Just over a year ago I blogged about a challenge I was facing with my writing; I was struggling with moving from the general to the particular. Essentially, I’d dive straight into the details, neglecting to tell you why they were relevant and then move on to other ideas without making the connections between them explicit. Guess what? I’m still doing this and it annoys me no end! So, I have decided that enough is enough, I’m challenging myself to master moving from the general to the particular.
Now, I love a good challenge and I’m not alone in saying they need to be faced head on and that this experience can be rewarding:
- “Do or do not, there is no try” – Yoda
- “Kites rise highest against the wind” – Winston Churchill
- “The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible” – Arthur C. Clarke
But whether you agree with Yoda, Churchill or Clarke, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. Over the years I’ve noticed that I tend to deal with challenges in a formulaic way: First, I find out everything I can about the problem – what it is, and when and why it happens. Second, I look for strategies to overcome the problem and consider what has worked for me in the past. Finally, I implement the strategies and monitor my progress. I’ve learnt from a friend of mine this is a problem focused coping style as defined by Lazarus and Folkman and it’s what I plan to use this time to improve my writing.
So, what am I doing wrong, when and why?
I have been telling the story of my thesis without setting the scene – I present the specifics without introducing or connecting my ideas. The only time I don’t tend to do this is when I write speeches or tell someone a story. I don’t know about you but I’m sensing a theme here, something mysterious happens to my arguments when I transition between oral and written expression. WHY?! Well, I have a few hunches. When I express something orally I can see my audience, I can tell if I have ‘lost them’ and it seems more natural to take the time to introduce my point when I am speaking to someone. However, when I express something in the written form I immediately think – how can I back up my argument with facts? I think this is due to years of studying history and writing in the ‘start with a brief topic sentence, introduce your evidence, make a conclusion and move on to the next point’ style. It also probably has something to do with my tendency to get hung up on the details and delay giving an opinion until I have ‘all the facts’.
What can I do about it?
Thinking back to the previous strategies I have used to avoid forgetting about the bigger picture, some worked better than others. Being aware of my tendency to dive into the details didn’t help my writing. However, I did have more success when I concentrated on telling the story and thought about what my audience needed to know. I will try these approaches again but evidently if I’m to succeed in moving from the general to the particular in my writing, I need some new strategies in my arsenal. Please feel free to offer your suggestions.
At present, I have decided that I am going to:
- Spend time explaining the background and outlining my ideas and opinions
- Check that my argument still makes sense when I remove sentences about the specifics (e.g. if the ‘So and So found X’ sentences are gone)
- Write for my audience: researchers and clinicians in the field who want to know the implications of current knowledge and my findings (when they emerge) for research and practice
And finally, research and practice intersect again…
I’ve been learning about and practising motivational interviewing in class, a technique used to support clients through making a change. It took only five minutes of writing this post before I started evaluating my own change talk and what stage I’m at! I’ve decided I’m in determination because I’m well aware of my need to change and I have some plans in place. Yet more evidence of how practice can inform research.
Wish me luck