The Writing of a Thesis: Too Much and Not Enough

Too much and not enough, that is the sentiment that seems to sum up my thesis so far. For the past few weeks I’ve been focusing mainly on my introduction, though I have the unfortunate tendency to jump around a little. My dilemma du jour is deciding what to include in my introduction; I keep going back and forth on what is essential, beneficial or extraneous. So I end up feeling like I’m writing too much on certain subjects and not enough on others.

As I mentioned before scientific writing is all about being concise and comprehensive, which seems like an oxymoron. There is a lot of literature out there on my subject so how do I judge what I should include when it seems like all of it is somehow something I should know? My “favourite” is when I go to find a reference for one particular statement, get distracted by reading the paper, and start thinking “oh maybe I should include something about this?” Then I end up spending 3 hours and writing half a page on something I thought would be 4-5 lines at most. But is that too much or still not enough?

In fact the amount of reading to actual writing ratio feels off. I like reading papers. Digesting the literature sparks new ideas and elegantly designed experiments make me excited about science again. But working towards a deadline, even if it’s my own arbitrary one, and taking time away from the lab bench makes me feel guilty if most of my time isn’t spent putting down words on a page. In the end it feels like there is too much reading and not enough writing.

Yet, this phrase creeps into my head at other moments too. Looking at my results I feel like there are too many failed experiments and not enough that worked. Too many future directions and not enough time to address them. Too much staring at a blank screen and not enough words written down. Too many carbs and not enough vegetables (though that might not be a thesis writing issue). But also there are too many new interesting thing to learn, too many exciting ideas and connections to make and I suppose I’d rather too many of those than not enough.

Every thesis is different and unique and there isn’t really a right or wrong way of writing one. I’ve read a handful from former lab members and even though we all touch on some of the same themes they are all presented differently. This freedom we have when writing is wonderful. I’m able to explore ideas and review literature that I find most relevant but sometimes I wish I had a better idea of how much is enough. In the end I suppose it’s easier to pare things down when you have too much then add when you don’t have enough.

Have you ever felt that there were aspects of your research that were too much or not enough?

Banner Image by GradLife McGill Instagrammer @na0mirlima //@gradlifemcgill




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