Reading More about Writing

Carlotta Falzone Robinson's picture

Last summer, Kerrie Holloway wrote a very useful Resource Blog for H-GRAD,  “Reading about Writing.”  Since a few of my favorite books were absent, my blog offers several additions to her suggested reading list. Writing a dissertation is a long process, and along the way it can be useful to stop and review some of the advice that’s out there on effective work habits, efficient writing/reading/researching and navigating personal obstacles. There are hundreds of “help” guides for writing your dissertation, but the books I’ve selected for this list are ones I feel are most helpful for the “in-process” dissertation writer.

Petre, Marian, and Gordon Rugg. The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research. 2nd edition. Maidenhead, England; New York: Open University Press, 2010.

Marian Petre and Gordon Rugg’s guide is a good reference for every stage of the writing process. Much of the advice is material that is useful enough to be re-read every year, such as “how to get the most from supervisory meetings” and “the process of writing.”  Written with wit and sympathy, this book tackles both practical and psychological issues that come up in the process of completing a dissertation. For early-stage graduate students, the chapters on conferences and presentations are especially good.  

Kamler, Barbara, and Pat Thomson. Helping Doctoral Students Write: Pedagogies for Supervision. 1st edition. London ; New York: Routledge, 2006.

Ostensibly written for dissertation supervisors, this book is extremely useful for doctoral students as well. The strength of the book comes from its exercises and examples, within a pedagogy that approaches writing as a part of the doctoral student’s identity. It is a good resource for those who are having difficulty understanding critiques of their writing from their supervisor, or those who are struggling to reshape their writing style.

Evans, David, and Paul Gruba. How to Write a Better Thesis. 2nd edition. Carlton, Vic: Melbourne University

A more traditional guide which leads the reader through the entire writing process, this book has high value for the early dissertation writer. The authors offer methods for structuring both the research and the writing aspects of your project, and provide step-by-step analysis for each part of the dissertation.

Burka, Jane B., and Lenora M. Yuen. Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It Now. 2nd edition. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2008.

These two psychologists established the first procrastination workshops for students at UC Berkeley several decades ago. This updated edition of their book factors in the new electronic distractions of life. The book is divided into two parts, the first is understanding why procrastination happens and the second part provides tools for overcoming procrastination.  

Tharp, Twyla, and Mark Reiter. The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. Reprint edition. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.

This book is aimed at all creative artists, and may be the most valuable resource on the list for changing the way you look at your research, writing and personal study habits. As academics, we often lose sight of the fact that writing is not just a skill, but a creative process. Tharp’s exercises open up modes of inquiry and observation that are useful aids for research, as well as writing.


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