Focussing on IT skills in writing a dissertation.

working with microsoft

Such is the dominance of Microsoft that a book linking dissertation writing and effective Word skills becomes both viable and marketable. Having started my first research degree with a ‘lap top’ computer that was as big as a sewing machine, and attached to a dot printer, and later an electric typewriter, I can see the benefits in just the changes in word processing technology with regard to writing the various documents associated with undertaking a research degree.

The dissertation I wrote with my ‘lap top’ and dot printer had to be totally transcribed and formatted because the particular word processing program was not capable of changing the margins. The incorrect margin sizes had not been noted in the early drafts of the dissertation and when it came time to deliver the final product, the concerns raised by the Office of Research at that university were too late.

We talk about graduate skills of research and many of these are writing technology skills. Having capacity to use the ever growing number of technology tools assists both research and research writing. In that context, the review copy of a book that was sent to me raised my interest. I likened it to the Australian Psychology Association writing guidelines handbook that became my editing bible when I was writing my dissertation.

The techniques offered in this book can save candidature time in that time can be wasted with lengthy editorial processes. Being able to format the document as you go enables the groundwork to be laid well before the volume of content is overwhelming. Something as simple as continual updating the contents list helps the researcher/writer locate important parts of their text and saves that searching time. For students whose inquiry draws on and develops data tables, any assistance in formatting the range of tables can save time.

The book is quite comprehensive and thus overwhelming, however following the authors own suggestion of ‘not to read it all in one sitting’ and to think of it as a reference book, reduces the information overload. It draws attention to the effectiveness of the index and whether an IT solution to a problem that you are encountering at any given time can be located within the text. Of the ideas that I located pertinent to my own research, I was taken by Word services such as the auto format provision, one which in the author’s words is ‘quite well hidden’. Mastery of such a tool can mean that first attempts at writing are being corrected in your own styles of writing, but, as with any services it also brings with it a range of other options that you may need to control. Another of the insights was the formatting help to set up structure for the whole document so that as individual parts of a document are introduced they confirm to the styles already adopted.

One of the important issues for research advisors with regard to a book like this is how to go about introducing it to students. I see two options of problem solving are available to advisors. One option is that they solve the problem themselves and tell the student what to do. The other option is that they introduce appropriate references at key problem based points in the candidature and support the student in using the reference book to solve the particular problem. The later seems to me to engender a self-help approach and establish problem solving practices that work well after the dissertation is completed.

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About the (research) supervisor's friend

I work at a university helping university academics who are supervising research students. I am a research supervisor myself and also work as a research coach for people undertaking their research I was originally in a Management Faculty and when I completed my doctoral studies on 'doing a doctorate' I started working with research supervisors to help them improve their practice.
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