Writing Your Thesis
The path from blank page to completed thesis is never a straight one. Whether you enjoy writing or not, condensing the past 3 or 4 years of your work into a succinct and coherent literary masterpiece can be quite a challenge for various reasons. So, to help things along, here are some of my top tips for writing your thesis.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – I’m sure Lao Tzu’s quote has been over-used in many PhD thesis writing workshops. It’s true, making that first move on any big task can be important. However, how many people would randomly decide to go on a thousand mile journey without any prior thought or planning? If I were taking a thousand mile journey I’d want to know where I would eat and sleep along the way, what places I should avoid, where’s the best free WI-FI etc. So, while I am no philosopher, might I suggest that a journey of a thousand miles (or the writing of a thesis) begins long before that first step…with some good old-fashioned planning (not as catchy as the original, I know). Before you begin writing your thesis take time to create an outline so you know what to talk about in each chapter, what figures and data you’ll use and how all your work fits together. Also, set goals and deadlines to help make the task of writing your thesis more manageable. It may be a good idea to bring your supervisor in on this too, so they can follow up with you during your writing and check how you are progressing according to your plan. Of course, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry", so planning some contingency time into your writing schedule will help minimise the effects of any set-backs or detours you may encounter as you are writing up. While you may be enthusiastic to start (and finish) as soon as possible, taking the time to efficiently plan out your thesis will likely save you time and effort instead of just ploughing straight into it.
Never too early to write! – Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, your literary masterpiece is also going to take time to write and edit. While the majority of your thesis is likely to be written towards the end of your studies, taking time to write throughout your PhD will put less pressure on you at the end and obviously reduce your workload…and likely stress levels. You could write up completed experiments as thesis chapters, start to put together results tables and figures or research and draft ideas of what will form your introduction. Don't forget, there are regular writing bootcamps which are open to anyone looking to spend some quality time writing up their research in a distraction-free environment. The dates of these sessions are advertised in advance by email from our PGR writing advisor Jennifer Boyle, so keep an eye on your inbox if you'd like to attend. Being proactive in writing throughout your studies will be a huge advantage when you actually come to your writing up stage and will also mean you can then devote some time at the end of your studies to other important matters….such as figuring out what to do next!
Don’t barricade yourself away - Writing up your thesis is obviously going to consume a lot of time, but you shouldn’t let it consume all your time. Barricading yourself in the office or a room in your house with your laptop and a week’s supply of M+M’s and Red Bull and forgoing sleep, nutritional meals and personal hygiene practices is probably not the best approach to effectively and coherently writing your thesis. Maintaining a good work-life balance during your writing up phase will help you to stay focused, motivated and relieve stress so it’s important you don’t give up taking breaks, exercising, socialising etc.
Back it up! – We’ve all heard horror stories of other people’s misfortune when they didn’t back up an important document and their laptop/USB or whatever other storage device they had the only copy saved on decided to give up the ghost at precisely the moment they needed it. Not something you want to happen with your thesis, so make sure you have multiple copies saved on different storage devices, and that you keep these copies current - nothing worse that needing to use a back up only to realise that it's missing a lot of your recent work because it’s an old save from a week or more ago! Of course in our era of technology, these back ups don't necessarily have to all be stored on physical hard drives. The University’s Outlook 365 system with OneDrive is a great tool to enable you to save your documents on the cloud so that you can access and update them where and whenever you need them.
For more tips on writing your thesis, there’s a great course put on by the University which you can sign up for through MyGlasgow and as previously mentioned there are the writing bootcamps that you can attend to focus on your writing. Currently, there's also a virtual writing challenge for academics for the month of February which you can get involved in by using #WriteSaidFeb. Are you currently writing up or about to start? What are your best tips? Let us know in the comments or tweet us @UofG_PGRblog.