How to make your writing sing

If you’re an academic, you are also, by proxy, a writer. Academics lives are full of words. Emails, feedback to students, grant applications, papers, theses – all of these require the careful placement of the one word next to another. As Prince once (almost) said, if you put the right letters together, you make a better day. And if it’s good enough for Prince, it’s good enough for the rest of us mere mortals.

However, while we university types are educated up to the eyeballs in our particular topics, we’re not often taught much about writing itself. Sure, we might have had an undergrad lecture about writing essays which follow the funnel structure, but other than that, we’re left to sink or swim. Which, given how much of our lives we spend trying to communicate complex ideas through the written word, is perhaps a bit of an oversight.

Humans have been communicating their ideas through writing since ancient times.

Photo by Kyle Smith on Unsplash.

With that in mind, here are some of PGPR’s top tips for creating words which stand out.

1. Read

Every writer also needs to be a reader. Fiction writers are experts in their genre, reading everything they can get their hands on by the writers they admire. The same counts for academic writing. Read as many papers and books in your field as possible. Spot what works and what doesn’t. Try to use the best techniques in your own writing.

Additionally, two great how-to books that can help every writer are Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style and Stephen King’s On Writing. I’m sure there are other great books on writing which haven’t been written by someone called Steven, but those are a great starting point.

2. Plan

That funnel structure lecture you sat through in undergrad was actually pretty useful. Good academic writing should always follow a structure. This might feel boring, but it makes it easier for others to read, which should always be your aim. Think carefully about the points you want to make. How you order those points will influence how the reader digests your ideas, so plan carefully before you start.

A good plan is worth its weight in sticky labels!

Photo by Filipe Furtado on Unsplash

3. Write tight

As we’ve said in a previous PGPR blog, a key tenet of writing is to ‘omit needless words’ (Strunk, 2007). Effective writing is concise. We all write in longer sentences when we’re drafting something, so look back over your work and get rid of those filler words (‘that’ ‘very’ ‘really’) which aren’t needed.

Another tip for writing tighter prose is to avoid repetition. We all have favourite phrases which we use over and over again without even noticing. Try to spot yours and find new ways of phrasing. This will keep the reader’s attention.

4. The Curse of Knowledge (Pinker, 2014)

This concept, which Steven Pinker discusses in detail in The Sense of Style, is especially relevant to academics. When we’re an expert in any topic – be it phenomenology, attribution theory or fuzzy logic, it can be easy to forget that our readers don’t share our knowledge. This can mean we don’t provide essential explanations, leaving the reader lost. This is a tough nut to crack, but if you ask for feedback from a non-expert friend or colleague, they will be able to help you spot the holes that need filling.

A good friend will always help you out of a tight spot!

Image by Anja🤗#helpinghands #solidarity#stays healthy🙏 from Pixabay

5. Read your work aloud

You might feel like a bit of wally doing this, but it is super helpful. There’s something about reading aloud which helps you spot the awkward clauses or overly long sentences you might otherwise have missed. You could read to a friend or family member, or just to yourself in your locked office – whatever you choose, release your words into the ether and you’ll spot lots of areas to improve.

6. Impactful words should be at the start and end of sentences

This is a neat trick. If you are using words which pack a punch – and let’s hope you are – try to place those words at the start or end of the sentence, and your writing will immediately improve.

Let’s look at an example. Perhaps you’re writing up some qualitative findings from your fascinating study about eating tasty cakes. You’ve drafted the following sentence:

It was reported that the chocolate cake was the most delicious out of all of the options.

The three best words there, I think we can all agree, are ‘cake’, ‘chocolate’ and ‘delicious’. At the moment, while there’s nothing technically wrong here, those words are a little lost. Our hacky human brains might therefore jump over them, in our rush to skip to the end.

What might work better?

Most delicious, reported participants, was the chocolate cake.

The chocolate cake was reported to be the most delicious.

Chocolate was found to be the best flavour.

There is no one right answer. When you’re faced with a sentence like this, play around. Is ‘best flavour’ a more impactful way of saying ‘the most delicious’? Several needless words were omitted in the edited versions. Which sounds best to your ear?

Keep an ear (or two) out for those unnecessary filler words.

Photo by Kyle Smith on Unsplash

7. Employ PGPR

If all this sounds like far too much hard work, just get in touch with PGPR via the form below. We’ll be happy to help your writing be the best it can be.

