Tag: dissertation

GIGO, or why you shouldn’t 100% trust Endnote

GIGO, or why you shouldn’t 100% trust Endnote

Using Endnote

Okay, I’m going to start with a confession. I didn’t use Endnote for my PhD. I did all my referencing by hand. Insane? Yep, pretty much. It wasn’t an impulsive decision – I actually spoke with others who had used Endnote. Most had some sort of problem with it, from crashes that lost all their stored databases to information coming out crazy. And when it did work, it wasn’t perfect. There’s a term that’s used in computer programming: GIGO, or Garbage In, Garbage Out. I think it applies to Endnote. Or to whatever referencing system you use. If you don’t get the right information at the beginning, you’re creating a world of hurt for yourself later on. Imagine trying to complete a puzzle when some of the pieces are wrong or missing…

I’ve edited a lot of theses now and I have never seen a perfect reference list, even when the student has used Endnote. The problems usually fall into 2 categories:

  1. formatting
  2. missing information

Formatting issues can come up because not every university uses the same referencing system in the same way. One uni’s version of Harvard may have minor differences to another’s, and you are supposed to follow your university’s formatting guide. The Endnote version of Harvard may be different again. And if you’re doing your reference list manually, this can be a minefield. Trust me, unless you have a serious love of making sure every single comma and full stop (period, for US readers) is in exactly the right place, this is a tedious job. Even if you do have that love (sorry, but I do – somebody has to!) it requires super-concentration.

The GIGO analogy particularly relates to the problem of missing information. Your Endnote database or Word Citation manager tool is only as good as what goes into it. If that information is incomplete, your reference list will be incomplete. Whilst consistency is important in a reference list, having the same error over and over is not the sort of consistency you want. When you import citations, the information you import may be incomplete, and when you have to add information (such as page numbers) human error can creep in.

So what to do?

First, make yourself very familiar with the reference system required by your university – the library will usually have a guide you can download or an online tool that will give you examples. What information is required in that citation? What format is it in?

Second, if you are using an electronic referencing system, make sure you understand how it works and how to get it to do what you want. If you are going to reference manually, set up your own template (eg an excel spreadsheet) to make sure you get everything you need.

Third, as you gather your references, check that the information you have gathered isn’t missing anything. The most common gaps are place of publication and page numbers for journal articles. If there is missing information, get it NOW, while you still have the original reference in front of you – it can be hard to track down later.

Fourth, DON’T forget to make note of when you accessed a reference! Online articles require a date accessed in the reference list and this is one of the MOST common errors I come across. Once you’ve been working on your PhD for 3 years you will NEVER remember when you read that article!

Happy referencing!


Doing a Creative PhD – Things to Think About

Doing a Creative PhD – Things to Think About

In 2013 I completed my PhD by artefact and exegesis, submitting a young adult novel and a thesis. During and after that time I have had extensive contact with other students of creative PhDs. I’m on a facebook group where people sometimes ask about signing up to do one of these. The response is always overwhelmingly positive – people encourage others to go ahead and apply.  From my perspective, I am really pleased I obtained my PhD, but I believe anyone starting the ‘journey’ should have their eyes wide open. So this post discusses some things to be aware of.

The University Context

Probably the biggest factor at the moment for creative PhDs is that the university sector is being squeezed financially. And of course, like the broader social arena, the arts is always one of the first areas to lose funding. Potentially this might mean less funds available for going to conferences, less time allocation for supervisors to provide support during candidacy (so less face to face meetings) and less availability of other support (scholarships, research skills training etc.).

I had a conversation with a Visual Arts student recently on the day she discovered her supervisor had been made redundant. She was told there was no other potential supervisor on the horizon in the immediate future and was rightly devastated. Doing a PhD requires a lot of support. It’s hard to see how far these cuts are going to go, but one of the safeguards that can be put in place is to establish really good support networks with other students. Then if cuts do impact, you’ll at least have others to turn to who understand.

Your Goals

Be really clear about why you want to do the PhD. If it is to find a job in academia, see point 1! The traditional pathway of PhD to tutoring to lecturing to academic security is not a given any more. If this is your aim, it would be wise during your candidature to publish as much as possible, to develop excellent links to established academics who might be willing to mentor you, and to volunteer to help out with journals, conferences etc.  Show that you have a lot to offer. If you are doing the PhD because a scholarship is more income than a writer normally receives in a year and you don’t intend to become an academic, that’s fine – but see point 3! The point is, be clear about your expectations before you go in.

The Supervision Process versus Your Writing Process

Creative writing (and other creative arts) for a PhD is different to writing outside the university sector because you are subject to ‘The Gaze’. Whatever you write will be scrutinised closely to ensure it reaches PhD standard*. The ethics process can also impact. This means your project may be more collaborative than you are used to. For me aspects of the ethics process meant I had to entirely re-shape my novel.

For others, a supervisors’ input meant they took their writing in directions they were not initially keen on. Whilst this is akin to working with an editor, it can happen much earlier in the process than usual. Prior to my PhD I never showed my writing to others until I’d reached at least draft 3. However, during the PhD a supervisor wants to see that you are producing work, and may well want to see a first draft. Finding a supervisor you can communicate with is really important to find your way through all of this.

Creative Writing Versus Academic Writing

Your preferred emphasis and the university’s might not be the same. On paper a creative PhD is (depending on the uni) 70% creative project and 30% academic text. In practice, this is often reversed. Creative artists coming in are highly skilled and experienced at their arts practice, but usually less so on academic writing. It can be a shock to realise there is a huge expectation that you will spend the majority of your time on the academic work. Supervisors need to be sure you will tick all the boxes in terms of getting research and thesis chapters written. Friends of mine have (to their horror!) been told to put their novel aside for months whilst they focus on the academic text.

Do Your Research….

The best way to go into the PhD with your eyes wide open is to have some really good conversations with others who have gone through it, and with your potential supervisor to really sort out expectations. Good luck!

*PhD standard may be very different to publication standard!