my supervisor says I need help with my writing

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Dear Thesis Writer,

Thanks for contacting me and for being proactive about developing your writing!

My first question is to ask you whether you have got specific and detailed feedback from your supervisor(s) about what they think and how you can improve? Have you talked to them about the feedback they have given you, so you can understand how to move forward? This is the most personalised and relevant way to improve writing, as it is within the context of your discipline area, and specific to your learning needs. It’s well worth a chat if you haven’t already, as it means you aren’t operating on assumptions about what they think.

If you have had this discussion about your feedback, and agreed with your supervisors(s)that you need further opportunities to develop — below are some ideas you can try out:

Are you taking into account that writing at this level needs a couple of ‘drafting and editing’ cycles before it’s ready to be seen by others? I suggest you write a first draft on one day, and then edit and refine it the next day, often that’s a way we spot a lot of our own mistakes and inconsistencies, and it saves our supervisors the time of going over small details.

Once it’s ready to be seen by others, do you have a colleague, perhaps another PGR or a post-doc, you can ask for some help? A friend in a related discipline? Maybe you could reciprocate and proof read each others’ work?

Here are some very simple thesis writers tools that help you keep track of reading, plan writing, and integrate your findings with the literature. Adapt to suit your needs and share as you wish.

This book is in the Uni library, and I also recommend this one by Pat Thompson and Barbara Kamler.

I lead the Thesis Mentoring programme which is about building writing habits, planning-writing cycles, and keeping up momentum with a neutral supporter. In this way it complements the role of the PhD supervisor (as described above they should and feedback on the content, style and format of your entire thesis). Habits, routines, daily practices (whatever you want to call them) are as important in crafting good writing as knowing the facts. You have to sit down, write, get to know your own bets ways of working, and build up your stamina for writing!

If you are having trouble motivating yourself to sit and write perhaps a retreat type space would help? See this post here on how to run one for you and a few colleagues, based on Prof. Rowena Murray’s very effective framework.

Here are some blogs on academic writing you might like, they give very good advice to PhD writers:

A couple of general University of Sheffield study skills support ideas are below (those at other institutions you are very likely to have similar services, but the names can vary):

And finally — here’s a collection of articles on academic writing (requires some picking through). Don’t feel you have to read all these resources, it would take you years worth of time you don’t have and the most important thing is that you keep writing, redrafting and keep getting feedback from peers and supervisors.

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Developers! Supervisors! What have I missed? what resources, ideas, or workshops would you add to the list? 

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