How transcription works with PGPR

If you’re a qualitative researcher, the chances are you will be conducting interviews. This means that at some point, all that lovely data will have to be transformed from audio files into documents that you can annotate and analyse.

Of course, in an ideal world, we would all transcribe our own interviews as it does get us that step closer to the data. In the real world, however, researchers often don’t have time for this laborious job. If you’re trying to recruit participants and work on your analysis whilst also looking after a family and working in a part-time job, the thought of sitting hunched over Word and VLC for days at a time trying to work out whether a participant said ‘pathology’ or ‘potatoes’ might be enough to make you weep.

Is transcription making you want to tear your hair out?

Photo by ahmad gunnaivi on Unsplash

Well, fear not, because PGPR now offers transcription alongside proof-reading and feedback. In this blog, we’ll explain exactly what happens if you decide to use PGPR to transcribe your precious data.

Step one… send us your audio file

We use the secure service Tresorit to transfer files. Tresorit is based in Switzerland and is one of the most secure services of its kind. All files are encrypted at source and the company has no way of accessing documents you upload or send through their service. They take security and GDPR compliance seriously, meaning your precious data is safe. You can send files of up to 5GB in this way.

You upload your file to Tresorit and send it to us. We will ensure that the link gets to the team member who is transcribing your audio. They will then download the file.

We guard your data carefully

Photo by Liam Tucker on Unsplash

Step two… we transcribe the data

Since our team members are either qualitative researchers themselves or are editors who specialise in working on qualitative pieces, we understand how important it is to get every word and line of your interview exactly right. If you want, we can include hesitations, repetitions, ums and ahs, laughter and sighs. We can also anonymise all identifying data, such as names or locations, as we work.

Transcription is serious business

Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

Step three… we check that our work is accurate

We always listen to your interview twice over to ensure that our transcription is both accurate and thorough.

Step four… we send the interview back to you

Once the transcript is ready, we will password protect it and email the document back to you. You will then receive a text message from Layla or Johanna telling you what the password for your interview is. In this way, we are ensuring security. We can send your work back within 24 hours, 48 hours or five working days from the time you sent it to us.

That feeling you get when you don’t have to worry about transcribing your interviews…

Photo by Fernando Brasil on Unsplash

Step five… we delete your audio file

Again, this ensures that your confidential data doesn’t make it into the wrong hands.

If you’d like to use our transcription service, just get in touch via the form below, we’ll be happy to help.

How to sail through your postgrad viva

It seems like only five minutes ago that you were a trembling new student, going along to your first supervisory meeting with your knees knocking. But somehow, through a flurry of ethics reviews, recruitment and analysis, plus some blood, sweat and sobs… here you are. Your thesis is submitted, you’ve selected your examiners and the final hurdle is in sight.

The postgrad viva voce is truly a rite of passage. For those who don’t know, this is the final exam for a postgrad project. It takes different forms in different countries. For example, in the US doctoral defense, the supervisory committee also grill the student. In the European system, students have to defend their work in front of a public audience. Here in the UK, the viva involves sitting in a room with two examiners (one from the candidate’s university and one from another institution) for two, three, four or more hours, answering questions about your thesis.


It’s normal to feel nervous before your viva
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Most students feel nervous about their vivas. However, if handled correctly, they can be a fulfilling, rather than frightening, experience.

1. Take a break from the thesis

This is an important first step. Once you’ve had that thesis bound and put the obligatory smiling selfies on Instagram, put it down and don’t look at it for a few weeks. For a start, you deserve a break. But just as importantly, giving yourself space from your masterpiece will allow you to look at it with fresh eyes, so that you can spot areas to be discussed more easily. I’d also suggest using this downtime to buy yourself a lovely notebook that you can use for your prep. After all, stationery that makes your heart sing is never a bad thing.

2. Start by thinking about your strengths

…And why not? After all, you’ve written an entire thesis. This is amazing! If you start this process by remembering what you love about your research, that will set you up for a happier viva. What are the strongest findings of your thesis? Which aspects make you feel proud? Can you summarise the thesis in 300 words or so? Write all these points down in your notebook and get ready to shout them to the rooftops.


You wrote a thesis? That’s worth celebrating
Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

3. And then think about the challenges

The next step is to use those newly objective eyes to look for any weaknesses in the thesis. There almost certainly will be some, and that’s just fine. The point of a viva is not to prove that you’ve conducted a perfect series of studies; if such a thing were possible, we wouldn’t need peer-review. You’ll be better off demonstrating that you’re aware of things you might do differently next time, or which you might be able to address in your amendments. Write your ideas down in your notebook, along with some thoughts about challenges you overcame during the research. Additionally, if there are any theoretical areas you’re shaky on, re-read the literature and try explaining those concepts to other people.

