You CAN Write That Thesis…With A Little Help…

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From the moment you begin your graduate programme, you might feel like the shadow of your thesis is hanging over your head. This is not surprising. After all, this is arguably one of the most important papers you will write in your academic life. There’s no wonder that you might feel intimated. However be comforted in the thought that hundreds of thesis students get through this experience relatively unscathed every year, and thankfully there are a huge number of resources available to you.

I had a chat with Lleuella Morris, Masters Research Consultant & Coach who has helped many students with her knowledge, experience and her insightful thesis workshops. Based on her expertise, my research and my own experience, I’ve compiled some helpful tips that might allay your fears.

Don’t Wait Too Long to Ask For Help

You should start planning for your thesis as early as possible. You will feel glad you did and greatly reduce stress at the eleventh hour. Talk with your advisors about your timeline, so you have a good idea of what you should have accomplished at each stage. As Morris says, “Let the department handbook be your best friend.”  

If you think you will need professional help, start examining options as soon as possible. If you think you may become overwhelmed, start accessing resources to help you before you go too far.

Make Use of Available Resources

Your graduate programme will undoubtedly have resources available that you can access. You might be surprised to learn certain tips that never occurred to you. Online resources can also be very useful. You’ve probably used many of them for your research, but why not look for advice on actually getting the thesis done. *

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Work on Improving your Writing Style

Morris observes that one of the issues she sees the most are students who write in a style which doesn’t suit an academic paper. She suggests reading scholarly work to absorb the style of writing. Your whole university life and your research will provide you with lots of material to emulate. Take note of the standard language in your field and continuously try to mimic the turns of phrase. Of course DO NOT plagiarize. It’s better that you write in your own words, review later and make edits to reflect scholarly language.

According to Morris, a poor literature review style is another regular problem among students. This summary of your resources is an important part of your research papers. Find out what your department requires in a literary review, have a look at samples of various studies and take note of their approach. Also have a look at how other works deal with sections. Make sure yours are not all similar to each other.

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Clearly Outline Your Research Issue

Morris also notes a recurrent problem of students neglecting to clearly outline their research issue. Think about it. Can you clearly state yours? Morris suggests, Work backward from your topic and ask yourself, ‘What is the observed problem that prompted this topic?’ ”

Use the Right Methodology

Imagine that you’ve completed a considerable portion of your thesis, and you discover that you have been using the wrong methodology! According to Morris, there is no need to create your own ground work when formulating the methods for your research. “I highly recommend that students at master’s level as far as possible do not reinvent the wheel,” she advises. “In quantitative studies, use a reliable and valid survey instrument – do not create one. it’s time-consuming to create and test instruments for reliability and validity, and students are not trained at this level to create instruments, neither is it required of them.”

So what should you do instead?

Morris advises looking up research methods. Find studies similar to your topic and examine the methodology. She explains that depending on the objectives of your study you may be able to use the same methodology with only minor adjustments”.

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Don’t Hesitate to Attend that Thesis Workshop!

Thesis workshops are excellent opportunities to get hands-on advice on important aspects related to your thesis like formatting and submitting. Attending workshops also affords you the advantage of meeting others who are going through the same journey. It could be heartening to be reminded that there are others like you labouring to achieve your goal.

Hire Someone to Proofread Your Work**

All thesis students should have reached the level where they can express their ideas clearly and cohesively, but it’s a very rare phenomena if you don’t have the need for at least a little proofreading and editing assistance. All that time going over the material can leave you blind to mistakes because of your familiarity with the text. Some important points to remember:

1) Contact proofreaders before you need them. Don’t wait until the last minute. They might not be available at short notice. Even if they are, a short time frame might not be enough for them to give your work the careful review it deserves

2) Hiring someone early will also give you time to get a quote and see if it suits your budget. Keep in mind that a good proofreader is not necessarily going to be the cheapest one you find. Ask around for recommendations.

3) Be available if they have questions. You’ve hired an expert, but in the end you’re the one who knows the most about your topic. Sometimes your proofreader will need your input to know how best to handle your work.

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Hire a Thesis Coach***

Working with a thesis coach can be an invaluable option. Find a very experienced coach like Morris who has worked with many students over the years and who has probably seen or heard of every hurdle that might seem insurmountable to you.

“I’ve helped scores of students even at Ph.D level,” Morris explains. “I have created my own thesis writing frameworks and processes to help students wrap their heads around their topic and what the department requires of them and write a robust and successful thesis.”

There are other advantages of having thesis coaching. “It provides a sounding board for the difficult aspects of writing,” says Morris. She also explains, “It’s designed to ask all the right ‘what if?’ Questions, to create the scope of your thesis and ensure your topic and arguments are sound and flow in logical sequence.”

