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10 tips for writing a PhD thesis
Ingrid curl shares simple rules for keeping your work clear and jargon-free.
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Writing up a PhD can often take place in a frenzy of activity in the last few months of your degree study, after years of hard work. But there are some steps that you can take to increase your chances of success.
- Do not be daunted by the task of “writing up”. Work on the text as your PhD takes shape, remember that all writers need editing, and help yourself by using these basic tips to make life easier. Read what great writers say about how to write before you start, and take their advice to heart. There is no dark art to clear, concise work; it is mostly a result of editing, and editing again. Above all, keep Elmore Leonard’s advice in mind: “If it reads like writing…rewrite it.”
- Plan the structure of your thesis carefully with your supervisor. Create rough drafts as you go so that you can refine them as you become more focused on the write-up. Much of writing comprises rewriting so be prepared to rework each chapter many times. Even Ernest Hemingway said: “The first draft of everything is shit.”
- Academic writing does not have to be dry. Inject some flair into your work. Read advice on writing and remember George Orwell’s words in Why I Write : “Never use the passive where you can use the active”; and Mark Twain’s on adjectives: “When you catch an adjective, kill it.” If you prefer, Stephen King said: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
- 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, coherent piece, restructuring sections where necessary.
- Think carefully about your writing. Write your first draft, leave it and then come back to it with a critical eye. Look objectively at the writing and read it closely for style and sense. Look out for common errors such as dangling modifiers, subject-verb disagreement and inconsistency. If you are too involved with the text to be able to take a step back and do this, then ask a friend or colleague to read it with a critical eye. Remember Hemingway’s advice: “Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.” Clarity is key.
- Most universities use a preferred style of references. Make sure you know what this is and stick to it. One of the most common errors in academic writing is to cite papers in the text that do not then appear in the bibliography. All references in your thesis need to be cross-checked with the bibliography before submission. Using a database during your research can save a great deal of time in the writing-up process. Helpful software includes EndNote or Paperpile. Managing your bibliography from day one may seem obsessive but it will save you a great deal of time and stress by the end of the PhD process.
- Use a house style. Professional publications such as Times Higher Education use a house style guide to ensure consistency in spelling. For example, do not use both -ise spellings and -ize spellings, stick to British spelling and be consistent when referring to organisations or bodies. Because dictionaries vary in their use of hyphenation, use one dictionary and stick to it throughout the writing process. If you consult the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors , you will note the extraordinary number of words with alternative spellings. It can also be a very useful guide to preferred spellings, use of italicisation and foreign phrases.
- Take care when quoting from other sources. Ensure you note whether the italic emphasis is in the original and take careful notes when you are collecting quotes for your thesis. Transcribe them accurately to save work later and keep original spellings (even if they differ from your chosen style) to ensure fidelity to your source.
- Think about plagiarism. If you are quoting from works, quote from them accurately and paraphrase where necessary for your argument. This is where careful note-taking and use of references is invaluable and will help you to avoid even inadvertently plagiarising another work.
- Remember that your thesis is your chance to present your work in the best possible light. Consider your opening paragraphs, entice your reader with your writing and above all be clear about your hypothesis and your conclusion. Append material where it adds value but not where it merely bulks out your work. Consider your reader at all times. This is your chance to showcase your work.
If you stick to these simple rules, your writing will be clear and jargon-free. Above all, take to heart Orwell’s advice: “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.”
Ingrid Curl is associate editor of Times Higher Education , and a former PhD student.
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How to submit a PhD thesis
The final few months of a PhD can often be the hardest, so here are a few tips from a doctoral candidate who recently submitted her thesis
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How to write your Ph.D. thesis
- 30 Apr 2018
- By Elisabeth Pain
Writing a doctoral thesis—the culmination of years of research work—can be a daunting endeavor. But learning from those who have already tackled this task can help you make the process a little smoother. Science Careers asked recent graduates and current students to reflect on their experiences and what did—and didn't—work for them.
How did you structure your thesis and approach writing it? How long did it take?
In my department, theses must be no longer than 175 pages plus front matter and appendices. They can be written in either the so-called "traditional thesis format," which largely consists of a general introduction, a literature review, an overall description of the materials and methods, a presentation of all the results, and a general discussion—or in "manuscript format," where the main chapters are written as standalone publishable articles between a general introduction and discussion. For my thesis, which I started writing just a couple of months ago, I have chosen the manuscript format. - Leslie Holmes , Ph.D. candidate in biology at Queen's University in Kingston, Canada
I wasn't given any specific guidelines on the format or content. The most common advice at my university back in Italy was to look at an older thesis and put together something similar. I had published several papers, so I reorganized them into one coherent and logical story—writing a general background introduction, a chapter introducing my research topic more specifically, a description of the common instrumentation and data analysis, several adapted chapters presenting the original work of my research, and a general conclusion. Altogether, my dissertation was approximately 150 pages. The actual writing took 2 months—the time I had before the final submission deadline. I guess I managed to write it because I had to, the alternative being to fail the Ph.D. - Eleonora Troja , associate research scientist in astrophysics at the University of Maryland in College Park who works at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland
In the Netherlands, where I did my Ph.D., theses are commonly structured as an introduction, four chapters of original research work, and a summarizing discussion. Work that is already published or has been submitted does not need to be rewritten. I was quite lucky to have published two research papers and a review of my field that served as the introduction, and I was revising another manuscript that I had submitted to a journal. This meant that I only had to write one more research chapter and the summarizing discussion, which made the total time and effort to complete my thesis manageable. I started by making a very general outline with all my chapter titles. After getting approval from my supervisor, I made a more detailed outline for the two chapters I had left to write. This was especially helpful for the research manuscript. At the time, my co-author (another Ph.D. student) and I were still acquiring and analyzing the data. The outline helped us with our figures, although some of them started as mock figures that were completed later. Altogether my thesis was 135 pages, which is quite average for a Ph.D. thesis at my institution, and it took me approximately 150 working hours over a couple of months. - Anoek Zomer , postdoctoral fellow in cancer biology at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research
My thesis had to be written in publishable chapters. I had a hard time keeping the chapters short enough for manuscript submissions, so at the time of defense my thesis—which consisted of three chapters plus an overall abstract for introduction—was 125 pages, but it ended up being trimmed after that. I focused on producing several manuscript-ready chapters rather than trying to include all the research work that I did. I first organized my data and results into a storyboard by printing all my graphs and laying them out on a giant table. This strategy helped me see how the pieces fit together, which results would be in or out, the best way to display the data, and where the chapter breaks should be. It also helped me identify a few gaps that needed to be filled back in the lab. Altogether it took about 1 year, including a couple months of maternity leave in the early stages, to write the whole thing. - Sarah Gravem , postdoctoral scholar in marine ecology at Oregon State University in Corvallis
I decided to write my entire dissertation from scratch. I was already working on two manuscripts for journal submission, but both were collaborations, so it made more sense, and it was also easier, to tell the story of my Ph.D. just by itself. I wrote up my scientific results in four different chapters, with additional chapters for the introduction, materials and methods, and conclusion. For each of the results chapters, I went back to my original experiments and computational results to verify the findings and regenerated the figures and tables as required. I made a lot of notes and flowcharts describing what should go into each chapter to guide me during the writing, which later also helped me provide a quick overview at the beginning of each chapter and crosscheck information at the end of the writing process. As I completed the whole thing, I was quite surprised at how much I had written. My thesis was nearly 300 pages, and I almost got concerned about examiners having to read them all. But the "real thesis" was only about 180 pages, with the remainder being appendices, including my two manuscripts under review, references, and lists of figures and tables. I spent about 6 months putting it all together, using the 4-year duration of my stipend as a hard deadline to push myself to finish. - Katharina F. Heil , research associate in computational neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom
My writing got squeezed into a two-and-a-half-week gap between the end of a major research project and my defense date, which had been chosen 6 months earlier. Luckily, my department allows students to use published papers as dissertation chapters and I had published regularly during my Ph.D., so all I really needed to write was my introduction. I chose to put together a brief history of my field. This required tracking down and reading a whole bunch of historical papers. Then I jotted down every thought I had on the subject, producing a bullet list of elements I wanted to cover, logical connections between ideas, references, and even just catchy phrases. Then I made a first attempt to compile all these thoughts into some structured text, focusing on whether I had sufficient material to support my points and how well they flowed. After that, I focused on honing the phrasing itself, using online resources such as spell checkers and grammar books as English is my second language, followed by a final overall polish. With all the figures and numerous supplementary materials, my thesis—which I've just successfully written, defended, and submitted—ended up being over 200 pages, which is within the norm in our department. - Anton Goloborodko , postdoctoral fellow in theoretical biophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge
Who did you get help or feedback from? How involved was your principal investigator (PI)?