4. Think about your examiners

You should already know your examiners and their work by this point. It’s important to remember that, while those examiners will (hopefully!) be as fair as they can be, vivas are run by humans and are therefore a subjective experience. Try to get inside the heads of your examiners by reading their publications. How does their work interact with yours? Can you think of what these particular people might want to ask you about your research?


Your examiners will have their own take on your thesis. Can you try to predict what that might be?
Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

5. Think about questions you might be asked

In addition to the list of questions the examiners might ask, re-read your thesis and think about the questions anyone would ask. Make lists of those questions. Write down your answers. If there’s anything you’re unsure about, make another list (who doesn’t love a good list?) and book in a time to talk those areas through with your supervisor, who is there to support you. If you’ve had any papers published from your thesis, think about the points your reviewers made. Might those points come up again?  

6. Keep reading

Yep, there’s a lot of reading involved in viva prep. Once you’ve finished re-reading the thesis, you might also want to re-read the papers you cite most often. Plus, when did you write your lit review? It might have been a couple of years ago now. Have a look on Google Scholar and see if there are any papers which have come out since then that you need to know about for the big day.


As a postgrad, the reading never stops
Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

7. Practice, practice, practice

One of the things many postgrad students feel most nervous about – especially here in the socially awkward UK – is having to say their ideas out loud, rather than being able to hide behind the safety of a keyboard. The best way to beat those nerves is to practice. You might feel a bit silly, but ask your supervisor, friends, mum, partner, even your pet parrot to quiz you. Try explaining your ideas to people who don’t know anything about your subject. If they understand you, anyone will. The more you do this, the more confident you will feel, and the higher the chance that you might actually enjoy the viva. Trust me, unbelievable as that might feel from this side of the event, many people report genuinely enjoying this experience. After all, you’re getting to talk about your passion, the thing you know more about than anyone else in the world, to two experts you’ve hand-picked. This could be the stuff dreams are made of! 


What do Dr Beaky and her colleagues think about your epistemology?
Photo by Sid Balachandran on Unsplash

8. Book a Skype session with PGPR

We offer hour-long video chat sessions which are perfect for students who are about to take their viva. While we obviously can’t read your entire thesis and quiz you on it, we will spend an hour looking at your notes and ideas beforehand. We can then talk through any concerns and worries you have, ask you some practice questions, and give you some friendly support. Get in touch via the form below to book your session.

Three challenges dyslexic post-grad students may face – and how PGPR can help

Written by PGPR admin assistant Layla

Did you know that around five per cent of university students in the UK are dyslexic?

Dyslexic students can struggle with things other students may take for granted, such as understanding textbook materials, spelling and grammar, note-taking, and organising and expressing their ideas on paper.

Undertaking a PhD is a big commitment and a lot of work. If you’re a PhD student with dyslexia, this can make things all the more difficult.

However, with the right support in place, it can also be a rewarding experience that not only looks great on your CV but can enhance your future career prospects.

Here are three challenges that PhD students with dyslexia might face and ways that PGPR can help:

  • Spelling and grammar

The standard of writing expected from a PhD is high. If you are a dyslexic student, you might find negative comments or feedback in this area demotivating, especially when you have spent hours diligently checking your finished paper. Text-to-speech software and grammar checkers can be useful for common spelling and grammatical errors, but quite often they miss details that can only be spotted by an eagle-eyed professional proof-reader.

Our basic proof-reading service is designed to spot those typos and punctuation errors, checking each line, suggesting alternative word choices and highlighting areas of text that are difficult to understand. You get two copies of your work back – one clean edit and one tracked, so you can easily and quickly spot what changes have been made.

PGPR can help you put the right letters together

Photo by John Jennings on Unsplash
  • Organising your ideas

Being able to manage your time effectively whilst working on a PhD is essential. Many dyslexic students can find it difficult to organise their thoughts on paper or find they need to spend longer re-reading academic texts to ensure they fully understand what is being discussed.

It is easy to become overwhelmed with the workload involved in a PhD even with additional support from your university. PGPR’s feedback service can help you to successfully organise your ideas so they are the best they can be.

