Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.


Ok … so what constitutes an introduction? How do I summarise, without necessarily generalising, the objectives of my 80,000 plus thesis; remembering not to go into too much detail, whilst not neglecting important factors. It seems a tall order to me …

I was working on the premise that as the thesis unfolded so would my argument? No?

Apparently not – I need to be far more methodical in my approach so I turned to some tipsters for their advice ..

What is an introduction?

  1. A statement of the goal of the paper: why the study was undertaken, or why the paper was written. Do not repeat the abstract.
  2. Sufficient background information to allow the reader to understand the context and significance of the question you are trying to address.
  3. Proper acknowledgement of the previous work on which you are building. Sufficient references such that a reader could, by going to the library, achieve a sophisticated understanding of the context and significance of the question.
  4. The introduction should be focused on the thesis question(s).  All cited work should be directly relevent to the goals of the thesis.  This is not a place to summarize everything you have ever read on a subject.
  5. Explain the scope of your work, what will and will not be included.
  6. A verbal “road map” or verbal “table of contents” guiding the reader to what lies ahead.
  7. Is it obvious where introductory material (“old stuff”) ends and your contribution (“new stuff”) begins? (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~martins/sen_sem/thesis_org.html#Introduction)

This raises a few questions then – the Abstract – do not repeat it? So what should I say in the abstract?

  • A good abstract explains in one line why the paper is important. The final sentences explain the major implications of your work. A good abstract is concise, readable, and quantitative. 
  • Length should be ~ 1-2 paragraphs, approx. 400 words.
  • Absrtracts generally do not have citations.
  • Information in title should not be repeated.
  • Be explicit.
  • Use numbers where appropriate. (N/A- Humanities rarely want numbers!)
  • Answers to these questions should be found in the abstract:
    1. What did you do?
    2. Why did you do it? What question were you trying to answer?
    3. How did you do it? State methods.
    4. What did you learn? State major results.
    5. Why does it matter? Point out at least one significant implication.
  • It all sounds so very simple doesn’t it …

So – I have the body of my research done, the majority of it drafted out into chapters, a little muddled in parts and crying out for rewrites, two small chapters to be written (which is normal) and my supervisor wants an introduction, to set out the thesis to help me restructure (makes sense right?)  …

Sooooo – it should be easy! It should! Oh yes it bloody well should!

So why am I sitting here scratching my head, scrabbling for words to describe what I can so “eloquently” (her words not mine) discuss when I am in a session with her?

Oh – the things that beleaguer us are often so minuscule, so inscrutable, so quixotic, what chance do we , mere mortals, stand of ever pinning them down …

Well if they can do it so can I!


From HDR

Your first chapter is extremely important because it sets the scene and the tone for the thesis. It is your first real opportunity to highlight the importance and value of your work and to contextualise it, all in a well-written, clear and interesting manner. This is the first impression that the reader or your examiner will get. It will give an indication of the writing style, the depth of research and content, structure, language and complexity. Examiners indicate that they pay considerable attention to the first chapter, which creates a strong initial indication as to the standard of the thesis.

This first chapter must introduce the thesis with an emphasis on its key components, providing a clear statement of the topic or problem under investigation. It generally includes:

  • Context information
  • Theoretical framework
  • Statement of the problem or ‘gap’ in the research
  • Aims of the project
  • Brief description of your methodology/ research
  • Outline of chapters – Thesis plan

The purpose of the Introduction is to provide a rationale for your research project. It establishes the need for your research within the current knowledge of the discipline, in a clearly constructed logical and explicit argument, clarifying how this work will contribute to knowledge in the field. In addition, the Introduction often discusses why the particular approach taken in conducting the research has been chosen.

To establish the need for your research, you must indicate in precise terms the problem which has not yet been adequately investigated. This is usually done by showing:

  • the limitations of previous research
  • the gaps in the previous research
  • the unresolved conflicts in the field that still require investigation
  • new developments that are required by the current state of knowledge in your field.

You will probably treat these points in more detail elsewhere in the thesis – if you review the literature in a free-standing chapter or in sections of separate chapters, for example – but you still need to present them in summary form in the introductory chapter.

The Introduction generally moves from general information providing background about the research field to specific information about the research project itself, culminating in an outline of the chapters . This finale to the introductory chapter provides a plan of the structure of your project, describing chapter by chapter, the major components of the research and showing how the various threads are woven together. Try to make it interesting and informative as you outline the way the content is organised in each chapter.



So I am perhaps a little slow on uploading a post about the fabulous World Book Night event (it was yesterday ) but I did enjoy feeling very philanthropic as I handed out the books.