When it comes to theses, I find that no one is as helpful as former grad students from your group. When I reached out to our lab's alumni for advice, they helped me understand the overall process of thesis writing, estimate the time it would take to complete different parts, and watch out for potential pitfalls. I also downloaded and skimmed through their theses to get a feel for what the final product was supposed to look like. My PI had been heavily involved in writing each of the papers that went into my thesis, so the need for his input was less critical. Nonetheless, before sitting down to write, I had a conversation with him in which we figured out what the main theme of my thesis should be and which papers to use. Then when the time came to polish my thesis, many of my friends and colleagues, and my wife, who is also a biophysicist, provided invaluable advice. - Goloborodko
I sent each chapter's methods and results to all my committee members so that we could make sure that the science was complete before I dug into the key scientific messages. My PI made sure we were in touch and made himself available for questions. He also was an excellent and very thorough editor—having somebody who will rip your writing apart and help you trim and organize is critical. Nearer the end, my fellow graduate students also helped me cut a lot of words. - Gravem
My PI got involved a couple of times: At the beginning when I asked him for advice about how to put a thesis together, and at the end for the final reading of the draft. But I still felt totally lost. So when my best friend told me that he was going to visit his adviser to discuss how to write his thesis, I did not hesitate to tag along. His adviser clarified the expectations of the graduating commission, gave us some useful suggestions, and reassured us that all would be OK. That meeting helped me feel less overwhelmed and more confident. A senior colleague of mine, who was an expert adviser for Ph.D. students at another university, also offered his help, and he reviewed every single chapter of my thesis. I would deal with the revisions while he was moving on to the next chapter, which made it much more manageable and saved a lot of time. At that time, I badly needed someone to tell me that I wasn't doing something totally wrong or stupid. - Troja
I sent my chapters to my PI one by one as I finished writing them. At times, I would get some feedback relatively straight away by email or through Skype; other times, I would need to send one or two reminders. Setting deadlines for myself, and letting my PI know about them, made me more accountable and helped me stick to my schedule. When I needed concrete tips on specific aspects of the thesis and my PI was really busy, I would just stop by his office. At times, all I needed was a quick "Yes, you are moving in the right direction" to keep going. I also sent individual chapters to people whom I knew had an interest in my research, mainly for proofreading, and I tried to find native English speakers to help me with grammar and spelling. I notified them all ahead of time so that they would have some flexibility on when and how to give me feedback. - Heil
I was lucky to have a very caring supervisor who literally always had his door open. However, I tried to only request his input when I felt that critical decisions had to be made, for example when I had finished an outline or a chapter. He provided feedback mainly through track changes added to my drafts, which I found very convenient. When I received his input, I tried to deal with the revisions immediately, leaving the comments that required more work for later. By tackling the quick revisions first, I felt that I was making progress, which helped me stay motivated. - Zomer
How did you make time and mental space to work on your thesis?
To focus on my writing, I had to stop most of my research, though I still performed some minor tasks that did not require significant time and concentration, such as launching computer calculations. Regarding work-life balance, my wife and I have an informal pact that we try not to work after dinner and on weekends. Without proper rest, productivity just drops and you end up feeling miserable. I can't say that this pact was enforced during the thesis writing period, but even in the most intense times, we did get out of town at least once a week for a walk in nearby parks and nature reserves to decompress. - Goloborodko
During the entire writing period, I kept some other work-related activities going. Especially at the beginning, I remained active as a teaching assistant. Working with students was a nice distraction from my thesis, and it was motivating to see that my work was useful and appreciated by others, especially during unrewarding writing times. I also worked on other research projects in parallel and went to several international conferences and a summer school on citizen science . These activities not only offered a welcome break from the thesis, but also reminded me of how important and interesting my research was. I also made sure to stay active to keep up my positive energy. Going to the gym always brought me back to writing with a clear mind and a healthier feeling. Sometimes I would try to arrange coffee breaks with friends to reward myself with a piece of cake and good company. Other times, planning to visit a museum or try a new restaurant helped me keep going by giving me a nice event to look forward to. - Heil
I stopped doing most of my fieldwork about a year and a half before my thesis was due, which was about the same time my son was born. After my maternity leave, I spent 6 to 8 hours a day writing from home, with my baby on my lap or sleeping next to me. Once he was in day care at 7 months old, I went to coffee shops nearby so that I could pop over and nurse him at lunchtime. Several times a day, I practiced the Pomodoro Technique where I'd set the timer for 45 minutes and not do anything but write—no emails, no social media, no other tasks. If I thought of something I needed to do, I wrote it down for later. In addition to combining writing with motherhood, other aspects of work-life balance were also extremely important to me. I didn't work most weekends, and I made sure I got outside and exercised or had some fun every day. Letting go of guilt about not working was key. Feeling bad doesn't get you anywhere, and it just makes the experience unenjoyable for you and the people you love or live with. - Gravem
Early on, it really helped to take a few days away from the lab and just write. I took advantage of the fact that my parents were on holiday and spent a week in their house. I set realistic daily deadlines, and if I met those I treated myself with a little reward, like a short run through the forest or an evening picnic with an old friend. That week proved very productive, and I came back motivated to get the rest of my writing and experiments done. After I returned, I made sure to continue doing some fun activities without necessarily having to achieve something first, as I realized that I should not be too hard on myself. Going for a run between writing spells, for example, allowed me to get some distance from my thesis and helped me to maintain perspective and generate new ideas. But these activities tended to be spontaneous—I didn't want to put too much on my schedule so that I could continue writing when I was in the flow. - Zomer
Emotionally, what was the thesis writing process like?
