15 more tips for writing your PhD thesis

So, you’re a PhD student and you have spent at least the last three to four years of your life conducting exciting and novel research into a field that you are passionate about and interested in.

But now it is time for the dreaded thesis write up and you have no idea how to start? Or maybe you are in the middle of that stage and are plodding along and struggling?

Well, I am here to help. Having recently finished that whole stage myself, I have written not one, but two blog posts full of thesis writing tips for you – this one and another on the ELISA Genie blog for 15 more!

I started writing this blog post over a year ago as I was preparing to enter the writing stage and then slowly added these tips and more as I went to share with you want I learnt through my final year of PhD study.

So, here they are 15 tips for writing your PhD thesis on the ELISA Genie blog and 15 MORE tips here! Don’t say I don’t spoil you ๐Ÿ˜› ahaha

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  1. Don’t have any mistakes on the first 10 pages

Okay – so I know you don’t want any mistakes on any page, but make sure to go over the first few pages with a fine tooth comb a few times over. Why? Well, it will help when your examiners have to read your thesis. You don’t want to start them off in a bad mood when there are simple spelling and grammar errors right at the start, before they even get to your data. Obviously proofread and check everything, but especially the first few pages.

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2. Make use of the Hemingway editor

Another tip that will make it easier for your examiners to read your thesis. Just google Hemingway Editor and it takes you to a web page where you can stick in a section of your thesis and it analyses it for sentence length and various other things. It means you can edit your thesis in a ay that makes it easier to read with different sentence structures and so on, which will make your examiners happier again. There will be instances where you can’t change a sentence, so the editor is just a guide. But it really helped me through paragraphs that I was ploughing through when editing and proofreading.

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3. Always be thinking about the bigger picture

It is so easy to get swamped thinking about every single tiny detail with your results. But make sure you keep the big picture in mind, not only for your discussion but for your viva prep too. It can also help when motivation to continue writing for the third month in a row is lacking.

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4. Don’t be afraid to take a break

Of any kind. Loo break, food break, screen break, thesis break! Some people feel guilty which is completely understandable. But sometimes you have to take a step back in order to make a leap forward.

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5. Print results out to visualise and piece them together

When trying to work our what on earth everything means, print your results out and stick them on the wall. Draw arrows between everything – but not on the walls! – to visualise the connections. Draw out diagrams to help you explain it as you write. It is so much easier when the writing is on the wall in front of you so to speak rather than trying to do it from memory.

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6. Back up, back up and back up some more

CTRL + S is your friend! Save updated versions often so you can always go back a little if you need, but not right back to the beginning. And expect your word processor to crash multiple times a day, so a recently saved version is your saviour at that point.

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7. Don’t neglect your images and references

People often mistake writing a thesis as doing exactly that – writing! But sometimes a picture can paint a thousand words so don’t forget to take time drawing those out accurately to reflect your message. That goes for your graphs too. They don’t have to be the dull black and white so find the style you want and stick to it. But it does take time to sort all that out.

Same goes for your references. Make sure all the relevant information is in your reference manager so when it comes to thesis corrections you don’t have to go back through now and do it – like I need to do!

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8. Remember to sleep

Unless you’re inspired then indulge a few more hours. But you may have a time deadline creeping up but do NOT sacrifice your sleep. Working through the night to catch up will affect you the next day, and the guilt will spiral again and again. Set yourself a working time – whatever time of day suits you best – and stick to it. You can’t think about your thesis 24/7 so remember rule number 4 and to something just for you.

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9. Be picky with what order you write your chapters

You might find it easiest to leave your methods chapter until last because you find that the easiest to write. And after you have been writing solidly for months and your brain is mush, this won’t seem like such a daunting last task. Or you might find leaving the intro to last. Or you might need to find an easy chapter to start with so you feel like you are making some progress and not putting it off anymore – like me! Work out what will suit you best.

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10. Writer’s block? Brain dump instead!

Just writing down anything that comes to mind can get you back in your rhythm. PhD students can spend hours just trying to get one sentence perfect and then feeling like they are making no progress or lose all their ideas. Just write down whatever comes to mind. Get all your ideas down on paper and you can edit and refine later. You can’t do that if you have no content to begin with.

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11. Keep a notebook and pen by your side

This one kinda follows on from tip number 10. While you may be typing your thesis up using your computer, keep a pen and paper handy to quickly jot down any ideas or errands you need to do. Especially when you’re brain dumping. It also gives you a quick way to draw out something to help you write that sentence too.

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12. Write first

When most people turn on their laptops, they want to check their emails or browse social media. When you’re writing your thesis, don’t! Keep focussed, stay on task and save that for your scheduled breaks!

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13. Never be afraid to ask for help

People keep saying that it is your thesis and yours alone. While they are not wrong, that doesn’t mean no-one is there to help you. Whether it is a peer, a fellow thesis writing group buddy or your PhD supervisor, reach out and ask for help. They will support you now just as they did when you were generating the data.

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14. Read your thesis out loud when proofreading

And don’t underestimate the time that proofreading might take. I completely get it. There are only so many times that you can read what you have written on a screen and not think you have spelt the word ‘cancer’ wrong. It just doesn’t look right although it is perfectly correct. And you just glaze over any errors. Reading out loud means you actually have to read the words and your brain has to compute them so any spelling errors, or really long sentences can no be spotted a mile off.

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15. Enjoy it!

Every. Single. Moment. The highs and the lows. It might seem tough now but it is a celebration of all your work, commitment and achievements over the last few years. Here are some more things I loved doing when I was writing up my thesis. It was a stressful time of course, but I had such a sense of freedom and also accomplishment. So make sure to look back on that time with a positive outlook.

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And before you know it you will be hitting print, binding your thesis and sending it off to the examiners ready for the next stage. And I am pretty sure you will look back and think that writing stage wasn’t as bad as you thought. And maybe also jumping for joy like I was that it was over.

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Do you have any other thesis writing tips? What helped you through yours? Or perhaps you are about to start writing up and what to know about something else? Just let me know in the comments below!

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