Good morning colleagues
Precision in writing takes time and practice. Remember, the goal of any writer is to avoid leaving any questions in the minds of your reader. Within a graduate capstone or a doctoral dissertation in particular, questions mean kickbacks, which mean more time and more money ($$$). Consequently, I have yet another strategy to add to your dissertation toolbox: Think Like an Attorney.
In teaching a Law and Ethics class, many colleagues who went to law school shared their suggestions, of which two in particular are of special merit. The first is (a) never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to, and the second, (b) only answer the question(s) asked. Let’s take these one at a time.
(a) Never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to
First, the goal is to establish our expertise as a subject matter expert, as well as a our connection within our field of study and our market. Subsequently, expertise means knowing the answers to common questions in our field of study or at the very least knowing where to look and whom to ask. After completing a thesis capstone or a doctoral dissertation, the researcher is meant to be the expert as a result of all aspects of their study, both content and process. Our goal post completion is to share this expertise, knowledge, and findings with our audience to offer contributions to the field. Consequently, the researcher should be able to answer any questions posed to them. Keep in mind that it is not what we know, but what we can prove. Thus, the goal is to convince your reader (audience) of the merits of your conclusions and position yourself as the expert as a result.
(b) Only answer the question(s) asked
Second, clarity of writing requires focus and precision. To ensure that all required information is included in a thesis or dissertation, each university provides a template that provides an outline of the research study. This template is a checklist to ensure that the researcher includes all relevant and legal information. Let me offer a salient piece of advice here. These templates are not guidelines, but requirements. Often, these templates include not only section headings, but a rubric as well.
More is not better; it is simply more. Brevity is king. ONLY answer the question(s) asked. If the heading indicates Data Instrument, then your writing should be ONLY about the data instrument. There should NOT be ANY extraneous information OTHER THAN what the heading indicates. Consequently, thinking like an attorney will serve you well here to ONLY answer and address the question asked.
Said another way, ONLY include what the heading indicates, as well as to ensure you follow any further requirements indicated in the rubric. Then stop. Let me say that again. Then stop. Often, students feel the need to simply put everything in every section every time. Stop. Avoid additional time and rework of having your committee and various levels of review delete writing efforts.
Read the rubric. Review your writing. Review the rubric again. Then stop.
When you have met the requirements, no further writing is necessary. Again, ONLY ANSWER THE QUESTION(s) ASKED—no more, no less. Again, when in doubt, think like an attorney!
My best to your continued success!
Dr. Cheryl Lentz
The Academic Entreprenuer