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

Writing a thesis is a substantial undertaking: it takes discipline, organisation and most of all, time, to produce a high-quality thesis. You may worry about many aspects of it, like whether you have done enough reading or gathered enough data, but as with most PhD students in your position, you’re most likely overthinking it. You have worked on this research for years, so you can be sure that you do have enough data and you have read enough. The final worry is how to actually write it. Let’s discuss three of the best practices to help you prepare for this.

Read more – and better

A thesis is, in essence, an enormous journal paper. Usually split into Introduction, Methodology, Results and Analysis/Discussion chapters, the overall structure of a thesis follows a similar formula to that of a paper. It therefore follows that you can take inspiration from academic papers in your field to help you structure the flow and language of your thesis. 

The next time you read a paper, don’t think only about the content, but also how it is written, structured and presented. You want your thesis to have a certain narrative, to be easy to read and to follow similar stylistic and linguistic conventions to what academics in your field will be used to. Already existing publications are a valuable resource for you to tap into.

Write more frequently

The single best way to get better at anything is to practise frequently and consistently, and writing is no different. Find ways to can get involved in any writing, whether it is a paper your lab is working on, a personal or professional blog post or an article on online platforms like LinkedIn. You will become more familiar with your writing habits, your own voice as a writer and any weaknesses you might identify along the way, so you can focus on addressing them and refining your writing skills. 

Seek (relevant) feedback

Finally, do not be afraid to ask for feedback from your supervisor, colleagues, friends and family. Your writing will probably require a high level of technical detail, but should still be readable for diverse audiences. A great way to gain an understanding of how you’re doing in this regard is to ask as varied a group of people for as much feedback as you can, so as to identify areas that may require refinement.

Summary

Writing comes easily to some, and less easily to others. The key to improving your writing is understanding the level you are currently at, and identifying what needs improvement. Compare your own writing to published papers, and learn from feedback. Practise as much as you can, and you’ll no doubt be successful in writing your thesis.

 

Read next in series: PhD Writing 3: How to write the introduction chapter of a thesis

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

 

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