By Hazel Jones



For Christmas last year my daughter Amy gave me a journal, with my initials HJ embossed in gold, on the front. Nothing too special with that you might say, but it is the story behind those two initials that make this a very special present, and to me at least, some wonderful metaphors for life as a PhD student.



Amy, a student at ANU, has her home base in Wollongong while we as her parents live in Toowoomba, and Christmas in 2016 was spent in Hobart with my side of our family. Amy purchased the said journal at a store in Canberra on her last day there before heading, very briefly, to Wollongong and then on to Hobart. She then decided to personalise the gift by having my initials embossed on the front and headed off to a jewellers who told her it would be ready for pick-up later that afternoon.

On her return she was told, sorry it isn’t ready, you will have to come back tomorrow. This really threw Amy into a bit of a panic, and travel plans for whole family into disarray, as she had to get to Wollongong and then meet up with the rest of family for our road trip south.

Multiple online conversations later (hubby and I were on the last day of a cruise so not contactable by phone) it was decided that Amy would head to Wollongong, and return to Canberra the following day after a brief rendezvous with the whole family. So rather than travelling in convoy, Amy and brother headed to Canberra, while rest of family headed to relatives in Table Top (just outside Albury) where we were staying for the night. On arrival at the jewellers Amy was told sorry we still haven’t done this – please come back in 2 hours! So it was off to the movies for them.

Eventually present was received and they caught up with us and a very pleasant holiday was had by all. At this stage all I knew was that there was a present for someone in the family that could only be picked up in Canberra and nothing about the nature or significance of the present – that all emerged on Christmas morning.

So what does all of this have to do with researching and writing for a PhD, you ask. On a practical note that journal is now becoming a record of my reflections on my PhD journey and will be my personal account of all the highs and lows. The metaphors though are also worth considering

  • The power or perseverance: Amy could have chosen to just take the journal back from the jewellers that first day and given it to me without those two initials. By persevering she turned something simple and “off the shelf” into something special and meaningful.
  • The important things take time: what could/should have been a simple 5 minute task actually took much, much longer.
  • Look below the surface for the really interesting stories – anyone seeing that journal over the coming years will see the cover only – it is only by digging deeper that the full story will emerge – and surely that is what every PhD journey is really all about
  • We need to be adaptable – we all have to rely on others during our journey, be this participants, supervisors, data providers etc etc and not always will their priorities and time frames, match ours. As researchers we need to understand and RESPECT this and remember that without them our research would not be happening. Have a contingency plan, bash your head against a wall for a minute if needed, but then focus on the big picture.
  • Personalising the stories: the effort taken will bring many rewards
  • The importance of family: (plus friends, colleagues, networks) – they will support you in so many ways through your journey, and sometimes you won’t realise the importance of a simple gesture until much later – Remember to acknowledge and thank them
  • Two letters on a page are the start of something big (this one came from my wonderful husband Greg, who has completed his PhD journey and is now helping others on theirs). When you are staring at a blank page and have a mental melt-down (which happens to all of us) just start with too letters.

I hope everyone can take something from this personal story of mine to help on your journey.

(Happy Journeys from Hazel Jones)

PS: Post is written with full support from Amy

On Choosing Colleagues

By Ruth Wagstaff

There appears to be a lot of advice about how to choose the right supervisors, the right
research topic, and the right research questions. But, I think it is time to talk about choosing the
right colleagues. Colleagues are those PhD candidates who extend the hand of friendship and make suggestions about who to contact when.

During the week, it struck me just how important colleagues are. Some have become close
friends who I hope to keep in contact with until the day I die. Even though not all colleagues are
close friends, I respect each colleague equally because each one has contributed something critical to my life. Collectively, they are the reason that I continue to persevere with research.

And … it is likely many of them do not know how important they are. They are important
because they share the same study space, they say hello, make me laugh, share a bar of chocolate, or offer to make a hot drink when they make one their own. They do these things without thinking, but, by doing these things they remind me of how interconnected we are.