It was really hard, but I did enjoy it. Writing can feel like a very long, lonely tunnel, but the more you practice, the easier it gets. - Gravem
Starting with the easy task of reformatting my published articles allowed me to make a large amount of progress quickly and feel in control of the writing process while reducing the stress of the approaching deadline. I had a harder time with my thesis introduction, though I really enjoyed digging through the history of my field. I was even happy that I had to do it—this way, I could prioritize it over other tasks. But the extensive reading made writing much more challenging than I expected, and the tight deadline made it less enjoyable. Almost until the very end, I felt like the task was overly ambitious. To reduce stress at that stage, I kept reminding myself that it was a unique chance to focus on the history of research instead of the research itself. - Goloborodko
Writing my thesis was for sure an experience that I enjoyed. This was the moment when I was finally putting together all my work of the last 5 years, and I was proud of it. - Zomer
I guess a good work-life balance would have been important; too bad I did not maintain it. All I could feel was panic. For 2 months, I basically did nothing besides writing my thesis and applying for jobs. When I needed a break from the thesis, I switched to my job applications. This was one of the most miserable times of my academic career. Luckily, at the end I got the postdoc I wanted, which made me forget all the stress and frustration. - Troja
My Ph.D., including the writing period, was an emotional roller coaster. It wasn't always easy, but remembering that every little effort brings you closer to your final goal is crucial to just keep going and survive emotionally. And while writing was daunting at times, I also found it motivating to see just how much research I had done. - Heil
I'm only at the beginning stages of my writing, but it has been enjoyable so far. This is probably because I will finally have something tangible out of my Ph.D., which is immensely encouraging! - Holmes
Do you have any further advice about how to make thesis writing as smooth as possible?
My general recommendation is don't start at the last minute and don't underestimate the time it will take. A thesis is not only about the science, but also about how to present it. Even though I had published papers containing a lot of material ready to be included in the thesis, I still had to put a lot of effort and time into reformatting the text, and I even had to improve or update some figures. If I could go back in time, I would start writing my thesis in my first year rather than leaving all the work for the last year. The introductory chapters explaining your subject matter can be written before having any data, and in retrospect, I had all the scientific results to write two-thirds of my thesis before the beginning of my last year. - Troja
When I was studying for orals in my second year, I was very organized about writing my notes and archiving relevant papers, which proved super helpful when writing my thesis. It was also very helpful that in the first few years of my Ph.D. I had written dozens of grant proposals, which gave me an early opportunity to think about how to present the big picture, as well as some text that I could use as a starting point. - Gravem
The acknowledgments section, and the time it takes, shouldn't be overlooked. I saw it as my best chance to sum up the nonscientific part of my Ph.D. and express my gratitude to everyone who helped me along the way, and finding the right words took me several days. I chose to leave it until after my defense, when I could write at a much more relaxed pace during the few weeks I had to edit my thesis.
Beware of perfectionism. A doctoral thesis concludes a major part of one's life and there is a tendency to want to make it flawless. In my case, a non-negotiable deadline provided an effective remedy. Other projects or life events may also impose deadlines. If you're not facing looming deadlines, self-imposed time limits for individual chapters would probably work.
Regarding technical aspects, my department provides a LaTeX template, which was very helpful. It enforces structured writing and deals with all the formatting so that you can focus on content. For example, it handles numbering, so you don't have to update figure numbers every time you insert or delete a figure. And because LaTeX is based on plain text format, I don't have to worry about not being able to open my thesis file a decade from now. LaTeX requires a certain amount of technical expertise, but this can be overcome with a little effort and Googling.
I am also a big fan of cloud services. I used an online LaTeX editor called Overleaf that allowed me to easily share drafts with my supervisor. I started with a free account, and once I reached the storage limits I paid a tiny fee for 1 month of a "Pro" account. I was also happy to discover that Mendeley , the cloud-based literature management software I have been using for the last decade, integrated easily with Overleaf—although Mendeley did break the night before submission, extending my workday to 6 a.m. - Goloborodko
Try to figure out when your most productive times of the day are. Also, something that I unfortunately learned the hard way is to leave yourself a roadmap before walking away from your writing, especially if it's going to be for more than a day. Write yourself a note about thoughts and ideas or the findings and questions that you were pondering in your last work session so that you can immediately pick up where you left off. As for the writing itself, I attended some writing boot camps that helped me get started. I also read some books on writing. One that I'd recommend in particular is The Scientist's Guide to Writing . - Holmes
Printing out substantial parts of my writing and leaving a bit of time before reading them allowed me to efficiently proofread and adjust things. And when the writing was not going as well as expected, I switched to the figures or formatting. That way, I could still feel that I was moving forward. Even though you may often feel as though progress is very, very slow, focus on just trying to add a little bit of improvement to your thesis every hour and every day. - Heil
About the author, elisabeth pain.
Elisabeth Pain is contributing editor for Europe.
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A Step-by-Step Guide To Writing An Excellent Ph.D. Thesis
Thesis writing, is usually one of the key requirements of completing a doctoral program.
A dissertation, or thesis writing, is usually one of the key requirements of completing a doctoral program. Coming up with an excellent Ph.D. thesis can prove to be challenging and students must be able to manage time, master writing skills, and stay focused. The guide below covers the process that you need to go through in order to complete your thesis successfully. 1. Selecting a Topic The first step in Ph.D. thesis writing is coming up with a topic that you want to research. Generally, you need to consult with your mentor to ensure that the topic you choose is one that you will be able to tackle (for example, is data available regarding your preferred topic). Once you both agree on a topic, you need to submit this to the review panel or committee for approval. 2. Developing The Proposal Upon the committee’s approval, you can already begin writing a proposal that will give an overview of your dissertation. Your proposal should contain the title and objectives of your paper, as well as a review of the related literature and the methodology of your research. In addition to this, it should also cite the possible results and time frame of your study. Overall, your proposal should explain the relevance of your topic to your field of study and show a plan for how you will successfully gather data or evidence. 3. Conducting Research When your proposal is duly approved by the review panel, you can proceed with the most important step in writing a thesis paper, which is the research. Your research should be precise, systematic, and scientific for you to be able to gather the information you need to write your paper. When you have the data that you need, it is important to organize and process it in a manner that will address your dissertation topic and is easily understandable by your audience. 4. Writing The Thesis Once you have all the data that you need, the next step is to do the writing proper. It will help to make an outline of what you need to write about. The content and structure of your dissertation are similar to your proposal, only that you already have the research results on hand.
