Back to life…

I’m back home. Sad and happy simultaneously. I loved my writing retreat but by Thursday night I knew I had reached the end point of what I could achieve by the coast without going a bit insane. Not from loneliness, but from tiredness from constantly diving so deep into my literature and then getting annoyed upon finding my literature is all over the shop. Fuzzy structure annoys me and makes me tired.

I have one more week remaining to try and wrangle this thing into some sort of cohesion by Sunday week. After that, it goes to my supervisors for reading. After reading through my introduction, I’m pretty happy with it. I like my narrative chapters. I like my methods chapter, there’s not much more there needing doing. My conclusion is still a bit sucky, but I can probably clean it up in a day. So it’s still the literature and the discussion that needs a bit more work.

I’m trying to follow the instructions of my supervisors, who recommended removing more of the quotes and letting my voice be heard. While I totally understand this, I also get annoyed that I’m told at the same time to substantiate, substantiate, substantiate! Pat Thomson, who is clearly still reading the same blasted thesis she started a week ago, is getting SO annoyed by over explanation, excessive exposition and a shopping list of research studies. I know that it’s important to maintain active voice where possible, but when you are told to signpost for the reader, to not make grandiose statements, and to always make sure your statements are backed up by research, then it’s hard to find authorial voice when these directives are so prevalent. Goddam it.


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Writing retreat huzzah!

After the craziness of last week’s Audition workshop in which I was course leader, it’s great to get away and have a peaceful time here in Noosa, finishing off the PhD. I don’t seem to have much of a sense of urgency about this week, which is weird because already one day is wasted due to travel and general sickness, and another 2 are nearly over already. I guess what I am now seeing is the very last bits of the thesis all slotting into place. I can now see that I need to add a concluding summary section at the end of my literature review that ties up all the loose ends.

I can also now see where there is a gaping great hole of research that I had completely forgotten about. I’m filling it in very fast now, really in my writing element, and writing and editing quickly – and at times, simultaneously. I’m filling and patching and removing and slicing and dicing my text, then reading it all through again to see if it makes sense. The ongoing problem is to ensure all the pieces slot neatly together, so I keep going back to my signposts to see if they are clearly marked. Linking phrases and passages are becoming clearer now, too. Especially if they are absent.

One of the things my precious book “Completing your qualitative dissertation” by Bloomberg and Volpe (2012, Sage) say is that there are steps to presenting your lit review. They are below:

  1. Provide a statement of purpose
  2. identify the topics or bodies of literature
  3. provide the rationale for topics selected
  4. describe your literature review process, report all your literature sources, and identify the keywords used to search the literature
  5. present the review of each topic
  6. present your conceptual framework
  7. provide a brief chapter summary of the literature review and its implications for your study

Sadly, this does not seem to include a “what is not known” element that I am told by my supervisor and others is important – in other words, identifying the gaps that led me to the study. Also, I’m not sure a conceptual framework goes at the back. Or does it? I’ve put mine front and centre, and then again at the back, to link to the literature. In fact, this is the problem of my literature review: I still think it’s a bit all over the place.

Also, I’m not sure point four is really useful unless this is to delimit the search specifically for the benefit of the thesis examiners. One thing I probably need to explain is that I need to limit my search on pedagogical approaches in one-to-one music lessons to SINGERS, not other folk. Because the singing instrument is embodied and mostly internal and singers don’t hear what their audiences hear, plus we’re actually building the instrument at the same time as learning to play it, there’s a lot we have to do regarding simultaneous feedback between singer and teacher.

Anyway, I’m loving the quiet rush of the sea and the occasional sound of the seagulls – which are far less lonely sounding than those English ones. I can see the sea from the balcony and I am deeply, quietly happy about writing. Maybe that’s what I am now. A writer. One of my many identities, at any rate!