I chose to gift mine to pub goers. I opted for Maggie O’Farrell’s The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, because it was one I had read and enjoyed and had already given away; a clear sign I wanted to get other people to read it.
I could have gone highbrow and taken on Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca but what a foosty old book that is to try and foist onto unsuspecting folks.The aim of the evening is to get non book readers to read .. now that is harder than you think and perhaps a little patronising. The website even gives you handy hints for targeting ‘non-book readers’ but I found the tone implied a level of condescension that I didn’t quite hold with – so I went for people who looked friendly!

This year the books all have numbers and the idea is to trace how far a book will travel as it is passed from hand to hand to hand … I imagine that folks will stop registering them after a while but here’s hoping one of the books I gave away will reach the other side of the world! 🙂

It was also the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and death! So in honour of the bard each novel had a sonnet attached to it – Esme’s sonnet was no 63!

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

Sonnet 63

Against my love shall be as I am now,
With Time’s injurious hand crushed and o’erworn;
When hours have drained his blood and filled his brow
With lines and wrinkles; when his youthful morn
Hath travelled on to age’s steepy night;
And all those beauties whereof now he’s king
Are vanishing, or vanished out of sight,
Stealing away the treasure of his spring;
For such a time do I now fortify
Against confounding age’s cruel knife,
That he shall never cut from memory
My sweet love’s beauty, though my lover’s life:
His beauty shall in these black lines be seen,
And they shall live, and he in them still green.

Progress on the revisions has been slow – hence the lack of blog posts – but I am still daily on Blipfoto so if you fancy dropping by and saying ‘hello’ feel free.

Do you Ever Wonder ?

What makes a person subscribe to your blog? I never fail to be amazed that someone out there actually wishes to hear what I have to say.

Normally, in my house, everyone tries their level best to ignore me! Hence the raised volume levels! 😉

Today I am back at the helm and trying to get my head firmly stuck into the work – so I thought I would say hi to my new subscribers Tshang welcome tot he madness) and Jenni. I hope to return the favour and visit your blogs soon.

As for you other miscreants who drop by regularly I am reading and trying to stay caught up!

I have deigned 2012 to be THE YEAR OF THE THESIS! Wish me luck!

Good Things (I am trying to be more positive on Mondays can you tell?) 
I survived Christmas
It isn’t Christmas for a long time.
I can now stop thinking about Christmas!

Half Term

… has been rather a pain in the butt – I can probably write off the last two weeks because of the constant interruption, the cries of ‘I’m bored … so I am mighty relieved to have the ‘not so little anymore’ one back at school from Monday!

My New Mantra

I have 8 weeks to complete a 25,000 word section – which means as of Monday I will need to produce 3,125 a week … my goal is to have at least this many words by Sunday evening. It is possible to write a couple of thousand words a day when one is focused and not too distracted by offers of 50% off all orders from Monsoon  and at least a seven hundred to a thousand of those should be ‘good’ words: the sort you can read without shuddering at your own ineptitude.

I have found that I work through my thinking via writing – it is no good me me planning what I am going to write. My thoughts are of the willo’ the wisp variety which means the minute I try to pin them down they float off into another realm. I found when I was writing a paper for a conference a short while ago that I am far better and much more fluid if I free write without paying too much close attention to the editing process. The only thing I do as I go along is footnoting (because sod’s law tells us that if you fail to footnote your information as you use it you will immediately forget where the hell you got that information from and spend the next 3 months trying to locate it!) .

So the plan is – the weekend will be reading in dribs and drabs. Monday morning will be spent structuring each section to create an over all ‘plan’ and Monday afternoon I will try to have at least 1000 words down on the page. Whether those make it to the final cut is highly doubtful but early on writing without holding back is the key … words, any words, down on a page takes away the fear of empty page syndrome. 

I shall also be referring back to The Thesis Whisperer blog for handy hints on how to write productively; especially  the on writing section.

One other consideration that I will be confronting over the next two days will be whether or not to write this section in Scrivener or whether to stick with what I know and keep on plugging away with word?  I am sure come Monday I will let you all know what i decide … that’s if you can wait til then!

Jolly Old Jaunts

I’ve not been too productive this week as it is my mother’s final few days before she returns home. So basically I have been gadding about and unable to settle to anything (other than the obligatory book and stationery ordering). It’s been a lovely week and I know that time spent enjoying things now will stand me in good stead when I am neck deep in research materials.

Sometimes you just need to accept that you are not going to achieve anything – and not feel too guilty about it!

Sorry I missed yesterday – I was busy gadding about. Very remiss of me! Tsk!

One thing I do have to say is RIP Steve Jobs. What an inspiration you were.  See you all Monday.

Fresh off the plane …

and into a new blog.

I used to blog here at  http://thephdpimpernel.blogspot.com/ but I fell into bad habits and one missed post turned in to several months of missed posts and even though I have decided there is space in my life to blog again I felt the need for a fresh start.