- Introduction . In this section, you need to clearly define the purpose of your paper, as well as its significance in your field of study. You can also include the reason why you chose your specific topic for research, as well as your initial assumptions and expectations of the result. You also need to define some of the terms you have used in your paper in this section.
- Review of Related Literature . It is in this section where you need to cite articles from journals or studies which are relevant to your research. This puts your research contribution into context and shows how your dissertation has contributed to the field.
- Research Methodology . This part of your paper will provide future researchers with the instructions on how you conducted the actual research that you have performed. This is important so that members of the field can assess whether the research was carried out properly and to determine how much significance to place in the results as well as in case future researchers wished to reproduce or expand on your research. Under the research methodology, you need to discuss your research questions, the setting, and participants of your research, as well as your data collection and analysis process.
- Findings . You need to present the outcome of your study in this section. You can accomplish this with the help of research tools by using quantitative or qualitative analysis. Thus, it is in this section where you will be able to showcase the importance of your work and your future academic potential.
- Conclusion . This section highlights what you have found in your research, its relevance to the field and perhaps future areas of research branching off of it. This is considered as a summary of your paper, thus, it is important to state how the outcome of your research can make a difference in the academic community.
- Bibliography . This is a list or collation of all the resources you have utilized in writing your paper. The bibliography is often written in a specific format.
5. Editing and Proofreading The final step before you turn in your paper is proofreading to ensure that your paper is free from any grammatical or typographical errors. Academic institutions also have different formatting guidelines for how the manuscript must be submitted for final approval and recording. Even today, hard copies are often permanently stored in your university’s library.
Nowadays, you can have your paper evaluated by expert proofreaders who offer thesis editing services that not only include the correction of small errors but ensure that your entire paper comes out as a cohesive document as well. As much as possible, reach out to a proofreader who has ample expertise in your field. The entire process of writing a dissertation from its conception to completion is indeed long. You first need to make a proposal and once it is approved, you need to conduct your actual research. After this, you will be able to proceed with writing your paper. Ensure that you proofread what you have written to ensure that its content and formatting are impeccable. Overall, just keep in mind that while this can be challenging, the entire process can also be a rewarding experience. Earning that Ph.D. is something you will be proud of for the rest of your life.
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How I wrote a PhD thesis in 3 months
Before reading this post please note: it took three and a half years of full-time research to gather the data for my PhD thesis; the three months refers only to the writing, which I did quickly at the end. I do not claim that everybody can write that fast, and if you have not done the research it will be impossible. You might not write as fast as I did, but you might gain some useful insights from the way I approached it.
In the summer of 2006, almost 3 years after starting my PhD, I was ready to quit.
I had nowhere near enough results, the equipment I was using didn't work most of the time, and I could barely summon the motivation to get up in the morning.
Cut to just over a year later and I'd managed to
turn things around and get the data for a few publications
write my entire PhD thesis from scratch in just 3 months.
pass my viva defence with zero corrections
And, on top of all that, I actually started to enjoy the process.
So how did I do all this? The tips below are not easy and many go against common thesis-writing advice, but they worked.
1. Dealing with stress
After a near-breakdown , I started taking walks around the campus when I faced a problem in my research or found myself getting stressed.
I took the time to think about what I needed to do and get myself in the right frame of mind to come back and deal with the problem.
Previously I would have found myself killing time on the internet just to get through to the end of the day. This one change in habit probably saved my PhD.
2. Slowing down
This may seem counter intuitive, but slowing down helped me to go faster. By taking more time over my experiments and doing things as carefully as I could, I eliminated a lot of time-consuming mistakes.
3. Limiting the time available
Though my productivity increased once I figured out how to deal with stress, I was still doing experiments well into my fourth year.
I had a final submission date (at the end of my 4th year), but my research was still a bit chaotic. It wasn't focused on finishing.
My supervisor (the brilliant Professor Moriarty ) then told me that I would no longer be allowed into the lab after the end of March 2007, and that I would have to write whatever I had.
4. Adapting and acting decisively
Because of the limited time, I had to make some tough decisions. Anything I did, I would either have to finish or let go . There would be some loose ends, but that was OK as long as I tied up others.
I had to decide not to do certain things, and focus with energy and determination on others.
Still, though, the thesis would be a little thin. So I took on a side project based on another student's research, which could produce some results quickly.
This side project produced the most interesting result of my scientific career .
5. Finishing research before writing
By the time I stopped doing experiments, I knew I had enough for a PhD. Not the best PhD ever, and not world-changing, but with two publications and enough data for another, I felt it was good enough.
Because I wasn't allowed back in the lab, I just had to focus on writing. The hard part was behind me. The results weren't going to change, so it was just a matter of making sure I was productive when writing.
It is much, much easier to write when you know the raw material isn't going to change.
Tip: If there's research or analysis still to do, prioritize this over writing
I decided to work at home, not at the office, because there would be fewer distractions.
I got rid of the TV, and had no internet connection on my computer. The lack of internet meant I had to gather all the papers I would need beforehand, forcing me to think about what I would need.
I also set up a dedicated space (2 large desks joined together and a very comfortable chair, next to a large window for plenty of natural light), just for thesis writing.
7. Targets and consistency
I set myself a target of 3 months, broken down into targets for each chapter. This would give me about 3 months in reserve before the final absolute deadline.
I had a daily minimum target of 500 words , which I knew I could meet even on the least productive days.
This meant that because I smashed the target most days, I finished every day feeling good about my progress, which in turn meant I started the next day feeling confident.
Tip: Set your target as something you know you can achieve daily, then beat it. Don't set it as high as you can possibly imagine.
The two most important parts of the day are the beginning and end. It's important to build momentum early, and have a routine for ending the day too.
At the end of each day I always left myself something easy to do to get started with the next day, so I woke up knowing what I was going to do.
I also tidied the desk at the end of every day, which also helped close the day mentally and stopped my brain going over and over the thesis at night.
9. Applying ruthless standards to what I included
Whether it was the lit review, or my own work, I cut anything sub-standard.
I focused only on the very best literature, saving myself a huge amount of time. It also had the result of associating my work with the very best in the field.
I only wrote about what I knew about, which made the thesis shorter, faster and easier to write, and of higher quality than if I had included everything whether I understood it or not.
Tip: You choose the syllabus, not the examiner . Only include what you can comfortably defend.
10. Taking time over details that matter
I took painstaking care over the clarity of the writing, the diagrams and the overall look of the thesis.
If a diagram took 2 hours, so be it. If I couldn't find a high-quality image in a paper to paste in, I would re-draw it myself. Why? Because it adds so much to the feel of quality running through the thesis.
"The unreconstructed Si(111) surface". This took a very long time to draw and make sure the diagram was accurate.
By applying obsessive focus to one detail at a time , I could make sure that I wouldn't have to do it again. This brings me to the final point...
11. One draft
I always edit as I write, with one goal only: to make sure I've expressed the idea in my head clearly on the page. I don't move on until I feel the sentence makes sense, with no ambiguity of meaning.
