Yesterday I made an outline of my dissertation.
Five years ago I would’ve never outlined anything – I would’ve just barreled into the project and started writing. That’s a great way to to get lost, I now realize. My outline estimates my dissertation at 90-120 pages, which is a short dissertation but a long paper! So trying to approach this from the perspective of “I’m going to work on my dissertation today,” or even “I’m going to work on my literature review (30-45 pages) today” is not a good idea. I’ve also discovered that I write best in a non-linear fashion, because I build up momentum as I work. So it’s easier for me to start with a section that I know I can whip out faster – like the methods section, which is easy to write because we already did the project and it’s straightforward. That gets some words on the paper, which gives me confidence when I go to write the much more nebulous (but also really fun) literature review.
So now I can say “I am going to complete my subsection on the communal aspects of green reed underwater basketweaving today,” which is a 2-page section and something I can realistically complete in one day.
I used my own experiences to help my students when teaching them writing – I taught them to do outlines over the summer. Some of them balked until they started writing and then came up to tell me how useful their outlines were. It keeps you from getting lost in your words! It’s like a road map. You don’t have to stick rigidly to it – in fact, you may find a better/shorter way to go, and alter your path. But when you get lost and don’t know where to go next, the outline helps you find your way back. I outline all of my papers now, even if briefly and loosely.
The literature review and methods section are much better outlined than the results and discussion, which makes sense given that I haven’t done the analysis yet. I have my lit review chapters organized into major sections that are 5 to 12 pages in length; those sections are then organized into subsections that are typically 2-4 pages in length. My methods section is projected at 15-20 pages total, but I also have that split into 5 major sections that are on average 2-3 pages in length, although some are projected to be slightly longer.
I’m a super dork but I’m actually excited about this, especially writing the literature review (which previously was my least favorite section to write). I’m excited because I get to read about the history of the work done in this field plus the fresh work, and synthesize it all together. And I’ve learned how fun learning by doing is in the last few years. Coursework kind of sucks, but I didn’t mind qualifying exams at all – the studying process was stressful but intriguing – and this process has been a learning experience, too.
I also got new running sneakers yesterday. I am so over the moon about these running sneakers. I went running in them yesterday and I feel like a new person. My body wasn’t crying out in protest after the run was over (just my lungs). I also found out that they are the same sneakers Wendy Davis wore during her 11-hour filibuster, which made me happy.