I’m in the thick of writing my dissertation. If all goes to plan, I should be done sometime in November or December. Chapter one is complete (that was my prospectus). Chapter two is in process. The dissertation is slated to be a total of six chapters.
I want to highlight three hacks I’m benefitting from while writing my dissertation.
Writing Goals. I set a writing goal every day I dedicate to the dissertation. Depending on how you write, word count is going to vary. When I’m focused, I want at least one thousand to fifteen hundred words a day if I’m devoting a whole day to writing. It reduces stress by eliminating crippling fear and intimidation that can easily overwhelm the writer if you sit down at the computer with no plan. Steady writing produces highly measurable results. Not setting a goal gives a writer every excuse to walk away when frustration happens (and it will). But if you tell yourself that you are bound to your word count expectation, you will see results. The other nice thing about goal setting is that once you hit your goal, your conscience can rest at ease about moving on to something else. So if you get done early, sign out for the day. But if you’re going to set a goal, be sure to hit that goal. This is probably the single most important element to my writing life.
Zotero. I’m not going to dwell at length about this. But if you’re not utilizing Zotero for bibliographies and footnotes, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG. Zotero is saving me countless hours. I’m already looking forward to the moment when I have to populate my final bibliography and it taking me all of twenty seconds instead of twenty hours. Yes, there’s work on the front end as far as getting to understand the software and how to organize efficiently, but once you get it (when integrating it into Microsoft Word), you’re set. Take the time to learn Zotero. You will not regret it.
Research and Writing Recall System (CAIP). How do I economize my writing and research in a way that allows for easy recall of research but also for putting the right research in the right spot? In short, how can I write with what I am researching efficiently and with a roadmap? Here’s what I’ve come across so far that is really helpful, to me at least. I don’t have a name for it, but call it the “Chapter-Author, Insight, Page” system (CAIP).
Here’s how it works: With a six chapter dissertation, chapters two through five are my “substantive” or main chapters (chapter one is the introduction; chapter six is the conclusion). My respective chapters are on the Intersection of the Kingdom of God with Religious Liberty (chapter two); the Image of God and Religious Liberty (chapter 3); Mission and Religious Liberty (chapter 4); and a Chapter on contemporary issues concerning religious liberty (chapter 5).
When I come across an insight that I need to capture in order to interact with it later, I have a Moleskine notebook titled “Dissertation Notes” where I do the following: Chapter-Author, Insight, Page. It works like this. Let’s say I come across a helpful insight from Oliver O’Donovan in his book Desire of the Nations.
2 – O’Donovan, judgment in a secular era, 234.
Chapter 2 denotes that the insight for is my chapter two on the Kingdom of God. O’Donovan is the author. His insight on the judgment of God relates to themes in chapter two. The page number is 234.
Here’s why I like this. As I read, I’m jotting down a quick note that I can reference later when I’m actually writing. Important: I keep my dissertation notebook alongside side me as I read. So all I have to do when I’m writing chapter two is go through my Moleskine and scroll through all the “2” references on the left margin and plug those insights into the relevant sections of my chapter. This is proving immensely helpful for me. I’m doing this as I’m reading and hitting any issue of relevance for chapters 2, 3, 4, or 5. So my notebook can easily have numbers all out of sequence, but that’s as it should be. When I plug the insight into my paper, I simply cross it off in my notebook.
If necessary, I’ll add a shortened book title if the author I’m researching has more than one book I’m using for research.
I hope these three little hacks can help you in your writing. Happy dissertating!