Clarity of thought is always the number one aim. But it is very difficult to come back to a piece of writing days or weeks later and sort out a mess of thought if you don't clarify your writing while the thought is still fresh in your head.
This means I was constantly re-reading and revising what I've just written, but also means that when I submitted something to my supervisor it needed very few revisions and saved months, simply by getting as close to "right" as I could the first time round.
Tip: It helps if you know what makes good writing. Check out this video for the most important tips:
Another key factor
Throughout the course of my PhD, event though a lot went wrong, I built up a lot of experience and skill in the techniques I'd been using and in the data analysis. This is one of the reasons why, when I slowed down and did experiments more carefully, I was able to analyse the results quickly.
Too often, I meet students who have left analysis to the very final months, having done virtually none throughout the course of their PhD. This is a difficult situation to be in, as you have to learn analytical skills very fast under immense pressure. Practice analysis early and don't neglect your data!
I've had some comments on this post reacting as if I completed my entire PhD in 3 months. No, I did three and a half years of research first, then wrote the thesis. I also do not claim that anyone can write that fast, as it depends on a lot of different factors. This is why the title is "How I wrote...", not "How to write..."
What to do if you only have 3 months to finish your PhD
Your final PhD year: Moving towards completion
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Recovering physicist. I used to work in nanoscience before moving on to bigger things. After finishing my PhD in 2007 I completed 2 postdoc contracts before becoming starting coaching PhD students full-time in late 2010. In 2015 I published the book
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What Is a Dissertation? | Guide, Examples, & Template
A dissertation is a long-form piece of academic writing based on original research conducted by you. It is usually submitted as the final step in order to finish a PhD program.
Your dissertation is probably the longest piece of writing you’ve ever completed. It requires solid research, writing, and analysis skills, and it can be intimidating to know where to begin.
Your department likely has guidelines related to how your dissertation should be structured. When in doubt, consult with your supervisor.
You can also download our full dissertation template in the format of your choice below. The template includes a ready-made table of contents with notes on what to include in each chapter, easily adaptable to your department’s requirements.
Download Word template Download Google Docs template
- In the US, a dissertation generally refers to the collection of research you conducted to obtain a PhD.
- In other countries (such as the UK), a dissertation often refers to the research you conduct to obtain your bachelor’s or master’s degree.
Table of contents
Dissertation committee and prospectus process, how to write and structure a dissertation, acknowledgements or preface, list of figures and tables, list of abbreviations, introduction, literature review, methodology, reference list, proofreading and editing, defending your dissertation, free checklist and lecture slides.
When you’ve finished your coursework, as well as any comprehensive exams or other requirements, you advance to “ABD” (All But Dissertation) status. This means you’ve completed everything except your dissertation.
Prior to starting to write, you must form your committee and write your prospectus or proposal . Your committee comprises your adviser and a few other faculty members. They can be from your own department, or, if your work is more interdisciplinary, from other departments. Your committee will guide you through the dissertation process, and ultimately decide whether you pass your dissertation defense and receive your PhD.
Your prospectus is a formal document presented to your committee, usually orally in a defense, outlining your research aims and objectives and showing why your topic is relevant . After passing your prospectus defense, you’re ready to start your research and writing.
The structure of your dissertation depends on a variety of factors, such as your discipline, topic, and approach. Dissertations in the humanities are often structured more like a long essay , building an overall argument to support a central thesis , with chapters organized around different themes or case studies.
However, hard science and social science dissertations typically include a review of existing works, a methodology section, an analysis of your original research, and a presentation of your results , presented in different chapters.
We’ve compiled a list of dissertation examples to help you get started.
- Example dissertation #1: Heat, Wildfire and Energy Demand: An Examination of Residential Buildings and Community Equity (a dissertation by C. A. Antonopoulos about the impact of extreme heat and wildfire on residential buildings and occupant exposure risks).
- Example dissertation #2: Exploring Income Volatility and Financial Health Among Middle-Income Households (a dissertation by M. Addo about income volatility and declining economic security among middle-income households).
- Example dissertation #3: The Use of Mindfulness Meditation to Increase the Efficacy of Mirror Visual Feedback for Reducing Phantom Limb Pain in Amputees (a dissertation by N. S. Mills about the effect of mindfulness-based interventions on the relationship between mirror visual feedback and the pain level in amputees with phantom limb pain).
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The very first page of your document contains your dissertation title, your name, department, institution, degree program, and submission date. Sometimes it also includes your student number, your supervisor’s name, and the university’s logo.
Read more about title pages
The acknowledgements section is usually optional and gives space for you to thank everyone who helped you in writing your dissertation. This might include your supervisors, participants in your research, and friends or family who supported you. In some cases, your acknowledgements are part of a preface.
Read more about acknowledgements Read more about prefaces
The abstract is a short summary of your dissertation, usually about 150 to 300 words long. Though this may seem very short, it’s one of the most important parts of your dissertation, because it introduces your work to your audience.
Your abstract should:
- State your main topic and the aims of your research
- Describe your methods
- Summarize your main results
- State your conclusions
Read more about abstracts
The table of contents lists all of your chapters, along with corresponding subheadings and page numbers. This gives your reader an overview of your structure and helps them easily navigate your document.
Remember to include all main parts of your dissertation in your table of contents, even the appendices. It’s easy to generate a table automatically in Word if you used heading styles. Generally speaking, you only include level 2 and level 3 headings, not every subheading you included in your finished work.
Read more about tables of contents
While not usually mandatory, it’s nice to include a list of figures and tables to help guide your reader if you have used a lot of these in your dissertation. It’s easy to generate one of these in Word using the Insert Caption feature.
Read more about lists of figures and tables
Similarly, if you have used a lot of abbreviations (especially industry-specific ones) in your dissertation, you can include them in an alphabetized list of abbreviations so that the reader can easily look up their meanings.
Read more about lists of abbreviations
In addition to the list of abbreviations, if you find yourself using a lot of highly specialized terms that you worry will not be familiar to your reader, consider including a glossary. Here, alphabetize the terms and include a brief description or definition.
Read more about glossaries
The introduction serves to set up your dissertation’s topic, purpose, and relevance. It tells the reader what to expect in the rest of your dissertation. The introduction should:
- Establish your research topic , giving the background information needed to contextualize your work
- Narrow down the focus and define the scope of your research
- Discuss the state of existing research on the topic, showing your work’s relevance to a broader problem or debate
- Clearly state your research questions and objectives
- Outline the flow of the rest of your work
Everything in the introduction should be clear, engaging, and relevant. By the end, the reader should understand the what, why, and how of your research.
Read more about introductions
A formative part of your research is your literature review . This helps you gain a thorough understanding of the academic work that already exists on your topic.
