tightening up your sentences – cut the bloat | pat thomson

We all know what bloat is. If something is bloated it is swollen, puffed up, flabby, distended, enlarged. Right now, we probably associate bloat with eating too much over the festive season. But bloat also happens in academic writing.

A lot of academic writing is on the bloated side. You can pick up almost any academic journal and find papers where whole paragraphs are stuffed to the gills with excess phrases and words. Of course, academic writing is not the only kind of writing that suffers from word-inflation. Legal and bureaucratic writing over-indulges in the same wordy overkill as some…

Continue reading at:



writing the thesis – work, moves and structure | pat thomson

Before you start to wrestle your material into a thesis structure, it’s helpful to consider the work that the thesis has to do, and the moves that ensure the work is done. Once you understand the work and the moves, you can think more strategically about the thesis structure.

The thesis work

The thesis, like any piece of academic writing, has work to do. The thesis has to convince the examiner that you have chosen a do-able and worthwhile research project. It has to satisfy the examiner that you can explain what you did and why. It has to assure the examiner that you know and have…

Continue reading at:


and now, a new year | pat thomson

I don’t make resolutions for new year. I do however always make myself a reminder about what’s important in an academic life. The reminder is usually a quotation that I’ve found during the year, something I want to think about and perhaps use later.

The quotes are on sticky notes I keep on my desk top. In the week between Christmas and New Year I review the year’s sticky notes. I find something that resonates, then I print it out and put it next to my computer.

A lot of my sticky note quotations are about writing and scholarly practice. But some, like this year’s choice, stem from the…

Continue reading at:


eek, it’s nearly 2018 | pat thomson

Patter has had a busy year, as a few basic stats will show. Patter started in July 2011. And this, dear reader, is the 705th post. Patter has published two posts a week for most of 2017, with a few more during Tate Summer School and one less during this seasonal extra-mini-break. As each post is about a thousand words and I write most of the posts, I guestimate that’s about 700,000 words in six and a half years. More than a book a year in blog posts.

My most popular post ever is that on aims and objectives. The post that got the most views in one day was this year’s how an examiner reads a…

Continue reading at:


exit via the gift shop | pat thomson

What do you give an academic during gift-giving season?  Well I can’t tell you what to do of course, but as a guide to the generous, here’s a list of a few writing-related books that I would put in someone’s back pocket.

For the new researcher: a classic that never fails to deliver, Howard Becker’s Writing for Social Scientists. How to Start and Finish your Thesis, Book or Article. Second Edition (1986)

For the rhetorically insecure: complete with explanations and models to follow: not new, but worth having, Graff and Birkenstein’s They Say, I Say. The Moves that Matter in Academic…

Continue reading at:


the viva and the supervisors | pat thomson

Last week I reached thirty two. Thirty two doctoral researchers who successfully defended their research. Thirty two Doctors let loose on the world.

And two things are now on my mind. Not thirty two. Just two.

The first thing I’m thinking about is how heavily the viva weighs on me as a supervisor – not nearly as much as it does the doctoral candidate for sure, but viva-time is still a pretty anxious period. This is not because professional doctorate and PhD ‘successes’ are now counted and audited in the university, although I dare say I could get worried about that if I chose to. No,…

Continue reading at:


can I cite a blog post? | pat thomson

Some people still tell their doctoral researchers that they can’t cite blogs. Really? Yes really.

Just to start with …  of course you CAN cite blogs. The fact that all of the big citation styles – APA for instance – now have citation formats which not only cover newspapers and reports and webpages but also blogs clearly suggests that you CAN. And that people are.

But why would you? The most helpful analogy for referring to blogs is to think about what are called grey literatures, those documents that are public and important and sometimes highly influential – but have not been through a…

Continue reading at: