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Finishing your PhD thesis: 15 top tips from those in the know
Trying to complete a PhD thesis in time for the October deadline? We share some advice on getting over that final hurdle
- The key to a successful PhD thesis? Write in your own voice
Many PhD students are now in the final throes of writing their thesis. Turning years of research into a single, coherent piece of work can be tough, so we asked for tips from supervisors and recent PhD graduates. We were inundated with tweets and emails – and @AcademiaObscura helpfully created a Storify of the tweets. Below is a selection of the best tips.
1) Make sure you meet the PhD requirements for your institution “PhD students and their supervisors often presume things without checking. One supervisor told his student that a PhD was about 300 pages long so he wrote 300 pages. Unfortunately the supervisor had meant double-spaced, and the student had written single-spaced. Getting rid of 40,000 extra words with two weeks to go is not recommended.” ( Hannah Farrimond, lecturer in medical sociology, Exeter University)
2) Keep perspective “Everyone wants their thesis to be amazing, their magnum opus. But your most important work will come later. Think of your PhD as an apprenticeship. Your peers are unlikely to read your thesis and judge you on it. They are more likely to read any papers (articles, chapters, books) that result from it.” ( Dean D’Souza, PhD in cognitive neuroscience, Birkbeck, University of London)
3) Write the introduction last “Writing the introduction and conclusion together will help to tie up the thesis together, so save it for the end.” ( Ashish Jaiswal, PhD in business education, University of Oxford)
4) Use apps “ Trello is a project management tool (available as a smartphone app) which allows you to create ‘boards’ on which to pin all of your outstanding tasks, deadlines, and ideas. It allows you to make checklists too so you know that all of your important stuff is listed and to-hand, meaning you can focus on one thing at a time. It’s satisfying to move notes into the ‘done’ column too.” ( Lucy Irving, PhD in psychology, Middlesex University)
5) Address the unanswered questions “There will always be unanswered questions – don’t try to ignore or, even worse, obfuscate them. On the contrary, actively draw attention to them; identify them in your conclusion as areas for further investigation. Your PhD viva will go badly if you’ve attempted to disregard or evade the unresolved issues that your thesis has inevitably opened up.” ( Michael Perfect, PhD in English literature, University of Cambridge)
6) Buy your own laser printer “A basic monochrome laser printer that can print duplex (two-sided) can be bought online for less than £100, with off-brand replacement toners available for about £30 a pop. Repeatedly reprinting and editing draft thesis chapters has two very helpful functions. Firstly, it takes your work off the screen and onto paper, which is usually easier to proof. Secondly, it gives you a legitimate excuse to get away from your desk.” ( James Brown, PhD in architectural education, Queen’s University Belfast)
7) Checking is important “On days when your brain is too tired to write, check quotations, bibliography etc so you’re still making progress.” ( Julia Wright, professor of English at Dalhousie University, Canada)
8) Get feedback on the whole thesis “We often get feedback on individual chapters but plan to get feedback from your supervisor on the PhD as a whole to make sure it all hangs together nicely.” ( Mel Rohse, PhD in peace studies, University of Bradford)
9) Make sure you know when it will end “Sometimes supervisors use optimistic words such as ‘You are nearly there!’ Ask them to be specific. Are you three months away, or do you have six months’ worth of work? Or is it just a month’s load?” ( Rifat Mahbub, PhD in women’s studies, University of York)
10) Prepare for the viva “Don’t just focus on the thesis – the viva is very important too and examiners’ opinions can change following a successful viva. Remember that you are the expert in your specific field, not the examiners, and ask your supervisor to arrange a mock viva if practically possible.” ( Christine Jones , head of school of Welsh and bilingual studies, University of Wales Trinity St David)
11) Develop your own style “Take into account everything your supervisor has said, attend to their suggestions about revisions to your work but also be true to your own style of writing. 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.” ( Sarah Skyrme, PhD in sociology, Newcastle University)
12) Remember that more is not always better “A PhD thesis is not a race to the highest page count; don’t waste time padding.” ( Francis Woodhouse, PhD in mathematical biology, University of Cambridge)
13) Get a buddy “Find a colleague, your partner, a friend who is willing to support you. Share with them your milestones and goals, and agree to be accountable to them. This doesn’t mean they get to hassle or nag you, it just means someone else knows what you’re up to, and can help to check if your planning is realistic and achievable.” ( Cassandra Steer, PhD in criminology, University of Amsterdam)
14) Don’t pursue perfectionism “Remember that a PhD doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. Nothing more self-crippling than perfectionism.” ( Nathan Waddell, lecturer in modernist literature, Nottingham University )
15) Look after yourself “Go outside. Work outside if you can. Fresh air, trees and sunshine do wonders for what’s left of your sanity.” ( Helen Coverdale, PhD in law, LSE)
Do you have any tips to add? Share your advice in the comments below.
