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Finishing your PhD thesis: 15 top tips from those in the know

How to Write Your Best Dissertation: Step-by-Step Guide

❶If you have told your adviser that you will deliver a first draft of chapter 3 on Wednesday, it focuses your attention.

To The Candidate:

What is a thesis? For whom is it written? How should it be written?
What is an Abstract?
Step 1: Write a winning dissertation proposal

Do not spend your time together complaining about your thesis: If you can find another student writing a thesis, then you may find it therapeutic to complain to each other about advisers and difficulties. Coda Keep going — you're nearly there! Most PhDs will admit that there were times when we thought about reasons for not finishing.

But it would be crazy to give up at the writing stage, after years of work on the research, and it would be something to regret for a long time. Writing a thesis is tough work. One anonymous post doctoral researcher told me: It's a tough period for almost every student. It is also an important rite of passage and the satisfaction you will feel afterwards is wonderful.

On behalf of scholars everywhere, I wish you good luck! A suggested thesis structure The list of contents and chapter headings below is appropriate for some theses. In some cases, one or two of them may be irrelevant.

Results and Discussion are usually combined in several chapters of a thesis. Think about the plan of chapters and decide what is best to report your work. Then make a list, in point form, of what will go in each chapter.

Try to make this rather detailed, so that you end up with a list of points that corresponds to subsections or even to the paragraphs of your thesis. At this stage, think hard about the logic of the presentation: If you make a plan of each chapter and section before you sit down to write, the result will probably be clearer and easier to read. It will also be easier to write. In any case, this standard page gives the university library the right to publish the work, possibly by microfilm or other medium.

Make sure that you consult that for its formal requirements, as well as this rather informal guide. Declaration Check the wording required by your institution, and whether there is a standard form. Many universities require something like: Abstract Of all your thesis, this part will be the most widely published and most read because it will be published in Dissertation Abstracts International.

It is best written towards the end, but not at the very last minute because you will probably need several drafts. It should be a distillation of the thesis: An abstract must be self-contained.

Usually they do not contain references. When a reference is necessary, its details should be included in the text of the abstract. Check the word limit. Acknowledgments Most thesis authors put in a page of thanks to those who have helped them in matters scientific, and also indirectly by providing such essentials as food, education, genes, money, help, advice, friendship etc.

If any of your work is collaborative, you should make it quite clear who did which sections. Table of contents The introduction starts on page 1, the earlier pages should have roman numerals.

It helps to have the subheadings of each chapter, as well as the chapter titles. Remember that the thesis may be used as a reference in the lab, so it helps to be able to find things easily. Introduction What is the topic and why is it important? State the problem s as simply as you can.

Remember that you have been working on this project for a few years, so you will be very close to it. Try to step back mentally and take a broader view of the problem. How does it fit into the broader world of your discipline? Especially in the introduction, do not overestimate the reader's familiarity with your topic.

You are writing for researchers in the general area, but not all of them need be specialists in your particular topic. It may help to imagine such a person — think of some researcher whom you might have met at a conference for your subject, but who was working in a different area. The introduction should be interesting.

For the first paragraph or two, tradition permits prose that is less dry than the scientific norm. If want to wax lyrical about your topic, here is the place to do it. Go to the library and read several thesis introductions. Did any make you want to read on? Which ones were boring?

This section might go through several drafts to make it read well and logically, while keeping it short. For this section, I think that it is a good idea to ask someone who is not a specialist to read it and to comment.

Is it an adequate introduction? Is it easy to follow? There is an argument for writing this section — or least making a major revision of it — towards the end of the thesis writing.

Your introduction should tell where the thesis is going, and this may become clearer during the writing. Literature review Where did the problem come from? What is already known about this problem?

What other methods have been tried to solve it? Ideally, you will already have much of the hard work done, if you have been keeping up with the literature as you vowed to do three years ago, and if you have made notes about important papers over the years. If you have summarised those papers, then you have some good starting points for the review.

If you didn't keep your literature notes up to date, you can still do something useful: When you start reading about a topic, you should open a spread sheet file, or at least a word processor file, for your literature review. Of course you write down the title, authors, year, volume and pages. But you also write a summary anything from a couple of sentences to a couple of pages, depending on the relevance. In other columns of the spread sheet, you can add key words your own and theirs and comments about its importance, relevance to you and its quality.