One of the team will go through your work and provide expert advice and feedback to help improve your structure, methodology, findings and discussion sections. We also offer a service that combines basic proof-reading with feedback for students who feel their English or academic writing skills could use an extra boost.

Feeling overwhelmed? We can help

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash
  • Lack of visible support

Students with dyslexia often comment on how their experiences of studying at a post-grad level are vastly different from an undergraduate degree.

Universities often have a good support system in place for undergraduates, such as extra time for exams or a project deadline, trained on-site support staff and specialist equipment to help dyslexic students. Embarking on a PhD, however, means a lot of working on your own, and getting extra time to plan or write your thesis can be difficult.

If you feel that you need more support, consider discussing this with your supervisor. Many supervisors will be able to work with you on a plan to guide you through your PhD. Others may be dyslexic themselves or have previously worked with dyslexic students.

You may also benefit from PGPR’s popular one-to-one Skype sessions, which are designed to allow you to discuss your work with one of our experts. These one-off or regular sessions provide support, guidance and deeper insight into your work and can help assuage any worries or fears you may be experiencing.

Everyone needs a helping hand from time to time

Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash

Get in touch with The Post-Graduate Proof-Reader

The team at PGPR offer a wide range of services designed to help you achieve your personal best. Whether you need your lecture notes transcribed into a clear and readable format in a dyslexia-friendly font, or a dry-run of your ground-breaking presentation via Skype to help you practise speaking in public, we are here to help.

There are also unlimited resources for students with dyslexia online. Some of our favourites include The British Dyslexia Association and The International Dyslexia Association.

Still not sure if we can help you? Get in touch and let us know the details, and we will do our best to support you in your studies.

Six steps to the perfect discussion section

You’ve passed ethics, recruited participants, collected your data, analysed and written up your findings – phew! What a marathon. The hard work is basically over, right?

Well, sadly not, because there is one more hurdle to jump; the dreaded discussion section.

This is where you compare your work to the existing literature. Sounds simple, but this can be the hardest chapter to write. I have a theory (entirely untested, I should point out) that these chapters are especially hard for women, who have generally been socialised not to brag about their achievements, something you definitely need to do here.

Read on for six tips on how to leap over this final hurdle and write a devastating discussion.

1. Read around your findings

You will already have done plenty of reading for your lit review, but before you start writing, do some more, especially if you are doing qualitative work. In quantitative research, you shouldn’t discuss any papers you haven’t already bought up in your intro, but this is not the case for qualitative explorations, where the researcher will have been expecting the unexpected. Now that you have your unexpected findings, search for similar papers and make notes on the relevant points.

I find it helpful to start a new document listing each of my key findings, and to make notes of any existing findings which confirm, contradict or add to my own, along with a note of which paper the new findings have come from. Include the key findings from the key papers from your intro or lit review on this list as well. You might want to highlight findings which back yours up in one colour and those which don’t in another. This list document comes in really handy once you start to write.

Immerse yourself in the relevant reading

Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

Look for work from the same or similar methodologies to you, as well as work from other areas. Find and read papers that are cited in useful studies.

Top tip: if your university doesn’t have access to a paper you need, email the author, or look for them on ResearchGate or Twitter. They will probably be happy to share their work with you. (I am always happy to share my papers, just get in touch via the form below to ask.)

2. Think about format

The format of your discussion section should mirror that of your findings. This helps your reader to logically follow your train of thought; especially vital if your reader is a PhD examiner, for whom you want to make life as easy as possible.

Start with your first finding. Briefly recap it. A common problem I see with PGPR clients is that they spend too much time reminding the reader of findings. The findings chapter is the one before the discussion; try to trust that your work is interesting enough that the reader won’t have forgotten it already.

Think carefully about your format before you start writing
Photo by The Creative Exchange on Unsplash

Here is an example of a recap from a discussion section in my PhD, which was about the experience of living with and being treated for renal failure:

Seven of the participants talked about the impact that ill health made on their lives. Some found that ill health was a wearing intrusion, dragging them down and restricting them. Others had found ways to come to terms with living with their chronic conditions.

Following this, you might want write a brief summary of the existing literature, after which you can start comparing your work to what’s out there already.

3. Look for areas where your research confirms other findings

The next step is to demonstrate how your findings concur with existing work (if they do). This is where the list document you made earlier will come in useful. Look for findings that are similar to yours and tell the reader about those similarities. If you don’t have anything on your document which backs up your findings, have another look, just to be sure. However, don’t force similarities if they’re not there.


How similar does your work look to existing work?

