01 The three realms of thinking and writing
First of all, some people think that writing an essay is just a matter of putting into words the ideas that are already in your mind, and therefore, this part is not important in itself. This is not true. I think there are about three realms of relationship between the ideas in the writer’s mind and the actual written ideas:
One is that the latter is much less important than the former. This is often the case with many people who are just starting to write. Before they start writing, they always think they have thought it through and left nothing out, but when they actually write, they always run into problems of one kind or another. When the writing is finally done, there is little left of that good feeling, because even he himself is not satisfied with the written words.
Secondly, the former is similar to the latter. This type of writer often has a certain period of training in writing and has a strong ability to use words. We generally think that this is the best state for writing, but it is not. The writing of academic papers, especially dissertations, is a creative process in itself, and many innovative ideas are born and expressed precisely in the process of writing.
Thirdly, the latter is much richer than the former. This should be the proper state of dissertation writing. In other words, when you read the written text, you have to find it more exciting than what you originally thought. This is so because it is necessary to have a strong logic to express the ideas in your mind through words.
This logical construction of academic ideas not only allows the original ideas in a potential state to be expressed through the structured form of words, i.e., the ideas complete their own realization, but also allows the logical structure to discover the logical gaps or lack of ideas in the original arrangement of ideas, and then to recreate the academic ideas by filling these gaps.
Fundamentally, the requirement for logical rigor is different when a scholarly idea is in the mind than when it is actually written out. The latter is obviously more demanding.
We have to really concentrate in the process of writing a paper, because only in this way can the creative power of the logical construction of academic ideas be constantly stimulated. The more logically the academic ideas are presented, the more likely the writer is to find problems and shortcomings in the original idea composition. Therefore, it is best to focus on a period of time in which the writer devotes the vast majority of his or her time and energy to writing the dissertation.
We usually say that we get inspired when writing, but in fact it is nothing but the essence of your thoughts that permeate during the process of concentrating on a certain issue over a period of time. Inspiration is not possible without concentration when writing. This inspiration is actually similar to the ability to recreate ideas in the logical constructs we are talking about.
If you are distracted in the process of writing your dissertation, the original academic ideas you have in your mind will not be logically constructed to a very high degree. As a result, you will not be able to recreate ideas, be inspired, and so on.
02 Thesis writing cannot be done behind closed doors
Some people think that the process of writing a dissertation is a “closed door” process and does not require academic communication with the outside world. This is not true. I admit that this view is very popular among some PhD students, especially in the humanities. Some students tend to carry piles of materials into a room and then start writing in “isolation.
Writing a dissertation must be a process of stimulating one’s own academic ideas through communication with peers, not just a process of self-emphasis. For example, for secondary disciplines such as the history of Marxist development and foreign Marxist studies, communication with academic colleagues also includes communication with foreign scholars, because it cannot be denied that the research of foreign scholars in this field is of a certain level.
The authors of dissertations in these research fields should maintain close academic ties with well-known scholars in the domestic and foreign academia, which will not only help you a lot in terms of data collection and problem refinement, but also, and more importantly, your academic ideas will be continuously enhanced through such exchanges.
Therefore, the process of writing your dissertation should be a process of developing the closest academic ties with your peers in the academic community. By the time you finish writing your dissertation, your ability to communicate with others should be significantly better than before.
Only by continuously communicating with scholars holding various views during the dissertation writing process can we deepen our academic views in the collision of ideas and thus achieve the purpose of theoretical innovation. Otherwise, it is easy to fall in the framework of our own views and be complacent without knowing the development of the academic world.
Some people may say that I have already analyzed the research dynamics in the preface of my dissertation, so there is no need for such academic communication during the writing process. This is not the case. This is because the writing of a dissertation often lasts about a year and a half.
And in that year and a half or so, if your topic is indeed a cutting-edge issue, it is bound to present new developments or new academic perspectives. If you do not address these new ideas, the quality of your dissertation will be greatly diminished.
03 The starting point and logic of writing a dissertation
Some people think that the dissertation should be written from the first chapter to the last chapter according to the outline of the dissertation, and that this is the only way to have continuity and logical progression in writing. This is not true.
I think the order of writing a dissertation should be determined by the logical structure of the dissertation itself and the writer’s grasp of the content. If the topic of your dissertation is about the compilation and analysis of a number of representative views of a certain academic school, then it is fine to start writing from any chapter after writing the introduction of your dissertation, because there is no strict logical progression between the various representative views.
For example, if you are studying the various academic schools of Marxist ecological theory abroad, then you only need to sort out and make necessary evaluations of the views of representative figures such as Rice, O’Connor, Foster, and Ben-Agel, and so on, rather than necessarily starting your dissertation from a representative figure. But if you choose a dissertation on the history of the intellectual development of a certain thinker or a certain academic school, then you cannot arbitrarily start writing from a certain stage, otherwise you will not be able to present the logical threads of it.
