Writing up your thesis

Dr Paul Spencer Researcher Development Manager
Paul.spencer@uwe.ac.uk Tel: 0117 328 3974

Some tips and advice on how to: •minimise problems with organising material
•focus attention on the thesis •avoid writer’s block

Purpose of the Workshop

• • •

To examine issues associated with the process of writing up and the barriers as an overview We will be as interactive as possible Interaction, questioning and critique is positively encouraged

Issues to be covered
• The Starting Challenge • Using what you already have • Planning and Scheduling • Overcoming Research and Writing Blocks • Using Others for Support • Using Feedback • The Whole Thesis - structuring

The Starting Challenge

The Starting Challenge
Sitting down to write the thesis is a daunting
task, it is a substantive document 1. How do you start? 2. When do you know you have finished? There are no simple answers to these questions just examples of what works for others which might work for you

The Starting Challenge

• Use what you already have (RD1 & Progress

•Treat these as building blocks toward a
draft thesis

• When you have a draft thesis you have a
structure. Structure is the key to overcoming the starting challenge

How to motivate yourself

Motivating Yourself

• Getting started requires motivation • Only you can motivate yourself and only you

know what motivates you Use friends, loved ones, colleagues, supervisors to help you maintain motivation Reconnect with your initial motivation to do a PhD (e.g. to be called Doctor)

Motivating Yourself
• Get the right balance • Make sure you have a comfortable place to
work with limited distractions and preferably access to copious amounts of tea! • Treats not tricks! Reward yourself when you have reached set targets… Don’t have that cup of tea until you have written a page!

Motivating Yourself
• Break it down. Work with smaller chunks
but keep connections clearly in mind. Discuss the chunks and their connections with friends, fellow PhD students, supervisors other interested parties.

Using what you already have Or… don’t re-invent the wheel!

The research proposal
At the beginning of your journey you will have:

• identified the research question • specified the hypothesis • formulated the research proposal (RD1) • received peer review of the RD1 from the RDC • acted on feedback from the RDC, amended
proposal and worked toward the Progression Exam

Progression Report
Remember the content you had to write for this?

• Background to the research proposal • A critical summary of the relevant related research
work • The methods being used • Timescales for the remaining stages of the work, including proposed submission of the thesis

Planning & Scheduling

Scheduling and Planning the PhD
• The timescales for research degrees are specified in
• •
the UWE regulations. You should aim to complete within 3 years on an FTE basis. From the date of the RD1 approval you should develop the habit of planning your research degree programme

Scheduling and Planning the PhD

You should be in the habit of: • Planning over the − short term − medium term and − long term horizon • Reviewing the plan frequently

• A planning and scheduling approach can not • •
guarantee you will meet your submission deadline but it can make the process easier It can help to overcome obstacles by showing up problems early giving you time to put things back on track Contradictory procedures and mutually exclusive actions will be identifiable.

• Getting the planning process right ensures that
the PhD is properly constrained and is achievable within 3 years of FT study. • It also provides the first contribution towards a draft thesis. • You now have a simple plan

Making progress: avoiding defeatism and self-sabotage


• Sabotage: to ruin, destroy or disable
deliberately and maliciously • Self-sabotage: to act against your own best interests, whether consciously or unconsciously

When do you self-sabotage?
In small groups discuss things that you do that on reflection make the completion of your research degree less likely


• In groups discuss when you feel like you
are making progress on your PhD • When do you feel that you are not making progress? • Focus on specific events and examples

The fight or flight response

Stress: physical symptoms
• Constant tiredness • Limbs •
heavy/face/taut/neck stiff Breathlessness/sweating without exertion Feeling faint at times Light, patchy sleep Weepiness Lack of appetite Indigestion or heartburn

• Sickness/diarrhoea • Headaches/migraine • Disinterest in sex • Craving for food when under

• • • • •

• •

pressure Increased reliance on caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, chocolate, sugar Nervous tics, nail-biting Inability to sit still without fidgeting

Stress: mental symptoms
• • • •
Reluctance to laugh/smile or make jokes Poor concentration Tendency to flit from task to task Inability to finish a task properly A lack of drive/motivation in your work Feelings of guilt/inadequacy where work is concerned/ feeling of being a failure Lack of interest in life and in activities that previously gave you pleasure