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20 Tips to Help You Finish Your Dissertation
I haven’t met many Ph.D. students who don’t like to write. Some may like writing more than others, but most enjoy writing—or, at least, the satisfaction of having written. Wherever you find yourself on the love-for-writing spectrum, a dissertation awaits completion, and you must finish. Here are a few tips to help you.
1. Write sooner. The dissertation writing process can quickly become paralyzing because of its size and importance. It is a project that will be reviewed rigorously by your advisor and your committee, and your graduation depends on your successful completion and defense. Facing these realities can be daunting and tempt you to wait until you can determine that you’ve researched or thought enough about the topic. Yet, the longer you delay writing, the more difficult it will be to actually start the process. The answer to your paralysis is to start writing . Are you unsure of your argument or not fully convinced you have done the requisite research? You may be right: your argument may not be airtight, and you may need to do more reading; but you will be able to determine to what degree these problems need attention when you start writing. Productivity begets productivity, and you will be amazed at how arguments take shape and the direction of your research is forged as you write.
2. Write continually. So, don’t stop writing. Of course, you need to continue to read and study and take notes—I will talk about this more in a moment—but it is best if you keep the gears from grinding to a halt. Keep your mind working and your project moving. Your assignment is not to turn in a hundred pages of notes to your supervisor—you must produce a dissertation with complete sentences and paragraphs and chapters. Keep writing.
3. Write in order to rewrite. Writing sooner and writing continually can only happen if you aren’t consumed with perfection. Some of us are discouraged from writing because we think our first draft needs to be our final draft. But this is exactly the problem. Get your thoughts on paper and plan to go back and fix awkward sentences, poor word choices, and illogical or unsubstantiated arguments in your subsequent drafts. Knowing that rewriting is part of the writing process will free you to write persistently, make progress, and look forward to fixing things later.
4. Spend adequate time determining your thesis and methodology. This probably could fit in the number one slot, but I wanted to emphasize the importance writing right away. Besides, you might find that you modify your thesis and methodology slightly as you write and make progress in developing your overall argument. Nevertheless, the adage is true: form a solid thesis and methodology statement and your dissertation will “write itself.” Plan to spend some time writing and rewriting and rewriting (again) your thesis and methodology statements so that you will know where you are going and where you need to go.
5. If you get stuck, move to another section. Developing a clear thesis and methodology will allow you to move around in your dissertation when you get stuck. Granted, we should not make a habit of avoiding difficult tasks, but there are times when it will be a more effective use of time to move to sections that will write easy. As you continue to make progress in your project and get words on paper, you will also help mitigate the panic that so often looms over your project when you get stuck and your writing ceases.
6. Fight the urge to walk away from writing when it gets difficult. Having encouraged you to move to another section when you get stuck, it is also important to add a balancing comment to encourage you to fight through the tough spots in your project. I don’t mean that you should force writing when it is clear that you may need to make some structural changes or do a little more research on a given topic. But if you find yourself dreading a particular portion of your dissertation because it will require some mind-numbing, head-on-your-desk, prayer-producing rigor, then my advice is to face these tough sections head on and sit in your chair until you make some progress. You will be amazed at how momentum will grow out of your dogged persistence to hammer out these difficult portions of your project.
7. Strive for excellence but remember that this is not your magnum opus. A dissertation needs to be of publishable quality and it will need to past the muster of your supervisor and committee. But it is also a graduation requirement. Do the research. Make a contribution. Finish the project. And plan to write your five-volume theology when you have 30-40 more years of study, reflection, and teaching under your belt.