This interconnection is essential because study, especially at the level we have reached, can
be very isolating. This isolation can be overcome through interconnection with others. The most
important interconnection occurs through supervisors and colleagues. Supervisors provide links to our futures and colleagues provide links with our present. Colleagues link us with the present because they are in the unique position of understanding and supporting us in the day-to-day struggles, triumphs, and joys. It is the day-to-day support that separates them from supervisors.

Supervisors do not have the capacity for day-to-day support, but it is our colleagues who do.
I am blessed with incredible colleagues. They listen to my to my concerns, put up with my
jokes, and cheer me on when I lose hope. Some of these colleagues work in the same lab as me, but others do not. Not all have the privilege of their own study space at uni so connection is through Facebook, phone calls, or other colleagues. They study full-time or part-time, come from different faculties and schools, and are at different stages of their PhD. These differences make each colleague incredible, inspirational, and important.

I chose to undertake my PhD at USQ. I took the first steps in securing my supervisors, but I
did not choose my colleagues. They chose me, and I have chosen to accept their support. I am
honoured that they have chosen to reach out and included me in their day-to-day lives.

My hope is that I support them as well as they have supported me.

Change of Direction

By Madeleine Arber

I am well into the second year of my three-year PhD investigating the effect of chemo-brain on breast cancer patients and survivors in terms of cognition, self-control, and quality of life. Well, I was until I had to make the difficult decision to terminate the project.

Unfortunately, the injuries inflicted (i.e. forming the relationships needed in order to submit an ethical form outside of the university) were not compatible with life (i.e. submitting the dissertation on time).

As much as I loved researching my project and wanted to continue, I would not have been able to keep my head above water financially beyond the third year should I have continued. This was a difficult decision to make, as there is a certain grief comes with having to let go of two years’ worth of hard work.

It is difficult to describe to people outside of the research world what undertaking a PhD is like. It is perhaps even more challenging to try to express to family and friends the complexity in making the decision to end your project. They will see it as a large quantity of time lost on something that did not get off the ground.

For me, however, this was not just about two years of work. There is a relationship between the student and the project. This is something that takes up most of your waking hours (and sometimes some of your sleeping ones). It surrounds you and your thoughts and develops alongside you over time (like a fine cheese). Your project becomes a part of you.

My project somewhat defined who I was as a person. I was the individual introduced at friend’s parties as the PhD student studying… [insert old project here]. It was a fun little fact about me that served as a talking point.

The end-of-project realisation was not something I recognised suddenly, but rather a slow, painful, and stressful decision I eventually came to understand. The project was a dead horse I had been attempting to revive for months because I was in denial. It was the worst break-up I have experienced so far.

Sadly, I did not get to wallow in my own sadness for long (i.e. eat ice cream for breakfast in the bathtub – delicious and not so nutritious!). I have to rebuild Rome from the ground up with a deadline in sight. Fortunately, my supervisory team had a back-up plan that would allow me to submit a dissertation on time.

Nevertheless, even with a back-up plan in place, taking on a new project still has redirected me back to a beginning of sorts. I feel slightly unsteady on my new feet (i.e. project) and I have lost the ‘elevator talk’ skill (the ability to explain your project within the time frame of an elevator’s ride) and babble endlessly; but I have a direction.

I am not quite out of the water yet… but I will submit, more or less, on time. I have hope that the work I started was not for nothing, and that another student may complete it at an appropriate time.

I wanted to share my story for anyone else out there who may be going something similar.

Higher education reform: small changes for now but big ones to come

File 20170502 17299 wyex8i
There could be much bigger changes ahead for universities.

By Emmaline Bexley, University of Melbourne

The pre-budget announcement of changes to higher education funding made by Education Minister Simon Birmingham last night includes an increase in student fees of 1.8% per year between 2018 and 2021, totalling a 7.5% increase over all. The Conversation

This will equate to a rise in fees for Australian undergraduates of $2,000 to $3,600 over the course of their degree.

