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  Tuesday, December 07, 2004

  Writing PhD dissertation

Terri Senft points to a great essay by William Germano, If Dissertations Could Talk, What Would They Say? It's about making a book out of your dissertation and it tells a lot about differences between them...

A dissertation fulfills an academic requirement; a book fulfills a desire to speak broadly. A dissertation rehearses scholarship in the field; a book has absorbed that scholarship. A dissertation can be as long as the author likes; a book's length is strategically arranged for optimal marketability. A dissertation suppresses an authorial voice; a book creates and sustains one. A dissertation's structure demonstrates the author's analytic skills; a book's structure demonstrates the author's command of extended narrative. A dissertation stops; a book concludes.

Most crucially, a dissertation is written for a committee (that powerful audience of three or four), a book for the world. Yours might be a small world, like the total population of specialists in Etruscan inscriptions, but it's a population that extends beyond the folks you know personally and on into the future. If you want to be made nervous, don't think about what your dissertation director will say when the book version comes out; think instead that, if you're very lucky, someone will be dusting off your work after you're dead.

Which brings me again to my lack of motivation for writing a thick scientific text that just a few people will read. I know that this is scientific tradition, but I still can't get myself to the idea of spending lots of time writing mainly for the sake of proving that I'm up to the standard... Of course, I'll get around it, but so far I'm very happy to write hoping to create a context in which other people can think and not to prove that I'm good enough for a PhD (who knows, may be I'm not :)

And one more quote: 

The manuscript that an editor wants to see on her desk is one she can't not read. We're inundated by work that is trying, painfully, to sound grown-up, when what we most want is work that conveys genuine belief. But belief in what? Not in the validity of a theory or the judiciousness of a political view, though that might be what gets the author out of bed in the morning. More fundamental than either is a belief in writing's power: belief in the story within the manuscript, in the existence of an interested audience, in the author's ability to reach those readers.

More on: PhD writing 

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© Copyright 2002-2005 Lilia Efimova.

This weblog is my learning diary. Sometimes I write about things related to my work, but the views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.

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