On Thesis Writing – A Testimonial

The following text proposes to share a personal perspective on the thesis process we, students in Peace Studies, all go through to complete our master’s degree. A perspective (and a reality) that, albeit an individual one, somewhat reflects a collective experience often made in solitude, hence I offer this testimonial which my peers might find resonance with.

Embracing a Process

My research took another path than the one I had planned. When, almost three years after my completion of the MA Program for Peace Studies, I could finally dedicate my semester break of summer 2016 to my master’s thesis, I aimed to address it in a pragmatic, cold manner so as to write as much as possible until my work as a teacher in two universities starts again in autumn. I am forty-five and feel pressured by time; this thesis is essential for me to close a chapter and open new ones. Consequently, I established a sort of ritual by which I would go to the University Library of Innsbruck every day from morning to evening. Nonetheless, after finding my bearings, I soon came across my first surprise: spending my entire days at the library was increasingly enjoyable; it not only did not prove to be a “sacrifice”, but even felt like a chance, a privilege. The energetic field created by all the people researching in unison, like in a silent choir, stimulated my inspiration and my motivation. I felt tacitly encouraged by the same eyes that I would meet recurrently.

I sensed that doing research (also) was an act of spirituality taking me to very deep layers of myself and connecting me with the collective unconscious and knowledge.

Additionally, the more I was engaged in my research process, the more I sensed that doing research (also) was an act of spirituality taking me to very deep layers of myself and connecting me with the collective unconscious and knowledge. I soon recognised that I could not just write my thesis for the sake of it, for I consciously refused to deprive myself from the human experience such a research embodied. The ups and downs being included I am glad that I chose to embrace the unknown and to not control the process. Yet, as the summer was drawing to a close, the perspective of my work soon beginning created inner stress and thereby affected my research: my inspiration, my creativity and my energy flow were suddenly hampered. I felt angry with the system for obliging me to restrict my investigation. The sensation was that of being taken away from myself and forced back into a straightjacket after having enjoyed freedom – the Freedom (and I insist on the capital letter) that enables energy to flow and provides room for unfolding. Hereunder is a sample of the invaluable discoveries I made during the unexpected and sacred journey epitomised by my research process. It regards the very act of writing that revealed to be, more than a form, a method of inspiration.

Making Discoveries and Allowing Connection through Writing

What we human beings do, the way we (inter)act, the choices we make or do not make, and likewise what and how we research, is narrowly related to and influenced by our (hi)story. From a transrational perspective, as a human being I can never be separated from my context. Ergo, before getting to the core of my thesis subject, I needed to do, through writing, a close inquiry into the depth of my life and my being so as to make contact with myself and define accordingly the narrative thread of my research. In effect, after Norbert Koppensteiner, research should be seen as an experience and emanate from within the researcher in order for her/him to both enjoy the process and feel empowered.

For the reader, the author does not embody a flawless, unreachable and insensitive entity (as it rather is the case in conventional research), but turns into a being touched by and concerned with life, whose shadows and lights allow the reader to connect and resonate with.

Moreover, by shedding light on my background – i.e. the milestones and recurrent topics that have shaped my life so far – I allow my reader to get insight into the underlying motivation(s) of my research. Since the potential distance between her/him as reader and me as author/researcher is reduced, a relationship can arise. For the reader, then, the author/researcher does not embody a flawless, unreachable and insensitive entity (as it rather is the case in conventional research), but turns into a being touched by and concerned with life, whose shadows and lights allow the reader to connect and resonate with. Further, by taking the liberty of doing my research and writing in a non-linear manner, I create a space for exploration: for my voice and my research topic to emerge as authentically and freely as possible.

Traversing a Palette of Emotions

Certainly, it is frightening not to cling to the mould of reassuring structures (however constricting and limiting they may be), not to look for answers in my supervisor or whomever, but instead try to follow my intuition and embrace my personal approach to research. Besides it is time and energy consuming. Questions such as “am I on the right path?” keep recurring. Still, in the frame of transrational research, “right” or “wrong” answers are out of the scene. Quite on the contrary, as the author I am faced with my free will. When, at the very beginning of my research process, I asked my thesis supervisor, Norbert Koppensteiner, how personal and detailed I could be regarding my author’s perspective, he replied: “Trust your own approach and what feels right for you”. As a leitmotiv his words have accompanied me throughout my research, a process definitely marked by moments of enlightenments and discouragements, certainties and doubts. And all those feelings ought to be. It is even by providing space for and welcoming what might appear as “stagnation” (feeling stuck, being slow, not writing, writing too little, etc.) that things are implicitly allowed to move. In any case, in the midst of (and despite) that palette of emotions, I continued to move forward, guided by that sentence which indefatigably reminded me that I was on the right road, since this is mine.

Writing as an Inspiration

Writing outside the canonical parameters of research constitutes a leap into the unknown. And yet, precisely thanks to the above-mentioned, creativity is free to flourish, hidden potentials to unfold, unexpected insight(s) to surface. I do find inspiration and guidance in the very act of writing. Put another way, for ideas to take form and realisations to be made, I need to write. Write? It implies for me assembling and disassembling words, selecting one over another one, experimenting, daring and playing with the syntax until I hit upon the form which best resonates with me from an aesthetic, semantic and affective angle.

A careful treatment of words implies listening to their very consonance; […] ensuring that no mistake disfigures them; and always trying to reach out to the unknown ones.

To write is to create meaning by making and letting the words dance and sing. The latter in turn take their author along and drive her/him to unforeseen places. This is when enchantment happens. Thereby, rather than limiting itself to being a mere product, writing also becomes, after Laurel Richardson (Writing: A Method of Inquiry, 2005), a “dynamic creative process” the expression thereof is unique to each writer which makes it all the more lively and appealing to the reader. In this regard writing acquires a double role by embodying both form and method. It does not only represent a means or a tool for conveying an idea, but is intrinsically valuable in itself due to the words’ very inherence. And so, writing holds the potential to become a sacred act wherein words constitute the essence.

For a Cautious Treatment of Words

Words have always generated a passion in me. Alas, I often observe that they are maltreated and used as interchangeable pawns, an action by which their uniqueness is profoundly ignored. On reflection I even feel that words are rarely honoured, although permanently needed. They are simply taken for granted. Personally, if I were a word I would go on strike and stand up for my rights! Such a collective performance would so deeply paralyse the natural course of the world that human beings would have to muse on the words’ condition and transform it accordingly. Treat words cautiously surely requires time, attention and work, even for the linguist I am who unfailingly makes use of dictionaries when writing no matter the language. A careful treatment of words implies listening to their very consonance; seeing their aesthetic sui generis; considering the (sometimes minimal) differences between them; ensuring that no mistake disfigures them; and always trying to reach out to the unknown ones. Unlike speaking – an instant act – writing provides the privilege of time. This observation enables to select words accordingly and respectfully. A key might be to feel words, become friends with them, and “treat [them] like the members of one’s own kin” to echo Wolfgang Dietrich (A Call for Many Peaces, 1997) on the etymological meaning of Friede, peace in German.

Image Sources:

  • Featured Image: © Mamadou Ba
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