The repayment threshold for Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) will also be lowered.

These increased fees and faster repayment schedules for students will be accompanied by an “efficiency dividend”, which cuts funding for teaching by about 2.8% in 2018 and 2019 (equivalent to a A$380 million reduction in 2019).

What does this mean for students?

For students, this means that they will need to borrow more for an education, and will pay it back sooner. And the education they pay for will be delivered by universities under increased financial stress.

This is straightforward “no winners” austerity politics, common now around the developed world.

The way the proposed changes were introduced to the public was particularly interesting, with the government sending out a press package that included a paper by Deloitte on the cost of teaching (very technical reading) as well as a list of vice chancellors’ pay and links to building projects being undertaken by universities.

Clearly the scene was being set for a reduction in funding on the basis that universities are presently overfunded – yet the fee increases and funding reductions revealed later in the day were modest compared to expectations.

Fee increases starting at 25% had been speculated on across the national media, and the proposed 20% cut to funding had been hanging over the sector since 2014.

What the Deloitte paper reveals

Analysis of the Deloitte paper makes interesting reading. A comparison with the conclusions drawn from it by government is particularly revealing.

For example, the ministerial release asserts that the Deloitte paper shows:

[university] revenue has grown faster than costs – between 2010 and 2015 the average costs of delivery per student have increased by 9.5%, compared to per student funding growth of 15%.“

Deloitte, however, specifically cautions that the cost of teaching figures from their earlier 2010 paper and the new 2015 data,

cannot be compared as direct growth or decline in costs relative to funding over the five years to 2015, given the differences in the sample, and differences in cost collection approaches.

Deloitte also warns:

Similarly, caution should be taken in drawing inferences about the sufficiency of [Commonwealth Grant Scheme] funding directly from these [cost of teaching to funding] ratios.

Yet the government media release accompanying the report was accompanied by talking points including that universities “have been pocketing taxpayer funds beyond the costs of their operations”.

The difficulty here, as Deloitte notes, is that,

while not specifically stated in the Higher Education Support Act 2003, there is a general view that CGS funding is intended to cover some level of base research activity (which may be excluded from the definition of teaching and scholarship costs used in this study), and the cost of such research may vary as a proportion of teaching costs.

Impact on research and teaching

What appears to be happening is that research is being uncoupled from teaching.

At present, universities are legislatively required to undertake research and to offer research higher degrees.

This is not the case universally, and is somewhat of an Australian quirk – a legacy of the Dawkins reforms a quarter of a century ago.

The Dawkins reforms transformed 19 universities and 46 colleges, often unwillingly, into 36 public universities. All were required to undertake research, which caused some angst against teacher-practitioners at the time.

Since then, the connection between higher education teaching and active research has become entrenched in Australian ideas of what a university education is. This is despite the heavy reliance of most universities on research-inactive sessional teaching staff for much of their course delivery.

Since Dawkins, the intensity of research activity had been extremely uneven across the sector, and costly for many institutions to maintain.

By uncoupling the funding for staff research time from expectations around what Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding is intended for, the scene has been set for a possible reconfiguration of the sector.

The discussion package released is also telling.

The final paragraph of the final page before the concluding section foreshadows the potential for the biggest shift in higher education since Dawkins. Announcing a benign sounding “Review of the Higher Education Provider Category Standards”, the paper says that:

The review will include public and stakeholder consultation around options to change provider categories, including the possibility of a teaching-only university category… It is expected that the government will consider the outcome of the review in the 2018–19 Budget context.

So while the changes to fees and funding will be hard on students and universities – more job losses look certain, especially for the many institutions already struggling – the game-changers look set to be deferred until next year’s budget.

Will Dawkins’ large, research-heavy university sector be unpicked? What would teaching-based universities look like? Could the sector manage real institutional differentiation if it was forced to?

And the most important question is what all this might mean for our future students.

