Looking back on this site over 2016 we have covered a lot! I hope you have found the site a useful source of information and inspiration for your research project. Here is a roundup of the year’s postings.
Productivity and looking after yourself
A thesis or dissertation is a big job and a long-term commitment that can be a struggle to get through at times. From time to time I find sites that give helpful advice about remaining productive and this year these included ones on approaching planning with processes instead of goals, checking your progress each month, avoiding procrastination, and productive writing. In order to be productive you need to look after yourself, and mindfulness can help as well as giving yourself a break.
Critical thinking and a scientific approach
Thinking is the nuts and bolts of your research. It is how you turn ideas into a structure and hold them all together. We discussed science as a way of thinking and critical thinking techniques, and also how the process of writing helps think and structure your ideas.
Understanding statistics so you can critically evaluate
Having a basic understanding of some statistical principles is important for being able to critically evaluate the research you are reading, and also helps you plan your study design. Explanations of basic statistical concepts can help get you started. We also talked about statistical concepts that affect interpretation of results including bias, missing data, effect size, study design, and concepts around causation. The posting about reading epidemiological reports also gave further pointers that help you evaluate clinical papers.
What to say
I came across quite a few sites that give helpful advice about what to say and how to make the argument that your report must make. In two posts this year we talked about the overall structure of your report and what goes where. We also talked about how a research question is important to help you structure literature reviews. Aspects of making your argument include articulating the problem you are writing about, writing defensively, and using counter argument. Effective transitions are an important way to guide your reader through your document and both avoiding hedging and appropriately using boosters help you say something meaningful.
Being creative with figures and tables
There is a real art to constructing tables and figures that convey information elegantly and coherently, so I like to point out sites that help you with this whenever I can. This year two sites attracted my attention, which you will find here and here.
When you are stuck
Editing and revising
It is such a lot of work to get to a first draft stage that it often seems impossible to contemplate revising your work. But this phase of writing can also be very satisfying. You can find some help for spotting problems you need to fix in this post, and another post shows you a technique for revising by chopping up your work into sections.
Getting advice and feedback from other readers is a key piece of advice in writing a great report and when you have received feedback from reviewers you need to take it on board, as discussed in answering your reviewer.
Paying attention to the mechanics of writing can make your writing clearer and more fun to read. Posts about long sentences, paragraph problems, vague antecedents, compound adjectives, long subjects, and using quotes might sound dry and complicated but they cover issues that cloud many a piece of writing.
Using your tools
In my experience, people often feel at a loss with software and don’t really get the best out of it. Computers can certainly be frustrating, but if you know more about how software works you will be much more productive. Some time spent finding out how to do things is well worth the saving in time later.
A word processor and reference management software are absolute musts for writing dissertations, and usually I speak about Word and Endnote which are what I and my students use mostly. This year I pointed you to information about formatting your paragraphs in Word (here and here), and how to use tools such as the comments tool, cross references, and the status bar. Two important skills with Endnote are customising Endnote citations and formatting references so they don’t add extra initials or first names to your in text citations.
I use OneNote a lot, and this year I pointed out the docking feature which helps you take notes on other documents, webpages and so on. Other information that you might find useful includes how to use Google books to find things in your textbooks and how to use the Crossref website to find DOIs for your references.
Probably the most important tool of all when you are writing is having a good back up system. If you are not backing up, check out this post now!