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Finishing your PhD thesis: 15 top tips from those in the know

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What is a thesis? For whom is it written? How should it be written?

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One supervisor told his student that a PhD was about pages long so he wrote pages. Unfortunately the supervisor had meant double-spaced, and the student had written single-spaced. Getting rid of 40, extra words with two weeks to go is not recommended. But your most important work will come later. Think of your PhD as an apprenticeship. Your peers are unlikely to read your thesis and judge you on it. They are more likely to read any papers articles, chapters, books that result from it. It allows you to make checklists too so you know that all of your important stuff is listed and to-hand, meaning you can focus on one thing at a time.

On the contrary, actively draw attention to them; identify them in your conclusion as areas for further investigation. Repeatedly reprinting and editing draft thesis chapters has two very helpful functions. This guide gives simple and practical advice on the problems of getting started, getting organised, dividing the huge task into less formidable pieces and working on those pieces.

It also explains the practicalities of surviving the ordeal. It includes a suggested structure and a guide to what should go in each section.

It was originally written for graduate students in physics, and most of the specific examples given are taken from that discipline. Nevertheless, the feedback from users indicates that it has been widely used and appreciated by graduate students in diverse fields in the sciences and humanities. Come scrivere una tesi di dottorato Getting started An outline Organisation Word processors A timetable Iterative solution What is a thesis?

For whom is it written? How should it be written? Make it clear what is yours Style Presentation How many copies? Personal Coda Thesis Structure How to survive a thesis defence Writing and publishing a scientific paper Getting Started When you are about to begin, writing a thesis seems a long, difficult task. That is because it is a long, difficult task. Fortunately, it will seem less daunting once you have a couple of chapters done. Towards the end, you will even find yourself enjoying it — an enjoyment based on satisfaction in the achievement, pleasure in the improvement in your technical writing, and of course the approaching end.

Like many tasks, thesis writing usually seems worst before you begin, so let us look at how you should make a start. An outline First make up a thesis outline: There is a section on chapter order and thesis structure at the end of this text. Once you have a list of chapters and, under each chapter heading, a reasonably complete list of things to be reported or explained, you have struck a great blow against writer's block.

When you sit down to type, your aim is no longer a thesis — a daunting goal — but something simpler. Your new aim is just to write a paragraph or section about one of your subheadings.

It helps to start with an easy one: In an experimental thesis, the Materials and Methods chapter is often the easiest to write — just write down what you did; carefully, formally and in a logical order. How do you make an outline of a chapter? For most of them, you might try the method that I use for writing papers, and which I learned from my thesis adviser Stjepan Marcelja: Assemble all the figures that you will use in it and put them in the order that you would use if you were going to explain to someone what they all meant.

You might as well rehearse explaining it to someone else — after all you will probably give several talks based on your thesis work. Once you have found the most logical order, note down the key words of your explanation.

These key words provide a skeleton for much of your chapter outline. Once you have an outline, discuss it with your adviser. This step is important: Organisation It is encouraging and helpful to start a filing system.

Open a word-processor file for each chapter and one for the references. You can put notes in these files, as well as text.

Or you may think of something interesting or relevant for that chapter. When you come to work on Chapter m, the more such notes you have accumulated, the easier it will be to write.

Make a back-up of these files and do so every day at least depending on the reliability of your computer and the age of your disk drive. If you thesis file is not too large, a simple way of making a remote back-up is to send it as an email attachment to a consenting email correspondent; you could also send it to yourself. In either case, be careful to dispose of superseded versions so that you don't waste disk space, especially if you have bitmap images or other large files.

Or you could use a drop-box or other more sophisticated system. You should also have a physical filing system: This will make you feel good about getting started and also help clean up your desk. Your files will contain not just the plots of results and pages of calculations, but all sorts of old notes, references, calibration curves, suppliers' addresses, specifications, speculations, notes from colleagues etc.

Stick them in that folder. Then put all the folders in a box or a filing cabinet. As you write bits and pieces of text, place the hard copy, the figures etc in these folders as well. Touch them and feel their thickness from time to time — ah, the thesis is taking shape. If any of your data exist only on paper, copy them and keep the copy in a different location. Consider making a copy of your lab book.

This has another purpose beyond security: Further, scientific ethics require you to keep lab books and original data for at least ten years, and a copy is more likely to be found if two copies exist. If you haven't already done so, you should archive your electronic data, in an appropriate format. Spreadsheet and word processor files are not suitable for long term storage. Archiving data by Joseph Slater is a good guide.

While you are getting organised, you should deal with any university paperwork. Examiners have to be nominated and they have to agree to serve. Various forms are required by your department and by the university administration. Make sure that the rate limiting step is your production of the thesis, and not some minor bureaucratic problem.

A note about word processors One of the big FAQs for scientists: One solution is LaTeX, which is powerful, elegant, reliable, fast and free from http: The standard equation editor for MS Word is point and click, so extremely slow and awkward.

A timetable I strongly recommend sitting down with the adviser and making up a timetable for writing it: This structures your time and provides intermediate targets. If you merely aim "to have the whole thing done by [some distant date]", you can deceive yourself and procrastinate more easily.

If you have told your adviser that you will deliver a first draft of chapter 3 on Wednesday, it focuses your attention. You may want to make your timetable into a chart with items that you can check off as you have finished them. This is particularly useful towards the end of the thesis when you find there will be quite a few loose ends here and there. Iterative solution Whenever you sit down to write, it is very important to write something.

