I’ve been on hand as my daughter writes assignments for her degree program, and I’ve been throwing in some research. Watching her compile research in order to begin to write got me thinking. The advice of several mentors in the field of academic writing is “Write to think” not “Think to write”. For example, Simon Peyton Jones suggests that you start to write at the beginning of the process. In an excellent YouTube video he explains that the paper should be a ‘forcing function’ to identify the key areas of your research that need to be redirected or developed. He explains that a written paper is a mechanism for communication – it is how you do research, and it helps you with the thinking process.
Simon Peyton Jones, Microsoft Research,
How to write a great research paper
I can see how getting snippets of written ideas down on paper would be a useful deterrent from wandering into the deep details and sidebars of a research topic. Wandering can result in getting lost; missing the objectives of the assignment. The writing helps to keep you focused on the main objective for that section of your work.
So it is with a part of a thesis. When compiling the literature to provide the context for your study, it’s easy to get into pockets of material that, while interesting and tangentially relevant, may pull you away from the objective of the short, contextual summary that is needed to ground your research. Perhaps writing down a summary of what this pocket contributes to your study keeps you focused, and hopefully saves you from using valuable writing time on a research detour.