With a long project, it is especially important to keep working at a steady pace. Periods of rest can sometimes be necessary and beneficial, but putting the work down for too long can cause you to lose your focus and momentum. Making steady progress on your project requires diligence, devotion, and a regular habit of work that includes the following characteristics:
Regular reading on your topic is essential for handling your topic carefully and competently. Even if you are unable for a period of time to write or conduct intensive analysis of primary sources, you can still peruse secondary sources, familiarizing yourself with the works of other scholars. Depending upon your research subject, you may benefit from alternating your reading between primary and secondary sources. As you become more aware of the issues and debates among scholars, you prepare yourself for a more precise and probing engagement with your primary sources.
Because even an interesting topic can become tedious over an extended period of time, you may benefit from adding some variety to your reading. Consider picking up a book or article whose topic is interesting but perhaps only tangentially connected to your topic. You may find yourself stimulated toward your work in new ways. For example, if you are studying American Presbyterianism in the early 20th century, you may find your perception of that period enhanced by reading a work of fiction written in that era. Additionally, your style of writing and command of language always stand to benefit from observing the strengths of a variety of writers.
Writing a thesis or dissertation can be a daunting task. The longer you wait to begin writing, the longer the work will hang over your head. Achieving a sense of momentum and direction is greatly facilitated by a habit of regular writing, and the more you are used to sitting down and writing out your thoughts, the better those thoughts will be. If you can identify a regular time and place that help you to focus and write, you can make writing a part of your regular schedule, breaking the looming task of writing into smaller, more manageable bits.
Many writers find it helpful to begin writing by allowing themselves simply to write freely without giving too much attention to grammar or style. By getting one’s ideas out in this fashion, a writer is able to do the work of articulating important thoughts without worrying firstly about phrasing and word choice. This method of writing can be useful even before the research is completed, as an aid to thinking about the research question and proposing possible solutions. As you write out important thoughts, save them in an accessible format, such as an electronic “notes” file specified by topic or else a file folder containing related research documents. Remember, the more you do early on, the more steadily your writing will flow throughout the process.
Because many long-term projects are self-paced, setting and achieving regular deadlines is a necessity for making headway on large projects. Such deadlines are only useful, however, if they are actually heeded. Setting and meeting deadlines for small, achievable goals can help you build a habit of making steady, identifiable progress. Consider sharing your deadlines with other students, writers, or your advisor and asking for help to keep you accountable for your progress.
There are sometimes opportunities that allow you to make headway on your project while working on another project. For example, you may be able to direct your research for a class term paper to the topic on which you plan to write your thesis. By the time the term paper is written, you will have made substantial progress on your long-term research goal. Or perhaps you could write a sermon to give as a guest preacher that is related to your topic. In addition to the direct overlapping of work, some positions, such as ministerial or educational positions, provide sabbaticals that can be used for research and writing, as well as other assistance with research and writing. As you become aware of such opportunities, try to use them strategically to make progress on your project.
Other "Conducting an Extended Writing Project" topics: