Posted in About Writing

The Power of Coincidence

I have always loved a quote from one of Ian Fleming’s James Bond villains. Goldfinger, from the eponymous book, tells 007 the following: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.”


Scarcely a week after putting my disgruntlement with the process of academic writing to virtual paper, and by the magic of social media and internet cookies, this article comes along – 30 tips for successful academic research and writing. A happy coincidence for me.

While I am not going to reblog the whole article (see link above), there are a couple of ideas mentioned that did resonate with me. Planning your research and tasks on a proper whiteboard is one that I implemented to an extent during my MSc, but I never really got going with it during this study. The satisfaction of erasing a task from it though is still well-remembered, so I might have to sit down and do it properly.

My planning capacity has also suffered to some degree. Another thing worth working on. The setting of deadlines for yourself, though… Oy vey. There was a time that the threat of a passing deadline would send me into a highly-productive flat spin. It would be so easy to gather the energy needed and work until late night or even dawn. At this point I think that I may have become rather desensitised to such stress – staying up and being productive does not happen much past 10pm.

A very helpful suggestion is making use of a blogging platform to organise my ideas and arguments. Even simple summaries of articles in such a format would be tremendously helpful – not to mention that they would be convenient to copy and paste from there. While many bits of my study would not be for public consumption (yet), it does not prevent me from keeping a private blog…

I love reference managers. What she could have mentioned (but since her focus is on articles and not dissertations I can’t blame her) is the magic that MS Word can do in making a thesis look nice and tidy. Setting up Word and your reference manager of choice does take some time initially, but then you can just write from there. Your reference manager makes sure that all your in-text references appear in the bibliography, and is then formatted correctly. Suddenly need to switch to a different referencing style for a specific journal? Set-up your style in the manager, press a button and hey presto! No need to sift through each one individually. Set-up your chapters and labels as required in Word using different heading styles, and it will take care of your contents page, your list of figures, and even referencing to tables and figures in the text. So with Word taking care of the front of your manuscript, and your reference manager taking care of the end, all you need to worry about is the contents.

Her last tip is something that I can say I have improved on, compared to when I was doing my MSc. I do take time out of my day, a couple of times a week, to distance myself from the academic world. For a couple of hours, I then manipulate and coax a stubborn horse around. Afterwards, I spend time with people so far removed from academia, that I can return to my work somewhat refreshed.

In a truly academic way – by going to the primary source of this article – I also found another gem. Writing an Article in 12 Weeks gives a solid framework for someone as deadline-averse as I am. Will give it a go and provide feedback. 🙂

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