Manuscript March: Thesis Triage

Emergency situation.

You’ve been writing for a while. Your thesis has been brewing, rumbling, gathering strength and momentum. Then you hit print, and it ERUPTS off the printer. Post-eruption, there is a lot to deal with. True, some pages are in great shape – perfectly healthy. But some pages are looking poorly and in need of revision, and some are beyond intervention. You rush in with your red pen, ready to help. You have limited time to bring the whole lot back to health, and you have no idea where to start.

It’s a little concerning that my take on revision is basically the plot of a disaster movie, but stay with me here.

dantes peak
My thesis and I might have a few unresolved issues.

When you have to revise in a limited amount of time, your job is essentially that of a medical professional rushing to the site of a disaster: triage. You have to identify which sections of your writing need the most urgent help, and which will survive as they are.

Emergency responders often use a traffic light system for this. Patients in a disaster will be colour-coded: black or blue means deceased, red means serious injuries, orange means moderate injuries and green means minor injuries. If medical supplies are scarce, the green patients can wait while orange and red patients are treated.

A draft can be coded the exact same way. Green for any sections that are in good shape. Orange for sections that need a little work. Red for sections that need major surgery. And blue for sections that aren’t going to make it.

I call this thesis triage. Whenever I finish a draft of something (a chapter, or even the full thesis) I get a cup of coffee, arm myself with some stickers, and set to work.

Then later, when I start revising, I can prioritise my time by working on the red and orange sections first. It feels quite good to replace a red sticker with a green one. Sure, it’s not the same as saving lives, but it gives a sense of accomplishment.

traffic light
Thesis may now proceed to supervisor.

Do you have any tips for managing your time when you write and revise? Share them in the comments.




About Anaise Irvine

Dr Anaise Irvine is the Editor of Thesislink and leads the Researcher Education and Development team at Auckland University of Technology. Her PhD research analysed how contemporary films and novels represent genetic engineering as a social justice issue. These days she works with researchers at all levels to improve their research skills, and the most obscure of her own research skills is being able to turn novels into phylogenetic trees!

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