Emmaline Bexley, Senior Lecturer in Higher Education, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

It’s my data, and I’ll share if I want to

By Tegan Darnell

As a Higher Degree by Research student at USQ, by default, you own the I.P. for your research data. Here are some ideas for maximising your research impact by sharing your data openly with a Creative Commons license.

What is research data?

Research data is described by the Australia National Data Service (ANDS) as

The data, records, files or other evidence, irrespective of their content or form (for example, in print, digital, physical or other forms), that comprise research observations, findings or outcomes, including primary materials and analysed data.

In order to share your data, you will need to have thought of lots of things in advance – before you collect your data (or, with human or animal data, before you apply for ethics approval). You will need to be super organised and create a data management plan.

What is data management?

Data management includes all activities associated with data other than the direct use of the data. It may include:

  • data organisation
  • backups
  • archiving data for long-term preservation
  • data sharing or publishing
  • ensuring security of confidential data and
  • data synchronisation

It is important because good data management practices aligns with your responsibilities under the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research.


Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first hour sharpening the axe. – Abraham Lincoln

Develop a Data Management Plan. This is a document that contains details of how you will deal with the data you will be gathering. The process will help you to:

  • Make explicit who owns the copyright and intellectual property of the research
  • Secure the protection of research data by making a plan of when, where, how and who will back up the data
  • Organise data by establishing a version control and/or naming convention system
  • Aid data sharing and gaining data citations – increasing your research impact!
  • Ensure long term access to research data – check out the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research for required retention periods
  • Gain access to existing research data sets to reduce your workload

If you are applying for a grant, you may be required to complete a Data Management Plan as part of your grant application.

The Human Research Ethics Application form will ask questions about how you are going to handle your research data, so before you complete your ethics application, it is an ideal time to do a data management plan.

To assist you to develop data management strategies, USQ has a Data Management Plan template you can use.


Data can be published via:

  • sharing information about research datasets through metadata records in repositories, most often at institutions (eg. this record in the CSIRO Data Access Portal)
  • metadata records put into Research Data Australia or listed in discipline-specific repositories
  • online repository services such as Figshare
  • through Data journals
  • informal publication such as via personal or commercial repositories or websites

Most research data is stored and/or described in a research data repository.  We have data described in our USQ ePrints repository.

What to consider:

(information provided by ANDS)

Check out this awesome example of open data from Flinders University, the Australasian Heritage Software database. Kooky!

If you are interested in publishing your data, contact, where a librarian will be able to guide you through the process and refer you to any services and resources you might need.

Why should I bother?

By Tim Pitman

Tim Pitman is a Research Development Adviser in the Faculty of Humanities at Curtin University.

He has worked in research development since 2007. His own research interest is on higher education policy, with a particular focus on increasing the representation of disadvantaged students in universities.

Tim tweet from @timothypitman.

This post was originally published on Research Whisperer  on the 4th April 2017

I’ve been working in research development for a decade now and almost all of that has been focused on the humanities, arts and social sciences (HASS).

Much of the ‘art’ of finding funding is universal across disciplines, but there’s also a need for research support that is more targeted towards HASS researchers.

I feel this especially keenly every year when researchers are submitting applications for Australian Research Council (ARC) funding (roughly equivalent to the National Science Foundation in the USA and the national research councils in other countries).

Often, institutional support processes designed to improve the quality of Australian Research Council applications appear to focus on the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

This can leave HASS researchers scratching their heads, wondering whether that key observation, or sage bit of advice applies to them as well.

Based on my experience, these three issues below are commonly raised by HASS researchers, and I’ve provided the advice that I give in response.

1. Do the national funding agencies value this sort of research?

In any given year, around one-fifth of Australian Research Council project and fellowship funding goes to HASS research. In 2016, this was approximately A$100 million. Now, more than one-fifth of academics employed in our universities are in HASS disciplines, so there’s a proportional issue to be considered. Nonetheless, the funding is significant in its own right.

When I break this issue down further, usually the real question being asked is, “Will the national research council value my research?”. This angst is often driven by them reading the most recent funding outcomes, generating despair that their specific field of research was not represented.

