Your thesis is the culmination of several years of research and the capstone of your Ph.D. Your best dissertation guides will be your supervisor, committee, and fellow graduate students, but here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Make a Schedule
Set yourself deadlines for completing each chapter or section and figure out how many pages you need to write each day to meet those deadlines. Then try to get yourself into a writing routine. Choose work hours that correspond to the times when you feel you work best. If you’re a morning person, start writing bright and early. Likewise, if you really hit your stride in the evening shift, your hours so you do most of your writing during your peak time.
2. Just Start Writing
Now that you’ve planned out your writing, it’s time to get typing. It’s not going to get any easier the longer you wait! While you can undoubtedly come up with a million reasons to delay (“I need to do more research/readings/experiments”) you won’t know if this is true or not until you begin to write. The best way to work on your argument is to actually work your argument out in writing.
3. Distinguish the different writing stages
There are three main stages to a thesis: planning, writing, and editing. A well-thought-out plan makes it easier to start writing while reducing stress and hesitation. When it comes to writing, she recommends tackling this task without overthinking it. Writing ideas quickly without thinking about every word choice accelerates the process and prevents you from getting bogged down in one spot for too long. The editing stage is where it’s important to carefully consider the relevance of each sentence, spend more time on your structure and argumentation, correct typos, and refine your style. Dr. Belleville reminds us that “We’re writing for others — not ourselves.”
4. The First Draft is Not the Final Draft
When taking on a project of this magnitude it’s important to remember that your first draft is not your final draft. The sentences don’t have to be perfect or the argument airtight on the first try. Rewriting and revising are crucial parts of the writing process. Just start writing and refine your work in the subsequent draft.
5. Do Not To “Plagiarise”
Plagiarism may cost you your postgraduate degree, and you must investigate how to avoid it before you start writing your thesis. Occasionally postgraduate students commit plagiarism unintentionally, and this can happen because they copy/paste specific sections of a journal article they are citing instead of simply rephrasing them. Whenever you are presenting some information that is not your own idea in your thesis, make sure you mention the source and avoid writing the statement exactly as it is written in the source. Look at our section on Plagiarism for more information and advice.
6. Be Flexible
Writer’s block happens to the best of us and might cause you to miss one of your deadlines. If you miss a deadline, just adjust your schedule accordingly and continue writing. Here’s another tip: if you set all your deadlines a little earlier than necessary, you will give yourself a bit of a buffer in case you have to push any of them back.
7. Resist perfectionism!
Dr. Belleville argues that perfectionism and productivity are not the same things. She says that while it’s good to have high standards, having unrealistic ones is just shooting yourself in the foot. “Perfectionists are often unproductive because they are paralyzed by their perfectionism.” She sees perfectionism as a kind of cult “where the ideals we aim to achieve are attractive but unrealistic.” Perfection can come with certain nuances. Wanting to perform and excel is not the same issue as taking on too much, and both have very different outcomes.
8. Write the Introductions Last
It’s easy to get stuck on the introduction, so skip it. Write the body of the chapter first. Once you’re finished, you’ll know what you are actually introducing and will be able to gather your thoughts. This advice applies to the introduction to the dissertation too, especially since it will likely evolve over the months you work on it.
9. Move Around
In a similar vein, if you find yourself stuck on a certain section in a chapter move on and come back to it later. As long as you have outlined your argument and approach for the chapter, you can easily skip a difficult part and use your time more efficiently to write a straightforward section. Having made progress on an “easy” section, you will be more confident when returning to the tricky paragraphs.
10. Get Feedback Early
This tip is somewhat dependant on your supervisor and their preferences. If possible, share your work with them early and often. They can alert you to problems sooner and help you work through any difficult sections. Plus doing smaller revisions along the way will save you from rewriting an entire chapter closer to the due date.
11. Take Care of Yourself
Just because you’re dissertating doesn’t mean you should let your health slide. It’s easier to write when you’re in good physical and mental health. Remember to eat well, get enough sleep, and stay active. Even a simple walk around the neighborhood will get your heart rate up and can help clear your mind.
12. Give Yourself Breaks
Writing will be your full-time job while you’re working on your thesis, but that doesn’t mean you have to be writing all the time. If you continually work beyond your regular hours you will burn yourself out. Take breaks when you need a rest. At the same time, don’t be afraid to say no to social activities if you need to. Your friends will understand if you miss some social events–especially if you will be stressed to actually enjoy them.
13. Use a Reference Manager
Dissertations have hundreds of references and you don’t want to be scrambling at the end to track them all down. Using a reference manager like Endnote or Zotero will help you keep track of all the papers and books you might need to cite and add citations in any style easily.