Scholars study and writers write. But if you are a graduate student, you will be asked to produce scholarly writing. This means no one will understand what you write. The pinnacle of scholarly writing is a thesis or dissertation. It starts as an innocent file in your computer named “thesis.” Don’t let it fool you. You should contain it in a folder as far from your real writing as you can put it, because it will multiply like a nasty virus.
First you will write a literature review. This has nothing to do with Shakespeare or Tolstoy, but it does involve a lot of old, white men. They will play dodge ball with their ideas and your job will be to referee the game. You must stop them from pounding each other and make them cooperate. This is called the intersection of ideas.
You will then start a new file called “data.” This is the most proliferate of all you files and will reproduce every time you open it. You must do many scholarly things before you can actually write anything about data. First you must collect them. You’ll need a notebook, a dozen pencils and a tape recorder which you’ll take to bizarre places where you’ll watch people looking at you funny.
Once you’ve collected the data you have to transcribe them. This is a big word that means boring. Here is how it works:
Push play on the tape recorder and listen to two sentences.
Type the words you heard.
Listen to the words again.
Make sure you typed every “um” and “uh” you heard.
Do this a couple of times, then push stop and go get a cup of coffee.
After you have spent several hours transcribing, you will abandon the coffee and scour the house for chocolate. If you are smart you will hire someone else to transcribe the data for you.
After months of agony, you will be ready to code the data. This does not require a secret spy ring decoder, but you do get to use a lot of colorful highlighter markers. You must print the hundreds of files you have now filled with data. Think of some scholarly sounding categories, like demographics and general phenomenon. Then highlight the data with the markers. You will enjoy this if you like to color. Try to make the pages look pretty because you will be looking for patterns when you are done. You will probably find an attractive pattern of white spots when you press you palms into your eyes to stop your head from spinning.
When you finish coding you are finally ready to write about the data. You get a lot of mileage here because you will write two chapters about the same thing. One is called “data presentation” and the other is called “data analysis.” Very creative.
This completes the main part of your manuscript and you only have to add introductions and conclusions. Yes, you will write many of them. Start each chapter telling the reader what the chapter says. End each chapter telling the reader what the chapter says and what the next chapter says. Do this for every chapter. At the beginning of the thesis tell the reader what all the chapters say. At the end of the thesis tell the reader what all the chapters say.
The last thing you will do is create a works cited list. It must be in MLA or APA format. They use acronyms to distract you from how nitpicky they are. You will be tempted to spend hours agonizing over whether you should use a period or a comma, quotation marks or italics. Don’t give in. Graduate schools hire people who know the answer. You see, scholars are also philanthropists. The real reason for scholarly writing is to help the economy by creating jobs for middle aged women who like punctuation.
When you think you are done, you are not done. You now have to synthesize (by now you have started using big words like that) your hundreds of pages into an abstract. That is a silly name because an abstract is not abstract. It is a concise 750 word description of your manuscript and you might as well have just written a creative entry for the Faithwriter’s challenge. It would have been more fun.
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