Seminar and gradu. Seminar and gradu. The words alone are enough to strike fear into the very bravest of hearts. And make no mistake, their frightening reputations are thoroughly well-deserved. Fortunately however, writing your gradu doesn’t have to be as scary as you might think. As unbelievable as it may seem, there are those who have faced their gradu head-on and actually lived to tell the tale, and now the wisdom that comes with that experience can be yours. Consequently, when the time comes for you to face your own gradu, your chances of survival will be ever so slightly improved. So below you will find, “20 Handy Hints to Help you Write your Gradu.” Though written from the perspective of a literature-type person, many of the following tips will also prove useful to those of you who are more linguistically or pedagogically inclined. Part motivational handbook, part practical guide, and almost all bleeding obvious, this list has been designed to get you in a positive frame of mind, and get you writing. It may even save your life!* As a result, rather than being an ordeal, your seminar and gradu-writing adventure can not only be fun, but one of the most exciting and enjoyable experiences you could ever hope to imagine.**
* Actual chance of life-saving activity occurring: 0.00027%.
**Not intended to be a factual statement.
20 Handy Hints to Help you Write your Gradu.
1). No matter how lazy or dumb you think you are, someone who is both lazier and dumber than you once successfully completed their gradu, I guarantee it. Gua–ran–tee it.
2). Writing a gradu is an enormous amount of work and there’s no way of getting around it. Accept that from the get-go and move on – you’ll be better off for it.
3). If you can, begin taking your seminar with a friend – if not in the exact same group, then at least at around the same time. Bribe or blackmail them if necessary. You do NOT want to be going through this thing alone, trust me.
4). Choose your topic early and choose it well. If you absolutely insist on being lazy, then be lazy at some other... hell, ANY other time. Make the effort to find a topic that is interesting and right for you and you will save yourself an enormous amount of grief further down the road. Whether you like it or not, you and your gradu are going to be spending an awful lot of time together, so you may as well take the time to figure out whether the two of you even like each other first.
5). Once you’ve chosen a general topic, work on creating your thesis statement. Make it as clear as you can, make sure you understand it completely, and then keep it close by at all times, for it will be “a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out.” For most of us, a gradu is much bigger than anything we’ve ever had to write before, so it is very easy to get lost in it. Countless times I managed to lose myself so completely that I would actually have to stop and think, “Wait a second – what the hell am I writing about again?!” Referring back to your thesis statement will clear up your confusion and help you find your way.
6). Before you begin your seminar classes, read through a couple of old gradus. Ask your teacher for recommendations if necessary. If they’re somewhat related to your topic, so much the better. In some ways a gradu is just like a really long essay, but in other ways, it really kind of isn’t. Seeing how others have written and structured their papers will be enormously helpful and well worth your time.
7). Break your gradu down. Both with respect to your preparation, and even more so in your mind. If you go around all day thinking about the fact that you have to write sixty or seventy pages or more, you’ll drive yourself absolutely crazy. Try to think of it more in terms of having to write around three 10 page essays each term for a year – which in all likelihood is probably pretty close to what you’ve been doing at school up until now anyway. It will help you to keep a sense of perspective and make your gradu seem much more manageable. Plus the fact is that it’s kind of true – each chapter of your gradu really is like a smaller essay that you will then eventually join together.
8). Choose yourself a theme song. Yes, you read that correctly, a theme song. A gradu-writing motivational theme song. This idea was given to me by my friend and fellow gradu survivor Anne-Mari Ala-Kuha, and it’s pure genius. Mine was “You’re the Best” by Joe Esposito, but it can be pretty much anything, whatever works for you. Every time you’re feeling discouraged or unmotivated, just play your theme song and instantly get your head back in the game.
9). Make the time and effort to take organised and detailed notes. Having various thoughts and ideas written on several dozen sheets of paper and used napkins scattered randomly about your house is neither helpful nor efficient, and it will inevitably get you into trouble. Furthermore, using a unique kind of short-hand that you make up on the spot may work just fine when you're writing your essays two days before they’re due, but this is your gradu – chances are you’re not going to be able to finish it off in a couple of days. “GRNK YTZ XMH 38@#” might make perfect sense to you in the moment, but it’s more than likely that when you have to read it again six months from now, it’s just going to look like the complete gibberish it really is. Save yourself the stress and frustration and write things out properly.
10). Don’t feel as though you have to understand your topic perfectly before you begin writing. Doing research beforehand is obviously very important, but there’s a temptation to put off the writing process indefinitely by constantly saying to yourself, “I’m not quite ready, I just need to read a little bit more.” However by doing that you run the risk of information overload – reading so much that it becomes overwhelming. Before you get to that point, start writing. As the pages begin to fill up, you’ll start to feel a lot better, and the writing process itself will help you organise your thoughts. Many people think that if they only read enough, then everything will eventually become clear in their mind, and their gradu will just come pouring out of their head, fully-formed and perfect. It doesn’t work that way.
11). Don’t be afraid to state your own opinions. This is true of any essay obviously, but even more so for your gradu. Going through page after page of other people’s opinions is very boring to read, but perhaps just as importantly for you, it’s very boring to write too. You’ll feel so much more engaged with your thesis, and so much more motivated to work on it, if you have the sense that you ‘own’ it. If there are flaws in your logic, or if you happen to just miss the mark completely, your teacher will point that out to you – it’s what they get paid for.
You’re intelligent and you have good instincts, so trust them. After all, we weren’t accepted into the university based on our good looks – if that were the case then I never would have had to apply twice.