Photo by Chan on Unsplash

4. Look for areas where your research builds on existing work

This step is similar to the previous one but can be trickier. Your work might appear to contradict existing work. Novice researchers may panic that this means their findings are ‘wrong’. However, is there a reason your findings are different from Professor Big-Brain’s? Did you speak to different participants? Has the political climate shifted? Perhaps participants reacted differently to you – an Asian female – than to Professor Big-Brain – a white male. If further research would be beneficial, point that out.

Perhaps your findings add a new dimension to a model or set of guidelines. If so, clearly demonstrate this and give yourself a gold star.

You might have an entirely novel finding – something no-one has found before. Again, check the literature carefully so that you can be confident you’ve not missed anything, but if so, use clear language to tell your reader that you have found something new and important. Don’t be shy about this! These are the kinds of findings you might include in bullet points about ‘what this adds to existing research’ when you’re submitting papers for publication.


Don’t let your brilliant new ideas sink without trace  

Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

5. Think carefully about what your reader needs to know

PGPR clients’ discussion sections are often overly long. We don’t need every detail of the papers you’re comparing your work to. Consider your examiners or the reviewers of your paper as you write. These people tend to be overworked as it is – and reviewing/thesis examination is extra work which they have to fit into their busy day. Do they really need to know exactly how many people Dr Finickity interviewed, or do they just need to know what those participants experienced?

Here is another example from my PhD, demonstrating a succinct comparison:

Several participants talked about a loss of freedom via the restrictions placed on them by their illness, either in terms of being too fatigued to live life to the full, or in terms of more practical concerns such as diet restrictions. Authors of previous qualitative work on ill-health have found similar themes. The restricting impact of ill health in terms of both social life and diet spoken about by Charlotte is reflected in findings by King et al. (2002), in which dietary restrictions and ill health were both found to have a major impact on the diabetic renal patients.

6. Ask PGPR for feedback

Discussion sections are difficult – but the PGPR team has plenty of experience writing, marking and examining these chapters. We are happy to offer feedback on how to get your discussion chapter just right, so fill in the form below if you would like some extra support.

Five tips for looking after your mental health as a postgrad


Postgraduate work is rewarding and can advance your career. But it can also be hard, lonely and scary. When your brain is full of ethics forms, analysis and recruitment, it can be hard to take care of yourself. Looking after your mental health is always essential but is especially important when you’re so busy you feel you don’t have the time. As the Zen proverb says:

‘You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour’.

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

Here are five tips for maintaining your sanity while completing your master’s or PhD.

1. Fight isolation

Postgrad work is often groundbreaking. This is exciting, of course. But the problem with breaking new ground is that there might not be anyone else breaking that ground with you. This means you can end up feeling isolated.

Is there anyone else at your university doing similar research to you? If so, drop them an email, see if they fancy lunch. If not, have a look online for groups of people doing similar work to you. Lots of PGPR clients are conducting qualitative research using interpretative phenomenological analysis; if you’re one of those people, check out the IPA groups.io gang, which is a supportive place to ask questions and make contacts. Despite its reputation for being toxic, Twitter can also be a friendly space for academics. You might want to start out by following @AcademicChatter, @PhDVoice and PGPR’s account @DrJohannaSpiers for some interesting online conversations.


Postgrad work can be lonely
Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

 

2. Take breaks

When you’re drowning in deadlines, it can feel tempting to keep working on into the night, only stopping to cram crisps into your mouth every now and then. But we all know this is a bad idea, right?

Make sure you work regular breaks into your days. Does your uni have a gym? Go for a yoga class or a game of squash. Are you working from home? Go outside, sit in the sun, read a chapter of a novel. Is it Sunday and you’ve been working for 15 days straight? Stop it! Watch some Ozark and put your feet up. You’ll feel much better, and you’ll be more productive when you do get back to your desk.

3. Ask for support if you need it

There’s no escaping it; doing a master’s or a PhD is tough. You’re leading your own research, which is unpredictable and has many elements outside of your control. You’re probably skint. You’re watching your friends and family fill their evenings with fun while you’re conducting analysis and writing discussion sections. And you might be juggling family responsibilities while doing all this. If you need help, ask for it. Many universities have free counselling services which are quick to access. Your personal tutor is there for you to talk to. Asking for help is a sign of strength, so don’t be scared to reach out.


