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Writing is hard!

  1. May 9, 2009 #1
    I'm having one hell of a time writing my thesis! I'm writing it as I go because I like to think in terms of systems engineering (breaking things down into blocks). I'm certainly no where near done with my research; however, there are lots of stuff I have done that can be written up now. Our advisor gave us some good rules of thumb, such as:

    -Every sentence that starts a section should summarize what the section is about.
    -Say the most using the least amount of words. Don't say something in two lines if you can say it in one. This is whats really, really hard.

    I've found myself spending over an hour to write two lines! But those two lines can replace an entire paragraph when done correctly!

    It doesnt help that LaTeX is very finicky.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 9, 2009 #2
    Writing's easy. Math is Hard.
  4. May 9, 2009 #3
    I don't know how much time you have for your thesis but a general rule of thumb for writers is to just write. You can clean it up later. Getting your ideas on paper will help you take stock and see how you should put it together for the final product. I have the same problem myself where I will take hours to write a single paragraph, then I hate it and can it lol.
  5. May 9, 2009 #4
    Make a good brainstorm list.

    The hope-and-stare method rarely works. When stuck don't stay idle. I found it useful to start typing anything, like the first sentences of some book closest to me. Once I pick up the rhythm of writing, ideas come to mind. Don't worry about making errors at this time, you will correct them later.
  6. May 9, 2009 #5
    I don't stare, I know what I have to write. The problem is writing it all down as concisely and precisely as possible. Typing anything isn't helpful here because I will end up with an entire page describing what should be at most a paragraph and at best two sentences. Unlike creative writing, I dont have to worry about ideas coming to mind. I know what I have to say - it's saying it that's hard.
  7. May 9, 2009 #6
    That's why I'm suggesting just to write anything whether good or not. The point is once you will get in the flow of writing you will spill what you have to say in your first draft. Then later, revise it and pick anything useful from it. That's just my two cents.
  8. May 9, 2009 #7


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    Yeah, I'd agree with that... otherwise you risk forgetting what you wanted to say. It's important to get your ideas down on paper first, then you'll always have them as a reference for trimming down and editing later.

    Not to mention, if you wait to write anything until you figure out the "proper" way to say it (as concise as possible, etc.), you tend to spend more time thinking about how you would write the stuff than it would take to write it and edit it.
  9. May 9, 2009 #8


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    I know exactly what you're saying. At my work, we had (he just got laid off) a technical writer. I would work and work to reduce my message down to two or three paragraphs, just the very, very basics. I'd submit it to Jack...it would come back in three sentences. All the information still there, just completely - completely! - distilled, down to the bones. Really, an amazing skill.

    Wish I could help...all I can do is comiserate.
  10. May 9, 2009 #9
    Its decent advice all the same. Another method is to write ideas on index cards, then order them, and flesh it out.

    edit: or distill it as the case may be.
  11. May 9, 2009 #10


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    that is what I'm facing right now, I just don't like the idea of over go it again, but it took me too much time to finish only 0.27 of it, I do note that I tend to write in details, my sister told me that I should practice on writing summaries of topics, maybe you should try it Cyrus [of course if you have time], wish you luck.
  12. May 9, 2009 #11
    I spend alot of time by myself at work and such. Ideas, particular lines and wordings, come to mind while I entertain myself in my head. Keeping a small note pad on hand while you run about may be good idea so you can jot down ideas while you are just going about your normal activities. Some people also use recorders so they can just speak their ideas. Depending on your phone you might find you have a recorder in it.
  13. May 9, 2009 #12


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    Follow a format.
    Plan an outline.
    Express what you have to say as precisely as possible or as precisely as necessary.
    Use standard English.

    Do you remember writing formal laboratory reports for any of your courses with lab sections? Your thesis will just be longer, and might use a slightly different format.
  14. May 10, 2009 #13


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    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  15. May 10, 2009 #14
    a good way to keep things short is to write Headings and organize your thoughts/notes under those as concise as possible.. and then form your paragraphs/sentencing out of that

    i did it in philosophy i had to write a paper on Time under 500 words.

    my headings were things like what is it? what is it not? what is it like... etc etc.

    it was REALLY hard at first to keep it under 500 words but in the end it worked out.
  16. May 10, 2009 #15


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    Cy, start with a relaxed attitude and a blank sheet (or sheets) of paper and start jotting down things you want to convey. Some relevant ideas can be really important and some can be tangential, but the point is to get them out there. Don't regard that list as a static thing - treat it like a living list so that you can add, subtract, etc as you want as you go along. As you write your paper, use your words carefully to justify the inclusion of the ideas you want to promote and illustrate their value, and if you want to distance yourself from some popular ideas that you consider bogus, do not nay-say them, but instead (just as carefully) explain how they are wrong or at least irrelevant to your case. Good luck.
  17. May 10, 2009 #16

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    Start with an outline, you know, major headings. Then put in sub-items, break it down to smaller and smaller tid-bits. You're thinking in terms of system engineering and small blocks do it. Fill in where you think you have the most info, leave other sections blank, leave the intro, conclusions and abstract blank. They get filled in at the end. I wrote each chapter, then after I was happy, I took the first section of each chapter, copied it to the intro and reworked a little. Same for the conclusions/summary, take the last part of every chapter, copy to end then blend into a seamless document.

    I struggled with my dissertation writing because I was trying to tell the story from start to finish. After I wrote an outline and did what I said above, it took all of 2 months to write and completely polish it to the committee's satisfaction.
  18. May 10, 2009 #17


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    Do you know what mindmapping is? Helps organise and order.

    It is recommended - write first draft quickly without too much self criticism, you seem to be worrying about how the bits will interact and perfecting if you are doing 1 sentence per day or so.

    Then (I think you are writing it out longhand? but for the printouts anyway) it used to be suggested for first drafts print one paragraph per page - you often find order or bits and arguments needs changing, then that is easier.

    Think of your readership. Actually it has been recommended think you had someone in front of you and you had to explain it to him, what would you say? That someone should maybe be about 8 years old. And not very interested in your work.
  19. May 10, 2009 #18
    No wonder no one understands my posts. I keep pitching them to a ten year old comprehension level.
  20. May 10, 2009 #19


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    Cyrus, you're a very articulate fellow, so I don't think that this necessarily applies to you... but it might be helpful for others.
    Obviously, I don't take a lot of effort to condense my remarks on PF, but it is necessary in some other cases. Some technical stuff that I've looked at has been very informative on the basis of the science, but the non-technical phrasing can be clumsy. As a 'for instance': "After 171 runs of the experiment, we discovered..." can be stated as "Our 172nd experimental run showed..." That's not a real example—just something that I made up. It means the same thing, but takes up less space. For the same reason, when I was writing professionally, I always kept a thesaurus at hand. You can look up a key word of a phrase, and find a word that replaces the entire phrase; eg: "because of that" can be replaced by "hence". They're all minor changes, but synergistically can shorten something by several pages.
    The others have given you some very good advice as to the process of writing, as well. The things that they mentioned are all processes that I used back in the day.
    One other thing that is very effective, which might have been mentioned and I missed it, is to take a bloody break if you're stuck. Sitting there, banging your head on the keyboard, won't do a bit of good. Go out and take a walk, or watch cartoons, or nail a hooker—anything to get your mind off of the project for a while. Your subconscious will keep gnawing at it, and you'll return will a fresh outlook.
  21. May 10, 2009 #20
  22. May 10, 2009 #21


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  23. May 10, 2009 #22
    Hahahahhaahahahaaa, oh wow! That was a good one, I have to admit that :biggrin:
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