A racy remedy for PhD writers' block

September 6, 2002

A University of Strathclyde academic has come up with a way to complete that unfinished PhD over the weekend - learn to write 1,000 words an hour.

Rowena Murray of Strathclyde's Centre for Academic Practice argues that it is perfectly feasible to achieve this skill.

Her advice, in How To Write A Thesis , published by Open University Press this month, is to start writing and keep writing throughout a doctorate.

Dr Murray, who has 15 years' experience of teaching thesis-writing, says writing is in itself a means of learning. Rambling writing may signal rambling thinking but it may also be a first step to understanding the subject.

"Writing is as good a way as any of testing our ideas and assumptions," she says.

While she acknowledges that quality of writing is more important than quantity, she says: "Incomplete, tentative and downright wrong" writing is an inevitable part of the PhD process and regular writing develops fluency.

"Unlike the novice runner who, after a few short runs, asked: 'When does runner's high set in?' - expecting the effect to be immediate - you have to work at it to see the benefits," the book says.

It urges postgraduates to find their own pace, with the number of words produced analogous to pulse rates during exercise.

"You may feel you are really toiling up that hill or round that track, but if your heart rate is already in your training zone, then you know that you do not have to increase your workload," she says.

"As with exercise, taking the 'heartbeat' of our writing can save us from trying to do too much and from feeling guilty about not having done 'enough'.

"More important, it can become a way of establishing momentum. A rate of 1,000 words a day produces 5,000 words at the end of the week that were not there at the start."

How to Write a Thesis , by Rowena Murray, Open University Press, £16.99.

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