So write something, even if it is just a set of notes or a few paragraphs of text that you would never show to anyone else. It would be nice if clear, precise prose leapt easily from the keyboard, but it usually does not.

Most of us find it easier, however, to improve something that is already written than to produce text from nothing. So put down a draft as rough as you like for your own purposes, then clean it up for your adviser to read. Word-processors are wonderful in this regard: Your adviser will expect to read each chapter in draft form. Do not be upset if a chapter — especially the first one you write — returns covered in red ink or its electronic equivalent.

Scientific writing is a difficult art, and it takes a while to learn. As a consequence, there will be many ways in which your first draft can be improved. So take a positive attitude to all the scribbles with which your adviser decorates your text: As you write your thesis, your scientific writing is almost certain to improve.

Even for native speakers of English who write very well in other styles, one notices an enormous improvement in the first drafts from the first to the last chapter written. The process of writing the thesis is like a course in scientific writing, and in that sense each chapter is like an assignment in which you are taught, but not assessed. Remember, only the final draft is assessed: If you have any characteristic grammatical failings, check for them. What is a thesis?

Your thesis is a research report. The report concerns a problem or series of problems in your area of research and it should describe what was known about it previously, what you did towards solving it, what you think your results mean, and where or how further progress in the field can be made.

Do not carry over your ideas from undergraduate assessment: One important difference is this: The readers of a thesis do not know what the "answer" is. If the thesis is for a PhD, the university requires that it make an original contribution to human knowledge: Obviously your examiners will read the thesis.

They will be experts in the general field of your thesis but, on the exact topic of your thesis, you are the world expert. Keep this in mind: Your thesis will also be used as a scientific report and consulted by future workers in your laboratory who will want to know, in detail, what you did. Theses are occasionally consulted by people from other institutions, and the library sends microfilm versions if requested yes, still.

More commonly theses are now stored in an entirely digital form. These may be stored as. The advantage is that your thesis can be consulted much more easily by researchers around the world.

Australian digital thesis project for the digital availability of research theses. Write with these possibilities in mind. It is often helpful to have someone other than your adviser s read some sections of the thesis, particularly the introduction and conclusion chapters. It may also be appropriate to ask other members of staff to read some sections of the thesis which they may find relevant or of interest, as they may be able to make valuable contributions.

In either case, only give them revised versions, so that they do not waste time correcting your grammar, spelling, poor construction or presentation. The short answer is: Once your thesis has been assessed and your friends have read the first three pages, the only further readers are likely to be people who are seriously doing research in just that area.

For example, a future research student might be pursuing the same research and be interested to find out exactly what you did. Where's the circuit diagram? I'll look up her thesis.

I'll have to look up his thesis. I'll order a microfilm of that thesis they cited in their paper. By the way, the intelligible annotation of programs is about as frequent as porcine aviation, but it is far more desirable.

You wrote that line of code for a reason: Make it clear what is yours If you use a result, observation or generalisation that is not your own, you must usually state where in the scientific literature that result is reported. The only exceptions are cases where every researcher in the field already knows it: The importance of this practice in science is that it allows the reader to verify your starting position.

Physics in particular is said to be a vertical science: Good referencing allows us to check the foundations of your additions to the structure of knowledge in the discipline, or at least to trace them back to a level which we judge to be reliable. Good referencing also tells the reader which parts of the thesis are descriptions of previous knowledge and which parts are your additions to that knowledge.

In a thesis, written for the general reader who has little familiarity with the literature of the field, this should be especially clear. It may seem tempting to leave out a reference in the hope that a reader will think that a nice idea or an nice bit of analysis is yours. I advise against this gamble. The reader will probably think: The reader can probably find out via the net or the library.

If you are writing in the passive voice, you must be more careful about attribution than if you are writing in the active voice. Style The text must be clear. Good grammar and thoughtful writing will make the thesis easier to read. Scientific writing has to be a little formal — more formal than this text. Native English speakers should remember that scientific English is an international language.

Slang and informal writing will be harder for a non-native speaker to understand. Short, simple phrases and words are often better than long ones. Some politicians use "at this point in time" instead of "now" precisely because it takes longer to convey the same meaning.

They do not care about elegance or efficient communication. On the other hand, there will be times when you need a complicated sentence because the idea is complicated. If your primary statement requires several qualifications, each of these may need a subordinate clause: Some lengthy technical words will also be necessary in many theses, particularly in fields like biochemistry. We are right here to provide you with custom academic assistance and set you free from stress!

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How I wrote a PhD thesis in 3 months August 13, February 28, by James Hayton 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.

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Whether it is a PhD thesis or a dissertation – we can write anything! Whether you need a dissertation in Literature or a thesis paper in Math – you get a personally-assigned expert writer with a degree in a required field of study to work on your order.

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Before one can write a dissertation defending a particular thesis, one must collect evidence that supports it. Thus, the most difficult aspect of writing a dissertation consists of organizing the evidence and associated discussions into a coherent form. Getting Started When you are about to begin, writing a thesis seems a long, difficult task. That is because it is a long, difficult task. Fortunately, it will seem less daunting once you have a .

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Many PhD students are now in the final throes of writing their thesis. Turning years of research into a single, coherent piece of work can be tough, so we asked for tips from supervisors and. 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.