Writing defensively

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More Sea Defences by Gerry Balding, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

Evans and his colleagues discuss something they call writing defensively in their book ‘How to write a better thesis’ (p77). They are talking here about looking at your writing from a reader’s perspective and pre-emptively addressing issues that might come up. If you have not made your reasons or meanings clear, then your reader may assume other reasons or meanings and they may get the wrong idea about what you are trying to say. If you have not explained why something is important, then your reader may not care, or, worse still, may wonder why they are wasting their time reading your work. If you have not made your argument clear, or have gaps in your logic, then your reader may not believe you.

It can be hard to see your writing from a reader’s perspective, but things that will help are to

  • put it aside and read it another day
  • read it out aloud
  • put your finger under each word as you read them so you read what you have really written
  • make a reverse outline of what you have actually written and see if it makes the points you wanted to make
  • remember back to what you found difficult when you were first learning about this topic and make sure you explain the things that will help your reader. Do not assume they know as much as you do about the topic – they don’t!

Other things that will help are to ask others to read it and then listen to what they say. If they think something is not clear then it isn’t. Even if you can’t see how they got it wrong, they did and it means you need to change something. And if you try to predict in advance what will be difficult for them and fix it before you give it to them to read, even better.

Evans, D., Gruba, P., & Zobel, J. (2014). How to write a better thesis (3rd ed.). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.
http://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-3-319-04286-2

I highly recommend looking at this book if you are writing any sort of thesis or dissertation. It is definitely worth buying but many of you will have access to it through your library either in hard copy or the E-book version.

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