• •

• •

• • • •

No desire to contact people/loss of interest in your friends Difficulty in making decisions Constant irritability Feeling of helplessness and lack of control Feeling of being surrounded by busy people Feelings of inadequacy in relationship to your partner No real interest in the future Frustration at not being able to show your true feelings Forgetfulness

Balance of activities in your life
• There are 168 hours a week • How do you divide them between: ° Routine activities (sleep/travel etc) ° Work (including PhD) ° Play

Ideal 100 34 34

Stress management: physical
• Take regular exercise • Go outside and experience the daylight • Try to walk, talk and move at a slower pace • For some, yoga/meditation or relaxation tapes

may help Allow at least 30 minutes at mealtimes. Try to eat slowly Examine your diet. Make sure that it is balanced and provides you with plenty of energy Reduce your dependence on drugs (including coffee, pain killers and wine) Seek advice if relationships are upsetting you

Stress management: mental
• Your supervisor calls you and says:
‘I’d like to have a look at how you are getting on. Can you send me the chapter that we discussed at our last supervision? Don’t worry if it is not quite finished yet.’

How do you feel?

Common problems
Performance anxiety:

• Daunted by the size of the task • Perfectionism • Fear of consequences • Lack of self-belief

Dealing with performance anxiety
Some ideas that might work for you: • Free writing – ‘write rubbish’ • Three-draft approach
i. Get the big ideas down ii. Structure and fill in the gaps iii. Proof

• •

Use a draft stamp on your documents ‛Nail your feet to the floor’

Creating realistic plans
• Chunk work up • Try to achieve something concrete every • •
day/week (focus on results not being busy) Reward achievement (treats not tricks) Keep track of the whole (eye on the big picture)

Tips to help you achieve
• Realise that you have a choice
‘I could work’ or ‘I could go out’. Choose and then act, don’t then feel guilty

• Work no more than eight hours a day • Get at least a day’s leisure time every week • Regard your work as a job not as your life • Control your environment. Put yourself in a
situation that minimises distractions

Work-Life Balance?

Measuring progress? (focus on results)
Useful • Tasks completed • Number of words written/interviews/ data collected per day • Percentage of the whole completed Not so useful • Tasks started • Hours worked • Unrealistic assessments of standard • Lists of failures

Overcoming research & writing blocks

Writer’s block
• Make sure it really is a block. Might it just be
that you are tired of the thesis and looking for a break? • Research Blocks occur for all sorts of reasons. They might occur less frequently if you use the techniques outlined in these slides. • There are lots of ways to approach overcoming research blocks.

Write early, write often

Audit what you have

2 mins

• As you undertake your research you should have • • •
been doing some writing Make a list of everything that you have written already Estimate how many words each piece of writing is. What is the total number of words you have written? Don’t worry how finished each of these pieces of writing is

Good writing tasks to complete while you are doing the research include:
• Research proposal • Literature survey • Analysing data and detailing pilot studies • Reports for your supervisor • A personal journal • Methodology chapters • Early drafts of other chapters

Writer’s block
• The solutions are similar to those for overcoming
• •
the starting challenge. Re-discover what motivates you, use that to retarget your efforts. Use friends, supervisors, others to help you. Break tasks down in to smaller elements. Work with these elements but keep a holistic view in mind so as to preserve the innate connectivity of the thesis

Writer’s block
• • • •
Don’t be too critical of yourself, try and get down on paper the ideas you have. Worry about the flow and emphasis at a later stage. If the block is severe then don't try to write but use notes, lists and flow diagrams to help you outline your thoughts. Don’t be too hard on yourself. A PhD is not all inspiration in fact much of it is just a hard slog with more perspiration than inspiration! If all else fails just leave it alone for a while BUT set a deadline for when you will return to it

It’s really about persistence

• Don’t let the technology baffle you, use it to help

you Get on the relevant courses to master the short cuts and document organising capabilities of MS Office such as automatic contents, master document for keeping your chapters in manageable document size etc.

• Make sure you keep your reference materials up to •
date and in the format required for your thesis. Many research students encounter unnecessary blocks due to poor organisation of their references. Missing or partial reference details can be time consuming to track down and very dispiriting! Don’t fall into that trap.

• Make sure you use a reference manager software
e.g. RefWorks to organise and catalogue your references. If you don’t yet have access to such software or don’t know how to use it contact the UWE Library.

