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BEGINNING YOUR WRITE-UP
- Make sure you know what reference style (APA, Chicago, MLA, AMA etc.) you are required to use. Make yourself completely familiar with that style's most common characteristics.
- Keep track of all references, even if you think you might remove them later. One of an editor's biggest headaches is identifying citations that have no corresponding reference. We can edit them into the style if they are there, but we can't do anything if they are absent.
- Use style and other reference manuals (dictionaries, thesaurus, etc.) liberally. Microsoft Word's thesaurus function won't always give you the best word. If you're unsure about what word you need, mark it and then look it up later if need be. But look it up.
- You will have a lot of irrelevant ideas, many of which you might have to remove from your dissertation or thesis. Many of them will be interesting and might be the seeds of later papers or research. Write them down on a piece of paper and keep them in a folder that you can refer to. It might sound silly, but writing them down physically on a piece of paper really does get them out of your head and into a secure place where your brain knows you can find it, and then your brain will abandon thoughts of that idea and focus on what you should be doing at the moment. It really does work.
- Be aware of other formatting issues, such as margins, tables, figures, etc. If the School of Graduate Studies or your department has specific guidelines, find out what they are and familiarise yourself with them before you start your write-up. You could, for example, read them after a day of crunching data, or after a morning's interview. What you are aiming for is having that information branded into your brain so that it becomes second nature. Then, when you get to writing up, you will know how your dissertation or thesis is supposed to look on paper.
- As part of being aware of formatting issues, make sure that you know how to use Word's formatting styles. We don't like to use them too soon, since they can mess up your document when you are still figuring it out and editing and revising, etc. But you can identify the sections of your document that are table-of-content entries, first- or second-order headings, etc., so that when your content has been approved, you can go through and code all the important items. Otherwise, you will end up with sentences that become headings, tables that are incorrectly captioned, stray items in the table of contents, page numbers that don't correspond to the table of contents, etc. When writing, keep it plain and simple. Formatting is best done once you have all the content.
You can use reference management software, like Zotero (free) or EndNote (expensive, but offers a free 30-day trial). These are generally easy to use and are extremely useful. They will help you keep track of your references, without you having to type in all the information every time, and they will put your references into the correct format for your style.
As part of keeping track of your references, keep track of all your citations. If you have quotations, include the page numbers. It saves you the trouble of having to look for them later. Just get them into your document; you can tidy them up later.