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Transitions and Changes

I tend to be a bit obsessive about keeping lists, particularly as a way of keeping track of my work. I like to keep a daily log of what I read, what research I conduct, or how many words I write. And for most of the time I’ve been working on my dissertation, this has been a great way of keeping myself on schedule but also motivating myself by seeing how productive I’ve been on a given day. I like this approach and it fits my own personal quirks.

This summer, I submitted a first draft of my dissertation to my committee, received feedback, and turned my attention towards the task of revising. And I confess, my trusty set of lists and logs have proved less helpful and I’m feeling a bit overwhelming by the task ahead of me. A big reason for this is the fact that I’m finding the process of revising to be very different from what I’ve expected and what I’ve grown used to. I think part of why I’m finding it difficult is because it’s less about producing new content, and more about revising existing material. Sure, I’m adding things and putting new material into my work, so it isn’t entirely about going over old stuff. But I don’t get the same satisfaction of sitting down, writing a good chunk of new material, and marking down that big word count in my daily log.

I find this interesting because it just reminds me of how I’ve had to change my approach and my way of thinking several times throughout grad school. I developed a system that worked for me while I was taking classes, writing short responses and historiographies, and keeping up with weekly readings. When I sat down to start studying for my exams, I found my old approach useless. This cycle repeated itself when I transitioned from exams to the proposal, then to primarily researching, and onto writing. Each time, I’ve been able to adapt and work out a new way to keep myself disciplined and productive. And I think I’ve benefitted a lot from developing that adaptability.

This seems to me like another example of one of those things in grad school that I didn’t expect, but am glad to have experienced. I’ve certainly learned a lot as a grad student, mostly about my own topic. But there have been quite a few lessons I’ve taken from the process that extend beyond the realm of early Pennsylvania. This ability to transition and adapt my work to suit the task at hand has been very valuable, and hopefully one of those “transferable skills” I hear people talking about. But while I’m thankful to have learned this skill, I’m still faced with applying it to the situation at hand, and that’s figuring out a good and productive way to go about making these revisions.

So I ask: is there a right way to revise your dissertation/thesis/manuscript? Were some strategies more effective for you than others? Does anyone have advice they’d like to share from their own experiencing revising these big projects?

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