12). As important as setting aside enough time to work on your gradu, is setting aside enough time to work on your gradu regularly. An hour per day for a week is much more effective than seven hours in one day. By keeping yourself in regular contact with your work, you’ll find that you start thinking about it all the time, constantly processing information throughout your day – in the shower, on the bus, at the supermarket – all without even being fully aware of it. This is a very good thing, because once you sit down to write, you’ll have all these ideas ready to talk about, ideas that you won’t feel like you even had to work for. However, if you only work one day a week, not only won’t this happen, but you’ll waste a ton of time just trying to remember exactly what you had been thinking about a week before.
13). Those of you who traditionally like to study in either Kaisa-Talo or Aleksandria might like to consider working on your gradu at home instead, at least once you begin writing anyway. You’ll realise very quickly that carrying two dozen books to school and home again every day pretty much sucks, and besides, there’s not really a great deal of room there anyway. At home you can cover your desk, bed, couch, floor – pretty much any open space you have with books, and then easily refer to them whenever you need to. I only saw my couch for the first time in six months just last week when I finally gathered up all the books and articles that had been piled up on it since September. And besides, if all of you stay at home, then just maybe I’ll be able to find a seat in Kaisa-Talo myself for a change.
14). Remember that when all else fails, you can always work on your introduction. The universal rule about gradu introductions is that they almost always follow the same basic formula, so no matter how lost you get with every other aspect of your thesis, you know you will have a roadmap handy to guide you through your intro. Don’t believe me? Allow me to demonstrate. (Again, this is primarily for the literature minded among you, and of course you don’t HAVE to use this list, you can write whatever you want, it’s just meant to be a guide. But feel free to pick and choose among the following points to help create the introduction that’s right for you):
> Describe the circumstances under which your book/s was/were written. (setting, time, political/social context, etc.)
> Give a brief synopsis.
> Relate the book’s message/implications/relevance/importance/etc.
> Give an overview of the critical reception/response. (awards/nominations?)
> Societal response/social impact?
> Summarise/investigate main critical articles written in response to the novel/s.
> Give a clear statement of your main thesis/argument.
> Explain prior work done in this particular area, focusing on its shortcomings, and how your thesis will be different/unique from anything done before.
> Clarify your terms. Discuss how these terms are relevant to and impact upon your thesis.
> Provide a breakdown of your chapters. Explain the contents and purpose of each.
> Concluding remarks. (possibly briefly restate your thesis/argument?)
See! What did I tell you? It practically writes itself!***
*** Despite reports to the contrary, there has never been a documented case of a gradu actually writing itself.
15). When you find yourself in the zone (and you will), do everything you can to stay there. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, meeting friends, showering, eating, sleeping – these are all things that can be done at another time – a time when you’re not in the zone for instance. When the ideas keep coming and the words keep flowing, seemingly at will, the only thing you should be thinking about is riding that wave as far as it will take you.
16). When you find yourself in the depths of despair (and you will), consult Kristiina Nieminen’s motivational penguin. He helped me – he can help you too.
17). One of the (very, very few) good things about having to write something as large as a gradu is the fact that you can attack it from a number of different angles. With your average ten page essay, if you happen to get stuck there’s often not a lot you can do about it other than wait for inspiration to strike. But rather than throwing your laptop against the wall and storming off to get drunk the way you normally would, with your gradu you can simply take a deep breath, set aside what you had been working on, and begin something else instead. Perhaps you start reading that one article that you’ve been putting off for ages, or begin working on a different chapter, or update your reference list, which always seems to take me five times longer than I thought it would. With a gradu, you often have the option of taking a break without actually having to take a break.
18). Again, when writing something as large as a gradu, there will inevitably be days when you know you ought to work on it, but you just really, really, really don’t want to. However, at those inevitable times, it’s often possible to trick yourself into at least getting something done, by promising yourself that you will “only read one page”, or “only write one paragraph.” Once you’ve managed to finish that bare minimum of work for the day, then you can genuinely walk away from it if you want. Doing something, no matter how small, is always better than doing nothing, and you will definitely feel better for it, not to mention far less guilty. But also, you’ll often find that once you do complete your minimum daily requirement, you can actually keep going without too much trouble after all. Sometimes just getting started is the hardest part.
19). As with point 14, conclusions also generally follow the same basic formula, so once you actually have some (conclusions, that is), you have a ready-made template to guide you on your conclusion-writing way:
> Restate your thesis/argument. (“This thesis has demonstrated that/how/etc...”)
> Give a step by step run-down of your main thesis points, reminding the reader how each point you make proves your thesis/argument.
> Admit the limitations of your study and offer suggestions for further research based on your findings.
> Acknowledgements? (Literary/otherwise. “I’d like to thank the Academy for this award...”)
20). Throughout the process of writing your gradu, remember to stop occasionally and take a moment to appreciate the significance of what it is that you’re accomplishing, and be proud of yourself for accomplishing it. Not everybody writes a thesis during their lifetime, not everybody even can, so the simple fact that you are (and for most of you, in a language that is not even native to you no less!) is something that is genuinely significant, and shouldn’t be overlooked – least of all by you. Once you complete your gradu, the sense of relief and achievement you’ll feel should be more than enough to convince you that you truly have accomplished something pretty special.
So, there you have it! As promised, twenty handy hints to help you write your gradu. Follow this indispensable guide and before you know it,**** you’ll be holding your very own thesis in your very own two hands. Good luck!
****Not true. It will take longer than that.