Before we can begin revising your thesis, you must make the decision that you want to revise it. Once you make that step, this process will only need to happen one time, because then you will be working on a well-organized paper, and you will want to keep it well organized. But you should not jump in and just start tidying. Instead, take some time to imagine the life you will have after your thesis is done. This will help to clarify why you are going through this process, and will prevent you from losing focus and going back to bad habits.
The version that you submit will have an acknowledgements section where you say thank you to all of the people who have helped you with this research and writing. I also like to begin our work by thanking your thesis itself for helping you to organize your thinking, develop your ideas, and really be a place where you have lived your life for the last couple of years.
Wow, you’re citing a lot of theorists! You’ve read so much and it really shows! But it does feel a little cluttered. Before you can organize, you must start by discarding. Make a list of all the theoretical frameworks you’re using. Don’t go chapter by chapter. That leads to shuffling things around, as you may remove a citation from the second chapter only to add it to the third. Instead, list all of your theoretical frameworks from the entire thesis, all in one place. If you’re using citation management software, don’t use an automatically generated bibliography for this. You need to list them all yourself so you can touch each one personally. Then, go through the list one by one and ask yourself if each theorist sparks joy. For example, if Foucault no longer sparks joy for you, take a moment to thank him for his service in helping to get your thinking to the point where it is now, and then let him go.
The process has to take place in a specific order. I always tell authors to begin with the theory section because those are the easiest to let go of. After you’ve finished tidying your theory, you can move on to methods, and when you’ve honed your sense of joy finely enough, only then should you start thinking about your findings.
In the discussion section of Chapter 4, it’s hard to see where your argument is going. You should arrange it so you can see all of the ideas at one time, without having to scroll around to see what’s underneath. The next time we meet in person, I will show you my technique for folding each sentence in thirds. This will help you to recognize how much you have and to see better ways of organizing.
It is important for you to begin decluttering on your own. I could never do it for you because I don’t understand your vision as well as you do. As I have worked with students, however, I have come to realize that these are also important occasions for us to come together as a department and spend some time with the ideas that we value. At your defense, I look forward to deepening the connections not just between you and your writing, but between you and your entire committee as well.
Cite as: Anthropology News website. 2019. “How to Spark Joy by Tidying Up Your Thesis.” May 20, 2019. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1174