In addition she observes, “It provides advising accompanied by tools and frameworks to clarify what’s required and support them to develop the competency to produce it.”

In short don’t let the task of writing your thesis overpower you. With careful planning, research and valuable resources, the fearful student can avoid feeling overburdened and have a very educational and fulfilling experience.  You can do this!

*Some resources suggested by Lleuella Morris 

Books:

1. Research Design (International Student Edition): Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches by Creswell, John W. 4th (fourth) Edition.

2. Using SPSS for Windows and Macintosh by Green and Salkind 7th ed.

3. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th Edition

4. The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition

5. Respective university department style guides (as these have unique requirements aside from the general style manuals and are updated quite often)

Website:

6. Purdue Owl https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/

Software:

7. SPSS (quantitative)

8. Nvivo (qualitative)

Bonus!

9. Fill out the form at this link to get a special PDF created by Morris herself sent straight to your inbox! It’s called “Stop Pulling Your Hair Out and Write Your Thesis” and features advice she’s put together based on her experiences working with master’s students.

** I have over a decade of experience in proofreading and editing. I’ve done considerable work proofreading theses and helping thesis students properly format their references. Find out more about me, my work, and how I can help you best present your research right here at my website or on my Facebook page. You can also e-mail me at belleworks@gmail.com

 

***Lleuella Morris has been helping thesis students for eight years. She has held free thesis workshops in the past, and she has prepared valuable frameworks and chapter blueprints that can help you on your thesis journey. Learn more about how she can help you. E-mail her at amzconsultco@gmail.com or check her Facebook page. 

 

 

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Can Your Instagram Hurt Your Career?

“….recently one of my co-workers made a passing comment about some pictures I
had up on my FB profile. I could be going crazy, but since then I feel as if some of my co-workers are treating me differently. This is my personal profile! It has nothing to do with work.

I do not think that they have any right to tell me what I should or should not post on my profile. I’m upset that they had the nerve to. What should I do?
~ Pissed Off “

How would you answer this question? Recently I was given the opportunity to give advice on this situation.

Every Thursday for some months now, the Association of Female Executives of Trinidad and Tobago (AFETT) has had a column in the business section of the Trinidad Newsday. In the column AFETT members have been taking turns giving career advice on topics of interests to professionals.

I am honoured to be the most recent contributor to the column. Have a look at the business section in the Newsday last Thursday December 7th, and you can see my response.

You can also read it heremobile-phone-1917737_960_720

What do you think of this topic? What advice would you give? Do you think of your job before you post on social media?

Nine Steps to Writing a Speech that Will Grab Your Audience

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If you think about it, it’s not really surprising that when you see lists of people’s greatest fears, public speaking often comes in first while death places second. Standing in front of a crowd can be a daunting situation, but one good way to help alleviate fears is to be prepared with a really good speech.

As a professional an important part of your development as a brand should include delivering speeches (or presentations or lectures or sermons). Even if you don’t have a public speaking phobia, the thought of writing a speech can be very intimidating. Not only do you have to convey your message, but you want to capture the attention of your audience. The last thing you want is bored listeners just waiting for you to finally finish. We’ve all experienced it. No one wants to be the speaker that everyone applauds enthusiastically because she has finally, finally stopped talking.

So what should you do? Consider these techniques which should help you produce a speech which evokes interest instead of boredom.

 1. Don’t Try To Make Too Many Points

Think of the last speech you listened to. When it finished did you say to yourself, “Wow. I wish that speech was longer”? Have you ever, ever felt like saying that? Even when an audience is listening to a really good speech, there is only so much attention spans can hold. Keep your speech at a reasonable length. One sure way to do this is to plan the message you want to give, focus on strongly presenting some key points and trim off anything that is not absolutely necessary.

2. Think of Your Audience

    Are you going to be presenting to 18 year old boys about to graduate from secondary school in the assembly hall or to female entrepreneurs at an International Women’s Day brunch? If you would deliver the exact same speech to each of these groups, you are approaching your task from the wrong angle. Your words, your examples, your focus and more should be chosen with your audience in mind.

3. Talk Conversationally

    A speech is not the time to speak as formally as possible. Try to incorporate a tone that simulates a conversation. There’s no need to talk down to your audience, but try not to use words you would not normally use in everyday conversations. Avoid too many long sentences. As you are standing at the podium trying to speak easily and fluently, you’ll thank yourself for keeping the speech patterns simple

4. Start Strong

    You don’t have a lot of time to capture your audience’s attention. Part of beginning speeches in Trinidad and Tobago often involves a long list of salutations which might wear on people’s concentration. If it is necessary give the salutations, make a pause for effect then launch into your attention grabbing opening. In addition to keeping all other tips in this article in mind begin with a good hook. Consider a story that is relevant to your topic, a startling statistic, a what if scenario or some thought provoking rhetorical questions.

