July 24, 2006

How to rework some writing that's not working

Here's how one new faculty member worked on turning her dissertation into an article. It's way better than staring at a computer screen and swearing.

I don’t want to jinx it, but may have had a breakthrough with the article I’m working on. Earlier this week/last week, I pulled out a big section of chapter 1 of my diss to serve as the introduction/lit review of my article, and I started working on trimming and condensing it (since I need it to be way shorter for an article-length piece).

But. It wasn’t really gelling. It seemed kind of disjointed, not entirely relevant to my article (but OK for the diss), and very dissertationy (not surprising, given the source).

Frustrated, I spent a chunk of Wednesday outlining the material in its current form. This is my fall back strategy when I’m stuck: I gloss the text, writing short descriptions of what each paragraph is focused on; then I compile those descriptions so I can read an overview of the whole piece and get a better sense of its focus (or lack thereof), shape, and direction.

For this piece, I went a step further: once I had the “outline,” I then recapped each section, noting what the section was currently doing, what it did well, and what wasn’t working. Through this process, I learned that I like the last section, where it was leading to and how it set up the piece as a whole. So, I started working backwards and figured out what steps I needed to take to get me to that point.

Now, I have a completely revised sketch/outline of the intro/lit review section for the article, one that draws on key chunks of the original draft but that reorders them in helpful ways and cuts a lot of the parts that made me feel the whole thing was disjointed and altogether whack.

Thanks, Dr. Four Eyes!

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