How relevant do they have to be before you include them? Well, that is a matter of judgement. On the order of a hundred is reasonable, but it will depend on the field. You are the world expert on the narrow topic of your thesis: Middle chapters In some theses, the middle chapters are the journal articles of which the student was major author.

There are several disadvantages to this format. One is that a thesis is both allowed and expected to have more detail than a journal article. For journal articles, one usually has to reduce the number of figures. In many cases, all of the interesting and relevant data can go in the thesis, and not just those which appeared in the journal. The degree of experimental detail is usually greater in a thesis.

Relatively often a researcher requests a thesis in order to obtain more detail about how a study was performed. Another disadvantage is that your journal articles may have some common material in the introduction and the "Materials and Methods" sections.

The exact structure in the middle chapters will vary among theses. In some theses, it is necessary to establish some theory, to describe the experimental techniques, then to report what was done on several different problems or different stages of the problem, and then finally to present a model or a new theory based on the new work.

For such a thesis, the chapter headings might be: For other theses, it might be appropriate to discuss different techniques in different chapters, rather than to have a single Materials and Methods chapter. Here follow some comments on the elements Materials and Methods, Theory, Results and discussion which may or may not correspond to thesis chapters. Materials and Methods This varies enormously from thesis to thesis, and may be absent in theoretical theses.

It should be possible for a competent researcher to reproduce exactly what you have done by following your description. There is a good chance that this test will be applied: Please write for the benefit of that researcher. In some theses, particularly multi-disciplinary or developmental ones, there may be more than one such chapter. In this case, the different disciplines should be indicated in the chapter titles. Theory When you are reporting theoretical work that is not original, you will usually need to include sufficient material to allow the reader to understand the arguments used and their physical bases.

Sometimes you will be able to present the theory ab initio, but you should not reproduce two pages of algebra that the reader could find in a standard text. Do not include theory that you are not going to relate to the work you have done.

When writing this section, concentrate at least as much on the physical arguments as on the equations. What do the equations mean? What are the important cases? When you are reporting your own theoretical work, you must include rather more detail, but you should consider moving lengthy derivations to appendices. Think too about the order and style of presentation: Suspense is not necessary in reporting science: Results and discussion The results and discussion are very often combined in theses.

This is sensible because of the length of a thesis: The division of Results and Discussion material into chapters is usually best done according to subject matter. Make sure that you have described the conditions which obtained for each set of results. What was held constant? What were the other relevant parameters? Make sure too that you have used appropriate statistical analyses.

Where applicable, show measurement errors and standard errors on the graphs. Use appropriate statistical tests. Take care plotting graphs. The origin and intercepts are often important so, unless the ranges of your data make it impractical, the zeros of one or both scales should usually appear on the graph.

You should show error bars on the data, unless the errors are very small. For single measurements, the bars should be your best estimate of the experimental errors in each coordinate. For multiple measurements these should include the standard error in the data. The errors in different data are often different, so, where this is the case, regressions and fits should be weighted i.

A common failing in many simple software packages that draw graphs and do regressions is that they do not treat errors adequately. UNSW student Mike Johnston has written a plotting routine that plots data with error bars and performs weighted least square regressions. It is at http: You can just 'paste' your data into the input and it generates a. In most cases, your results need discussion. What do they mean? How do they fit into the existing body of knowledge?

Are they consistent with current theories? Do they give new insights? Do they suggest new theories or mechanisms? Try to distance yourself from your usual perspective and look at your work.

Do not just ask yourself what it means in terms of the orthodoxy of your own research group, but also how other people in the field might see it. Does it have any implications that do not relate to the questions that you set out to answer? Final chapter, references and appendices Conclusions and suggestions for further work Your abstract should include your conclusions in very brief form, because it must also include some other material.

A summary of conclusions is usually longer than the final section of the abstract, and you have the space to be more explicit and more careful with qualifications. You might find it helpful to put your conclusions in point form.

It is often the case with scientific investigations that more questions than answers are produced. Does your work suggest any interesting further avenues?

Are there ways in which your work could be improved by future workers? What are the practical implications of your work? This chapter should usually be reasonably short — a few pages perhaps. If your brain takes half the day to boot up properly, write in the evening. When you write will entirely depend upon what is best for you. Pay attention to voice and tense. Be sure to use the correct voice and tense for papers in your discipline while working on your dissertation.

It is incredibly difficult and time-consuming to go back through your text and edit for tense and voice, so try to get it right the first time through. Ask your adviser what is the correct method and then make sure you pay attention to those details while writing.

