Tamara Gupper

PhD Researcher in Social and Cultural Anthropology | Computer Scientist in the making | Humanoid Robotics and AI | she/her

How the Writing is Going

Mar 7, 2024

Oh well, the writing. It is not going as planned.

When I started my PhD, I was sure I would write my dissertation in a much more linear and structured way than I had written my Master’s thesis. My Master’s thesis is structured into three main chapters, and I had planned to start with Chapter 1 and then write Chapters 2 and 3, the introduction and the conclusion consecutively. What actually happened, though, was that I started with Chapter 1, but as I read aspects in my fieldnotes or literature that I found interesting for one of the other chapters, I would just continue writing there. In the end, I had a Master’s thesis of around 100 pages consisting of rather disconnected pieces of text, which I needed to revise extensively. I thus finished all chapters at about the same time – a few days before the submission deadline, until which I reread and edited them numerous times in a panicked frenzy.

While time has made me remember this process as quite fun after all, especially knowing in hindsight that everything worked out fine, I decided then and there that I would write my dissertation less chaotically. One of the things I wanted to do differently was how I organized the analysis of my empirical insights and my reading of relevant literature. When I started writing, I already had a clear structure for my Master’s thesis based on the main theoretical concept I used, and this fixed outer structure helped me a lot. However, I had neither systematically analyzed my empirical insights according to this structure, nor had I organized the relevant literature accordingly. And while I enjoyed writing and reading and going back to my fieldnotes at the same time a lot, I think it significantly contributed to my chaotic writing process. After all, neither my fieldnotes nor the relevant literature would adhere to the structure of my thesis, and thus neither did my writing.

So, this time, the plan was to have my empirical insights and relevant text passages from the literature sorted according to the structure of my chapters beforehand, in order to stick to the same old plan of starting with Chapter 1 and writing everything else in consecutive order. I hoped to get several advantages out of that. First, that I would not have to rewrite so much in the end. If I could only finish one chapter after the other and revise and edit it directly, that would help me avoid most of the stress in the final phase of writing. Secondly, finishing chapters one after the other would also make it much easier to ask other people to proofread them. Proofreading a few dozen pages every other month and, on my part, working on the feedback, is definitely more manageable than doing this for the entire dissertation all at once.

But then – all those connections are just so fascinating! I developed the chapter structure for my dissertation based on my empirical material, and it follows a logical order that will (hopefully) allow me to present my most important findings in a clear way. At the same time, it is something that I impose on my material, which in itself just doesn’t follow the linear structure of my planned chapters. The aspects I plan to write about in Chapter 7 and those in Chapter 3 are not disparate in the field; they go hand in hand. It is my structure that separates them by four chapters. I discover so many interesting facets of my ethnographic insights in the writing process, which often reach across chapters rather than fit into the conceptual framework of the one I am currently writing.

So, how has my plan to write strictly from beginning to end been going so far? Let me answer with the example of Chapter 7, which I have not started writing yet but which has a dedicated text document of 23 pages. Will I end up with at least 250 pages of text that I have to proofread and edit all at once? I try not to let it come this far, and have not given up hope just yet. Keep your fingers crossed for me.