However, the success rate across the main Australian Research Council schemes averages around 20%. So, in purely statistical terms, a grant application needs to be submitted five times to be successful. And if you look at the Australian Research Council data over a five-year period, you’ll find that pretty well every field of research receives funding (at the Australian and New Zealand Field of Research four-digit level, for those who like to be specific).

At the same time, there’s no point in denying that certain fields of research get small amounts of funding. Visual arts and crafts for one, and tourism for another. But the same is true of certain technical disciplines, such as automotive engineering, forestry sciences, or environmental biotechnology.

Worrying about your specific field also ignores the fact that the Australian Research Council only reports the primary field of research code against grants awarded, which hides the multidisciplinary nature of many projects. HASS researchers in Australia are on a lot of projects, they’re just not visible in the way that the national research council presents the information.

My advice, always, is to forget about being a ‘HASS researcher’ and concentrate on the issue or problem that you want to address. When this can be framed in a way that speaks to the goals of a national funding agency, then it has the potential to be funded.

2. Scientists work in teams. Researchers like us don’t, right?

As one literary scholar once told me, “I don’t need a team to read Shakespeare for me. I need to do it myself”. Point taken. And I, too, get occasionally frustrated when I’m at a university workshop and the person leading it instructs everyone to “collaborate, collaborate, collaborate” without qualification.

At a basic level, there is some truth to the argument that HASS researchers are less collaborative than others. For example, around four out of five (80%) of STEM projects funded under the Australian Research Council Discovery scheme in the last five years involved more than one chief (or principal) investigator. For HASS projects, it was three out of four (75%). When you break the fields of research down even further, the differences are even more marked. Almost all of commerce, management, tourism and services grants are collaborative, compared to only a quarter of philosophy and religious studies projects. Education researchers tend to work in teams, historians less so.

There is a kick to this, however, when you find out that two-thirds of the sole-investigator grants are awarded to senior researchers. That is, professors, associate professors, or emeriti.

So, when a HASS researcher asks me whether they should be put in an application by themselves, I certainly take into account their discipline. And I point out that the single most important assessment criterion – track record – falls solely on them.

3. The elite universities control the bulk of the research funding. Why bother?

Anyone in research development has heard this statement repeated ad infinitum. And it’s easy to understand why, since two-thirds of Australian Research Council grants are awarded to the elite universities in Australia, the Group of Eight (Go8).

There are four things I could say here.

First, I could say that things are actually slightly better for HASS researchers than STEM researchers. It’s only a few percentage points, but it’s a difference. But that’s not the real answer.

My possible second response means going deeper into the data. I could observe that certain disciplines in HASS do quite a bit better than average. For example, more than half of Education research in Australia is headlined by non-elite universities, and in disciplines like Built Environment and Design, and Language, Communication and Culture, it’s approaching half. But that’s not the real answer either.

My third response might be that, as I said earlier, the Australian Research Council only announce the university administering the grant, not all those involved. So, involvement from universities outside of the elite is actually much higher than you might think. But that’s still not the real answer.

The real answer is:

Data analysis is extremely important to people like me, but close to meaningless for individual researchers or research teams. I look for patterns and trends across hundreds or thousands of grants. At this level, the patterns and trends are quite clear.

In contrast, researchers are focused on one piece of datum: their project. It’s no good to them if their grant, statistically speaking, has a high chance of success if it still isn’t funded. Conversely, who cares if it displays certain superficial characteristics of an uncompetitive grant (e.g. only one researcher, not in an elite university, coming out of a rarely funded discipline) as long as it gets up?

It’s very important that researchers don’t let data analytics drive behaviour. Don’t make your application only look like a good application; actually make it a good application. The basic strategy is the same across all disciplines (win the grant) but the tactics employed need to be specifically designed. That’s why there’s a need for research development staff who have a particular understanding of, and affinity for, HASS research.