We all need a helping hand from time to time
Photo by youssef naddam on Unsplash

4. Celebrate the wins

If you’ve read this far, you might be forgiven for thinking postgrad work is nothing but doom and gloom. However, there are many triumphs along the way: getting accepted onto the course, passing your status upgrade, getting ethics approval, recruiting your first participants, writing your first paper, presenting at your first conference. These are all amazing achievements – remember to enjoy them!


Celebrate your postgrad wins whenever you can
Photo by Ambreen Hasan on Unsplash

5. Contact PGPR for extra help

If you’re feeling stuck with spelling, tense about tenses or grouchy over grammar as you’re writing up your findings, get in touch for proof-reading help. We can also offer written and video-based feedback for qualitative social science work or help with your interview schedules and conference presentations. Just fill in the form below to find out more.

How writing can help your qualitative analysis

By PGPR team member Elly Phillips

You’re committed to completing a rigorous, thorough and well-developed analysis. You’ve collected your data and spent hours immersing yourself in coding and organising your codes into themes. When are you ready to start writing up?


When is the best time to start writing?
Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pixabay

How final is the final report?

It’s useful to address the perception of qualitative research as a linear process with writing up as the conclusion. If you follow this model, you may be reluctant to move on until you’re sure your codes are ‘finished’. Perhaps that idea comes from quantitative research, where you analyse your data then write up your report to present to others. Based on this, your concerns might be mostly about judging when you’re ‘ready’ to move onto writing.

Writing as a process

Instead, consider writing as an integral part of continuing your analysis. The use of writing as an analysis tool crops up across social sciences and qualitative methods. You might have read about memo-writing in grounded theory, for instance. Hermeneutic psychology writers have suggested writing should be an integral part of developing an analysis.

In this vision, the writing is less about reporting your fully formed ideas and more about refining your thinking, ideas and arguments about your data. Codes only capture a small part of your thinking and don’t allow you to explain or explore. As you write, you can capture and develop initially nebulous ideas about your work.

How does writing help?

Initially, writing can be for yourself. You can test your arguments and reasoning. You might start setting down your analytic claims about your data. How did you make sense of the participants’ words? Which parts of the text do you think were particularly relevant? These don’t have to be final ideas, but they can help you decide what might be useful.

Writing can also help you get feedback from others. A narrative with quotes, analytic commentary and overarching comments communicates your ideas with more depth than code names or standalone quotes. A written account helps an outsider understand the reasoning that took you from data to themes and how you’re interpreting the data.


Sharing your ideas
Photo by Startupstockphotos via Pixabay

A short, written analysis example can reassure your supervisor that you’re engaging in a thorough analysis. They will then be able to see your work’s structure, content and analysis style, which can be vital to ensure you’re creating a well-developed piece of analysis.

What to write?

There are many options for when to write and how much. Personally, I like to write often, even if many of those narratives only collect virtual cobwebs on my laptop (I always believe I’ll use them one day). You can write a brief reflection on each interview and after transcription. You might want to write up some key themes from one transcript, explain what you think is important about a small group of quotes, or write a full analysis of each participant’s account.

Strange things happen when you write. Despite rigorous attention to coding, our analytic ideas can prove frustratingly slippery when we try to explain them. You might find that some themes develop beyond their original scope as you find more to say about them. Others may turn out to be uninteresting once you start writing. Either situation should nudge you to return to your data and see what was happening (moving back around the hermeneutic circle). Are there multiple ideas within one initial code that might benefit from more thought? Are there other parts of the data that might elaborate your ideas and develop those dull themes? If you encounter these questions early, it’s an exciting way to advance your analysis.

How can PGPR help


We can help you take the plunge
Image by Anja via Pixabay

If you’re unsure or reluctant to take the plunge, we can help. A Skype session might help make decisions about writing. If your supervisor can’t review all your developing ideas, you can ask for feedback from our team. We can review early drafts and help you refine and focus further analysis.

Starting to write and explain your ideas is an exciting time in your research. Take the plunge to see where it can take you.

What you can expect from PGPR’s different levels of service

If you’re reading this blog, you’re either a PGPR client or you’re thinking about becoming one. Either way – welcome! We hope we’ll get the chance to read some of your research soon.

We offer four levels of service here at PGPR. This is a blog to explain what you’ll get when you book each of those services.