Literature reviews encompass:
- Finding relevant sources (e.g., books and journal articles)
- Assessing the credibility of your sources
- Critically analyzing and evaluating each source
- Drawing connections between them (e.g., themes, patterns, conflicts, or gaps) to strengthen your overall point
A literature review is not merely a summary of existing sources. Your literature review should have a coherent structure and argument that leads to a clear justification for your own research. It may aim to:
- Address a gap in the literature or build on existing knowledge
- Take a new theoretical or methodological approach to your topic
- Propose a solution to an unresolved problem or advance one side of a theoretical debate
Read more about literature reviews
Your literature review can often form the basis for your theoretical framework. Here, you define and analyze the key theories, concepts, and models that frame your research.
Read more about theoretical frameworks
Your methodology chapter describes how you conducted your research, allowing your reader to critically assess its credibility. Your methodology section should accurately report what you did, as well as convince your reader that this was the best way to answer your research question.
A methodology section should generally include:
- The overall research approach ( quantitative vs. qualitative ) and research methods (e.g., a longitudinal study )
- Your data collection methods (e.g., interviews or a controlled experiment )
- Details of where, when, and with whom the research took place
- Any tools and materials you used (e.g., computer programs, lab equipment)
- Your data analysis methods (e.g., statistical analysis , discourse analysis )
- An evaluation or justification of your methods
Read more about methodology sections
Your results section should highlight what your methodology discovered. You can structure this section around sub-questions, hypotheses , or themes, but avoid including any subjective or speculative interpretation here.
Your results section should:
- Concisely state each relevant result together with relevant descriptive statistics (e.g., mean , standard deviation ) and inferential statistics (e.g., test statistics , p values )
- Briefly state how the result relates to the question or whether the hypothesis was supported
- Report all results that are relevant to your research questions , including any that did not meet your expectations.
Additional data (including raw numbers, full questionnaires, or interview transcripts) can be included as an appendix. You can include tables and figures, but only if they help the reader better understand your results. Read more about results sections
Your discussion section is your opportunity to explore the meaning and implications of your results in relation to your research question. Here, interpret your results in detail, discussing whether they met your expectations and how well they fit with the framework that you built in earlier chapters. Refer back to relevant source material to show how your results fit within existing research in your field.
Some guiding questions include:
- What do your results mean?
- Why do your results matter?
- What limitations do the results have?
If any of the results were unexpected, offer explanations for why this might be. It’s a good idea to consider alternative interpretations of your data.
Read more about discussion sections
Your dissertation’s conclusion should concisely answer your main research question, leaving your reader with a clear understanding of your central argument and emphasizing what your research has contributed to the field.
In some disciplines, the conclusion is just a short section preceding the discussion section, but in other contexts, it is the final chapter of your work. Here, you wrap up your dissertation with a final reflection on what you found, with recommendations for future research and concluding remarks.
It’s important to leave the reader with a clear impression of why your research matters. What have you added to what was already known? Why is your research necessary for the future of your field?
Read more about conclusions
It is crucial to include a reference list or list of works cited with the full details of all the sources that you used, in order to avoid plagiarism. Be sure to choose one citation style and follow it consistently throughout your dissertation. Each style has strict and specific formatting requirements.
Common styles include MLA , Chicago , and APA , but which style you use is often set by your department or your field.
Create APA citations Create MLA citations
Your dissertation should contain only essential information that directly contributes to answering your research question. Documents such as interview transcripts or survey questions can be added as appendices, rather than adding them to the main body.
Read more about appendices
Making sure that all of your sections are in the right place is only the first step to a well-written dissertation. Don’t forget to leave plenty of time for editing and proofreading, as grammar mistakes and sloppy spelling errors can really negatively impact your work.
Dissertations can take up to five years to write, so you will definitely want to make sure that everything is perfect before submitting. You may want to consider using a professional dissertation editing service to make sure your final project is perfect prior to submitting.
After your written dissertation is approved, your committee will schedule a defense. Similarly to defending your prospectus, dissertation defenses are oral presentations of your work. You’ll present your dissertation, and your committee will ask you questions. Many departments allow family members, friends, and other people who are interested to join as well.
After your defense, your committee will meet, and then inform you whether you have passed. Keep in mind that defenses are usually just a formality; most committees will have resolved any serious issues with your work with you far prior to your defense, giving you ample time to fix any problems.
As you write your dissertation, you can use this simple checklist to make sure you’ve included all the essentials.
My title page includes all information required by my university.
I have included acknowledgements thanking those who helped me.
My abstract provides a concise summary of the dissertation, giving the reader a clear idea of my key results or arguments.
I have created a table of contents to help the reader navigate my dissertation. It includes all chapter titles, but excludes the title page, acknowledgements, and abstract.
My introduction leads into my topic in an engaging way and shows the relevance of my research.
My introduction clearly defines the focus of my research, stating my research questions and research objectives .
My introduction includes an overview of the dissertation’s structure (reading guide).
I have conducted a literature review in which I (1) critically engage with sources, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of existing research, (2) discuss patterns, themes, and debates in the literature, and (3) address a gap or show how my research contributes to existing research.
I have clearly outlined the theoretical framework of my research, explaining the theories and models that support my approach.
I have thoroughly described my methodology , explaining how I collected data and analyzed data.
I have concisely and objectively reported all relevant results .
I have (1) evaluated and interpreted the meaning of the results and (2) acknowledged any important limitations of the results in my discussion .
I have clearly stated the answer to my main research question in the conclusion .
I have clearly explained the implications of my conclusion, emphasizing what new insight my research has contributed.
I have provided relevant recommendations for further research or practice.
If relevant, I have included appendices with supplemental information.
I have included an in-text citation every time I use words, ideas, or information from a source.
I have listed every source in a reference list at the end of my dissertation.
I have consistently followed the rules of my chosen citation style .
I have followed all formatting guidelines provided by my university.
The end is in sight—your dissertation is nearly ready to submit! Make sure it's perfectly polished with the help of a Scribbr editor.
If you’re an educator, feel free to download and adapt these slides to teach your students about structuring a dissertation.
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13 Tips for writing a PhD thesis
Completing a successful PhD research thesis is extremely challenging. If it’s not difficult, you’re not doing it right. However, there are ways to make the process less bumpy. This article will provide some PhD thesis writing tips for making the writing process smoother and help you complete your thesis on time, with your sanity mostly intact.
Only about 50% of students enrolled in a PhD program ever complete it 1 . They drop out at many different points during the process for many different reasons. Some leave because the course work is too difficult or time consuming. Some leave for personal or financial reasons. One common cause of non-completion, or late completion, is the daunting spectre of writing a PhD thesis.
Tips for overcoming challenges when writing your PhD thesis
First, remember that although writing a PhD thesis is difficult, it can be accomplished. Here are some things to consider that will increase your confidence and make the task of writing your PhD thesis less scary.
- Create an outline before you start writing – The most effective way to keep your work organized is to first create an outline based on the PhD thesis structure required by your university. Using an outline to write your PhD thesis has tremendous benefits. It creates a handy space to keep and organize all the little snippets of information and questions you will have during your preparation. It allows you to effectively plan your work and manage your time and makes the actual writing much easier. A thesis is shaped more than written, and an outline provides the structure.
