connecting chapters/chapter introductions

Writing a thesis, or indeed an academic book, means constructing an extended argument. One common problem in writing a very long text is that it’s not hard in 80,000 to 100,000 words for the reader to get lost in between chapters – they aren’t sure of the connection of one to the other and of how they work together to advance the case being made, move by move. And sometimes the writer can get lost too! That’s because chapters are often written in a different order to the order in which they are read, and sometimes they are written at very different times. Of course, sometimes the text is written straight through. But whatever the circumstances, it’s easy for both reader and writer to get lost in the overall argument because there is just soooo much detail to cover.

Here is one way to address the getting lost problem and one that many thesis writers find helpful. Confident and clever writers will find their own way to connect chapters together, but if you’re feeling a bit stuck this will help. It’s just a simple frame to use at the beginning of each new chapter. The frame – link, focus, overview – can be used for writing the first draft of the whole text. Because it’s a bit formulaic, it’s helpful to play with it on the second and third drafts so it reads more easily. But even when playing with it, keep the three moves because this is a good way to keep yourself as writer, and the reader, on track.

Paragraph One: LINK 
Make a connection to what has immediately gone before. Recap the last chapter. In the last chapter I showed that… Having argued in the previous chapter that… As a result of x, which I established in the last chapter….. It is also possible to make a link between this chapter and the whole argument… The first step in answering my research question (repeat question) .. was to.. . In the last chapter I …

Paragraph Two: FOCUS
Now focus the reader’s attention on what this chapter is specifically going to do and why it is important. In this chapter I will examine.. I will present… I will report … This is crucial in (aim of thesis/research question) in order to….

Paragraph Three: OVERVIEW
The third paragraph simply outlines the way that you are going to achieve the aim spelled out in the previous paragraph. It’s really just a statement of the contents in the order that the reader will encounter them. It is important to state these not simply as topics, but actually how they build up the internal chapter argument… I will begin by examining the definitions of, then move to seeing how these were applied… I first of all explain my orientation to the research process, positioning myself as a critical scholar.. I then explain the methodology that I used in the research, arguing that ethnography was the most suitable approach to provide answers to the question of…

Now, as I said, this is pretty mechanical and it doesn’t make for riveting reading. It’s meant for conventional theses and not those that break the mould. However, the bottom line is that it’s better to be dull and establish coherence and flow between chapters, than to have the reader, particularly if it’s your supervisor or the examiner, wondering what’s going on and how what they are now reading links back to what has gone before, and what the chapter is going to do. And if you’re the writer, it really does help keep you on the straight and narrow.

This post is the first of a four part series suggesting one strategy for achieving flow. Read the rest here, here and here.

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Creative writing workshop, some notes

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This is the workshop leader, Tony Birch, writer and lecturer born in Melbourne, an environmental activist. Source: https://www.facebook.com/swietlicakpwtrojmiescie?fref=ts ((participants were asked for permission to be photographed and then to publish the pictures in the organizer facebook page)
This is me, the one turned back, discussing with another participant on  climate change. It was part of an exercise consisting of playing different roles in order to convince others about our ideas
This is me, the one turned back, vividly discussing with another participant on climate change. It was part of an exercise consisting of playing different roles in order to convince others about our ideas. Concretely, She was supposed to raise my awareness on climate change while I was playing a “denier role”. Source: https://www.facebook.com/swietlicakpwtrojmiescie?fref=ts ((participants were asked for permission to be photographed and then to publish the pictures in the organizer facebook page)

Past Monday 6th of October I attended a creative writing workshop in Gdansk, the city I live in. Although the workshop’s first aim was creative writing, the exposition and discussion was quiet focus on environmental issues, and the way we can write and persuade others about current environmental problems. It seemed to me more focused on literature-like writing, but some things are also applicable to research. Also, the truth is that in a hardly three hours workshop one can’t go a long way. However, I would like to point out a few things.

First, always bear in mind who is your audience. It may be your friends, family, the ones that you want them to be proud of you. Although this is unlikely when talking about research writing. Or a more general audience. It’s important to have this clear even before starting to write.

Secondly, we live in a global world and people sometimes tend to write on things that happen in a rather undefined place. However, people matter what happen here and now. Although this two concepts “here” and “now” may be seen as too ambiguous, it’s important to reflect on them. They probably depend on your audience. It may be your city, your country or just your neighbour, but never think about the place you live as banal. It reminds me to one Pierre Bourdieu’s sentence when doing a research on his own hometown, he named this perspective as the “banal exotic”. Another thing is, and this is my own opinion,

Last but not least, how to attract your audience?, the first paragraph is often crucial. Here, Tony spoke of the importance of addressing issues related to the emotions of our audience as a way to attract attention (Again, not applicable to research, to my way of thinking) This can become complicated when our audience is very diverse. What for some may be captivating, for others it’s simply irrelevant. At certain moment (when discussing on how to raise awareness on climate change) I suggested that we should try to make our audience see that their everyday life is somehow connected with environmental problems that are happening very far. Also (and I just come up with this idea) the more diverse is your audience, let’s say worldwide, the more you need to appeal those aspects and values that define human beings, i.e. those things that we all as humans share and have one unmistakable meaning as love, friendship, nostalgia, etc.

Other interesting things that raised throughout the workshop were the need of having a solid structure of what we want to write as well as choosing the right moment on the day to do it. Maybe the very morning, during the night etc. Though here I’d like to warn that, according to my experience, the structure may quite change again and over again during the writing process. One inspiring writing technique that Tony suggested (rather non-research related): ask yourself: can I tell my whole life in three minutes?. The results of this exercise could give way to a great, touching and creative piece of writing. Seek and patiently observe, for example, a picture of your childhood that you think best defines who you are.

Creative writing workshop

CRITICAL EYE

Creative writing workshop with Tony Birch, writer and lecturer born in Melbourne, an environmental activist.

Monday, 6th October 2014, 5.30 pm – 8.30 pm
Świetlica Krytyki Politycznej w Trójmieście
ul. Nowe Ogrody 35, IIp., Gdańsk

The workshop will be held in English.

Apply at: trójmiasto@poczta.krytykapolityczna.pl

The workshop is a part of Weather Stations project (www.globalweatherstations.com) financially supported by EU Cultura Programme.

* Kim jest Tony Birch?
Tony Birch is the author of the acclaimed novel, Blood (UQP 2011), shortlisted for this year’s Miles Franklin Award. He has also published widely as a short fiction writer.

Tony Birch was born in inner-city Melbourne to a large family of Aboriginal, West India and Irish descent. His challenging upbringing inspires much of his work. His stories have appeared in several ‘Best of …’ and anthologies, both within Australia and internationally. His previous books are Shadowboxing (Scribe 2006) and Father’s Day (Hunter 2009). Tony teaches in the Creative Writing program at Melbourne University, and also runs community writing event as part of the his outreach work. Both Shadowboxing and Father’s Day are taught in the Victorian Secondary School system and he regularly visits schools to both discuss his own work and run writing workshops.