If writing the MSc project proposal is this hard…

…what is the project itself going to be like?

I started work last night on writing up a very early draft of my project proposal. For several reasons it was a lot more difficult than I had expected.

Firstly, and typically, I let the technology of the writing tool get in the way of the actual writing. I spent much more time fiddling with LyX and various templates than writing anything. Should I just write plain text in a word processor and then copy that into the LaTeX tool or soldier on with LyX (after all even the project proposal will have to include mathematical notation)?

Secondly, while I hoped to use Christmas, and the time off work, to find the time to work on this, doing without distraction means staying up to 3am as the house is only quiet after 1am or later at Christmas. Not really sustainable.

Thirdly, and this is the most difficult one – all my mental images of what I was going to write – here’s the hypothesis (currently framed as “a more thorough-going application of the working set concept in the Linux kernel will improve performance”) and everything else flows from that, just melted away.

Indeed I am sort of working on the idea that I really need to explain some of the core ideas and then present a hypothesis to be tested.


6 responses to “If writing the MSc project proposal is this hard…”

  1. Two things Adrian:

    1. I think the question of how we compile our thoughts is more important than most people realise – blogged about it the other day as it happens: http://nevertrustahippy.blogspot.com/2010/12/taking-notes.html

    2. Just a personal preference, but I think that the whole ‘talking cure’ is the best thing to do here. Really ‘describe the problem’ in classical terms – go to some lengths to explain exactly what the question is and it kind of answers itself. I’m no geek, but I think that in political science (my field) as in politics, most of the big mistakes are made when the people making the decision or judgment don’t really understand the basics.

    If anything (and knowing your politics, I promise that this isn’t a personal dig) I think that a lot of the mistakes made by the New Labour project could have been avoided if more people on the team had ever had to write a fairly basic ‘how does democracy actually work’ essay (though, in fairness, it would also have helped if their loudest critics had also done so!)

  2. Actually just writing the blog post helped. Being slightly pretentious I can say the description of the meta problem helped me (at least partially) come to a better understanding of the problem. I shall read your post now.
    I have forsworn writing about politics on this blog so I won’t rise to your bait – much – but I would say that I think most of them had “written the essay” but politics, and the individual’s relationship with the state, is changing rapidly and people had to learn that on the job. This text – nearly thirty years old but as relevant today as ever (this was the first edition of MT I ever bought) – explains it all far better than I ever could: http://www.amielandmelburn.org.uk/collections/mt/pdf/84_01_18.pdf

  3. Adrian,

    Fair enough – it wasn’t intended as ‘bait’ 😉

    Oddly enough, many of those writing about democracy at the time of the enlightenment (whether it was Burke on the right or Paine / Mill on the left) foresaw changes that consumerism brought about (without necessarily foreseeing consumerism) and had mistakenly assumed that the accelerated change that consumerism actually caused would be be caused by democracy itself. I don’t think lefties (with the exceptions of people like Bernard Crick, Ben Pimlott or David Marquand) ever really took much notice of this basic work on democracy

  4. Just type your LaTeX file in an ordinary editor (emacs or vim, for example) and run latex from a makefile. There is not much point to special editors for LaTeX.

    1. Thanks. But having done this in the past I decided it was my least favourite option. It is too difficult to read the text – after all the LaTeX command strings are, to the quick scan, just like any other part of the body. Hence I quite like LyX despite the steep learning curve.

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