Writing Advice

10 Wise Steps in Writing a Dissertation

Step 1

    • Ask your department chair if you can skip the dissertation and get a Ph.D. solely on the strength of your winning personality.
    • Okay, so it’s never worked before. It’s still worth a shot, isn’t it? Think positive!
    • Or, if not your winning personality, some previous work, work experience, body of work—anything at all!
    • Okay, so that rarely works either—but it does and has worked for some people, depending on the strength of that previous work.

FRIENDS JOEY AND CHANDLER REGRET NOTHING

Step 2

  • Make a plan and stick to it!
  • Plan to spend more time finding a manageable dissertation topic than researching that topic, and more time researching it than actually writing the dissertation.
  • Plan to spend more time revising the dissertation than writing it, and more time writing it than researching it.
  • Spend more time researching it than finding out what your topic is.
  • To help with the organization of your thesis, consider hiring a logician. I did.

that's the plan dr. horrible neil patrick harris

Step 3

  • Make sure you and your thesis advisor are on the same page.
  • Make sure to tell your thesis advisor what page that is.

matt bomer always on same page

Step 4

  • Abandon all hope of reading everything that’s germane to your chosen topic. Eventually you’re bound to discover that somebody has already said everything you want to say, and in the very words you were going to use. Scary!
  • However, don’t be alarmed by this. Remember: “There is nothing new under the sun,” and “Of the making of books there is no end,” and “So, the heck with it, what’s one book more?”

silver linings playbook throwing book out window

Step 5

  • When you’re ready to write, strike while the iron is hot.
  • If the iron is not hot, heat it. By … any … means … necessary!
  • If you don’t know what the iron is, forget about a career in academia. Consider becoming a professional golf caddie, instead. (“Here’s your 5-iron, Tiger.”)

jim carrey bruce almighty typing

 

Step 6

  • Be sure to follow all of your department’s specifications for formatting your thesis, no matter how difficult they are.
  • When in doubt, hire a reputable editing service to do this for you.

Andy-Samberg-Wink-SNL

 

Step 7

  • Prepare for your thesis defense as if your life depended on it. As a matter of fact, your career does.
  • Anticipate every possible question. Now is the time to do the research I told you not to do back in Step 4. Quickly, quickly.
  • However, on the day of the defense, relax. You’re as ready as you’ll ever be. There’s nothing more you can do.
  • Try to enjoy your defense. If you have some ability to make people laugh, make your committee members laugh. If they’re having a good time, the defense might be a breeze.

 i've got the power boom bruce almighty jim carrey

Step 8

  • Answer each and every one of their questions politely and thoroughly.
  • If, after 45 minutes of politely and thoroughly responding to each and every one of their questions, they still maintain that you’re talking gibberish, remember your Samuel Johnson. Say, as haughtily as possible: “Sirs,  I am required to furnish you with an explanation. I am not also required to furnish you with an understanding of it.” (This will sound twice as impressive if you happen to be wearing a powdered wig.)

samuel johnson book perplexed

Step 9

If at some point you find yourself at a complete loss for words, quote the lyrics of some Broadway or Hollywood musical. I have found that there are surprisingly few things in life, academic subjects included, that have not at some point been made the subject of a song. A comforting thought, no?

Step 10

Okay, here it is, my final word of advice, the fruit of my years of experience as a dissertation editor: take pride in writing your dissertation and do the very best you can do. It’s a reflection of you. So cherish, respect, and enjoy the entire process for it should be a labor of love. If it’s not, then you’re not doing what you should be doing with your life. Tough love words, I know, but the absolute truth of the matter.

big bang theory sheldon that's how its done

Writing a Quality Book Review

Have you read some great….and maybe some not so great books recently on your eReader or Tablet device? Congratulations, you are part of a group of people known as “bibliophiles” who are reading more books each month using a variety of electronic devices. In the past, you relied on a friend, librarian, book club, or the book bestseller list in a newspaper to help you choose books. Today, you might be influenced to select a book for reading because of a good online review or a catchy book cover.

No doubt you have noticed that about two weeks after you purchased a book electronically, a request for a review appears in your email. Do some reviews help you make a choice to read that book? Do you wish you could write a fabulous review? Do you avoid doing a review because you do not know where to start? Well, you are in luck because this blog shares the key elements of a great review that will help you be a person of influence in the book-reading world.
 

Writer and editor duties

What is a book review?

