Strategies For The Beginning Thesis Writer

The following tips (updated from Hartley, 1997) may be helpful when starting to write a thesis:

• Try to be well organised. Plan well ahead. Try to keep to the plan.

• Examine two or three theses in your discipline/area. This will show you what is required and how best to present it. Consider how appendices can be used to include material that gets in the way of the flow of the argument.

• Write from the beginning. Do not leave 'writing up' until the end — you will forget what you did, and why you did it. So keep a written record. With word-processors you can easily add, change, move around or delete words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters. If the thesis is experimental, then early experiments and pilot studies should be written up in full at the time of doing them, even if this detail is not needed in the end.

• Make and keep clearly labelled back-up disks. Losing your work is shattering.

• Discuss what you are doing and why you are doing it with fellow students all the time. Report back to them on progress. Share methods, results and conclusions. Explaining things to others helps with the writing process.

• Think of how you might publish each chapter or parts of the thesis separately after the thesis is completed. Write them in such a way that it will be relatively easy to do this. Do not get distracted by this, however: the thesis comes first.

• Master at the outset the appropriate procedures for presenting text in your discipline, particularly the presentation of footnotes and references. References should be stored — preferably on a database — from the outset, in full detail. There is nothing worse than trying to find again something that you read several months ago, just to record the part number or the page numbers.

• Read the requirements of your institution for the presentation of the thesis. Most institutions, for instance, require the text to be double-spaced, and they specify the width of the margins necessary for binding the thesis. If you prepare your drafts to this specification, you will find that you will not make mistakes — such as producing tabular arrays that do not fit in. Also, remember that a larger type-size (say 12-point) with 1.5 line spacing is necessary on an A4 page to make the text more readable.

• Submit regular drafts of subsections of your thesis to your supervisor, and ask for guidance on your writing — particularly if you are an overseas student.

• Make sure your supervisor eventually sees the thesis as a whole. It is not possible to judge the thesis as a whole by reading subsections on their own.

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