Also be sure not to switch voice in the text, unless there is a very good reason. Avoid certain types of language.

Certain types of language do not serve you in high-level academic work like this. Avoid these types of language from the start and you will save yourself some editing later on, since your adviser will undoubtedly tell you to change or remove it. Colloquial language, slang, overly informal language and regionalized language are all extremely poor choices for inclusion in a dissertation.

Do not include them under any circumstance. The use of contractions are also frowned on in high-level works. This tends to make language sound regionalized and informal, as discussed above. However, it also makes it very easy to slip in grammatical errors, so it is best to avoid them just in general.

Indecisive or overly-open language is also very bad for a dissertation. You can always discuss problems with the theory later on. Seriously, not citing can get you accused of plagiarism. Citing will also serve to make your work seem more credible, since it proves that other scholars have come to similar conclusions.

Further evidence of this can be seen in the research of Dr. This makes it seem like they support you, rather than you supporting them. Particularly bold claims or ideas which go against the common knowledge will especially need to be cited. These stand-out statements are usually the first for which others will look for evidence. Not citing will make you look incapable or incompetent. If there is any doubt about whether you should cite something, just cite it. The answer is probably yes.

Method Five of Five: Do a first read-through. Once you have completed your work, do a read-though. On this first read-through you will want to look for spelling and grammar mistakes. These will be distracting and stop the flow of thought as you read through to analyze the content, so deal with these and only these first so that you can focus on the content of the text later.

Make a list of words you know you have a tendency to misspell or misuse. Most people have at least a few. When you are done writing, you can do a search through the document to find the incorrect versions and correct them. Remember that some words may technically be spelled correctly but be incorrect for the place in which you've used them. Do a second read-through. Once you've completed your first read-through, do at least one more to check the content. Around the time of completion is when you will want to begin practicing your presentation skills.

A presentation before your committee is usually required, and audiences are often allowed. Most people do not have experience speaking in front of groups and it can be extremely nerve-racking, especially considering the context.

Practicing how you will present your information, first in front of a mirror and then in front of friends and family, preferably well in advance of your presentation date. Include your email address to get a message when this question is answered. Warnings Edit Beware of fraud and fraudulent websites operating online who are earning good money by selling students recycled and plagiarized papers full of mistakes and grammatical errors.

Never, ever plagiarize, and don't ever even visit these sites. If you ever feel that you are under so much pressure that you would prefer to plagiarize, talk with someone immediately, and seek help from your adviser and other people you trust. Cheating is never an answer, and you will always have to live in fear of being discovered if you do cheat. Just don't do it. Only discuss the in-depth ideas for your dissertation with people you trust. If you tell everyone in academia all of your ideas, don't be surprised if someone else takes your idea and writes about it, too.

Did this article help you? What I found constructive was paying attention to the work of novelists I enjoy reading. It may seem that their style has nothing to do with your own field of research, but this does not matter. You can still absorb something of how they write and what makes it effective, compelling and believable.

Share with them your milestones and goals, and agree to be accountable to them. Nothing more self-crippling than perfectionism. Work outside if you can. Share your advice in the comments below. Join the higher education network for more comment, analysis and job opportunities , direct to your inbox. Follow us on Twitter gdnhighered. Topics Higher Education Network Early career researchers.

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How to Write Your Best Dissertation: Step-by-Step Guide. When you get to the point of writing a dissertation, you're clearly near the end .

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1 How To Write a Good (no, Great) PhD Dissertation Priya Narasimhan Assistant Professor Electrical & Computer Engineering Carnegie Mellon University.

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How To Write A Dissertation or Bedtime Reading For People Who Do Not Have Time To Sleep. To The Candidate: So, you are preparing to write a Ph.D. dissertation in an experimental area of Computer Science. Unless you have written many formal documents before, you are in for a surprise: it's difficult! How I wrote a PhD thesis in 3 months August 13, February 28, by James Hayton Before reading this post please note: it took three and a half years of full-time research to gather the data for my PhD thesis; the three months refers only to the writing, which I did quickly at the end.

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GUIDELINES. FOR WRITING A THESIS OR DISSERTATION. CONTENTS: Guidelines for Writing a Thesis or Dissertation, Linda Childers Hon, Ph.D. Outline for Empirical Master’s Theses, Kurt Kent, Ph.D. How to Actually Complete A Thesis. Writing up a PhD can often take place in a frenzy of activity in the last few months of your degree study, after years of hard work. But there are some steps that you can take to increase your chances of success.