Confirmation of Candidature – Marcia’s Story

By Ruth Wagstaff

This is the story of someone’s confirmation. Let’s keep this person anonymous and call her Marcia. Marcia loved the topic that she settled on. She read far and wide. She talked about it with anyone who would listen. She found scholarships to apply so that she had to write for different audiences. She would write literature reviews to help consolidate and refine the research question. Her supervisors were happy with her progress and they mostly enjoyed supervision because she was constantly finding new questions. However, her supervisor’s joy was tempered by Marcia’s inability to choose the measures and methodology.

Marcia announced to her supervisor that she wanted an early confirmation. The supervisor nodded in agreement, no doubt hoping it would force Marcia to make decisions that she alone could make about measures and methodology. The associate supervisor simply went along with the decision because he trusted in Marcia’s ability to get things done. Her supervisor nominated the panel and to Marcia’s surprise they all accepted.

About 3 weeks before the proposal was due to be submitted to the panel, Marcia polished her proposal. Polishing the proposal had three effects on Marcia. The first is that just has her principle supervisor had predicted, she was forced to make decisions about methodology and measures. This was a very good outcome. Another effect was that polishing provided an opportunity to tighten the conceptual work. Another good outcome. But less a desirable effect was the realisation that the project could go very pear shaped, and even worse, that she did not have the skills and knowledge to do complete the project successfully. Her feet went cold but hands became sweaty. Sleeping became a little difficult. She became irritable. Marcia had visions of the panel laughing at her and cutting her down into bite size pieces. Marcia had gone from a confident and carefree soul to one shackled by poor confidence, imposter syndrome, and anxiety.

Supervision was no longer something Marcia looked forward to but her supervisor was wise and very experienced. Not only had he seen it all before, but experienced similar emotions during the confirmation of his Ph.D. candidature several decades earlier. In his usual calm voice, the supervisor asked Marcia what she was most afraid of.

Marcia’s reply was honest. She said, “I feel academically very vulnerable – even when doing a practice presentation for you here in your office. There is no reason for me to feel like this because you do not bite, and you do not want to tear me apart. I have worked on this proposal solidly for 12 months. It is mixed with my blood, sweat, and tears, and comes from my inner soul.”

The supervisor nodded in agreement, waited a moment, and said in a slow deliberate tone, “Yes, but the panel and I only want you to succeed. We are on your side.”
As he spoke, Marcia reflected on the stories of the candidates who were left in tears. Through the haze of Marcia thoughts, her supervisor’s voice took centre stage again.

“If you knew the answers to this research, it would not be Ph.D. worthy,’” he continued. “You have done the work required. Relax in your ability to get this done. You are not alone on this journey.”

As alone as Marcia felt, the evidence was that she was not alone. Her closest friends were Ph.D. colleagues and were always there. She knew her supervisors were walking with her, mentoring, and guiding her. The panel was walking with her by taking time out of their busy day to read the proposal, listen to the presentation, and make comments to help her. The panel did not have to do this but chose to. Marcia was definitely not alone.

The day of the confirmation presentation came and went. Marcia may have felt as if she was carrying the world on her shoulders, but as she heard her voice begin the oral presentation, her concerns lifted. Her PhD friends were there. Her supervisors were there. The panel were listening attentively. Extra staff were there to support her as well. There is still work ahead but her project is Ph.D. worthy. Marcia is now a confirmed candidate: she has crossed a bridge and is about to embark on a new phase of her PhD journey.

