Notes to self: Reflections on writing an MSc module assignment

Rather than what I have learnt through the feedback, I would like to reflect on two mental notes I made to myself while actually writing the assignment – and I only did one, so it shouldn’t have been that strenuous a task really. There were moments though when it felt as if I was climbing Everest – the bit near the top where the oxygen levels are low and therefore the climbing is even harder!

So my first mental note was NEVER, EVER, EVER work backwards again!

I think that between working out what data collection methods I wanted to trial and talking to my supervisor, where the ideas were bounced around and developed,  I somehow lost the plot of why I was doing what I was doing. I knew what I was doing, but had lost track of the why (which probably wasn’t very well formed to start with), particularly with regards to the ‘gap in the literature’ that I was trying to respond to (which I actually never had anyway). This resulted in two or three weeks of frantic searching for that ‘gap’ after I had collected my data. After several attempts where I felt I was manipulating the gap towards my data collection tools and writing stuff that I really wasn’t happy with, I decided to start with the data, rewrite the research questions and fortunately, eventually,  the gap followed from that. I have vowed to myself never to work like this again, mainly because of the stress levels it induced, but also because I don’t think it is the best way to go about research. Why I am doing it, how it fits within the literature and the RQs are the key starting point. I think I need to stick that on my wall as a sort of mantra.

The second was a reminder to myself that the whole writing process is hard work and time consuming and that fact shouldn’t take me by surprise every time I start a new piece of work. Just because the last one worked out OK, doesn’t mean that the next will just flow out as an almost finished product immediately. I need to remember that the last one went through the same birthing experience that this one will need to go through. There was lots of drafting, re-drafting, re-structuring etc. until I had something that I was happy with and seemed to make up a coherent whole. Another mantra for the wall perhaps.




  • Susan Dawson

    Thanks for this Magda.

    As I was writing it, I was thinking about how this situation might actually occur in the ‘real thing’ as the data leads you in directions you hadn’t thought of and that seems to be your experience. I’ll remember that when I get there- especially the idea of the literature and data/situation ‘feeding off ‘each other. That’s a really helpful analogy.

    I think my problem was that I realized all I had was the data!

    I’m sure you’ll find a path through your data and decide which ‘mushrooms’ are the important ones!


  • Magda Rostron

    Hi Susan,

    I found your comments about ‘the gap in the literature’ very interesting and relevant.

    You are right when you say it’s important never to work backwards. It’s a bit like driving in reverse gear, trying to ‘park’ our data in a spot we haven’t even found yet.

    I think the key is to work with the literature AND your research context simultaneously, jotting down ideas and questions as they come, with the literature and our research situation informing/’feeding off’ each other. I’m finding more ‘gaps’ now, that I have actually collected/generated a corpus of data, than before – in this, I see potential for further explorations, but of course it can also be a stumbling block as I prepare to answer my original research questions while new ones are popping up like mushrooms after the rain…

    Ah, the joys of being a researcher…



  • Richard Fay

    Thanks Susan.

    I’m thinking we could all do with problematising this ‘gap in the literature’ approach as well as taking stock of what is meant by finding one’s conceptual framework lens.

    More anon.