A Gem for Coherent Writing (By Suzanna J. Ramos, P.O.W.E.R. Consultant)

 

A Gem for Coherent Writing

By Suzanna J. Ramos, P.O.W.E.R. Consultant

Photographs and artwork credits belong to Suzanna J. Ramos

 

Another lazy Saturday afternoon – the kind of day for beads and baubles to the rescue! I decided to salvage my left over beads to create a piece of jewelry – a hobby I love. As I was separating my beads on my bead board and constantly rearranging them, I began to see a myriad beautiful designs emerge. Then a thought occurred. Can I use this similar process in my writing?

 

           

 

Prior to my ‘aha’ moment, like most writers, I was experiencing writer’s block – a thorn in any writer’s flesh. Instead of feeling guilty for not working on my literature review, I purposefully embarked on a ‘writing fast’ for a week. No, it was not total abstinence from writing. Instead, my ‘writing fast’ consisted of journaling (or dumping) my writing frustrations as well as pursuing other interests – like creating jewelry, of course! This process of incubation – a time away from writing my literature review - was indeed a form of catharsis because I was not engaged in conscious mental work.

 

So, what did I discover during my jewelry jaunt? When I laid out my beads and other findings to craft a unique necklace, I discovered an adjunct method to enhance the flow of my paragraphs. Whenever I showed my draft to my dissertation chair, the constant remark would be, ‘Suzanna, you have really good ideas here, but you need to work on the flow of your paragraphs’. So here was my challenge – how can my paragraphs flow seamlessly into the next to produce a coherent argument? I have tried the key sentence file method but I wanted to try something else to beef up the flow of my paragraphs. I did not know what it was until that lazy Saturday afternoon.

 

In a nutshell, here is the process I followed and recommend you try:

 

1)  First, ensure each paragraph has one key idea followed by the development of that one idea. This is one of the most valuable lessons I learned as a P.O.W.E.R. consultant.

2)  Print a hard copy of the text and cut out each paragraph using a pair of scissors. Place the cut paragraphs in a pile and rummage through them so they are all mixed.

3)  Using the ‘emergent themes’ method qualitative researchers adopt to analyze data, go through a paragraph and read it. This is the first unit of data.

4)  Take another paragraph and read it. If the content has the same tacit feel as the first paragraph, add it to the same pile as the first unit of data. If otherwise, then set it aside as the first unit of data in the second category.

5)  As the piles of paragraphs increase, assign a category (a word or phrase) to each pile using sticky notes and a sharpie.

6)  Continue this exercise until all the paragraphs have been assigned to categories, or have found a home in one of the piles. The categories may seem nebulous at first but as the piles increase, try to be as descriptive as possible.

7)  There is always the possibility a paragraph may not fit in any existing category and may not justify the creation of a new one. In my case, I had three paragraphs which did not seem to fit anywhere. I kept them apart from the others and, eventually, did not use them in my paper.

 

        

 

Taking three breaks lasting 15 minutes each, the process of sorting took me three hours to complete. I worked with a total of 260 paragraphs, averaging 130 words per paragraph. Although I did not know where the process would lead, I was a little excited because I knew I was going to learn something from it. So what did I learn?

 

As the themes began to emerge from the categories, I caught a glimpse of alternative ways to thread the arguments. I realized some paragraphs could be placed in more than one category. Some literature I was alluding to could be used again in different parts of the literature review, but from a different perspective. Robustness to the arguments I was making began to slowly take shape.

 

The process of emergent themes helped me view the flow of my paragraphs from diverse angles. I eliminated certain headings in my literature review because I subsumed the ideas in other headings, thereby strengthening the content and avoiding repetitions. The process provided a lens to view some of the ideas in my paragraphs as potential corollaries to bigger themes. In short, I had the opportunity to reconstruct the flow of ideas.  

 

So back to my bead board! Although I had limited beads, crystals, and beading wire, I experienced an unending flow of design ideas. Similarly, I had a limited set of paragraphs to work with, but the process enabled me to explore different ways to present my arguments in a smooth and coherent manner. No doubt it was a tedious process. But my dissertation chair is very happy with my writing. She was finally able to comprehend the thread of arguments and convergence of ideas, culminating in a thought-provoking narrative. Just like my beading process – loose pieces of beads and baubles transformed into my own distinctive necklace.

Now, who would have thought making jewelry could be a terrific aid to academic writing?