Confirmation of Candidature Checklist

By Debbie Mulligan

Ready Set Go! by John Lester on Flickr, CC-BY 2.0 <>


• Ensure your Ethics application and any other paperwork is completed
• Choose the panel members carefully if you have a say in it – ask around
• Check blogs eg. Thesis Whisperer for support
• Ask colleagues how they went
• Attend a few other c of c sessions so that you know the procedure and you can pick up tips
• Practise, practise, practise keeping to the allotted time


• Ensure you have the location and the time embedded in your memory
• Meet with supervisors
• Check out the room prior to the day. Note lectern (or lack thereof), where you can position your laptop (on a table? is it near a power outlet?), where you will stand to deliver your speech?
• Talk to the Faculty Research support and tell them if you want/need to make any adjustments to the room
• Think about room layout- do you want your chairs in a circle for a more informal gathering? -where do you want the lectern positioned?
• Ask some friends/ colleagues along for moral support
• See if there’s a techie onsite for those last minute computer problems
• How do you want to present yourself? Think about clothing, hair, shoes etc
• Organise a post coffee date with friends if you are that way inclined (debrief)


• Get to the room EARLY
• Picture yourself giving the talk- are you happy with the set up?
• Put your mobile phone on silent
• Bring:

-back up USBs
-your notes
-power cords for your laptop
-print outs of diagrams that are too detailed to be a slide or can’t be seen properly on the slide
-watch/ phone/ stopwatch for time
-a hard copy of your speech, your slides and your proposal


Preparing for Confirmation – When should I start writing

When should I start writing?
When undertaking my research degree and during my time working in research administration I often heard the catch-cry from research supervisors of “start writing as soon as possible”. I remember thinking at the beginning of my Doctor of Philosophy, what do I have to write? I haven’t read enough yet. I don’t have a plan. Even when I began to formulate a plan for the structure of my literature review and confirmation proposal I still did not feel ready to write. So, when should we start writing? What do supervisors mean when they say, “Start writing as soon as possible”? When is as soon as possible? When is it too early? When is it too late? What are the benefits of writing early? The answers to these questions lie in our ability to balance the need to read the literature, plan our writing and begin writing the research.

Hold your horses!
It is advisable to start writing as soon as possible but it is also important to ensure that writing efficiencies are built into the writing process. At the extreme, beginning the writing without reading the literature or structuring a writing plan is obviously an inefficient way to approach writing. Of course there will be some initial writing in the note taking and planning stages but the writing needs to be balanced against the development of the conceptual plan which informs the writing. The pressure to write should not impact on careful reading, note taking and planning. The more developed the plan the more efficient the writing process is likely to be.

Giddy up!
Of course, and this is where the balancing occurs, it is important not to wait too long before writing. If you are not careful the reading and planning stage can go on forever and consume valuable time in the candidature process. It is also important to realise that writing can inform and refine the planning. It is often only through writing that the plan and scope of the research becomes clear. This part of the writing process has been described as writing for understanding.

Write to understand
The initial process of writing usually involves exploratory writing. This is writing that helps you to understand your project and how it relates to the literature. In most cases just reading is not enough and it is only through the process of writing that you come to more fully understand your topic. This writing can then be developed through editing, supervisor feedback and revision to become writing to be understood.

Write to be understood
The next process of writing involves drafting and re-drafting to ensure that the initial writing – your argument and supporting points can be understood by others.

How to balance a wayward horse?
When trying to balance writing for understanding and creating efficiencies through effective conceptualisation and planning, one strategy is to undertake smaller sections of writing to better understand the literature and inform the planning process. This type of writing can occur very early in the process, even at the note taking stage. Rather than just reading the literature and taking notes it can be useful to research and take notes around a particular topic and then write up a small piece addressing the important issues and significance of this literature to your research project. This type of exploratory writing can then be used to inform the development of your project and may even make up a section of the confirmation proposal or the final thesis.

I hope my thoughts around when to start writing have been helpful. Please find some additional resources below that you might find of use.

Resources – writing a literature review

Aveyard, H. (2014). Doing a literature review in health and social care: A practical guide. McGraw-Hill Education.
Hart, C. (1998). Doing a literature review: Releasing the social science research imagination. Sage.
Machi, L. A., & McEvoy, B. T. (2016). The literature review: Six steps to success. Corwin Press.
Pan, M. L., & Lopez, M. (2008). Preparing literature reviews: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Pyrczak Pub.
Ridley, D. (2012). The literature review: A step-by-step guide for students. Sage