A review is a description of the book and your experience with reading this particular treasure. It can be as basic as a few impressions to as detailed and critical as a scholarly analysis. Reviewers provide a sense of the quality, meaning, and impact of a book. Book reviews are very personal creations because they share your opinion.

A review is not a retelling of the story. If you retell the story then you will spoil it for others. The review should instead focus on the purpose of the book, what the book is about, how you enjoyed the book, and in the case of non-fiction — does the book and author provide information that has merit. The review is a record of your emotional and intellectual response, an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses, and how the book made you feel or think. A review may be as short as 50 words or longer – just remember that your review needs to get to the point quickly because the goal of a reader is not to spend hours reading reviews…his or her goal is to find that next book to read.

As readers, we are experts on how we want the story to develop and end or how much information a book should give to us… when it works or does not work, we can certainly share our opinion with others. You do not have to be an excellent writer to craft a good book review. Your goal is to assist customers in deciding whether to buy or borrow a book to read.

Are all reviews the same?

The answer is – NO – all reviews are not the same. The content and how you approach a review will depend on your intention and the requirements of your target audience.

The Descriptive Review

This type of book review gives the essential information about a book (style, subject, audience, plot, and character). This is usually done by sharing your interpretation of the work and by sometimes quoting particular passages from the text that you felt were especially strong or weak.

The Critical review

This type of review describes and compares the book to others of a similar genre. You do not always need to cite a specific book in the comparison but you most certainly can refer to similar works so that the reader of your review might be able to use this as a comparison.

The Parts of a Review

Both types of reviews, descriptive and critical, benefit from including the following pieces in your review.

Introduction

This is where you capture the reader’s attention, hopefully with your opening sentence. The introduction should state your main conclusion and set the tone of the review. This can be 10 to 15 words.

Body

This should be sufficient so that the reader of your review will have some understanding of the author’s thoughts. This is not a story summary of the story; instead, it describes the elements or pieces that the author uses to bring the story to life. This has an overall appraisal of the book. Describe and evaluate what you think was the intent of the author and explain how well you think the author did in giving you a good book to read. You can provide quotations supporting your analysis. Your review is considered an opinion based on your reading. Share how you think the author succeeded (or failed) in his/her goal. Use examples to support your thoughts. This can have 50 to 250 words in this section.

Conclusion

Wrap up your review with some final thoughts and remind the reader of why you did or did not like the book. This can be 10 to 50 words.

Writing a review to thank an author

How to Write that Perfect Book Review

Sit down and write all out thoughts out about the book. If the book was good and you feel positive about this work and want others to know about your great find — simply write that out with the Introduction, then write the Body, and end with a Conclusion as described above.

What about those times when you did not like the book? Certainly you want to “warn” others not to spend good money on this book. This is the most difficult review to write because it is negative. Many authors actually appreciate these reviews when they are well written because a negative review will help the author learn where he/she can improve. Other readers really appreciate knowing why you did not like the book because it helps them make an informed decision about whether or not the book might be good for him/her.

We can all admit it is more difficult to write a negative review. Simply writing “I hated this book” does not tell the next potential reader why. For a book that you consider to be of lower quality, it is a good idea to use the “sandwich” review approach. With this method, you write something positive about the book, then give the details of how this book failed (the negative part) and then find something nice to say in your conclusion. This will help the next potential reader understand why you gave the book a low rating. It also helps you “ease the pain to the author for receiving a negative review” by putting the bad parts inside of two good parts.

The Final Parts to your Excellent Book Review

Carefully read what you have written and make sure it is easy to understand. Check for grammar and spelling errors. Make sure your review is honest and avoids any personal attacks.

When you are ready, submit your review, and know that you have possibly helped 100’s or 1000’s of other bibliophiles find the next treasure or avoid spending money on a bad book.

Get the Most from Your Editor by Being a Good Client

Get the Most from Your Editor by Being a Good Client

Showing your writing to a stranger for editing is nerve wracking for most people. Maybe all people. So is going to the dentist. In both instances, you’re vulnerable and you’re paying money for something that isn’t entirely pleasant.

Let me stretch the analogy just a bit to point out that patients get the most out of their dentist when they cooperate. They answer questions honestly (e.g., How often do you floss?), they continue the work on their own (e.g., by doing the above-mentioned flossing), they ask questions (e.g., How long will this temporary last?), and they recognize the dentist is cleaning their teeth because it’s good for the teeth, not because they have fun making people’s gums bleed.

