The Single System for Academic Writing

I believe it’s my luck to chance reading a book review about Demystifying Dissertation Writing by Peg B. Single before I complete my dissertation. I count my blessing to have found the book and read it to help me progressing recently. I’m not reviewing the book because you can read the review by clicking the link above. I just want to share some of the author’s practical techniques that work for me.

I really like how the book provides practical techniques from preparing your writing until you really write pages that eventually become your dissertation. The author has a very systematic way to do just that, which she named “The Single System”:

1. Interactive reading and notes  taking

According to the author, reading is like conversing with the author of my reading at my own pace. Interactive means you don’t just read without trying to contribute to the conversation by asking critical questions about what you read. Finding time to  read and take notes are always the major issue in a learner’s life. Yet, this step cannot be skipped. We need to read and take notes (interactively) before we can start writing. The author calls this step part of prewriting.

2. Citeable notes

When I read a journal article that is most relevant to my topic, I would definitely want to cite it. Normally, I have difficulties to make proper citation because I normally leave it to last minute to put into my chapter. I know I have been doing it wrong but I had no other better way. The author provides good technique to do this properly. Citeable notes should inform the main points from the article that is relevant to the topic in writing. Collect and put the citeable notes into relevant theme for easy reference. Citeable notes should be the basis in helping you expand your writing.

3. Focus statement

I first tried writing my focus statement about what my dissertation is about. It’s not a one line statement, but it can be a paragraph if you like. The most important thing is this focus statement should be “clear, concise and compelling”. At first, I thought a focus statement is similar to thesis statement that will not change much. I was wrong. Focus statement includes more than thesis statement and should be refined over time as the research idea evolves.

4. One-page outline

My one-page outline helps me to organize my contents for the dissertation. I basically put together all the chapters’ names and the basic contents in each chapter. I write focus statement for each chapter to have a clear purpose on what I want to write in them. This one-page outline is very useful to have a ‘big picture’ in the mind, so that you won’t go too far off or being too ambitious trying to cover more chapters than necessary.

5. Long-page outline with reference

This is where it gets excited. With that one-page outline, I expand it to become long-page outline. I make it more details for each chapter’s sections and subsections. Similarly, I write focus statement for each section and subsection to have a clear purpose too. Reference is where I put the citeable notes I collected earlier into each section and subsection that are relevant.

6. Regular writing routine

The author recommends to write regularly, daily if possible. Establish a writing routine is important to make myself write and to overcome writer’s block. This book has a chapter dedicates to the ways to prevent writer’s block too. I still don’t have a fixed writing routine but I try to force myself to write daily, even if it’s just a blog post. Sometimes it’s hard if my prewriting is not done properly then I will have to take extra time to read and take notes before try to write again.


I practiced each technique that the author recommends after I finished reading each chapter. So far, it works for me. I have even improvised to put my citeable notes into my literature review matrix that I have used to write my sections. I have used the one-page outline and long-page outline during my progress meeting and my supervisor thought they are my good work-map and commented how organized I am.

If you are just starting in this dissertation journey, I recommend you to read this book and any other books that can help you prepare and write. You will need all the good tips and motivation you can find in sustaining your writing process. I wished I had read this book when I first started the dissertation writing. It probably would say me a lot of time in doing prewriting. I had to go back a step to do a proper prewriting on my literature review before I wrote my Chapter 2. I would say it’s all worth it even I took longer time. I’m much happier with my writing now. I’m even happier that my citations are done without hassle. I have learned so much in these few months that I believe it will benefit me for life.

Of course, this is not the end yet. I must write and keep writing even it’s not perfect. I recommend you to do so and don’t worry if you don’t get everything right the first time. Revision always helps in perfecting everything later. Don’t worry if some techniques don’t work well for you. Just try something else. The author always recommends to try each technique and see if it works, if not, find something else that works for you.

All in all, I believe in this old sayings, “Practice makes perfect”. 🙂


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