The point I want to make at this point, however, is that even this kind of research on the history of ideas from the source can be written in a different order. It has to do with how well you grasp the content of your research. If you have a good grasp of what the dissertation is about and what might be innovative, then it is perfectly possible to start writing from the highest point in the development of the history of ideas.
For example, if you have a complete “understanding” of the entire development of Marx’s social-critical theory, then you can start your dissertation from Capital.
You can begin by sorting out the development of Marx’s critical theory of capital during the period of Capital and its manuscripts, and see the connection and difference between his criticism of the logic of capital from the perspective of general fetishism and his criticism of capital from the perspective of its own internal contradictory movement, especially Marx’s deepening of the logic of capital criticism after the Economic Manuscripts of 1861-1863. process.
With a deep grasp of this high point in the history of Marx’s social-critical theory, we can have a perception of both the connections and distinctions between the unfolding process of his theory at the three levels of capitalist commodity exchange relations, labor-management exchange relations, and the production process.
Once we grasp this point, when we then go on to study Marx’s early works such as The Philosophical Manuscripts on Economics of 1844, The Poverty of Philosophy, and The German Ideology, we can have a clearer reading of the premises of his thought and the substance of his theory in each of these periods.
One might argue that this is not suspiciously teleological? It seems that this reading defines all of Marx’s early writings according to the prototype of his later writings. This challenge, while challenging, seems to me to be misplaced. If Marx had been a mere academic at the University of Berlin, it would have been possible to present the randomness of academic thought.
For example, he was influenced by some external factor so that his thought at a certain stage was not logically related to the previous stage, or there was some kind of rupture. But this could not have happened in Marx’s case. For as Engels said in his speech at Marx’s grave, he was first and foremost a revolutionary, and it was his life’s mission to participate in some way in the cause of overthrowing capitalist society and its state apparatus.
It is this that determines that Marx’s academic thought at different times could not be random, but must have gone in the direction of providing the theoretical basis for the scientific socialist movement. Thus, if there was some purpose in the development of Marx’s thought, it was his theoretical purpose. This is the reason why Marxist theory is characterized by the unity of science and value.
In his Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx mentioned that human anatomy is a key for monkey anatomy, and I think this methodological point of view also applies to our thinking about the order of writing in essay writing. The completion of the anatomy of the human body in the history of Marx’s thought will certainly provide a key to the anatomy of the monkey body in the history of this development.
Of course, if you do not fully grasp the content of the thesis, that is, the richness of the “human body” is not yet thoroughly “eaten”, then you can not use this method of writing. If you lack this preliminary research and writing process, you will not be able to truly grasp the essence of the “human body”.
Once you fail to do so, it is impossible to provide a “key” to the anatomy of the “monkey body”. Not only that, but it may also have the opposite effect.
04 Excellent essays are changed
Some people think that when the paper is finished, it is ready to be handed in and does not need further touch-ups and revisions. Some people also provide so-called proof for this view on the grounds that my creative process is not repeatable. This is undesirable. The writing of an academic paper is different from the creation of a literary work. Inspiration or a short period of creative state in the process of creating a literary work is not repeatable, so the revision process may be less important for a literary work like poetry.
However, for academic research, inspiration can only produce ideas, and proving such ideas requires rigorous logical analysis and textual support. Therefore, if a certain academic viewpoint cannot be proven correct or innovative at another point in time, then it can hardly be said to be really an academic viewpoint.
In my opinion, any paper needs to be revised and polished after it has been written. We know that the writing of a paper takes a longer period of time. During this time, you are bound to come up with a different perspective on certain academic issues than you did before, due to increased reading of the text or deeper thinking.
These new perspectives have not had time to be reflected at the beginning of the writing phase in the first place. Moreover, you will also develop a more complete understanding and analysis of certain issues as you advance in your reading logic during the writing process, all of which are important reasons why you must revise your paper carefully.
For example, if your dissertation topic is a critical theory of foreign Marxist ideology, you might focus on unpacking ideas such as ideology as an eternal but necessarily transcendent Other in your reading of Althusser’s theory of ideology. For Althusser, ideology automatically subjugates man to a position of subjection by summoning him as a subject.
As the dissertation writing advances to this stage, you may be impressed with the dominance of ideology. But when you turn to a reading of Zizek’s cynical view of ideology, you are again drawn to a new mechanism of ideological operation, a landscape in which I am going to do that even though I know everything.
You may not pay much attention to the ideological or historical premises of Althusser’s view when you limit yourself to studying it, but if, after studying Zizek’s view of ideology, when you look at Althusser’s related ideas in turn, the scholarly ideas you can capture must be different from those before.
In conclusion, if choosing the right topic for a dissertation is half the prerequisite for success, then we must realize that the other half of success lies precisely in the writing process. We must have a deeper grasp of the science of the writing process, because only then can we truly write an excellent dissertation.