June 14, 2018
When it comes to writing up your thesis, a word of warning comes to mind: please do not procrastinate. Yet that is exactly what many do or are in danger of doing. Work, family and life in general all get in the way of achieving our goals.
You might have heard of the fable story about the Hare (Rabbit) feeling very confident, arrogantly ridiculed the Tortoise because of his slow-moving approach. However, when the Tortoise challenges the Rabbit to a race, guess who the winner was? The slow-moving Tortoise, instead of the pacy Rabbit. How did this happen? It is because the Rabbit, feeling over-confident of winning, took a nap midway through the race, while the Tortoise continued in his slow pace, crawling slowly but steadily, to arrive at the finishing line first.
The lesson from this story is relevant and applies vividly when it comes to writing up your thesis – adopt the slow but steady approach and you will get to the finishing line.
The following are a few ideas of how to do this. The best advice is to always start early and write as you go:
– Writing is a skill that needs to be practised, so the more you write the easier it will become.
– Writing helps you to think through what you are doing and forces you to analyse and make connections.
– A doctoral thesis is a long document and better tackled in small chunks so it does not overwhelm you.
– Try to get into the habit of writing from the start of your research eg: summarise research articles you read and produce written material for meetings with your supervisor.
Remember it is not something you have to do at the end of your research, writing is part of the process of research and analysis.
So what could be written during the research process? The answer is virtually any part of the final thesis apart from the conclusion. The trick is to try to set aside time for writing. Consider whether anything you are doing could be written up. Typically, it is possible to write the following well before you get to the end of your research:
– Literature review – bits and chunks of it while you carry out your literature review search and analysis.
– Reports analysing data and detailing pilot studies.
– A personal journal or laboratory notebook.
– Methodology chapter – this is the easiest to write very early.
– Early drafts of other chapters.
Writing the thesis is like an Engineer pulling together the various parts from a design to build your car. The various parts (ie: the bits and chunks) are what he/she uses but it is based on a design or drawing. So have a solid plan or structure of your thesis as early as possible. You may need to restructure and rewrite, but rewriting is easier than starting from a blank page.
Keeping track of your writing
Tips for making your early writing useful for you final thesis:
– Start thinking about your thesis structure.
– Develop a filing system to keep track of relevant results and bits of writing for each chapter.
– Keep track of your references and your associated notes, ideally by using a reference manager.
– Back up your work regularly and keep a copy in more than one location.
– Copy key parts of manual records, logbooks or diaries, ideally by creating a digital backup.
Ingrid Curl, an Associate Editor for the U.K. Times Higher Education, and a formal doctoral student gives 10 writing tips. These tips are equally applicable to both DBA and PhD students. Follow for more details. Looking at a couple of them:
– Do not be daunted by the task of “writing up”. Work on the text as your research takes shape.
– Plan the structure of your thesis carefully with your supervisor. Create rough drafts as you go so that you can refine them.
– Do not write up in chronological order. Work on each chapter while it is fresh in your mind or pertinent to what you are doing at that moment, but come back to it all later and work it up into a consistent piece.
The vitae website also offers a range of tips on writing up your thesis.
You can never start the process of writing up too early. If you have structured your work towards this ultimate goal from day one, it is a much less daunting task. See how you’re doing against the checklist below. If you can tick more than half you’re well on your way. If you haven’t started yet, why not start today?
– Break your research down into manageable chunks and make a draft plan of all the sections and chapters in the thesis.
– Break these into sections and keep breaking it down until you are almost at the paragraph level.
– Use headings and sub-headings to assist. These can be changed/added to/deleted later as you review your thesis.
– Check your plan with your supervisor. Your supervisor will be your best source of support.
– Structure your electronic and paper filing systems in the same way as your thesis by creating folders for each chapter.
– Check your institution’s requirements for length and style, etc.
– Remember to back up your work regularly and in more than one place.
If you want some ideas on thesis style and structure why not:
– Visit your university library to find other theses in your subject area.
– Find theses online. For example, at the British Library’s Electronic Theses Online Service (EThOS).
– Ask your supervisor and other academics what they look for when they are examining Doctoral theses.
– Ask your colleagues, especially those who have recently completed a doctorate, to review your thesis or a chapter for content, and ask other friends to proof-read.
We also encourage you to visit our website and consider subscribing to some of our service on thesis drafting and editing.
Above all remember writing up your thesis content is not something you have to do at the end of your research, writing is part of the process of research and analysis. Adopt the slow but steady approach and you will get to the finishing line.
Acknowledgements and Bibliography
Sections of this piece are taken from the following websites: