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PhD Writing 1: Things you should do in preparation for writing your thesis

A PhD is many things: exciting, tedious, stimulating, tiring… the list goes on. All the hard work and stress culminates in a thesis or dissertation, the goal of which is to demonstrate that you furthered your field by presenting your findings in an original, behemoth piece of work. As with any large piece of work, you’ll likely benefit from taking your time with it, and from working slowly but steadily across the years. At the end, you will come out the other end a bona fide expert in your field!

Before that, it is important, at all stages of the PhD, to ensure that you have done the necessary preparatory work before you even sit down to write. This article shares the three most important things you need to do in preparation for writing your thesis. 

Manage your data

During the course of a PhD, you will generate findings and produce data of some description. For researchers in STEM disciplines, much of that data will probably need to be presented visually in some way. So, a great way to stay on top of things is to create these figures, graphs, tables, etc. as you progress and ensure they are up to publication standard.

With very easily accessible software at our fingertips, it has never been easier to produce high-quality figures in a matter of a few minutes. By making sure you create these figures as you go and produce data, you’ll be doing yourself a favour, as you’ll have them ready to slot into papers or your thesis when it comes time to write and finalise it. Bonus points for writing the caption while you’re at it!

Create and use file systems

So, you’ve created fantastic, high-quality figures and illustrations – but that’s only half the battle. They are of no use to you if you can’t easily find them. 

However tempting it is to save ‘figure 1 FINAL’ [for example] on your desktop and forget about it until you need it again, you’re likely to regret this later. Create a well-organised naming and filing system on your hard drive, so that when it comes time to compile your thesis, you’re ready to proceed. All you’ll need to do at that stage is to drag and drop the graphics you need, knowing exactly where everything is. 

On top of that, don’t forget to back up all of your work to either a cloud service or a physical, external drive, just to be extra sure you always have access to your data should anything happen. 

Write as you go

As with creating figures as you progress, you are most likely going to be able to get certain parts of the thesis written quickly and easily as you go. These could include, for example, your Methods section, Introduction or parts of your Discussion, if and when you’re ready to get into it. 

However, remember that your thesis is a live document up until the moment of submission, so don’t worry about it being in its absolutely final state and know that it is perfectly acceptable and normal to rewrite and edit sections as you go along. Getting things written and editing it down later is far easier than trying to get it right from the start!

Summary

It may feel daunting, but your thesis can be an entirely manageable document to produce. The key is to do little, but often and consistently. Remember to polish figures as you produce them, and to file them in a sensible, organised system. Finally, write what you can as you go – when it is time to focus all your energy on writing up and preparing your thesis for submission, having all these elements already in place and ready to go will save you much valuable time and effort.

 

Read next in series: PhD Writing 2: How to improve your writing skills in preparation for writing your thesis

 

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