- Follow all university guides – Be careful to ensure that you are meeting all the requirements of your university. This includes everything from topic selection to structure to writing style. It is extremely frustrating to spend a lot of time and effort on a section only to have to do it over because you didn’t follow the proper guidelines. Read all relevant material from your university over and over until you have it memorized. Then, check it again.
- Section order – It is usually best not to write your PhD thesis in chronological order. For researchers, the easiest parts to write are usually the Method and Results. So, gain some confidence first and write the Introduction and Conclusion last to tie it all together.
- Work extensively with your supervisor – Do not hesitate to ask for help from your supervisor, advisors, or other committee members. Clear and regular communication with these important resources can save you untold heartache during the PhD research and thesis writing processes. This should not be a solo exercise; they have all been where you are now.
- Plan carefully, create rough drafts, and refine 2 – This is so important and basic to all academic research that it bears repeating. You will not write the final PhD thesis on your first try. Do not become frustrated, trust the process.
- Produce quality writing – Make sure your ideas flow easily and are clear and easy to read. This is not a strong skill for most beginning researchers, but it’s a skill that can be learned with a lot of practice. Therefore, edit, edit, and edit some more. If you need it, there are many places to get PhD thesis writing assistance.
- Details matter – Pay attention to the small things, especially with the document formatting. If you start out using the proper format, you will be saving a tremendous amount of time and grief later.
- Avoid plagiarism – Quote accurately, otherwise paraphrase. There is no excuse for being a lazy writer. Consider using a smart tool or service to check for plagiarism during your PhD thesis editing process to make sure you did not unintentionally copy any material.
- Rein in the references – Use a database, such as EndNote or Mendeley, to keep them organized and under control; check and double check citations and references with the bibliography to ensure they all match. Don’t forget to use the PhD thesis style required by your university.
- Keep it simple – Remember, this is only the start of your career, not your ultimate work 3 ; perfectionism can be a disaster.
- Make consistent progress – Try to write at least a little every day; check quotations and references when writing seems too difficult. 3
- Keep your reader in mind – As with all writing, your PhD thesis is meant to be read, so be considerate of those who read it; be concise, include all necessary data/information to support your argument but nothing extra. Strive to be understood and avoid unnecessary words.
- Be persistent and eager – All other things being equal, your attitude will ultimately determine your success. Have patience and work hard. Create work you will be proud of for a lifetime.
- Cassuto, L. Ph.D. attrition: How much is too much? The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/ph-d-attrition-how-much-is-too-much/?cid=gen_sign_in [Accessed 20 July 2022]
- Curl, I. 10 tips for writing a PhD thesis. Times Higher Education. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/10-tips-writing-phd-thesis [Accessed 20 July 2022]
- Thomas, K. Finishing your PhD thesis: 15 top tips from those in the know. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2014/aug/27/finishing-phd-thesis-top-tips-experts-advice [Accessed 20 July 2022]
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How to write a Doctoral Thesis
Prof. HR Ahmad, Department of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, The Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan. E-mail: [email protected]
Note: * Ahmad HR. In: Medical Writing. Eds. SA Jawaid, MH Jafary & SJ Zuberi. PMJA, 1997 Ed II: 133-142.
PATIENT care and teaching are rather well established components of our medical career. However, with the passage of time a third component has started to influence our medical culture, namely research. 1 - 4 How to accept this challenge is a question. 5 Indeed, teaching and research form a dialectic unit, meaning that teaching without a research component is like a soup without salt. It is a well-established fact that the research activity of an institution is directly proportional to the number of qualified and committed PhD candidates. An inspiring infrastructure, laboratory facilities and libraries are pre-requisites for a research culture to grow. 6 - 8 This forms the basis of a generation cycle for an institution, so that research activity and its culture continues to grow from one generation to the next. The main objective of doctoral work in biomedical sciences is to develop a galaxy of scientist physicians and surgeons possessing high degree of humility, selflessness and ethical superiority. Such a programme will add a scholastic dimension to the clinical faculty.
Education in how to write a doctoral thesis or dissertation should be a part of the postgraduate curriculum, parallel to the laboratory work and Journal Club activities during the PhD studies and/or residency levels. 9 , 10 The overall structure of a doctoral thesis is internationally standardized. However, it varies in style and quality, depending upon how original the work is, and how much the author has understood the work. Therefore a thorough discussion with supervisor, colleagues and assistance from other authors through correspondence can be useful sources for consultation.
The choice of a topic for a doctoral thesis is a crucial step. It should be determined by scanning the literature whether the topic is original or similar work has already been done even a hundred years ago. It is the responsibility of both the supervisor and the PhD candidate to sort out this problem by continuous use of internet and a library. 11 The work leading to the PhD degree can originate from research in following spheres: 12
- b) Methodology
- c) Diagnostic
- d) Therapeutic and Management
- e) Epidemiology
The availability of internationally standardized methods, as well as research committed supervisors can enable physicians and surgeons to do PhD work in both basic and clinical health sciences. The importance of research in basic health sciences cannot be overemphasized. It is rather the base of the applied sciences. There are many instances where the elucidation of a mechanism involved in a process awaits the development of an adequate methodology. 13 In such a scenario; a new method is like a new eye. Research activity in the field of (a) and (b) illuminates the research directions for (c) (d) and (e). It is worth noting that sometimes important basic questions can come from (e) and stimulate research activity in the domain of basic health sciences. 14 , 15
Types of Doctoral Thesis
TYPE-I: Book Form: a classical style. The blueprint of this form is shown in Table-I .
Type-I: The Classical Book Form
TYPE-II: Cumulative Doctoral thesis: A modem but quite useful practice.
A book containing the pearls of a PhD work has standardized divisions and formats, where the number of pages should be weighted in terms of content rather than container. The book includes summary, introduction, materials and methods, results, discussion, conclusions, references and acknowledgements.
Two exercises are mandatory before starting a PhD programme:
- Literature survey using a regular library hours and internet surfing
- Familiarization with the hands-on-experience of methodology involved in the work
- The importance of a continuous literature survey using library, internet and direct correspondence with authors across the globe in the same field cannot be over-emphasized. The main goal of this exercise is to pinpoint the unresolved problem in the literature. An attempt to solve this problem now becomes the topic of the PhD thesis. All the relevant references should be collected, and carefully preserved in the form of a card system arranged alphabetically according to themes and authors. The introduction of the thesis should be styled like a review article with a critical analysis of the work of authors in the literature. The aims of the present PhD work can then also be addressed in the form of questions. The objectives would then deal with how to achieve the aims of the proposed study.
MATERIALS / SUBJECTS AND METHODS
Now comes the most crucial and functional part of the doctoral work, the materials/subjects and methods section. This part can be considered as the motor of the PhD work. The reliability, sensitivity and specificity of the motor must be checked before embarking on a long journey. Controlling the controls is the best guide for a precise and authentic work. Usually materials and methods contain components such as a description of the species involved, their number, age, weight and anthropometric parameters, types of surgical procedures and anesthesia if applied, and a detailed description of methodology. Continuous or point measurements should be thoroughly described. However, a dynamic method should always be preferred to static one.