1. Basic proof-reading

First and foremost, proof-reading is about ensuring that your spelling and grammar are correct. You probably realised that, but PGPR proof-readers also look out for and help you with more than just those factors. Those extra areas include:

  • Tightening your writing by cutting down overly long sentences
  • Clarifying confusing text
  • Ensuring consistency of formatting, terminology, punctuation and so on
  • Checking your in-text references and, for a small extra charge, your reference list

We’ll amend your piece using Word’s track changes feature and send you back two copies: one with the changes still marked and one clean copy. It might be that we also include some comments to ensure we haven’t changed your meaning or that you agree with any suggested re-formatting.


The PGPR team really love reading

Photo by Seven Shooter on Unsplash

Who should use our basic proof-reading service? Clients who are happy with the structure and meaning of their work, but who struggle with English or academic writing.


Read more about why you should work with a proof-reader here.  

2. Feedback only

The PGPR team includes a wealth of qualitative experts. As such, we can offer feedback on your structure, methodology, findings and discussion sections. We might ask whether you could dig a bit deeper with a certain interpretation, or if you can find links between certain themes. We may also suggest papers which would be useful to read, point out methodological errors or highlight sections of your thesis which your examiners might question you about.

We can also offer feedback on earlier stages of analysis, such as tables of themes or transcripts. It might be helpful for you to consider a Skype session with one of our experts if you’re at this earlier stage – more on those below.

If you book feedback only, you’ll get a single copy of your work back, marked up with helpful comments from one of our team. Read more about our brilliant team here.


The PGPR team will tell you what’s working and what needs more polishing

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Who should use our feedback only service? If you are confident that your writing is strong, but you feel less sure about whether your analysis or methodology are as robust as they can be, this is the service for you.

3. Proof-reading plus feedback

This is our deluxe service and is fairly self-explanatory! If you book this service, we’ll combine all the elements of basic proof-reading and feedback. This means you’ll get two copies of your work back: one with the tracked changes still there for you to look at and one clean copy. Both copies will include the feedback comments.


PGPR clients are great; we genuinely enjoy giving you feedback
 
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Who should book proof-reading plus feedback? If you’re feeling unsure about your English or academic writing skills and need some extra assistant with your analysis, book this service.

4. Video consultations

The PGPR team now offers video consultations for its qualitative clients. These are an ideal opportunity to talk through difficulties you’re having at any stage of your research project with one of our team of experts.

Once you’ve booked a session and been paired with a team member, you can send some examples of your work for your expert to look over. They will then spend up to an hour discussing the work with you via a video chat. Note it’s fine to turn the video function off if you feel shy – you’ll still be able to hear our advice and questions.

You can read more about the benefits of our video consultations here.


Use one of our friendly Skype sessions to steer you in the right direction
 
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Who should book a video consultation? Anyone who is feeling stuck with any stage of their qualitative research project.

If any of these services sound like they might be helpful for you, get in touch via the form below and have a chat with us about what we can offer.

How a PGPR video consultation can help you with your qualitative analysis

Would talking with a friendly qualitative expert help you to move past hurdles in your project?
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Feeling stuck

There are times in any research student’s experience where they lose a sense of direction or need some reassurance. We all sometimes feel stuck! Unfortunately, students don’t always get the support they need or want from their research supervisors (we’re not blaming supervisors as many are often over-stretched and under pressure). This can sometimes mean students need help in:

  • Formulating a concise qualitative research question
  • Figuring out which qualitative method would fit the best with the research question
  • Understanding if their interview schedule will elicit the best qualitative data
  • Getting feedback on a table of themes to see if the analysis is appropriately in-depth
  • Advice about their project from an independent qualitative expert
  • Thinking through what they might say at a viva to defend their project

Maximising the focus of your precious time

Many postgraduate students work long, solitary hours on their projects, and for some, these hours are undertaken after the ‘day job’ or while juggling other commitments. Time is a precious commodity and it is frustrating to not have a clear sense of direction when a few hours have been carved out.  For full-time students, the single focus of the research programme can be overwhelming, to the point where students ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’. Does any of this sound familiar?


At times students struggle to find a clear way forwards with their research
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Moving forwards

Sometimes, having a human-to-human conversation can be a much-needed antidote to needling concerns, unanswered questions, and, at times, a sense of isolation for postgraduate students. Having someone encourage, give direction, affirm and offer insight into an element that has been problematic can pave the way for a more productive way forwards.

We’ve been there! Our experienced team have empathy for postgrad students and recognise that sometimes you just need to have a helping hand. This is why we now offer one-on-one video consultations with our qualitative experts. Our team appreciates how important timely supportive and empathic feedback is, and we work hard to make our time with you as productive and helpful as possible. And we’re friendly!

