Top Mistakes To Avoid While Writing Your PhD Thesis
Will you be writing up your PhD thesis soon? Avoid these eight mistakes and the writing process will be much smoother.
1. Starting too late
With a project as big as a PhD, it can feel like there's always more work to do, and always more time before you have to start writing. But the earlier you can start, the less stressful writing up will be. Even if you just start making notes or jotting down a few bullet points of issues you want to raise in your thesis, this will be very helpful when you start writing in full and you're not left staring at a blank page. Try writing small sections of a few hundred words per day to get you into the zone without becoming overwhelmed.
2. Being a perfectionist
PhD students often feel as if their thesis needs to be the pinnacle of their career, and that it has to be the perfect expression of all of the work they have done over the years. But focusing too much on making your thesis perfect will stop you from getting it written at all. Accept that there will be flaws in your thesis, and that there will be some questions which you can't answer, or some issues which you can't overcome. That's okay! You want to make the thesis as good as you can, while still ensuring that it gets finished.
3. Doing more research
Too much research? Surely there's no such thing! Well, in fact, there is a time at which you need to stop reading new articles, books, or sources, and to focus on your write-up. If you have come to the end of your PhD, then you already have all the knowledge that you need to write your thesis. You don't need to collect even more information; you need to focus on getting what you already know down onto the page.
4. Trying to write up in one draft
The secret to successful writing is to not spend hours worrying about making each word you write perfect the first time around. Instead, get a rough draft finished as soon as you can, and then gradually edit and re-draft over several iterations. One you have a draft, you can see your thesis in context and start making changes to make it better. Editing an already-existing document is so much easier than writing from scratch!
5. Not taking feedback
Once you have a draft, you should solicit as much feedback as you can. Your supervisors, colleagues, and friends can all give you useful feedback, even if they are not specialists in your field. When you receive feedback on your thesis, it can be hard to accept if it is critical. If you find it hard to hear feedback without being defensive, try waiting 24 hours between receiving the feedback and acting on it. You'll usually be much more receptive once a day has passed.
6. Forgetting about formatting and paperwork
Formatting might not seem to be terribly important, in the grand scheme of things. However, it does take time to get your thesis into an acceptable format for submission and printing. In addition, there is probably a pile of paperwork which you will have to hand in to your university. You don't want to scrabbling to get everything finished at the last minute, especially if you are already stressed. Leave yourself a few days to sort out all the formatting and paperwork, so you don't have to rush.
7. Trying to do your own proofreading
It's tempting to think that because you spend so much time writing your thesis, you will spot any spelling or grammar errors. But actually it is almost impossible to proofread your own writing accurately. Rope in some people to be your proofreaders – they don't need to be specialists in your field, so this is a great role for your family or friends to help you out with. Ask them to check just the spelling and grammar in your thesis, give them a week or two if possible, then you can add in their corrections before submission.
8. Not taking care of yourself
Even if everything goes as well as possible, writing up your PhD thesis is still a hugely stressful time. It's understandable that you'll be more focused on your work than anything else. However, it's important that you take care of yourself during this period too. In order to do your best work, you need to make sure that you are eating and sleeping enough, and that you get away from your desk or office at least occasionally. This will help you to focus and not to burn out while you're writing up.
Good luck with writing up!
Find lots more advice for PhD students and other academics:
Navigating the PhD Literature
The literature research students need to rely on throughout all of their thesis writing is diverse. Broadly categorized there are three types of literature useful for PhD students: research/topic literature, methods literature, and ‘how to do your PhD’ literature.
How To Survive Your PhD Thesis Defense
Once you've handed in your thesis, you still have one big challenge to overcome before you're finished with your PhD: the thesis defense. This is an opportunity for you to present your research publicly and to answer questions about it from your thesis committee. The process can be tough going, especially if you've never had to do anything like this before. That being said, there are a few ways to make sure you survive – and even perform very well in – your thesis defense.
Writing A Thesis This Summer? 10 Tips on How to Stay Motivated
Instead of relaxing by the pool, engaging in night long barbecues or taking long awaited beach vacations, do you find yourself smoldering in the summer heat at your local library, or at your very own disheveled desk, mustering what little willpower you have left to write your thesis? As a current graduate student at the American University in Cairo I share your woes, and perhaps sleep depriving fears, but believe me when I say there is light, and the promise of a blissful graduation, at the end of that slightly terrifying thesis tunnel.