Grease and Dissertations
September 26th is Olivia Newton-John’s Birthday. She’s perhaps best known for her turn as Sandy from Grease. And, even for dissertation students, grease is the word…
A few words of dissertation wisdom from Grease:
1. Don’t be a (beauty school) drop out.
2. Your dissertation committee isn’t hopelessly devoted to you. And,
3. Grease is a word.
Speaking of words, and sometimes not being able to find the right ones…
You know how they say, if you don’t know what to write, just write? Set a timer for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, half an hour. And, just write. Don’t read. Don’t edit. And, if the words don’t come, just get your fingers moving. Type whatever. Type complete nonsense. Just. Keep. Going.
The idea is that you may find gold in all the gibberish. Something that you can mine and refine. A nugget of wisdom. A seed for great things to come.
The writers for Grease took this concept a little too far, or, perhaps, not far enough…
Rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong
Shoo-bop sha wadda wadda yippity boom de boom
Chang chang changitty chang sha-bop
Dip da-dip da-dip doo-wop da doo-bee doo
Those are literally lyrics from the closing number for Grease. And, if it worked for them, why wouldn’t it work for you and your dissertation, right?
Well, because the dissertation isn’t a Thurber-esque stream-of-consciousness exercise. It’s a highly organized, deeply interlaced, extremely formal expression of the highest form of scholarship. No changitty chang sha-bops here!
No, I don’t like this writing exercise for dissertation students at all. What I prefer isn’t as sexy. It may not be as fun, but it gets the job done.
So, what do you do when the words don’t come? You go back to the drawing board. You plan!
I’m not saying that you have to start over, again. I’m saying that you didn’t get off to a proper start in the first place!
The first step in a journey of a thousand miles isn’t a step at all. It’s choosing a destination! Knowing where you’re going is the first step in getting there.
For your dissertation this means carefully choosing your methodology, your research design, your research questions. Determining how this destination corresponds to your topic. Making sure that you know what you’re doing…in the most literal sense.
For students in the professional social sciences, you should be able to answer three questions:
1. Who are ya gonna talk to?
2. What are ya gonna ask them? And,
3. What are ya gonna do with their answers?
When you have good answers to these questions, you have a research plan. When you have a research plan, you know how you’re gonna answer your research questions. It becomes easier to position your topic. It becomes easier to determine which articles to include and which to exclude. It become easier to find articles to support your line of inquiry in the first place.
If the words aren’t coming, it’s because you don’t have a plan. Even if you think you do, you don’t. Every element of every section of the proposal is tied to your plan. Once you have a plan, you understand what goes in each section. And, when you understand what you need to say, the words will come.