A core aspect of being able to write at an academic level is the ability to think and write critically. And, of course, this is absolutely crucial at postgraduate level when you need to simultaneously assert your arguments, weigh them against others, consider the structures and frameworks in which you (and others) are postulating views, AND make this all readable and engaging.

..Quite the feat, even for a seasoned academic.

So how can you accomplish this?…

Significantly, the way you think correlates with the way you write. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why leaving writing to the last minute is nearly guaranteed to result in a lesser quality than those which were planned over time. And a core part of this is due to the time given to ruminate upon your work. Indeed, doing so will often give you the space to clear your mind and examine perspectives.

The other day I was working on my PhD work…and realised that one of the assertions made by one of the key historians in the field I was researching may have been based off an incorrect interpretation of the primary source… I spent hours following the trail left by him and other historians until I found the original source, and looked at its context…

My frustration at realising the historiography might be, slightly, incorrect due to this error was certainly palpable. I walked away and moved onto a different project…and returned to this one the next day. I discovered that, by walking away from that part of my project, and giving myself to ruminate over a couple days… I was much better prepared to articulate my thoughts and my argument in written form. Indeed, the more reasonable space I gave myself to think, the more equipped I felt to write about it.

I like to think of my research project as being like a long-term partner… Even the happiest couples need some time apart. And I have certainly found that, given a little time apart from my PhD, I feel much better when it’s time to get together again. As the cliche goes, I find that ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’…as I am away from my research I have the space to think about why I really appreciate it, and to consider what has been frustrating or difficult.

Indeed, our minds are not a hermetically sealed entity – and giving our bodies and minds space to relax and ruminate will, inevitably, give us space to become better thinkers and researchers.

If you are pressed for time, you might find you have to do this in a short spurt: go for a walk, listen to music, do a puzzle, cook something… just do something which requires very little cognitive effort… something unrelated to your writing & research… so you can ruminate about your research whilst doing it.

You might find one of these resources helpful, as you consider how to ruminate and relax with your research:

Calm: an app to help with meditation and relaxation www.calm.com

Relaxation exercises: https://www.moodcafe.co.uk/download-relaxation-exercises.aspx

Relax Online (relaxing sound effects): https://relax.li/