Using others for support

Using others for support
• Remember you are not the only PhD student
writing up – others are in the same situation. Self help groups from your Research Centre, Graduate School or Faculty can be really helpful. Why not form one if there is not one available.

Using others for support
• Your supervisor or others in the Graduate School
administration can all advise on issues of concern – use them. Postgrad society can also act a network node to connect people together These events!

Using Feedback

Get feedback on your work as you go along

• Use the feedback available to you • Your supervisor(s) • Progress report • Supervisor meetings • Draft submissions • Peers and colleagues

Supervisor Meetings

• Think of all your meetings with supervisors as
requiring a written input from you. Use them to review progress, identify method issues, discuss laboratory or fieldwork techniques and to consider emerging results. Get feedback. Act on it. If you don’t have a schedule of regular meetings with your supervisor - why not? Manage your supervisor.

Supervisor meetings
• Agree targets for intermediary reports with your
supervisory team. Don’t leave it to the Progress Report!

• Each report to your supervisor is an opportunity to
test your understanding, and to develop the quality of your arguments. You will gain confidence.

• Confidence builds your capacity to plan and
organise your work.

Supervisor meetings
• These supervisor reports provide the context within which

you will develop your Progression Report. It will also be the materials from which you develop your first Faculty Research Presentation. In this you will explore your ideas with peers in a safe environment where mistakes are allowed. If your Faculty does not expect you to make a presentation, find out why and change the system so you can get this experience.

The whole thesis

The Whole Thesis
• A complex interconnected document of substantial

• • •

size with significant intellectual effort expanded in its production Remember the Law of Diminishing Returns Increasing effort expanded will bring smaller and smaller rewards after a threshold is passed This is a risk assessment that you have to undertake for yourself

A better way to think about it?
‘Think of your thesis as part of your investigation, not as a duty to be undertaken when your work is otherwise complete.’ Barras (1993:136)

The Whole Thesis
• How much do I need to do in order to pass
the viva? • How much do I want to go beyond the “viva pass” stage? • What does my supervisor(s) say? • What are the word limits that constrain me?

Basic structures
On the cards provided you will find the basic structures of two types of PhDs.

5 mins

In groups, quickly organise them into two possible structures. You don’t have to use all of the cards and you may add in new sections if you like.

Basic PhD structure
• Copyright waiver • Declaration • Title page • Abstract • Acknowledgments • Table of contents • Introduction • Literature review/background • Middle chapters • Conclusions and suggestions for further work • References • Appendices

Middle chapters
• Could follow a very conventional IMRaD format:

• Introduction • Methods • Results • Discussion

• Alternatively you may feel your topic needs a multiple IMRaD approach or some other format more suited to your research

Multiple IMRaD
Overview of PhD Literature survey(?)

Topic one

Topic two

Topic three

• Introduction • Methods • Results • Discussion

• Introduction • Methods • Results • Discussion

• Introduction • Methods • Results • Discussion

Conclusion/drawing strands together

Overview of PhD Literature survey(?) Theory (?) Methods (?) Theme one eg class Theme two eg gender Theme three eg race

Conclusion/drawing strands together

Once you have a draft structure

1. Look at the structure of recently submitted PhDs in your discipline 2. Show the structure to your supervisor 3. Attach a word length to each chapter 4. Attach a target to each chapter 5. Work out how what you have done already fits in 6. Revisit the structure after you finish each chapter

Communicating your structure
• It is key that you communicate your structure

in your writing Repetition and effective signposting will help you to get your message across

Say what you are going to say

Say it

Say what you said

• A detailed contents page • Abstract • Introduction and conclusion • Chapters • Sub-headings • Summary paragraphs • In text, signposts, such as ‘and now it will be
argued that…’

Professor Jonathan Wolff suggests that academic writing is confined by conventions to be dull!

“A detective novel written by a good philosophy student would begin: ‛In this novel I shall show that the butler did it.’ The rest will be just filling in the details”

*See http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/comment/story/0,,2161629,00.html

It is essential in your writing to ensure that you address
Many viva candidates are either

• unclear about exactly the contribution they
have made, or • too modest to state the significance of the contribution

Many dissertations fail to indicate which part of the work is existing and which is new and original

Web sites
• Remember, invest your time wisely when reviewing
these sites. They only advise on how you might write a PhD, they don’t do it for you.

• Don’t let surfing be a displacement activity!

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