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Workshop – Writing a thesis or a book: Exchange on the management of a major project


This workshop in French – with the possibility of questions in English – aims to probe participants’ concerns, questions and good practices around how to complete a thesis or write a book within the prescribed time frame. Careful maintenance of a bibliography of priority readings and an Excel file to measure the time to be spent on each task will be among the practical tips that will be shared. I will also have questions for the participants, who will also undoubtedly have additional tips to share with the group. After writing 5 books (2 of which were inspired by my theses and one of which was a collaboration between two of us), I have refined a method of working that is unique to me, but that can also give ideas to doctoral students and young researchers in order to help them find “their” method of working, with a view to becoming a professor, an author, a civil servant or a consultant. I will emphasize the need to be efficient, flexible, rigorous and have integrity.

Born in Sudbury, Serge Dupuis, PhD, is an associate member of CEFAN at Laval University, offering research, writing, training and coaching services related to the political and institutional history of North American Francophonies. For more information, please visit SergeDupuis.com.

On November 3, 2022, the CHA was fortunate to host Dr. Serge Dupuis for its third virtual professional development workshop, entitled, “Writing a Thesis or a Book: A Discussion on Managing a Major Project.” From the University of Waterloo, Serge Dupuis completed a post-doctorate at Laval University and is associated with its Chair for the Development of Research on French-Speaking Culture in North America (CEFAN). He now provides independent historical research and writing services. This workshop provided stimulating discussions on how to successfully tackle large projects for the entire historical community.

Dupuis began by reminding us that while it takes passion to carry out historical studies and projects, it is not enough. We must also have the means and resources to do the job in a timely manner – time is of the essence in any project. With this in mind, he presented his working method, developed throughout his career, to stimulate reflection in each participant.

At the end of each reading, Dupuis suggests each researcher ask himself the following question: If I had only one thing left to do before moving forward with my project, what would it be? Answering this question not only optimizes the writer’s work, but also allows the writer to reassess their priorities considering changing research angles. The same is true for monographs, theses, and dissertations, where it is essential to identify the sections essential to the argument. As Dupuis reiterated, “you can’t just jump in.” In a context of limited time and funding, this method has the double advantage of allowing you to reorient your research according to the work accomplished and to focus directly on the concrete project. Any additional information extracted from the readings can be put in a separate file – what Dupuis calls the “fridge.” You can consult it if necessary, but it is not essential.

Organizing your time well also means planning your work schedule effectively. You need to identify the times of day when you are most productive so you can make the most of them. For Dupuis, that means mornings devoted to writing and afternoons to other tasks such as reading, research, or meetings. He emphasizes that a researcher has only five to seven hours of optimal attention in a day, which must be used for the most essential tasks. Exhausting yourself by writing for long, distracted hours runs the risk of being counterproductive: if you are going to do work you will inevitably have to rewrite, it is best to make sure you do it during periods of concentration. You have to be indulgent with yourself: if your head is not in it during a day of writing, why not concentrate on other tasks and come back to it the next day?

Dupuis says it’s also important not to underestimate the number of hours spent on a project. As an experienced independent researcher, a monograph project takes him 12 to 14 months; he estimates that a first such project would take 24 months. Dupuis separates the process into seven major stages: 1) exploratory research, 2) the first stage of research, 3) organization, analysis, and writing, 4) the second stage of research, 5) storytelling, 6) editing the manuscript, and 7) publishing the book. This approach reflects two major pieces of advice that Dupuis puts forward. First, it is essential to return to the sources a second time to orient and complete the research. Second, storytelling is an essential step in adapting an academic work to its audience.

Finally, Dupuis put a strong emphasis on the need to calculate the number of hours spent on each task performed in a project. This way, it is possible to plan time more effectively and with full knowledge of the facts. Furthermore, in the context of contract work, it is the best way to avoid being underpaid due to an underestimation of the number of hours required to complete the project.

Is this the only effective way to work on a large project? Of course not, says Dupuis. But it does bring to the fore essential considerations that can be overlooked in a researcher’s passion for his or her object of study – and must be kept in mind to ensure a healthy balance. This CHA workshop was a unique opportunity to reflect on his research methodology from the experience of an accomplished and generous researcher.

The recording of the workshop is available on the CHA YouTube channel.