Thesis Writing - Coaching Tools

Lit Review

Organising your reading from the literature. For my MA in Education, Coaching and Mentoring, I created an Excel-based system for organising what I’d read into themes. I got the idea from Chloe Sharp’s (2011) article — referenced below. If you want to either organise what you have taken from your reading, or create a live and ongoing literature review that you can manage during throughout the course of your PhD, please feel free to download and adapt the blank template. To be very clear, I’m not advocating you use Excel as a reference manager or as a way to store large pieces of writing. It’s more a tool for organising your reading from different areas and disciplines into themes. It doesn’t matter how you file/organise your thoughts, use a way that makes sense for you, and that means the time you spend reading the literature doesn’t go to waste when you forget it and have to re-read it. Remember, if you read a thing, write a thing!

Sharp, C. (2011) A PhD literature review: Tips on electronically organising your literature review, PsyPAG, 79, 13-17

Integrating Your Work

Integrating your findings with the literature. Again this is a resource I created for myself for my MA. I wanted a way of early viewing my own findings in context and I made this table (largely based on Driscoll’s model of structured reflection for learning) that helps me tell the story of my data in three parts. The WHAT (what was done, what was found out) the SO WHAT (what does it mean, why does it matter, how is it original, what literature (dis)agrees with my finding) and the NOW WHAT (what can be done with this finding, what work naturally comes next). I have shared this with so many of my Thesis Mentees who have been struggling to write more than descriptively. Download and adapt the blank Word template.

Driscoll J (2000) Practising Clinical Supervision. Balliere Tindall, London

Plan Your Week in Snacks

Your week in writing snacks. Snack writing (Murray, 2013) is writing in shorter bursts to avoid getting writer’s fatigue (all one day nothing the next). A writing snack is up to 90 minutes.  For each 90 min snack, setting yourself a very specific writing goal ‘prompt’ will help you to get immediately into the task. Set yourself an achievable target e.g. 'draft 300 words on topic X', or, 'outline a paragraph that describes finding Y', or, 'edit yesterday’s page into a second draft'. Then get on and write it — was it achievable? At the end of the 90min, make sure the last thing you write is a prompt you will find useful when you next open the file. I went on Rowena Murray’s writing workshop and retreat in 2014, and have found snacking to be a transformative element in my own writing. Use the planner here, to write yourself specific prompts for five 1h-90min writing slots over the next week. Then look at your diary — where can these fit in and around your other work?

Murray, R. (2013) Writing for Academic Journals, 3rd edition. Maidenhead: Open University Press-McGraw-Hill.

Planning Around Obstacles

Planning a way around, over, or through your writing blocks.  I developed this as a way to explicitly recognise the consequences of procrastination, or the sources of blockage and and plan around them. This table can be used with those you support with thesis writing, or it can be used by writers themselves to acknowledge what’s actually preventing writing taking place, and plan better a way forward. When we are forced to articulate our issues by naming them, we get a better sense of the root of the problem. We get to the the actual ‘what’ is blocking us. Use this blank template to acknowledge why you’re stuck and imagine a better way forward. Be creative, do more of what works for you, and less of what doesn’t.

Conversation Planner

Having the conversation you need to have. I attended a workshop as part of my personal leadership development, that covered different models of difficult/challenging conversations. From a couple of ideas I developed something I’ve used time and time again in Thesis Mentoring to help students who for whatever reason have become semi-estranged from their supervisor. Perhaps the fear of not being good enough means you’ve been in hiding mode? Perhaps it’s been a good while since the last check in and you want to reconnect? email requests for feedback going ignored? Maybe you’ve been glossing over that fact you’ve not really made any progress or over promising what you can achieve or have achieved. You are certainly not alone in this! But the sooner you address the issue the better for everyone, especially you. Whatever you want to say to your supervisor, planning your conversation can only help clarify your thoughts and your approach. Please feel free to download and adapt the blank Word template.

Making Change Stick

Change that won’t stick? You want to change the way you are approaching your work, you know your current way isn’t working, and you are doing all you can to learn about better ways to manage your time and writing. But understanding isn’t the same as doing and perhaps for you nothing you learn in workshops seems to actually work in practice. You aren’t alone, so many of us struggle to make changes stick, especially ones that are wrapped up in stress and worry. The more complex the change needed, the more quick fixes won’t work. This tool, adapted from Kegan & Lahey (2009) guides you through the thought processes that derail behaviour change and helps you take a look at what’s going on underneath the patterns you’ve got stuck in.

Kegan, R., & Lahey, L. L. (2009). Immunity to change: how to overcome it and unlock potential in yourself and your organization. Boston, Mass, Harvard Business Press.