

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You maximized your time this summer, and you’ve moved your dissertation along.  But it’s September 2?  How did that happen?

If you’re teaching this fall, you have been doing a number of admin things. You’ve over-prepared for the first few classes and have a great syllabus in place. You know your lines.

But to move into your fall teaching or work responsibility, you have had to ignore the dissertation chapter that you had meant to wrap up in August. 
Not only did you not finish that chapter—and I’m betting it’s the conclusion that you left hanging—you may have slowed down because finishing the conclusion means that everyone on your committee will read your text.  Perhaps you might be dragging your feet in order to ward off all imagined criticism.
At this point, you know that you’re procrastinating.  You know that you will eventually move back into that chapter.  To make that move sooner rather than later, here are three ways to help you get started:

1.  Look at the conclusions of a couple of dissertations.
Are they relatively short?  How many pages? Estimate how long will yours be.  Choose one dissertation and outline it— how does the writer move into the chapter?  What are the parts or subheads of the  chapter?  How complicated does it seem?  How much development and depth does it have? 
Can’t you say without a doubt that you could do as well?

2.  Without rehashing your argument and evidence and in no more than 2 paragraphs, summarize where you’ve been and what you’ve said in this dissertation. If you are dillydallying, then give yourself a time limit.  Write your summary in 5 minutes or you have to send 10 bucks to the presidential candidate that you do not want to succeed.  Is it a deal?

3.  What is the personal investment that you have in this work?  How is that connected to the theorizing you’ve done in the dissertation?  Write a paragraph delineating both your personal investment and its connection to the theorizing.

O.k., then, you’ve got a running start on your conclusion.  I know you can take it from here, but just to support you, I may check in with you again tomorrow.

Until then,


Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach

P.S. If you have been procrastinating on your dissertation, you might want to read the next issue of my Smart Tips for Writers newsletter.  In the upcoming issue, the main article will be  “How to Become a Recovering Procrastinator.”  If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter, don’t put it off!  Go to www.nancywhichard.com.

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Where do you start on your dissertation?  The word review can start you on the following five fast tracks.

Let’s get started:

1.  Learn from your peers who are a bit farther along the road than you are—read and review carefully their dissertations.
 Even if you’ve been writing papers since you were a wee tot, or at least you may feel that way, a dissertation has its own discourse, structure, format.

How have other graduate students written their dissertations on topics similar to yours?  Learn the language by looking at models. Take notes on how other dissertations have been structured, chapter by chapter and section by section. 

2.  Review dissertations suggested by your advisor.
Since your advisor is instrumental in your successfully finishing your dissertation, ask her/him to suggest completed proposals or dissertations that you can read.  Emphasize that you want to see models for form and format.
3.  Review specific dissertations directed by your advisor
Even if your advisor does not mention dissertations he/she has directed, it is de rigueur, absolutely required, that you hunt them down and review them carefully. 

4. Start writing your literature review before you’re ready.
Many advisors suggest that you read widely on your topic, and as you’re reading widely, start writing.  Evaluate each source as you read it for relevance, currency, and the author’s expertise.  If the source measures up to your standards, not only should you make sure you record a complete citation, written in the style required by your discipline, but you also need to write a succinct critical note (quotation/summary) of that source. 

You’ll have a head start on your literature review from your note-taking/writing at this early stage, not just a stack of copied articles or books with yellow underlining throughout.

5.  Review one of the standards in the how-to-write-your-dissertation book genre.  

How to Complete and Survive a Doctoral Dissertation still gets good marks in this genre, even though it was published in 1981.  Read some book reviews of it and then get your own copy.  This book has put many ABD’s on the fast track.

6.  Bonus source for you to review:  Go to my website (www.nancywhichard.com).  While you’re there, sign up for my Smart Tips for Writers newsletter.  As a special gift, I’ll send you right away—no waiting—5 new success strategies.

Make this a memorable week—Get it off to a great start today!

Until next time,

Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach


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