Writing, writing and writing!


Since I started doing my PhD I have been encouraged and pushed into writing .Thinking, reading, speaking,discussing your grandeur ideas is not enough, to succeed in the PhD experience you need to write. So here I am trying to focus and  writing my reflection of  the writing process, another way of procrastination?

Literature and research on successful doctoral study clearly suggest that the best PhD is the one that is finished, i.e,the one that is written and submitted in three years’ time . In doing so, PhD students should write everyday, avoid distractions, assume the writing position, and no matter what, write, and write. No-one expects a perfect piece, but more of a working piece, a text that shows how your thinking and research is progressing. It is said that if you are reading, but not writing, after three weeks, you will have forgotten what you read. OK, the thesis is a written work, so there is no way I can’t get away without writing.

So what do you have to do so as to be productive,  efficient and get your  PhD done? At the beginning of the candidature I knew so little,  I couldn’t write, because there was nothing to communicate. I spent most of time reading, reading, and reading. My writing at that time was bibliographical notes,references, summaries, mind maps, and, I also wrote a book review.  Then, in spite of my insecurity and uncertainties, I was pushed to keep on writing and produce different types of outcomes: research proposal, ethics application, my thesis in three minutes, my thesis in a headline, abstracts, conference papers,etc. To write each of these  has been a painful delivery, it has taken much more time than expected, and it feels like climbing the Everest without oxygen.

Now I am writing a conference paper due in a week’s time. This time I have taken a different approach to do the writing and accomplish the goal by Friday. I am participating in a writing cycle group. It is a group of academics (not PhD students) who share their writing goals and support each other to achieve these goals. It is a three week’s program. During the first week, we met and discussed our goals, we established  a timeline and support strategies. My goal is to finish the  draft of a conference paper to be reviewed by my supervisors.I designed an action plan to do it. It included the review of the literature, the elaboration of the arguments and the actual writing. The first week I did as  planned, but I also realized that I hadn’t considered everything I had to do , so I had to make some adjustments. Anyway, I was happy with what I was doing and how effective the writing sessions were going.

Today  is the first day of the last week of the writing cycle, I have five days to finish the conference paper. Today I started my day writing for two hours accompanied by two academics part of the writing cycle group. We met at the library, said hello, and then, each of us started typing. It was a slow start for me after the weekend, but once I pushed it, it kept going under its own momentum. I did my writing. The paper is getting its shape and I see that I will be able to submit it by Friday. So what have I made differently this time?I designed an action plan to do the writing. I shared my plan with peers;I got questions and feedback about it;I have avoided distractions (no email, no Facebook, change of location); I have followed a schedule and I have written.  But I guess what has made it more meaningful is that I have committed, not only to myself, but to the rest of the group.And the other members have also committed themselves.  It is a collective effort to achieve our goal and do our writing.

Of course I feel uncertain about the outcome, the paper itself. I am not so sure how good it will be and the possible contribution . However, I feel that I have gained lots of learnings in these weeks: I can be disciplined and write; I can stop procrastination and do as I plan; and that working collaboratively the writing process can be more efficient and productive. On Friday, I will finish my paper and I will post a comment here with my last reflection of the writing cycle experience. I can’t wait to see the paper printed ad in my supervisor’s pigeon hole.

I did it! On Friday I struggled and struggled to write the last paragraphs, then, a bit of editing, then referencing, and finally, by 4 p.m. I sent it to my supervisors. I know it is not a final version, but it its the first draft. Next week I will need to improve it and have a better version. 🙂

About Malba Barahona

Educational researcher, language educator. PhD from Australian National University. Passionate bushwalker and mountain lover. I procrastinate reading fiction, hiking, doing yoga, riding, having a beer and more recently decolonizing my existence. I write in English and Spanish in different blogs especially with the purpose of encouraging my students to write.


  1. Berta Guzman

    Dear Malba:

    Thank you so much for this “Thesis outline” for I will have to write a post conference report/paper pretty soon.

    Reading the above article provided me with bright ideas. Ideas are of no value if one does not write them down, read them, revise them, and narrow them down to create an action plan.

    Will you be posting your paper? I am interested in reading it.

    I wish you would have come to “Inspiring Voices” the 2010 ATESL Conference, here in Canada. I am sponsoring two EFL Chilean teachers and I am thrilled about “opening doors” for others just like you are opening one for me with your “Thesis outline.”

    Thanks Malba


    • Malba Barahona

      Hi Berta!
      Thanks for your comment. You are always so encouraging.
      I wish I could too, but this year is a bit difficult. Maybe next year I could visit you in Canada.
      I can send you the paper later.


  2. MF

    I’m glad for you, I always have had a lot on faith in your capabilities ….You will be a succesfull PhD candidate, a chilean working bee PhD.


  3. Des

    Hello Malba,

    Came across your blog while I was googling in trying to make sense of activity theory. I hope your paper is going well and I am very eager to read it! 🙂

  4. Des

    Hi Malba,

    Yes I plan to but I am having problems in understanding this theory. Currently planning to do my PHD next year and trying to create a proposal. Seems very new to me as I never came across it through undergraduate and postgrad education.

  5. Malba Barahona

    yes, I know what you mean. It is hard to grasp it. have you read my previous posts about AT? It’s been really challenging for me as well. Check the links of websites on the right column. Have you read the book Vygotsky and Research by Harry Daniels? Are you in the field of Educational Research?

  6. Des

    Yea it is very frustrating indeed! Yes the links are really helpful. I am not trying to look for articles relating to teacher education.
    Yes I am in the field of Educational Research and I am interested in using CHAT as a framework for studying teachers/pre-service teachers as well.
    I have not read the one by Harry Daniels, has it been useful for you? I have read a number of articles but I still cant grasp it very well 😦

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