Dissertation Reading (and reading, and reading)

A while back I wrote about my dissertation writing process and its many stages of revisions. Now that I technically have a full draft (albeit one with a bunch of holes and exposed seams), I’ve entered the reading phase.

A big part of my editing process is a very simple thing that makes a huge impact: I read out loud. I learned to do this back when I was a writing tutor in college. It was our method in our tutoring sessions, I think partially out of the convenience of having someone read their paper to you, but also because it forces you to hear issues with grammar, structure, and flow that can be harder to pay attention to when you read internally. I like this process so much that sometimes I dictate my writing to myself too. It’s become an essential part of editing any long piece, especially since it forces me not to skip sections or gloss over them. But when is a piece of writing too long to read out loud?

It’s taken me the entire week to read all five chapters plus an introduction and conclusion of my dissertation. I max out at about 2 1/2 hours of reading out loud, at which point both my brain and voice are fried. My dissertation chapters are each between 35 and 50 pages, with a slightly shorter introduction and a very short conclusion. At 8 or so hours of reading, I read one page about every minute and a half.

This has definitely been a helpful process, more so than dealing with each chapter individually. Even though I’ve been thinking about how the chapters connect and trying to integrate them for at least the last six months of writing, it’s important to see the macro view of the whole project. It’s made me question some things that I thought were fine (is Chapter 1 convincing?), confirmed assessments that I already felt good about (hey, Chapters 2 and 5 sound really good!) and given me new perspective about things I’ve been looking at in a bubble (Chapters 3 and 4 work well together but could be stronger with the rest of the project). It’s helped me make note of all the appendices and figures I still need to put together. And maybe it’s also giving me an excuse to delay polishing things up.

But at least now I have a pretty good idea of what I need to ask my readers as I start to send chapters out to friends and colleagues for feedback. So I’ll get back to it. Right after I take a quick nap.