By Arlene McGarty:
I bring you my first IHAWKES blog from the “preparing to write up” phase of my PhD. And boy, what a nice phase it is. It’s that point in a PhD when all the research has been conducted, the stresses of recruitment and data collection are a distant memory, that never-ending analysis did in fact end, yet the dreaded “writing up” phase has not fully begun. It’s a very welcomed, albeit short, period of calm in an otherwise hectic process. So, in a bid to prolong the serenity a little longer, I’ve put together 5 top tips which I’ve found particularly helpful as I prepare to write up.
1. The writing should have started a long time ago
You’ve probably heard this from day one of your PhD, from everyone that has ever done a PhD. And I’m sorry to jump on the bandwagon, but they’re right – writing as you go makes a huge difference. It’s not a case of starting chapter one on day one, but simple things, such as taking notes whilst reading or drafting method sections when data collection procedures are still fresh in your mind, will prove extremely useful as you prepare to write up.
2. Plan ahead
It’s important to develop a general plan for your thesis and think about how it will be structured, what your chapters will be, and to familiarise yourself with your Institute/College thesis guidelines. This initial plan will give a structure to what you’re writing and soon you will start to see how different elements of your thesis fit together. As you prepare to write up, a plan of each chapter – detailing the information to be included within each section and subsection – will keep your writing focused and will let you view your thesis as many small, achievable sections of writing, rather than a single, daunting piece of work.
3. Set deadlines
Deadlines are an important aspect of keeping the writing process on track…and I love them! If it were not for deadlines, I’d still be aimlessly trawling through BMJ Christmas issues and watching Still Game best bits on YouTube. When it comes to writing up, working towards a thesis submission deadline that is months away is unrealistic and more than a little demotivating. Set short-term deadlines with yourself for sections of a chapter and plan deadlines with your supervisor/s for sending them completed chapters. If you struggle with keeping deadlines you set for yourself, get a friend involved who can encourage you to stick to it.
4. Make use of other people and resources
Even though writing a thesis is a very individual piece of work, there are still plenty of people and resources to support and guide you through it. Within the University, there are numerous classes to help you develop the skills required for writing up. There are also books and endless online resources covering writing strategies and techniques; however, top tip 4.1, make sure that reading about writing doesn’t distract you too much from actually writing! Then there are the people around you – fellow PhD students, staff, and supervisors will have a wealth of do’s and don’ts when it comes to writing. Remember, however, that everyone is different, so find a writing routine that works for you.
5. Look after yourself
As the end becomes nearer, there’s a feeling that the more you work the sooner you’ll be finished, which makes non-stop writing seem oddly tempting. However, the most important part of writing up is you, so if you’re not in good health your thesis will suffer. It’s important to get away from writing now and again, so don’t forget to keep active, socialise, and relax.
Finally, as I reflect on my top tips, I find myself questioning the validity of my opening comment – am I really in the “preparing to write up” phase? Maybe this is not a standalone phase but a continual and gradual process over the course of a PhD, as the skills and information required to write a thesis are accumulated and honed over time. As thesis writing goes, those little things you do throughout your PhD – going to classes, writing here and there – are the things your future self will greatly appreciate. And when you put all these little things together, the prospect of writing a thesis will not feel like the overwhelming task that it once did.