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Essential books for research candidates

From the perspective of a person who has finished two research degrees in the past ten years, I can reliably inform you that there is a LOT of writing involved. I thought I was pretty good at it to start with, but I have learned a lot more who I am as a writer and how to be a better one, particularly during my doctoral research. I have also started to supervise other research candidates and one of the first conversations I have is to recommend that they go out and buy these two books.

101 Tips for Planning, Writing, and Surviving your Dissertation by Sara Wickham, and Use Your Words (A Myth-busting, No-fear Approach to Writing) by Catherine Deveny both occupy special spots in my bookcase. They have been well used and much appreciated. Each book focusses on a different aspect of what you will need to know as a writer, which is why you need them both.

Sara Wickham is a midwife, writer, researcher, and educator who is based in the UK. While her background is in healthcare, this book is written for anyone who intends to write a dissertation – whether it be in maternity care, maths, or rocket science. Reading Sara’s writing feels like sitting beside your worldly-wise aunt with a cup of tea, while she shares everything she has learned with you.

As the title suggests, this is a book of tips. Each tip focusses on a different stage in the process of completing a dissertation – from conceptualising it to completion. They are all extremely practical, solution focussed, and realistic. When I got stuck at particular points (like my discussion), I pulled the book out to “see what Sara has to say” and always found something that helped. If you want to get a sense of whether you might find it useful too, Sara has shared several of the book’s tips on her blog, which is linked below in the details of where to purchase her book.

Catherine Deveny is possibly (at least she was for me) better known as an Australian comedian rather than as an author. She has authored nine books and numerous columns and book chapters, and is upfront about having dyslexia. Use Your Words is a kick-in-the-pants, overcome-your-bullshit, call-to-action type book. It’s not written specifically for an academic audience, but don’t let that put you off purchasing it. While Sara is your gentle aunty, Catherine is more your loud personal trainer, insisting that you WILL WRITE THIS THING!

I read Use Your Words expecting to find it funny (and it is!) but I had not expected to cry (and I did). Catherine looks directly into the core of our motivations and fears as a writer and offers suggestions and examples of ways to get the job done. I found her advice invaluable in recognising my personal demons and getting them to shut-up long enough to get words on the page. She also runs a companion class called Gunnas (for people who are gunna write one day…) if you prefer a face-to-face experience.

If you are currently in the midst of writing a dissertation, or will be in the near future, I recommend that you buy both of these. Neither is expensive, and you’ll be supporting two fabulous women who are in turn supporting other fabulous women. And we need more of that in the world.

Where to purchase these books:

101 Tips by Sara Wickham

Use Your Words by Catherine Deveny

Please note: I purchased both these books at the regular retail price (and attended the Gunnas course at the regular price too). This review was written because I genuinely found the books useful. I have not, nor will I, get some kind of kick-back from doing so. Yes, my name is on the acknowledgements list of Sara’s book – I proof read a draft of it for her. But I still went and bought it even though I had read it because it is so handy having a copy on my shelf. If you are an author, please don’t send me a copy of your book expecting a review. I read a lot and write only about books that have personal meaning to me.

Categories: Book reviews, Writing

1 reply

  1. I enjoyed reading your reviews of these books. I bought the Deveny book previously based on your recommendation and you are right – it is good. I haven’t bought Sarah’s book yet, but clearly it is one I need! Thanks for sharing Kirsten. I may just get this PhD completed yet with your wise words and recommendations to guide me!


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