Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Thesis Writing Advice (SCAD Sequential Art Specific)

I’ve always had an affinity for the written word, although research papers and thesis are not my forte.   I believe that by the time we’ve reached the masters stage in our college career, we’ve probably written a fair amount of research papers, and so really, there’s little excuse for not finishing at least a working draft of your thesis in time.  My advice to those just starting their papers is as follows:

1.     Know your topic before taking the class.
You’ll probably still have to hammer out the finer details, but have a topic that you care about and have opinions on before entering Room 205 for Thesis.  Be prepared to defend it, and be prepared to take notes.

2.     Begin your basic research before starting the class.
If you’ve done step one, you’ll have a general idea of what you’re researching, and you can begin your search before the class even starts.  Throughout the semester, you’ll continue to refine your research and order more material, but it’s helpful to have many of the books you’ll want to start with before the class even starts.  While I rely on Amazon Prime to get my books to me in two days, I can’t rely on my local postal service to deliver on Amazon’s promise.  Fortunately, I have a huge library of comic-theory books that I could fall back on.
                  2. A If the internet fails, ask to borrow from your friends.
Some of us have more books than we know what to do with, particularly if we’ve taken thesis.

3.     Don’t assume your classmates have done step 1 or step 2.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to be patient.  Bringing a sketchbook or research material to class helps a lot.

4.     Constantly ask questions on how you can improve your paper and try to refine it in class as much as possible.
It’s easier than staying awake late at night trying to sort out your thoughts on four cups of coffee.  The later I stayed up and the more caffeination I introduced to my bloodstream, the less I understood what I was writing about.  Save those late nights for grammar checking and formatting.

5.     Your thesis committee will probably not respond to your emails in a timely fashion. 
Just let Mark Kneece know that you have been trying to stay in communication.  He understands that they’re busy folks.  My thesis committee involves John Larison, who’s writing an online class and stressed, and David Duncan, who is in France, and operates on France-time.  The chances of them responding during this busy semester are pretty slim.

6.     Keep your thesis defense short, sweet, and basic.
The major problem of my thesis defense presention was that I tried to cover all my bases, leaving little room for questions about my topic, and much room for nitpicking about the presentation itself.  While that did not affect my grade, it was still pretty annoying.  Do yourself a favor, keep it under 2 minutes.  The rest of the time will be taken up with questions, I promise.

7.     Attend class.
Attendence is still mandatory, and if you miss 4, you still fail.  This class is not optional.

8.     Don’t make your classmates write your thesis for you.
This is your topic.  If you don’t care enough to work on it, pick another.  Class time  after the first week should not be spent helping you figure out your focus.  If you’re having trouble writing, bring in your research and actively discuss your topic.  Don’t make Mark Kneece lead the discussion while the rest of the class brainstorms for you.  And if you are that kind of jerk, at least take notes.

9.     The System Of Comics is dense.  Don’t try to read it in one weekend.
And by dense, I mean Thierry Groensteen makes up more definitions than Scott McCloud, with far fewer pictures.  If you read this book (and most of us have), take copious notes.  You’ll be relying on those notes, not the book itself, when you’re pulling material for your thesis.

10. Don’t try to write your citations alone.
I like Son of Citation Machine to generate my citations, but there are better web-resources available.  Son of Citation Machine does the formatting for you, which is the hard part, in my opinion.

While thesis writing is a rude shock for many of us who have grown comfortable with writing and illustrating those funny picture books, it doesn’t have to be any more unpleasant than any other instance of writing a research paper.  The thesis page requirements for Sequential Arts is 15 pages, discluding images.  This really is not a lot of writing.  The best advice I have to offer is to just get started.  Don’t expect to write a perfect paper on your first draft.  The more mistakes you make early on, the more correction you will get while in the class itself.