Book recommendations for PhD students

I would recommend these books about reading and writing to any postgraduate or project student in mathematics education, or in any area of social science.

Wallace & Wray: Critical Reading and Writing for Postgraduates

This book describes very helpful practical strategies for reading efficiently and with writing in mind.  I believe that everyone should read it before starting a literature review.  For those who are writing up, particularly useful chapters might be those on structuring a dissertation and using the literature in research papers.

Becker: Writing for Social Scientists

This is great for anyone who struggles with writing, especially those who find it difficult to get started on a big piece of work.  It is a very easy read (I recently re-read it in a day) and it will cheer you right up.

Williams: Style – Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace (new editions have slightly different titles)

If I could keep only one book, this is the one I would choose.  Williams explains how to identify bad sentences, how to identify exactly what is bad about them, and how to fix them.  Then he does the same for paragraphs and for larger units of text.  This information saved me when I was struggling to write – it will dramatically improve your clarity.  In later chapters, Williams explains ways to make writing not only clear but elegant.  Every time I go back to this book I learn something new.

Strunk & White: The Elements of Style

This is very short and very good.  It is less detailed than Williams, but gives clear illustrations showing, for instance, how to make your writing more forceful.

Evans: How to do Research

Evans writes about the whole process of research, and has a section about writing (particularly useful for introductions) in his chapter on communication.

Lunenburg & Irby: Writing a Successful Thesis or Dissertation – Tips and Strategies for Students in the Social and Behavioral Sciences

This book offers fairly prescriptive instructions about what to put in which chapters and sections of a thesis.  You have to read it with a pinch of salt, because different subject areas and different academics expect different things.  Also, it offers example texts from actual theses as though these are really good – they aren’t that great, because they are written by inexperienced writers.  But the suggestions are useful for structuring those troublesome thesis sections like introductions and discussions.

Aldridge & Derrington: The Research Funding Toolkit

This book is an excellent guide to writing proposals for research funding.  Like many of the books on this list, it contains detailed, practical, prescriptive advice on what to include where and on how to set about the whole process of preparing a proposal.

Track: The Penguin Guide to Punctuation

This is short, concise, and comprehensive.  If you have never been quite sure how to use a semicolon, this is the book for you.  It is also, improbable though this sounds, funny.

Track: Mind the Gaffe: The Penguin Guide to Common Errors in English

This is worth reading just for the laughs.  As in his punctuation book, Trask is entertainingly rude about misuses of numerous words, and in particular about people who use fancy words needlessly (see, in particular, ‘utilise’).  My copy now falls open at the page that explains common misuses of ‘comprise’, ‘consist’, ‘compose’ and ‘constitute’.