A guide for students: writing a PhD thesis

Anyone who is considering writing a PhD thesis would do very well to read the following advice. These tips are not necessarily set in stone or are the only things which are valuable to somebody about to undertake this lengthy task. But they have been suggested by people who have been there and done that. These steps or bits of advice have come from graduates who have completed their PhD thesis and been awarded the title of Doctor of philosophy.

  • get the nuts and bolts correct
  • don't use incorrect phrases when dealing with citing references
  • less is more
  • remove stress from your life
  • do not have a digital bibliography

Getting the basics of your writing correct cannot be overestimated in terms of importance. You must have your spelling, punctuation and grammar in pristine condition. All the good ideas and all the writing expertise which you bring to your thesis is undone or certainly harmed by your lack of attention to detail when it comes to proofreading. If it means employing a professional proofreader to go through your writing with a fine tooth comb, then so be it but by all means get the basics right.

It's very important that you read widely and that you take from your reading those words which add substance to your thesis. Naturally you will attribute all quotations the correct way. Your academic institution will have a preferred method of citing references. Learn this method and follow all the relevant requirements.

It is a simple mistake to make to believe that a very long thesis is one which will get a higher mark. Nothing could be further from the truth. The key to success in writing an excellent PhD thesis is brevity. Less is more. Of course it needs to be a substantial thesis but if you can at the end, go through your thesis and trim it or rewrite it in a more compact way, you are doing yourself a large favour.

You need to understand that writing a PhD thesis is not an overnight activity. It is not something you will do in a few weeks or months but rather something which could occupy your life for a number of years. You need to get your mental and physical health in as good a condition as possible. You want to research and write well if you're not feeling well. If you have stress in your life, tackle this problem. Find ways to lower or remove your stress levels.

There is a temptation today to research a wide variety of freely available resources such as blogs and websites. To then populate your bibliography quoting references you have seen on blogs or websites is not recommended. Use the traditional method of referring to published textbooks and journals and of course quote all references in the appropriate way.

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