Getting down to writing up: navigating from the field to the desk and the (re)presentation of fieldwork


  • Paul O'Hare University of Sheffield



The writing of a thesis comes at the end of a long and, for some of us, torturous journey. It is in the thesis that we must present the research process, defending the methodology that was utilised, and explain our insights and conclusions. Writing up is the stage at which we must make order and sense out of what is usually a messy research project. Yet at the same time, it is clear that the write-up is not necessarily a straightforward reflection of our actions; it is not simply a matter of reporting how we 'did' research. Furthermore, our approach to the write-up is itself a critical methodological consideration. For instance, the presentation of material, deciding what to include and exclude in a final manuscript, is subjective and frequently becomes a source of concern and self-doubt. Writing represents the 'end game' when we can no longer be cautious regarding our thoughts and must commit to paper what had hitherto been ethereal. As such, it often represents a psychological leap of faith in our own minds and this can bring with it many challenges. In this paper I examine these issues in more detail by reflecting upon my own doctoral thesis write-up, in particular, the writing of my empirical chapters. I consider both how I was troubled by my leaving the field and insecurities that this entailed. I secondly turn to consider the practical difficulties faced in writing up complicated and lengthy case study chapters. In so doing, I illustrate how, rather than representing obstacles to the completion of the thesis, such challenges can in fact produce a more balanced and reflexive research write-up.

Author Biography

Paul O'Hare, University of Sheffield

Paul O'Hare is currently finishing his PhD at the Department of Town & Regional Planning at the University of Sheffield. He previously completed a BA in Geography and Politics at Queen's University, Belfast, before graduating from the University of Sheffield with an MA in Town Planning Research. His present research considers public participation in local decision making processes, particularly the role of collective action and the civic sector in community and neighbourhood governance. He can be contacted at p.ohare(AT) or paulohare(AT)