I’m spending a lot of my time at the moment reading thesis drafts. And reflecting on the theses and papers I’ve helped students with, and my own writing practice, I have formulated the Rimmer toilet paper methodology for thesis writing and reviewing to help other supervisors and their students.
The methodology is inspired by Rimmer’s frugal use of toilet paper: “one up, one down, one to polish”. Applying the same idea to thesis reviewing saves the time of the both the student and the supervisor.
The aim is that the supervisor only has to read the thesis three times, and the student doesn’t go mad revising draft after draft.
This how it works:
1. One up: the first draft has the ideas and the structure, the outline of the argument, and the chain of logic between method, results and conclusions with enough data to support the argument. And that’s all. So, on the reading of this draft, the sticky and lumpy problems get sorted, and direction for what else needs to go in is clarified. The result of this reading is that the page/word count goes up, because the student goes away with a clear understanding of what to do to put where.
2. One down: the second draft should be pretty much complete, and logically sequenced. A little bit of structural editing happens at this stage – paragraphs get moved, the argument gets tightened up. And this is where stuff that doesn’t need to be in there gets deleted. You can’t afford to be precious – if it doesn’t contribute clearly and directly, cut it out. The result of this reading is the page/word count goes down.
3. One to polish: the third draft should be the last if you did the first two well. This is the copyedit and proofread stage – just making it read nicely, fixing grammar and spelling errors: polishing. This stage must be preceded by the previous two, because you can’t shine… a first draft.
As a supervisor, sometimes it feels like a whole roll of toilet paper has to be used to clean up a thesis between first mucky draft and final polished perfection. And after the tenth reading you start to want to insert the thesis sideways into even the best of students. But the thoughtful application of the “one up, one down, one to polish” methodology will save time and support better student-supervisor relationships.
Note that the “one up, one down, one to polish” methodology is most suitable for lengthy pieces of writing, where a theme or argument needs to be sustained. For very short pieces, such as blog posts, the urinal method is perfectly acceptable – just squirt it out, and walk away.