Saturday, December 09, 2006

Grad student life: writing research papers

My experience with my most recent research paper has been markedly different from any other paper I remember writing.* For one, the first outline I made for it has hardly changed at all. I don't think I've ever left an original outline so intact. Second, once I had read all the books I needed, selected quotes, typed up said quotes, and put them in order thematically (following the outline), I didn't have any sudden moment of terror realizing that my critical approach was missing something major that was going to necessitate a trip to the library and many hours, if not several days, spent researching the missing angle before I could get on with writing most of the paper or hope for a good grade.** The biggest difference with this paper, however, is that once I got past the outlining, quote-collecting, and quote-ordering stages, the writing process was like a glorified connect-the-dots activity from a coloring book. The quotes are the dots, and I'm the crayon that links (and occasionally rearranges) them. The connect-the-dots approach is going nice and smoothly, too. I'm pleased.

*If you've been watching the "All Consuming" box in my sidebar over the past couple weeks, it'll come as no great surprise to you that this paper's focus is Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957), Chilean poet and first Latin American winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
**Last time a moment of terror of this kind occurred, it was when I realized that I was going to have to go read an entire book by Michel Foucault, understand that book and its theories of power (much easier said than done), and slightly alter my thesis in order to pull the paper off — and this happened only a week before the paper was due. Fortunately, I had the good sense to ask for an extension as soon as I realized this.