5. Finish Stronger

What should be clear throughout your speech is your message, and as you close be sure your audience is left with a strong impression of it. Some of the techniques you use to open can be incorporated in your closing as well.

You can also consider a call to action. If you’ve been speaking about the importance of caring for the environment why not challenge your audience to start a recycling programme in their office? Providing a compelling look into the future is also a good technique. Perhaps you could paint a picture of what our world would look like if we don’t stop polluting our oceans.

Keep in mind that this is the part of the speech which will leave the longest impression on your audience. Put the effort into it that it deserves.

6. Make it Personal

    Using strong, concrete examples in your speech will help you hold the interest of those listening. For instance, if you’re talking about how to build the morale in your office describe how everyone in your department volunteered together to help feed the homeless and how well it worked. It’s alright to use good stories that you haven’t experienced yourself if they’re relevant. Examples can touch your listeners. It helps them to see real consequences, and it makes it easy for them to relate.

7. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

    Remember that people listening to your speech are trying to process what you say, retain important information, deal with distractions and more – all at the same time. If someone is reading an article, it is easy for them to go back to something they may have forgotten or to get clarification. They don’t have that option while listening to your speech. Any techniques you use to help would be ideal. Using a phrase, a word, a mantra or an idea more than once can help keep it at the forefront of the mind of your listener.

8. Use Transitions

    Most of us listening to a boring speech perk up when we hear the transitional phrase “in conclusion”. Hopefully that won’t happen with you, but transitions do act as signals to your audience. If you want to emphasize a point, call attention to it. For example if a speaker says, “If there’s one thing I want you to remember…” your listener will very likely pay attention. Just be sure that the point you are making is worth it.

9. Hire a Speechwriter

     One thing I like to emphasize is that we are all writers. You can take the time to write a speech and incorporating the methods I’ve outlined here can help you. However there is also no harm in hiring a speechwriter if you feel the need.
    Perhaps this is your first speech, and you don’t yet feel comfortable airing your early efforts in front of an audience. Perhaps you don’t have the time to craft a speech, or the calibre of your audience requires you to have something to deliver written by a professional. Perhaps you have a first draft written, and you’d like to hire someone to help you refine it until you are satisfied.
    If you have the time and the budget, do some research and hire a good speech writer. Work with them so they understand your audience, your message and your theme. A speech writing professional can help you ensure that you have a final product that you will be confident in and proud to deliver.

I’ve written speeches for ministers, permanent secretaries and other executives. Let me know if you want help crafting the perfect speech or presentation the next time someone wants you “to say a few words”. Contact Me!

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My latest article for UWI Today

My article “Why Study History?” for UWI Today is now online.

Here’s an excerpt. Read more at the link.UWI today

“As 1917 dawned, it heralded a period of great change in world events. It was the beginning of the end of World War I, one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history – a war where even West Indians served, though they were rarely honoured for their contributions.

It was the end of Indian indentureship in Trinidad. After over 70 years and thousands of East Indian migrants coming to local shores, calls to end their sub-human living conditions were finally heeded. It was also a year of turmoil for the Shouter Baptist community as intolerant members of society tried to squash their form of worship. These diverse historical milestones have a common significance.”

This article involved interviewing several members of the UWI history department’s faculty and trying to bring the stories they told to life. This was such an interesting assignment.

What I Published Last Month

laptop womanI am back everyone. It’s been much too long I agree. I’m hoping to once more post fairly regularly about my writing, writing tips and advice and more.

Some weeks ago, I contributed two articles for UWI Today, a magazine published by the University of the West Indies (UWI). The magazine highlights people, events and other subjects of interest to UWI’s stakeholders.

For the first article I interviewed a young calypsonian and UWI law student called Sasha-Ann Moses. She’s been performing professionally, and she’s really interested in taking her music to the world. Have a look at Queen Sasha and the Law.

The other article comes from my talk with another UWI student who created an organization called WHYFARM. Alpha Sennon came up with this idea to help young people to realize the potential of careers in local agriculture. It’s a fascinating idea. Learn more about this Superhero of the Soil here.

Comment and let me know what you think! Also are you looking for someone to write articles for your blog, magazine or newsletter? Contact me and let’s create something that suits your needs.

Six Tips To Make You A Better Writer At Work

(N.B. This article will soon be appearing in the newsletter for the Association for Female Executives of Trinidad and Tobago. I’ll post the link to the newsletter when it’s published.)

