While I’m back to blogging and sharing CFPs, I’m not quite at the stage of turning the thesis in. I’m awaiting comments from my second supervisor, who is generally more thorough and critical than my first.* Following generally held advice on idle hands and devils’ work, I’m re-revising the current thesis draft. One of the critiques that I’ve received in the past is that there isn’t enough of my voice in the thesis and although I’ve been working on this, my last meeting with my primary supervisor confirmed that I still have some way to go. It was a small comment and not something overly negative, but his assertion that you could tell that it was a thesis and not a book when reading it because of the amount of quotations. Reading through the thesis again, I began to see what he meant.
“Friends, Romans, and countrymen, lend me your ears!”
(They were all of them fond of quotations:
So they drank to his health, and they gave him three cheers,
While he served out additional rations).
“We have sailed many months, we have sailed many weeks,
(Four weeks to the month you may mark),
But never as yet (’tis your Captain who speaks)
Have we caught the least glimpse of a Snark!
Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark
Now you may, dear reader, be able to work out what I’ve done by including a quotation about quotations from Carroll’s poem ‘The Hunting of the Snark’. But I haven’t yet explained it to you. I’ve left you to do the work and while in this setting I can be reasonably sure that you have managed to make the leap from my supervisors comment about the number of quotations in a thesis and a clichéd quotation in Carroll’s poem, the same move in a thesis is not an adequate mode of argument. And yet my thesis draft is littered with this form of quotation without introduction or response.
It can be difficult to let go of preciously crafted words when working towards the final draft. Whole swathes of argument can suddenly become irrelevant and tangential when you begin to refine your writing on the second or third edit as you hone your focus. The cutting of words feels counter-productive as it is so alien to our goal up until this point.
While quotations aren’t our own carefully crafted words, letting them go can be equally as difficult for a writer still finding their own academic voice. Quotations show the reader – in this case our examiner – that we are aware of the academic typography and can locate ourselves within it. However, once you are flirting dangerously with the upper work limit for your thesis like I am, these large passages of writing from other academics and primary sources are more of a hindrance than anything. It wasn’t until I read Pat Thomson’s post on revision that I understood how to deal with them:
Revision is often so much more than tinkering. It can be moving big chunks of material from one chapter to another, or shifting the order of the moves within a chapter. Rewriting the crappy first draft is not simply about cutting and replacing text at the level of the paragraph and the sentence. It’s also about attending to the overall structure of the argument. […] However, rewriting can also be about adding words as well as reducing them. Yes, not writing less or writing differently, but actually writing more. It’s a mistake to think that revision is always about getting rid of some things and replacing designated dull words with some that are better, more lively.
I highly recommend reading the whole post, but in essence her post explains that revision is not simply cutting out words or ‘tinkering’ with the odd sentence or two. Sometimes a drastic change in tone, order or argument is needed. And sometimes you have to write more in order to revitalise your draft. In my case, I had to think carefully about the purpose of my citations and if I need the whole quotation or if I could paraphrase. My goal is to completely eradicate any ‘orphaned’ quotations like the one above and to make sure the main voice that the reader, examiner or otherwise, encounters is my own.
*This post was started before my second supervisor got back to me. She has since been in touch and is happy with the way my argument is progressing *does happy dance*