The same is true with your manuscript. You’ll get the most out of your editor by cooperating, actively working with this stranger so you’re happy with the results.

Be Honest with Your Editor

An editor can only do such much, so tell the editor about anything you want them to focus on. An editor will comment on characterization, but that doesn’t mean they’ll comment on a specific character or on a specific aspect of your characters. If you’re worried your love interest is boring, tell the editor that when you give them the manuscript. If you’re nervous the ending of your whodunit is obvious, direct your editor to evaluate it.

And tell your editor if there’s something you don’t want commented on. If you’re writing a book based on your faith and don’t want the editor to pick apart your logic, tell them so.

Little story. I once had a client give what he called an erotic novel, but the sex was just boring as anything. I spent time carefully explaining just why it was boring and why having boring sex in an erotic novel was a problem. About two-thirds through the book, I realized the book was actually a parable about why having sex is a bad thing and that the sex was supposed to be boring. I had to go back and take out hours of work and re-evaluate everything. A little honesty from the client would have saved me hours of work and allowed me to do a better job.

There’s no need for a checklist. Editors know to look at grammar and style and plot and so on. But if you’ve got specific concerns, let us know!

Continue the Work on Your Own

Writing is a life-long process of learning and criticism and trying again and revising and rewriting and more feedback and trying again forever in an endless cycle. Getting better at writing means doing more writing. Only by writing do we learn how to write.

Indeed, I’m not sure an editor can “teach” a writer anything. Certainly, editors cannot tell authors how to change things to be “correct” (except for grammar). We can only point to things and say that we think they are great or need to be improved and try to explain why. If an editor actually goes in there and tries to fix such things, they become a co-author.

Ask Questions

An editing job ends when the client is satisfied, not just when the manuscript comes back with its edits and comments. If a client isn’t sure what a comment means, they should (and they are expected to by any reputable business) ask the editor to explain.

All questions about the manuscript are welcome. Perhaps something the editor said contradicts what you heard in a creative writing class and you want their opinion. A problem with writing is that it involves thousands of things, and fictional writing is so much a matter of taste. I recently had a client say they’d been told “backstory is the kiss of death.” Several of my favorite (and highly successful) novels open with backstory.

Good questions I’ve been asked include whether a character who worked as a poet had to recite some of their poetry to give them credibility. (I said I didn’t see the need.) Another asked me to elaborate on why I said all the characters sounded the same when they talked. (I pointed out more instances of when different characters used the same phrases, showed the same level of education, and used similar imagery.) Another great question was why I liked a minor character so much. (She had a great sense of humor, and she was never cruel.)

I’ll tell you the truth. Sometimes writing comments on manuscripts feels a lot like talking to yourself in an empty room. A little Q&A conversation makes for a lovely change of pace.

Sorry About the Bleeding Gums

I have a friend who says she loves getting criticism. I know she’s lying. She might value it, might appreciate it, but love getting it? No way.

Yet when you hire an editor it’s criticism you’re paying for. If an editor doesn’t say something negative (or at least not so positive) at some point in the process, they’re just not doing their job.

But one thing can help you read through an edit, even a very strict one, with a minimum of pain.

Always bear in mind that being an editor takes quite a bit of dedication, and it’s not the sort of job that’s going to appeal to someone who doesn’t like authors. I personally have enormous respect for anyone who takes the time needed to write either fiction or nonfiction. I spend my days reading, and I enjoy it.

It can be tempting to think the editor is sneering at you or is getting tired of your misuse of the semi-colon. It’s hard not to wince they tell you your main character isn’t convincing or not to feel pecked at when a comment seems a little short.

But trust me, nobody I know who edits enjoys the knowledge that we might hurt feelings. We work under deadlines, but we get nothing from being glib. And editors are paid to fix grammar, or we’re pretty useless as a species.

What’s most important here is not hurt feelings but what happens when a client no longer feels they can trust their editor. How can anyone get anything of value from someone they feel is making fun of them? If you’re starting to hear sarcasm when you read your editor’s comments, take a break and re-set yourself. When you’re feeling defensive, even “Do you mean for this period to be here?” can sound like some snipe from a snob.

And if, after that, you still think a comment is offensive, write to the editor and ask what’s going on. Learning how to edit is also a life-long process of learning and criticism and trying again and revising and rewriting and more feedback and trying again forever in an endless cycle.


Your turn! In what ways do you think you can be a better client for your editor?