Six Tips To Make You A Better Writer At Work

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When you look in the mirror, see a writer

 

Raise your hand if you think of yourself as a writer. Many of you reading this will probably conjure up images in your mind of people hunched over their laptops writing hundreds of pages of their book a day and keep your hands down. That’s one way of looking at it, but the truth is most of us are writers. If you sit down to send your client an e-mail update at work; if you write a memo for your staff or a report to your manager, you’re a writer. With larger, more specialized writing and editing like an annual report, web site copy, an article or a blog post, you might want to hire a professional writer or copy editor*, but very often, you won’t be able to escape from the responsibility of writing important everyday communications at work yourself.  Since the goal of your writing, as with anyone’s, is to communicate, there are important tips you need to know to help you achieve.

As you sit down to write your next memo or e-mail, keep these in mind:

1)Re-read. This sounds incredibly simplistic, but it’s so easy to neglect. Often we dash something off without looking at it again motivated by a belief that we’re in a hurry. Think though of the consequences of ending up with a finished product with embarrassing typos. In some cases, repairing a mistake like an advertisement which has already been printed can also waste a lot of time and effort.

 

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We won’t soon forget this one.

Recently one of our major newspapers published a headline which left many copy editors clutching their chests in a collective panic attack. Many of us saw the headline stating “That’s rediculous” and wondered who had let that slide. How long would it have taken to check that article one more time? How long will it take people to forget that awful error? Re-read!

2) Read it out loud. This relates to Tip#1, but sometimes you may read a piece of writing over to yourself and never notice the errors you might come across if you set yourself to reading it aloud. Some errors just become more obvious when you say them. Exaggerate your enunciation of longer words as well. Spelling mistakes can become more evident then.

3) Keep it simple. “Simplicity doesn’t mean simplicity of thought,” says Kara Blackburn, a lecturer in managerial communication at MIT Sloan School of Management. Some people associate intelligent writing with very formal speech, and that often leads to writers trying to make their language seem sophisticated by using complex words and sentence structure. I often tutored students who wrote like this, and the result was often almost incomprehensible and a chore to read.  No one is going to be very impressed with your writing if they can’t understand what you’re saying.

You’re not trying to write fancy literature. Try to use short words rather than the ones with the most syllables. Try to avoid too many complex sentences as well especially if you know good punctuation is not your strong point. Varied sentence length makes easier reading anyway. Don’t be afraid to use simple sentences. Don’t be afraid to use personal pronouns and contractions either. Remember you want people to easily catch your meaning, being a bit more casual helps.

4) Keep reference books handy. Keep a good dictionary and a thesaurus by your side or bookmark some of the great online ones out there. Besides my reference books, I like Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com. A good book on writing style can also be useful. William Strunk’s Jr.’s “The Elements of Style” is a popular choice. Once you have reference materials you like, use them

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Keep these close!

5) Avoid too much jargon. Forbes writer, Susan Adams advises, “Imagine you’re writing to someone who is smart but not a specialist in your field.” Among your colleagues, talking about turning in the “TMPs” to the “AED” in time for a deadline might make complete sense to you but spouting these abbreviations to someone who doesn’t work with you complicates your writing and can make you seem a bit condescending. Remember Tip #2?

6) Don’t depend solely on spell check. I know you’ve heard this one before, but it bears repeating. I use spell check regularly. As soon as I finish a piece I run it, but by now you must have learned it’s not foolproof. Remember Tip #1! “Defiantly” and “definitely” are both real words, but they don’t mean the same thing. Spell check just makes sure they’re correctly spelled. It doesn’t care if you’re using them incorrectly, but your reader will. You’ll need to go through your writing yourself and make sure your words say what you want them to say.

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Keep on editing!

Keep these tips in mind fellow writers as you go about your day at work, and you’re sure to be able to produce clear, concise and effective written communication. You can do it!

*Bio: Dixie-Ann Belle is a freelance writer and copy editor who has been writing all her life. She is ready to take on those intimidating writing, proofreading and copy editing jobs for your business, so you don’t have to. Talk to her about updating your social media pages as well. (She’s the one who does the tweets for AFETT’s twitter!) Learn more about how she can help you produce strong, effective content for all your writing needs at her website, her Facebook page, her Twitter or through her e-mail: belleworks@gmail.com

Photo credits:

  • Woman with laptop stock image courtesy of stock images at Freedigitalphotos.net
  • Resources stock image courtesy of Stuart Mills at Freedigitalphotos.net
  • Editing stock image courtesy of digitalart at Freedigitalphotos.net