Reading and Analysing

You have already created a working bibliography and this helped you get your research proposal accepted so the last thing you should do is discard it. However, you will need to build upon it now so that you not only revisit the evidence you gathered in support of ideas but also expand upon what you have already researched. Remember that you had to compile a brief reading list for your PhD. thesis proposal and just as you would not dream of leaving the chapter summaries as they are in your thesis proposal, you should not even consider that the bibliography compiled then is adequate now. It will complement and feed your future reading but is no longer enough to supply sufficient evidentiary support for the length of work you are now embarked upon.

You should re-examine the original bibliography but this time thinking of it much more as a seed rather than a fully grown plant. Use the books as source material, remembering to note down, in the correct referencing style, every book from which you gain ideas. This time, of course, you will be adding to existing notes but because you are focussing on one chapter at a time, your reading will need to be more clearly defined and much more specific.

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Ideally, each chapter should have a ‘working title’ and this will direct your reading. Look again at the bibliographies of the texts which you used to extend your bibliography for your thesis proposal.

Next, find that list of questions that you applied to your initial research and use it again now to ask the questions to newly added texts. This will help you to extend your research further and also keep you on track so that you don’t veer too far from the idea you are researching.

As well as the texts you have, you need to look again at the newest ideas on your topic. It might well be some time between the preparation of your thesis proposal and its acceptance, especially if you were asked to make changes, so you need to look again at the research that has been done in the area to ensure, once again, that you have not been pre-empted.

Try to make your accumulation of textual evidence precise, now, applicable to the chapter on which you are currently working. This will facilitate a specific connective with the central theme, which you have already established, as well as making your research specific to the chapter on which you are working, establishing a connective.

Remember that research is not complete until your thesis is!

Analysing Texts

You will, of course, be familiar with analysis from your earlier work but now you need to develop those skills even further by using analysis not just for evidence but to generate and develop ideas for your PhD. thesis that emanate from your analysis.

Here is an analysed example with ideas that might be gained from it to give you some ideas from Thomas Hardy’s novel of 1887, The Woodlanders. The passage comes from quite early in the novel, where Hardy is still establishing his characters. Grace Melbury and her father are the woodlanders of Hardy’s novel of that title, yet when they walk out of their cottage and enter the woods they do not see what Hardy sees in his account of their journey:

"They went noiselessly over mats of starry moss, rustled through interspersed tracts of leaves, skirted trunks with spreading roots whose mossed rinds made them like hands wearing green gloves, elbowed old elms and ashes with great forks in which stood pools of water that overflowed on rainy days and ran down their stems in green cascades. On older trees still than these huge lobes of fungi grew like lungs. Here, as everywhere, the Unfulfilled Intention, which makes life what it is, was as obvious as it could be among the depraved crowds of a city slum. The leaf was deformed, the curve was crippled, the taper was interrupted; the lichen ate the vigour of the stalk, and the ivy slowly strangled to death the promising sapling"

Hardy’s woodland is readily apprehended, the progress of the characters towards the auction is almost mundane as a fact. And yet there is a huge and overpowering strangeness in the ‘familiar’ environment, which its ordinariness serves only to enhance. This duplicity is further emphasised by the human allusions, which present anthropomorphism in reverse. Indeed, everything is here in reverse, or perverse, in its presentation. As in the corrupt ‘Eden’ which he creates for Tess to traverse, Hardy begins an apparently idyllic description, only to twist the reader’s perceptions from delight to horror. Significantly, he compares the scene with a ‘depraved slum’; nature is not the divine pastoral idyll presented by the aesthetes. Indeed, his reference to this is the more pertinent because of the then current picture being drawn by certain writers for the benefit of, for the first time in history, a purely urban readership, of a countryside little short of heavenly.

Tips on Analysis

  • The importance of your particular topic should be stressed because naturally there will be a huge difference between analysing scientific data and analysing a passage from a text or a critical comment.
  • In the first of these examples you will be relying upon facts and in the latter upon imagination, so it might be more useful here to demonstrate how analysis can suggest trains of thought which can be developed in your PhD. thesis.
  • It is easy to ‘quote and move on’ from texts but you should never `do this, especially at this level.
  • You must concentrate on inferential reading which will enable you to access the subliminal text.
  • This is close-reading taken to another level but it will help you to glean fresh ideas from established texts.
  • You will note skill in the writing, narrative structure and character development, but you are looking for new approaches and fresh perspectives here.
  • When you use a quote, always try to look beyond the surface.
  • Use analysis every time you quote – even critically.

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