Back to Work and Good Advice

When I boxed up my papers and organized my digital files before I took my last maternity leave, I did not know if I would return to this project. I had become very disillusioned with the process, unconvinced that there was any ‘point’ to finishing, and had started to put out feelers into other areas of work. It was a complete surprise when, about two  months after Z was born, I decided to start poking around in my files on the computer and began to think about my thesis work with renewed interest. When I had gone on break I had done some coding of my data and was beginning to write some notes for my findings chapters. Since I’ve been back at work properly (since January this year), I have been working to get back to that point and to be able to pick up the coding and analysis again, but from a more confident, secure position. I have spent the past few months working back and forth between my methodology chapter and my theory chapter. In this, I really see that (for my project at least) this work is not linear at all. When I wrote a draft of a project plan at the beginning of the year, I envisaged myself working through drafts of chapters in turn…working on one draft while another went to my supervisor for comments. It hasn’t really worked that way. Yes, I’ve sent work for comments and feedback, but they have not been ‘complete’ drafts. I have found that in order to work through the methods chapter, I really had to revisit the theory chapter and I have done a lot of back and forth with the two. The result is that I feel more secure with the theoretical framework, and have a clear idea about how it feeds into the methodology and the methods. Which brings me to the first piece of good advice I have received lately.

I have a very good friend who has finished her doctorate and who has been such a fantastic support as I work on mine. She told me that she feels that a major weakness in a lot of the scholarly work in our field is an unclear connection between theory and practice. ‘Make sure that you can see your theory run throughout your thesis’, she said (or something to that effect). It really stuck with me and the more I worked on my methods chapter, the more I realised that I needed to revisit my theory. I went back, did a little more reading, some re-reading, some writing, and then brought it into my methods chapter. I find that if I read something that works for me, I need to incorporate it into the thesis right away or I will forget it. Use it or lose it. Taking notes is only useful if I use them quickly and file them well.

Side note: Bad filing (weak naming/lazy folder organization) has cost me time in the past for sure. Right now I have a pretty good system and I update my document names each month so that I can see which are my latest versions.

In this way, I have fleshed out both the theory and methods chapters. Now, I am trying to get back to the actual analysis. I want to draft the analysis chapters over the summer and I need to get in and do the next round of coding right away. I do want to make sure that I’m doing this work intentionally and not randomly categorizing things. So, the second piece of advice comes from a really great article I read ages ago and re-read the other day. ‘Discourse Analysis Means Doing Analysis: A Critique of Six Analytic Shortcomings’, in a journal called Discourse Analysis Online. It’s a great piece and extremely practical for someone like me who is doing DA on qualitative data (interviews and focus groups). A lot of what I have read on DA is intensely theoretical and, while it’s useful, I have really been craving something I could use as a starting point for plotting out my strategy in a really straightforward way. Right now, I am holding the question ‘Are you actually doing analysis?’ in my mind while I plan my approach and get started on the next round of coding. It is really helpful. Antaki, Billig, Edwards, and Potter (heavy hitters in the DA scene), run through six common mistakes made by researchers and writers using discourse analysis as a technique and explain each one clearly. It has been reassuring to me as I jump back into work, that I’m not fumbling around in the dark, or at least I don’t feel as though I am, as much as I was before this break. So, armed with a clearer idea of what it means to do discourse analysis in a mindful and strategic way, and an idea of the two phases I need to complete over the next few weeks, I’m jumping back into the data and am getting started on the coding (and then analysis). I also have a list of questions I am asking of my data, questions drawing directly from theoretical framework. It has taken me a long time to figure this out – too long – but  it’s good to be here.



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