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Writing up your thesis

Hints, tips and rules

  • The first rule is to write up drafts as you go along throughout your research - don't leave it all to the end! There will be to much to do, and you might lose sight of the structure of the whole.
  • If you have presented parts of your work at conferences or published some parts you have an idea of the kind of contribution your research is making in the field.
  • Leave yourself enough time to ensure any graphs, charts etc. can be well produced.
  • Write, check it out with friends, colleagues and your supervisor.
  • Edit and edit until it reads well throughout and ensure that the reader can read the language you are using. If you are concerned about the clarity of your language, you might like to consider using the proofreading and language editing services provided by our Partner, Scribbr.
  • Do not make it so complex and full of jargon as to be incomprehensible.
  • Beware of gaps in your argument which are glaringly obvious to a reader or examiner but which you yourself could miss easily because you are so close to the work. A poor dissertation or thesis is like a large piece of knitting with holes in.

In a dissertation or a thesis you concentrate on two main related shapes to the expression of your research and its findings:

  • ‘Telling the story’ - relating back to the proposal and exploring the research journey, the decisions and interpretations - this lets a reader see why you carried out the research, what decisions you made and what boundaries there are to your work- why you chose methods, how you overcame difficulties.
  • 'Architecture' - Ensuring your conceptual framework underpins and runs throughout all you do from questions to theories and methodologies and methods, to analysis and interpretation of factual and conceptual findings - and then conclusions. Ensure the reader/examiner can see what a contribution to knowledge your thesis or dissertation makes.

Submitting

Every scheme has its own rules, so you would be well advised at this stage to look back at the rules on length and layout, and the house style in terms of presentation, references, diagrams, bibliographies and appendices. Issues such as how much of your quoted material counts in the word count really matter if you are about to produce a work which is going over length. Issues about the quality of diagrams matter if you have limited access to excellent technology and are relying on hand drawing or photocopy. Ensure you know the rules and stick to them.

For further information see Chapters 23 and 24 of The Postgraduate Research Handbook by Gina Wisker and Authoring a PhD by Patrick Dunleavy.


Top tips for writing up

The way in which you write up your work will depend on the type of researcher you are, working in either a methodical ways or in fits and starts as inspiration strikes. Both approaches can be successful, but there are some steps you can take to ensure success. Make sure that you maintain a good bibliographical record at all stages to reduce your work load towards the end of your course, impose on yourself a series of deadlines to meet if you fear that you might leave everything to the last minute and work from a plan: even if you have to change this repeatedly, it will give structure to your workload.

  1. Create a personalised timetable that will guide you through the process
  2. Get full publication details of texts as you use them 
  3. Keep writing – synopses of texts can be a useful way to keep this up
  4. Consider if any of your output could be offered for publication 
  5. Use drafts of your work regularly to get constructive feedback

If things go wrong

Things can go wrong for any postgraduate, but these hurdles are rarely disastrous, even though they can seem so at the time. In order to avoid letting things get down, try to analyse the problem if you find yourself lacking in motivation. Some problems (lack of money and time) may be resolved through taking a more rigorous approach to your personalised timetable. Other common stumbling blocks (such as feelings of isolation, writer’s block, or frustration over resources) can be resolved by asking your supervisor to put you in touch with other members of your school or department in a similar position, so that you can pool ideas and share moral support.

This content has been taken from How to Manage your Postgraduate Course by Lucinda Becker.

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