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Writing Your PhD Thesis

A PhD thesis can be a pretty intimidating thing. They’re intended to be of publishable standard, and for many of you, will be the longest thing you’ve ever written (anything from 30,000 up to 80,000 words – or perhaps even more!). But don’t worry, we’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks that you can use to make a PhD thesis less scary.

And remember, if you find it stressful – it’s okay to ask for help ! Universities have a welfare service for a reason, so don’t suffer in silence.

How to Write a PhD Thesis

Let’s take a look at our top tips on how to write a PhD thesis. The most important one we’re going to give you (and seriously, if you only remember one thing from this article, it should be this) is leave yourself enough time. No amount of advice will be able to save you if you simply don’t leave enough time to do it. Far better to have free time to go back and be a perfectionist about the whole thing than to be struggling towards the end to even proofread it once!

So what else should you make sure you do when writing your PhD thesis?

#1 Work on your writing skills

PhD Thesis No-one will want to read thousands of words of boring, clichéd prose. Whilst (depending on your specialisation) you don’t necessarily have to be a masterful wordsmith, try and make sure you’re at least interesting! Watch out for repeating words too often, for starting too many sentences in the same way or for muddling up the order of your points.

On top of this, keep a close eye on your spelling and grammar. There’s nothing quite as jarring as a really obvious spelling mistake – can you imagine reading through a thesis wrttn like these? (spot the obvious mistakes!) Thought not. The big ones to watch out for are the common ones – their/there, where/were and so on. These are easy to miss when typing quickly, so going back and proofreading is very important!

#2 Don’t plagiarise

Trust us, it’ll be really obvious if you do. Not only is the person marking your thesis likely to be an expert in the field, but there are plenty of computer programs out there that’ll catch it if they don’t. If you’re quoting, keep it short and cited, and if you’re used an extended argument, rephrase it in your own words, and still cite it! Your bibliography and footnotes are your friends, so make sure you keep them up to date.

#3 Stick to the required format

Each university will have its own rules on a format for your PhD thesis, so make sure you look it up and stick to it. Yes, you might want to make yours stand out from the crowd, but you should be doing this with academic ability, not word art. Keep it clean, and clear, and the examiners will have a much easier time of reading it (and be more inclined to mark it nicely!)

#4 Have a strong bibliography

Whilst referencing blogs, newspapers and textbooks is perfectly acceptable, your entire bibliography should not consist of this. You need to have a strong background in academic works, and this means citing journals, primary and secondary sources, and academic work. If you’re talking about something in modern media, it is fine to cite magazines discussing it – but you also need to look at contemporary academic theory. Remember, you are writing a piece of academic writing so your sources need to be academic too!

#5 Have a great introduction

You need to sell your thesis early. Make your introduction clear, concise, and well-thought out. Keep your arguments focused, but small (too broad and you’ll risk a lack of coverage!). Ensure that you can summarise your goal in the introduction succinctly, and it’ll make sure you look like you know what you’re talking about!

PhD Thesis Structure

There are a few ways to structure your PhD, but here we’ll give you a general outline of a potential PhD Thesis structure. Remember, if this doesn’t work for you, it’s better you find something that does than try and force it!

Title Page
Exactly what it sounds like.

A short (and really, do keep it short!) summary of your thesis.

A list of everything relevant in your PhD thesis.

Introduction and Background
A good introduction, and the background behind your thesis.

Literature Review
Talk about what literature you used – as mentioned previously, having a good bibliography will be invaluable here!

This may be more relevant for you scientists, but here you’ll want to talk about what methods you’ve used.

Discussion or data analysis
A discussion of your findings, or for the more scientific theses, analysis of the data. Or both!

Conclude – sum up your findings, and make your final points.

Bibliography and Appendix
Lists of all the materials used when working on your thesis.


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