Curso doctorado Metodología Filosófica
Prof. Jaime Nubiola
Universidad de Navarra

Writing Philosophy

Richard Watson
Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, 1992, pp. 19-22

Start writing your dissertation as soon as you settle on a topic. Many students make the mistake of trying to read all the pertinent literature before starting to write. You already know something about the topic or you wouldn't have chosen it, so start your introduction on the basis of what you know. Of course, you will have to read background literature and study some texts very carefully to write the dissertation, but write while you do it. Write paragraphs and summaries of the background literature for use in the introduction, and develop arguments and write critical analyses concerning the main texts you are working on as you read them. Sort this material under the chapter headings and organize what you have under each heading into arguments. Again, if you are not quite sure how things are going to develop, you can get ideas and develop chapter plans as you accumulate, organize, and fill in under each chapter heading. The point of writing as you go is to obtain results right from the start. The dissertation will grow as you work on the material, and when you finish all your reading and study, you will have a substantial framework, already partially filled in. If you are exceptionally well organized, you may have an almost fully completed dissertation by the time you finish your dissertation research.

Some people do read all the material first without writing a word, and then with all of it in mind, they sit down to write. If this seems possible for you, then go ahead with it. But writing as you study enhances your thinking and learning about the material. If you are thinking about what to say about something as you are reading it, then you are engaged in the process of critical analysis that is the lifeline of philosophical argument.

Edmund Husserl wrote for hours every day. You are not Edmund Husserl, and it is very hard to maintain a routine of writing every day. Nevertheless, there comes a point when all that really remains is putting together the final draft of your dissertation. You have your basic thesis in mind, and you have read all that is necessary (it is important to know when to quit, and if you don't know, ask your dissertation director). So sit down and write it. If you set yourself a schedule of writing (or putting together from previous material) ten consecutive pages a day, you may not finish ten a day, but in a month you ought to have your first draft virtually completed. This is pretty fast. A more common routine is to arrange to have ten to twenty pages written each week for discussion with your dissertation director.

Whatever system you use, you should strive to finish a complete first draft as soon as possible. Rewriting is wonderfully satisfying when you know that you have a complete draft done. Above all, avoid the trap of rewriting as you go along. It is demoralizing and unrealistic to attempt to revise each page or argument or chapter into near perfect form before you go on to the next. Some students spend years on their first chapters (and seldom finish a dissertation) because they think each part must be perfect before they can go on to the next.

Nothing is perfect. Just as each chapter need not be perfect before you go on to the next, the dissertation itself need not be the last word on the subject at hand; it need be only satisfactory. Professors often seem to be so exacting and son knowledgeable that students sometimes fear to show them any work at all. If you begin to worry excessively (to the extent that you can't write or won't show your professor your work when you complete it for fear that it isn't good enough), you can regain your sense of proportion by reading a few more dissertations. In particular, if you are intimidated by your dissertation director, ge his or her dissertation on interlibrary loan or order a copy from University Microfilms and read it. Of course, some dissertations are very good, but few of them are as fabulous as the mythical model some paralyzed students have in mind.

Give a complete draft of your dissertation to your director as soon as you can. After he or she has gone over it with you, strive to revise it according to his or her instructions as well as you can. You do not have to do everything recommended, but you should have good reasons if you reject any of your director's major suggestions. Walk a line between two extremes. You might actually know as much as or more than your dissertation director does about the subject you are working on, but there is no reason for you to reject all suggestions, just as there is no reason for you to accept all suggestions even if you think your director is a much better judge of your work than you are yourself. Keep in mind that it is your dissertation.

It is even more important to retain your own sense of what your dissertation is meant to show after your director has accepted it and a draft has been passed around to your committee. You are almost certain to find that one of your committee members has the impression that you were attempting to write a dissertation different from the one you have presented, and you may be inundated with advice about how to turn your dissertation into something that it is not. If your dissertation director is satisfied with your original draft, then you can be confident in your polite presentation of reasons why you do not want to change the thrust of entire sections, or add new sections, or even use the same material to write a different dissertation. It is tactful to make some alterations suggested by each member of your committee, but you must recognize that it is highly probable that you cannot make all the changes suggested by all the committee members without contradictory results. You have to figure out how far you can go with each. The fact is that some professors who make suggestions even for extreme changes will barely glance at your revision. If you make a point of telling them what you have revised on the basis of their comments, this is usually enough. You understand that I am assuming that none of them has turned up a basic contradiction or has provided a demonstration that your conclusion does not follow or hold.

Once all the members of your committee have read your draft and made suggestions, work night and day to revise the dissertation to place it in your director's hands just as soon as possible. Try to have the final draft ready within a month. The longer you let it sit, the larger will loom the problem of revising it. Everyone wants to get it over with once your director has approved a draft, so get it done.

Diseño de la página: Izaskun Martínez
Última actualización: 17 de agosto 2017