The experimental protocol should be designed after a small pilot study, which is especially advisable in research on human subjects. A detailed and well-thought experimental protocol forms the basis of conditions under which the results would be obtained. Any deviation from the experimental protocol will affect the outcome, and the interpretation of results. It may be noted that great discoveries are usually accidental and without a protocol, based merely on careful observation! However, for the sake of a publication, a protocol has to be designed after the discovery. After having described the different phases of the experimental protocol with the help of a schematic diagram e.g., showing variables, time period and interventions, the selection of a statistical method should be discussed. Negative results should not be disregarded because they represent the boundary conditions of positive results. Sometimes the negative results are the real results.
It is usual practice that most PhD candidates start writing the methodological components first. This is followed by writing the results. The pre-requisites for writing results are that all figures, tables, schematic diagrams of methods and a working model should be ready. They should be designed in such a way that the information content of each figure should, when projected as a frame be visually clear to audience viewing it from a distance of about fifty feet. It is often observed that the presenters themselves have difficulty in deciphering a frame of the Power-Point being projected in a conference.
The results of a doctoral thesis should be treated like a bride. The flow of writing results becomes easier if all figures and tables are well prepared. This promotes the train of thoughts required to analyze the data in a quantitative fashion. The golden rule of writing results of a thesis is to describe what the figure shows. No explanation is required. One should avoid writing anything which is not there in a figure. Before writing one should observe each diagram for some time and make a list of observations in the form of key words. The more one has understood the information content of a figure; the better will be the fluency of writing. The interruption of the flow in writing most often indicates that an author has not understood the results. Discussion with colleagues or reference to the literature is the only remedy, and it functions sometimes like a caesarean procedure.
Statistical methods are good devices to test the degree of authenticity and precision of results if appropriately applied. The application of statistical technique in human studies poses difficulties because of large standard deviations. Outliers must be discussed, if they are excluded for the sake of statistical significance. Large standard deviations can be minimized by increasing the number of observations. If a regression analysis is not weighted, it gives faulty information. The correlation coefficient value can change from 0.7 to 0.4 if the regression analysis is weighted using Fisher’s test. The dissection of effect from artifact should be analysed in such a way that the signal to noise ratio of a parameter should be considered. A competent statistician should always be consulted in order to avoid the danger of distortion of results.
The legend of a figure should be well written. It contains a title, a brief description of variables and interventions, the main effect and a concluding remark conveying the original message. The writing of PhD work is further eased by a well maintained collection of data in the form of log book, original recordings, analyzed references with summaries and compiling the virgin data of the study on master plan sheet to understand the original signals before submitting to the procedures of statistics. The original data belong to the laboratory of an institution where it came into being and should be preserved for 5-7 years in the archive for the sake of brevity.
This is the liveliest part of a thesis. Its main goal is to defend the work by staging a constructive debate with the literature. The golden rule of this written debate should be that a rigid explanation looks backward and a design looks forward. The object is to derive a model out of a jig-saw puzzle of information. It should be designed in such a way that the results of the present study and those of authors from the literature can be better discussed and interpreted. Agreement and disagreement can be better resolved if one considers under what experimental conditions the results were obtained by the various authors. It means that the boundary conditions for each result should be carefully analyzed and compared.
The discussion can be divided into the following parts:
- criticism of material/subjects and methods
- a list of important observations of the present study
- interpretation and comparison of results of other authors using a literature table
- design of a model
- claim of an original research work
- The criticism of the methodological procedure enables a candidate to demonstrate how precisely the research work has been carried out. The interpretation of results depends critically on the strict experimental protocol and methods. For example, an epidemiological work is a study of a population. However, if the population sampling is done regularly at a specific location; the question arises as to how a result derived from a localized place can be applied to the whole population.
- After having discussed at length the strong and weak points of material/subjects and methods, one should list in a telegraphic design the most important observations of the present study. This may form a good agenda to initiate interpretation, argument, reasoning and comparison with results of other authors. The outcome of this constructive debate should permit the design of a working model in the form of a block diagram. All statements should be very carefully referenced. The ratio of agreement and disagreement should indicate the ability of the author to reconcile conflicting data in an objective and quantitative way. Attempts should be made to design a solution out of the given quantum of information. It is also well known that most of the processes of human physiology can only be understood if their time course is known. The dynamic aspect of interpretation of results is therefore more powerful and superior to the static one. 16 Therefore a continuous record of variables should be preferred and sought to reveal the secrets hidden in the kinetics.
- Finally, the discussion should conclude how far the study was successful in answering the questions being posed at the end of the introduction part. Usually a doctoral thesis raises more questions than it answers. In this way research does not come to a standstill and does become a life time engagement for a committed scientist. Also it is important to note that all scientific theses should be quantifiable and falsifiable, otherwise they lose the spirit and fragrance of a scientific research.
- The author’s claim of original work is finally decided by the critical review of his research work by the literature and the number of times being cited. It can be easily read by a high rate of a citation index of a publication and invitation. When a methodological research clicks, one becomes a star overnight.
Type-II: CUMULATIVE DOCTORAL THESES
Another way of writing a doctoral work is a cumulative type of thesis. 11 It consists of a few original publications in refereed journals of repute. It is supplemented by a concise summary about the research work. This type of thesis is usually practiced in Sweden, Germany and other countries. It has the advantage of being doubly refereed by the journals and the faculty of health sciences. Additionally, papers are published during a doctoral work. A declaration has to be given to the faculty of science about the sharing of research work in publications, provided there are co-authors. The weightage should be in favour of the PhD candidate, so that the thesis can ethically be better defended before the team of august research faculty.
A critical review of this manuscript by Dr. Roger Sutton, Dr. Khalid Khan, Dr. Bukhtiar Shah and Dr. Satwat Hashmi is gratefully acknowledged.
Dedicated to the memory of Mr. Azim Kidwai for his exemplary academic commitment and devotion to the science journalism in Pakistan.
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Remember that your thesis is your chance to present your work in the best possible light. Consider your opening paragraphs, entice your reader
Write yourself a note about thoughts and ideas or the findings and questions that you were pondering in your last work session so that you can
Thesis writing, is usually one of the key requirements of completing a doctoral program · Introduction. In this section, you need to clearly define the purpose
1. Dealing with stress · 2. Slowing down · 3. Limiting the time available · 4. Adapting and acting decisively · 5. Finishing research before writing.
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A dissertation is a long-form piece of academic writing based on original research conducted by you. It is usually submitted as the final step in order to
Tips for overcoming challenges when writing your PhD thesis · Plan carefully, create rough drafts, and refine · Produce quality writing · Details matter · Avoid
The introduction of the thesis should be styled like a review article with a critical analysis of the work of authors in the literature. The aims of the present
Applying for a PhD programme and completing the degree is a challenging task, writing a thesis is an essential part of it. An effective PhD dissertation is