Monday, February 07, 2011

Another dissertation post. (Expect more of the same.)

While it may seem that I drone on and on here effortlessly - and while I do indeed do just that - writing something book-length, serious, and (PG, you'd better believe it) supported by actual evidence (my anecdata for the nineteenth century being somewhat lacking), is not the most effortless thing in the world. I did get great advice from one of my professors - to view the dissertation as a series of term papers - but was having trouble figuring how to divide what I had conceived of originally as one term paper into six or so distinct parts. Because it's all one thing, I had to put it all in one document for a while, to figure out which division made the most sense. 

What's difficult isn't so much the length - I could make this post go on for 10,000 words - but figuring out how to organize the thing. What goes in which chapter? Finally setting on a chronological arrangement simplified this to the point where I can now at least hazard a guess, but when does one "era" end and the next begin? Going by regimes works to a degree, but not 100%. Even with that sorted out, each chapter needs to be organized in terms of themes as well as who was saying what - politicians, novelists, journalists, Jews, Catholics, free-thinkers, converts from Judaism... It's not the mess it sounds like, but it was until very recently. And every choice has to be justified. Am I discussing converts-from-Judaism separately from other Catholics? If so, why? (Figured it out this morning!) Then, once the whole thing is organized, I have to go back to many if not all of my sources to make sure the notes I took on them highlight the parts that matter for the arguments I now realize I'm making. I came to the conclusions I have from these sources, but didn't necessarily write down the parts I now realize are important. For example, in many of my sources, virtually the same sentence appears on the first page. This is important? Yup! I noticed it without thinking of how this repetition actually kind of is one of my arguments, and so now have to go back and make sure I've caught all of them from the sources I've already looked at. And for good measure, I've reserved every possibly relevant source at the library, for some more combing-through.

So... I get it now, how these things can, if you let them, take years, and how, unlike with a blog post or term paper, getting it into full-sentence comprehensibility is often the last step, not the way the writing works out from the get-go. I'm hoping that the maniacal organization stage (for this chapter, at least) will end soon, and I'll be able to switch to full sentences full-time. But before that, time to leave the library, where of course the man next to me is muttering obscenities to himself, and get more coffee...

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