Firstly I am an academic. I refrain from using the word ‘student’ (though really that’s what I am) as I feel my PhD demands a greater level of commitment than any other course of study I have undertaken and therefore needs a greater degree of professionalism. It has to be a full time job and incorporate all the aspects of working as a full-time academic, be it teaching, publishing, editing, conferencing and last (but not least) blogging.

This blog is aimed at fellow mature students, post-graduates, academics, bibliophiles, fans of Rebecca West, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Modernism, WWI, feminism, gender and all things literary. I hope to share insights into life as a PhD candidate who is fast approaching the final hurdle, and also those of a book and literature lover. Sometimes I wil take time to explore somethings which have fascinated or preoccupied me in order to make sense of the world … or as Rebecca West once said to a prospective dissertation student who approached her –

I explained that I was writer wholly unsuitable for her purpose … that I had never used my writing to make a continuous disclosure of my own personality to others, but to discover for my own edification what I knew about various subjects which I found to be important to me …

Supernatural Power

I am going to kick off my first entry with a post about the joys of Academic Conferencing as I am fresh off the plane from Baruch College City University of New York having presented a paper there on Rebecca West.

When I first started my career as an academic in 2003, conferences didn’t figure too largely in my life. The odd class presentation was bearable, if a little uncomfortable, but not too demanding. I could cope. But my first ever full-size conference was another matter altogether! I had submitted an abstract based on the thesis I had written at the conclusion of my MLitt course. The argument was condensed into a 20 minute format and I was not confident in either the content or the structure of my paper. The conference was at Newcastle University and was to host over 200 delegates. I was terrified. I could barely speak for the entire three days … and my 20 minutes (well the entire 1 hour 30 minute panel session) is a bit of a blank for me. I do remember that I shook, my hands trembled as I turned the pages of my talk, my throat closed up, I licked my lips repeatedly, I spilled water, and  stumbled through the Q&A without actually hearing any questions properly at all. All in all I looked a complete wreck!  Or so I thought. The feed back was fabulous – my paper was even referred to by the keynote speaker,the author Kate Mosse (Labyrinth and Sepulchre) because her new novel tackled similar issues to those I had raised in my paper on Vera Brittain and The Lost Generation Myth.

I was heartened. I presented the paper again at a smaller venue for local scholars at my home university, but also in front of many of my former tutors. All people I admired and wanted to impress. Again I felt my paper lacked adequate erudition to impress and I stumbled my way through it, blinking like a proverbial ‘rabbit in headlights’ each time a question was directed my way. Again the feedback was not so bad.

By this time I was well into my PhD, which was slowly taking on a proper form. So I felt bold enough to submit an abstract to a huge international conference, held at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge as part of their week long celebration of Women’s Writing.  I worked hard, adapting a large chunk of my thesis into a 20 minute Powerpoint presentation, with photographs and quotes. This foray into technology did oohing to quell my nerves. I  dreaded the return of my usual stammer and twitchiness but to my surprise when I took the floor I found myself giving an accomplished and articulate presentation. I fielded the questions with skill and dexterity and even managed to throw in a few laughs along the way. I found I actually enjoyed the experience! What a transformation. The feedback was better than I ever expected. I felt I had made a success of my trip, and yet I knew I had missed opportunities to chat to other delegates in the preceding couple of days because of my social nervousness.

But this time I took a new approach to presenting in front of an audience of world-renowned West scholars. Conferences are a necessary part of any academic career. They give you the unique opportunity to ‘geek it up’ with fellow nerds who find your subject as equally as compelling as you do. Unlike your family, who tend to glaze over when you even utter the name Rebecca West, these individuals embrace the conversation and provide you with fresh and new insights and approaches that can only enhance your future research. I embraced the conference experience and as a result I found that I looked forward to the event with far less trepidation and as a result my paper went even better than I’d hoped. I have also made some new friends and some important contacts who will be able to help me in my future research. It has been an invaluable experience.

There is a reason that this trajectory has taken the course it has and that is confidence. Presenting is a skill that can only be learnt through experience and over time. Some people are born presenters and they may flourish from the get go but most people are like you and me and they take time to acquire the confidence and know how to give a polished performance. And conferences are the killing fields of experience. It’s where you can make mistakes and no one will remember them. 20 minutes in a 3 day even t is a mere blip in time … I’ve accepted that the only way to approach a conference is with my head held high and my paper well researched.

I am already scouring the web to find future events that I can participate in and share what I am learning about the fabulous writer Rebecca West … I embrace the conference challenge!

BTW – the banner header photograph is one of my own, and it is the torn fragments of a rejected draft of my recent conference paper … my other love is photography and I can also be found on Blip – a daily photographic journal. Please feel free to come visit.

All photographs are my own unless otherwise acknowledged.