I read Anna Goldsworthy’s exquisite biography “Piano Lessons” (2011, Black Inc) this morning. Gulped it down in one enormous rush. Loved it, loved the beautiful, respectful way she wrote about her teacher, the enormously funny, wry commentary on being a child, and her struggle to become a musician. Mostly I love her trying to explain about feeling the music – the architecture, the small bits, the joy, the composers. All through the broken English of her beloved Russian teacher Eleanora Savin. What a joy this relationship reads as! And yet Anna does not resile from asking herself whether she was too dependent on her teacher even as she writes about her improved understanding of the music and how she functions with this woman. Will read it again once my study is out of the way.

And given that I am next to the ocean and have not even gone for a walk, I think now is the time to take a short stroll along the beach before heading out for a bit of food. And then, after dinner, Offspring followed by The Good Wife. Perfect.


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Writing retreat!!!

I’m going on a writing retreat! Yippee!

I’m heading to Noosa for a few days. A one-bedroom apartment by the water on Hastings Street. No excuse for me not to eat well, sleep well, and finish off my discussion chapter. I’ve nearly totally finished one case study, but the problem is I’ve gone well over the word count. Well over. I guess my supervisors, when reading it, can make their assessments of my literature and discussion and whether they think I’m flogging horses unnecessarily, such as in the case of Pat Thomson’s blog post or whether I’m not signposting enough, or whether as a whole it sticks together.

Given I’m deep down in the writing phase again, I can’t actually see what I’m doing from afar, so getting to Noosa is the chance to print out the whole thing and get cracking on those fixes that will remove unnecessary literature or repetitive findings.

At least now all my frontispieces are in place, I’ve followed formatting requirements (except Times New Roman, which is a totally sucky font – who thought that this font which is designed for HEADLINES would be appropriate for the body of the text? And don’t get me started on Arial), my appendices are done and my reference list is looking better and better. If I had to send it in tomorrow, I’d be horrified but I’m almost certain much worse has been submitted.

Currently I’m doing an audition workshop and am teaching all day so I don’t have much time for day study this week, but I have most evenings free. If I can manage to not be exhausted I might actually be able to do some work on this thing.

Writing retreat can’t come round soon enough!


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How oh how do I do this discussion chapter??!!

This week my bete noir is the discussion chapter. I think I’ve found a way through by revisiting those pesky research questions, but the super structure has been eluding me. Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a simple little journal article! A few themes! Findings that sit happily under headers! Less than 7000 words in total!

Now I’m sure you’re thinking, hang on, didn’t she have themes emerging from the data, like, weeks ago? Weeeellll, yes she did. And jolly good they were too. However, they didn’t fit very well with the superstructure and I hadn’t really signposted them very well in the literature. So in my discussion I’ve gone back to my research questions and not tried to be clever, merely clear. My findings are separated by case, then participant, then values and beliefs, then practices. So there. Plus there’s a bit at the end where I show that there are themes across cases emerging from the data.

And now that I’ve been returning to the literature some more I’m drawing the threads together between theory and findings. It’s adding words I don’t have, though.

I’m ignoring for a moment the still overblown and repetitive literature review, but already the thesis is calming down and beginning to take shape.

Most of the references are in the reference list, most of the in text citations are cited. I’m starting to look for transitional paragraphs that take the reader from one section to the next, signposting and clarifying the structure.

The discussion chapter is still hideous but I’m now a third of the way through. Looking good. Of course, the most horrible part of doing this is when I read something by someone else that is just perfectly written, and I want to weep a little because the work I’m doing is so gauche by comparison. Gulp. Sigh, pick self back up and remind myself it’s ok not to be perfect.

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Some pitfalls of ethical research

This could also be titled “when research participants get in the way”. My work on my narratives was nearly done, and as is the wont with narrative inquiry methods – or even case study – the ethical, respectful thing to do is send your draft narratives to your participants so that they can comment on what they’ve said, or report inaccuracies in the text. It’s the final piece of the ethical research puzzle and provides valuable validity to your findings.