Here’s how it works

You contact us and tell us a little more about what you need. If a video consultation seems like a great fit, we’ll arrange for a mutually convenient time for you to talk with one of our team. They will spend an hour in preparation for the session reading your work, so you might want to send material relevant to your discussion beforehand; although do bear in mind that we can’t read an entire thesis in an hour. You might also give some thought to the main aims you’d like to achieve in the hour of talk-time. Then we’ll contact you and talk with you for an hour, based on the agreed session outline.

Previous students who have engaged with our video consultations have really appreciated them:

I would say what helped me the most was just having a discussion with you as it was absolutely paramount in building my confidence. I felt more confident going into the viva and definitely answered the questions with a lot more conviction. So again, I just want to thank you for all your help! (PhD student)

So, if your project needs an injection of human-to-human discussion, please get in touch via the form below. Sometimes a little support is all it takes for your project to take flight again.

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Top tips for formal academic writing

The world of academic writing can be a terrifying place, full of tricky rules and customs. If you’re a student working on an essay, thesis or paper, you might have been told that the writing you’ve poured your heart and soul into is too informal. This vague bit of feedback isn’t much use on its own. But fear not, the Post-Graduate Proof-Reader is here to remove the mystery with some tips which will allow your words to rub shoulders with the greats.

You don’t have to be scared of academic writing any more!

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  • No abbreviations

You may find you’re using more shorthand than you realise. You’re sadly unlikely to be encouraging your readers to BYOB to your essay – but you may well be using eg, ie or etc. These are not good academic language, so always make the following substitutions:

eg = for example

ie = such as

etc = and so on

The only exception to this is acronyms. If you’ve defined a term with an acronym the first time you use it, use that acronym each subsequent time. For example: In this thesis, I have used interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA). Smith devised IPA in the mid-90s…

  • Hedging your bets

Research is a tentative world. Experiments are flawed. Some results are replicated, others are disproven. When you’re analysing qualitative data, there is often room for another interpretation. As such, it can be hard to know when you can confidently state that such-and-such a finding is bona fide or when you should be more cautious.

Think about your subject matter, as this will help you decide on your tone of voice. Let’s look at an example from some hypothetical qualitative findings. If a participant you’ve named Emma says:

I finally had to accept that I needed dialysis, and that made me really depressed

you can afford to be bold in how you phrase your interpretation. You don’t need to say ‘It appeared that the thought of dialysis distressed Emma’; she’s telling you in clear and unambiguous language that she was depressed, so it’s fine to state that as a fact.

However, Emma might go on to say:

Although the ward was chaotic, the only company I had was the bleeping of the machines

This is more ambiguous, so reflect that by saying ‘it seems Emma felt isolated.’ You can apply the same logic to the rest of your paper; if an existing finding or theory is uncontroversial, report it as so. Hedge your bets with anything more ambiguous.

Be cautious when describing ambiguous findings – or you could fall into dangerous territory!

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  • ‘The model states…’ – or does it?

Remember that models, papers, theories and chapters are not sentient and cannot suggest, confirm or deny anything themselves. It is always the people who wrote or created those ideas who have the agency.

For example, ‘a recent paper agrees’ is not right, whereas ‘the authors of a recent paper agree’ is. ‘The ANOVA demonstrated’ is not right, whereas ‘our use of ANOVA demonstrated’ is.

This can be a hard one to get right but keep trying and it will become second nature. This article on the issue from Walden University is helpful if you want to read more about this.

*Note that in APA 7, the rules on anthropomorphism, as this rule is known, have relaxed. Check out our blog to read more about this.

  • Humanising language

It’s important for all academics – and especially psychologists – to use language in a way that is respectful of people and mindful of diversity. For example, rather than the unwieldy ‘he or she’, use ‘they’, which is not only neater but also makes space for people who identify as non-binary.

Always state a person’s humanity before other identifying factors, especially factors which might be stigmatising. So rather than ‘HIV patient’, you should say ‘person living with HIV’. ‘Participants’ is a better word than either ‘subjects’ or ‘patients’ as it implies an active rather than a passive stance.

Not only is language like this better for humanity, it is also in line with British Psychological Society (BPS) guidelines and the standards of most journals where you might be sending your work.


Share the love by using language which puts people first

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  • Hire PGPR

If all this feels like far too much like hard work, don’t worry – just get in touch with us via the form below, and we can do all the heavy lifting for you.