So, about a year ago I sent my drafts to my participants for a read and possible discussion, and got a great response from one and an interesting response from another. I changed that person’s draft in response to their not unreasonable opinion that the draft was a bit long winded and lacked shape. (Love it when they comment on your actual writing style!). A few more minor edits to protect the innocent and there you are.

The other participants did not respond. So, this year after redrafting the narratives all quite heavily I sent through my final drafts to the participants. Well, it’s nice to see one came back with a “congratulations!”. There you go.

But the next respondent, boy oh boy. Every single sentence they uttered has been altered. Some to the point of not even sounding like it comes from a human. What do you do? In deference to the participant, I need to look at the work as a whole and consider what altering the text will do to my findings.

So, I’ve taken the road frequently travelled in narrative inquiry and looked at what is important to the study but keeps the humanity of the spoken word. I’ve removed things that hurt the innocent – in other words if my participant feels what they said at the time was unfair or contentious, then I’ve changed it to reflect the participant’s wish. That’s reasonable. It isn’t hurting my findings too much, rather, it’s tempering the language to be more moderate and being fair to those who cannot respond.

Where the participant changed the text to improve an explanation of a technical concept and it’s not too different from the original I’ve changed it too. However, my dear participant has removed all of the lovely interjections and language style that makes the narrative sing and gives it its power. The participant wanted to reflect that the narrative will be read, not spoken. But for me this is one step too far. This is where the participant gets in the way.

I’ve chosen to ignore some of the participant’s edits – they lose the beauty and movement of the participant’s lyrical speech patterns, but I’ve occasionally added an extra thing in the commentary that they had written in the edits, to provide greater clarity to the spoken text. That way the spoken word is maintained, but the participant’s revised word is still included. And booyah! I’ve found places where my text is lacking explanation or analysis of the text. Goodoh.

It’s difficult, though, because what if the intent, beauty and power of the original statement is lost in translation? That’s the great dilemma and one of the pitfalls of ethical research.

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Immersion in the data

I’m having a sneaky peek at the raw video data from my study. In one way it’s reconnecting me to my participants but in another it’s reminding me of the approach of my teachers and how different they are in each case.

There’s so much lovely stuff here. I’d forgotten! The stuff I’ve written in my narrative certainly mirrors the raw data, so that’s a relief. I could do more analysis but hey: no. But I’m enjoying this last looking back prior to closing the chapter (so to speak) on this time in my life.

My discussion chapter is dribbling along rather unwillingly but I’m starting to see where my findings have negated some of my literature. Whew. When one is on the edge of the precipice, the fear is palpable. Have I said enough? Is what I have written even relevant or am I drawing a long bow?

Plus I’m not sleeping. So I’m exhausted.


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When the going gets tough, the tough go to the discussion chapter

Righto. I’m in that terrible non-sleeping place. Some might call it insomnia: I call it anxiety. I know exactly what’s causing it and there’s nothing to do but change my focus again.

Off to the discussion chapter I go. I knew it was nearly time to reshape it but as is normal my literature review has stumped me yet again. And as I don’t have the luxury of time to sit smelling the flowers I need to get on with another section, and my discussion chapter has been languishing semi-written in limbo land since January. It’s time.

I was hoping to spend another week on my literature review but I’m at the point where I don’t know what to leave in or take out. So it’s time to enter the world of meta-cognition and actually see where my substantive theory and theoretical underpinnings meet my findings.

After that I’m going to go through the whole thesis and see where the transitions need strengthening. Then it’s back to the literature I go, and make those final passes of literature or theory I’ve missed. I think for me the literature has been the hardest bit. Certainly the area I’ve put off the most!

Then I’ll go away for a few days with the whole thing printed out. I’ll read it out loud and see where it doesn’t make sense, and do the final pick up of grammar and spelling and in text citations before formatting and organising the appendices. Which are finished, by the way. A final fling of the introduction and conclusion to make sure I’ve not missed anything or made grandiose claims and there it is. Done.

4 1/2 weeks to go. With any luck I’ll get some sleep after that.

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