8. Take careful notes. Taking careful notes is essential for two reasons. First, keeping a meticulous record of the knowledge you glean from your research will save you time: there will be no need to later revisit your resources and chase bibliographic information, and you will find yourself less prone to the dreaded, “Where did I read that?” Second, and most importantly, you will avoid plagiarism. If you fail to take good notes and are not careful to accurately copy direct quotes and make proper citations, you will be liable to reproducing material in your dissertation that is not original with you. Pleading that your plagiarism was inadvertent will not help your cause. It is your responsibility to take careful notes and attribute all credit to whom it is due through proper citation.
9. Know when to read. Write sooner, write continually, and write in order to rewrite. But you need to know when you are churning an empty barrel. Reading and research should be a stimulus to write and you need to know when that stimulus is needed. Be willing to stop writing for a short period so that you can refresh your mind with new ideas and research.
10. Establish chunks of time to research and write. While it is important to keep writing and make the most of the time that you have, it is best for writing projects specifically to set aside large portions of time with which to write. Writing requires momentum, and momentum gathers over time. Personally, I have found that I need at least an hour to get things rolling, and that three to four hours is ideal.
11. Get exercise, adequate sleep, and eat well. Because our minds and bodies are meant to function in harmony, you will probably find that your productivity suffers to the degree that you are not giving attention to your exercise, sleep, and eating habits. Like it or not, our ability to maintain long periods of sustained concentration, think carefully over our subject matter, and find motivation to complete tasks is dependent in a significant sense upon how we are caring for our bodies. When we neglect exercise, fail to get adequate sleep, or constantly indulge in an unhealthy diet, we will find it increasingly difficult to muster the energy and clarity with which to complete our dissertation.
12. Stay on task. Completing a dissertation, in large measure, is not so much a feat of the intellect as it is the result of discipline. If you are able to set aside large chunks of time with which to research and write, make sure that you are not using that time for other tasks. This means that you must strive against multi-tasking. In truth, studies have shown that multi-tasking is a cognitive impossibility. Our brains can only concentrate on one thing at a time. When we think we are multitasking we are actually “switch-tasking;” rather than doing several things at once, our brains are constantly toggling from one task to the other (listening to a song on the radio to reading a book, back to the song, etc.). You will be amazed at how much you can accomplish if you give an undistracted 60-90 minutes to something. Stay on task.
13. Don’t get stuck on introductions. This is a basic writing principle, but one that bears repeating here: write the body of a given chapter or section and then return to the introductions. It is usually easier to introduce something that you have already written for the simple fact that you now know what you are introducing. You might be tempted to write the introduction first and labor to capture your reader with a gripping illustration or perfect quote while refusing to enter into the body of your paper until your preliminary remarks are flawless. This is a sure recipe for frustration. Wait until you have completed a particular section or chapter’s content until you write introductions. This practice will save you time and loads of trouble.
14. Use a legal pad. There’s nothing magic about a legal pad; my only aim here is to encourage you to push back from the keyboard occasionally and stimulate your mind by sketching your argument and writing your ideas by hand. I have found my way out of many dry spells by closing the laptop for a few minutes and writing on a piece of paper. I might bullet point a few key ideas, diagram my chapter outlines, or sketch the entire dissertation with boxes and arrows and notes scribbled over several pages.
15. Go on walks. It has been said recently that walking promotes creativity. I agree. Whether you like to walk among the trees or besides the small coffee shops along quaint side streets, I recommend that you go on walks and think specifically about your dissertation. You might find that the change of scenery, the stimulus of a bustling community, or the refreshing quiet of a park trail is just the help you need.
16. Make use of a capture journal. In order to make the most of your walks, you will need a place to “capture” your ideas. You may prefer to use the voice memo or notepad feature on your smartphone, or, if you’re like me, a small 2.5”x4” lined journal. Whatever your preference, find a method that allows you to store your ideas as they come to you during your walks or as you fall to sleep at night. I wonder how many useful ideas many of us have lost because we failed to write them down? Don’t let this happen to you. Resolve to be a good steward of your thinking time and seize those thoughts.
17. Talk about your ideas with others. When you are writing your dissertation, you might be tempted to lock away your ideas and avoid discussing them with others. This is unwise. Talking with others about your ideas helps you to refine and stimulate your thinking; it also creates opportunities for you to learn of important resources and how your contribution will affect other branches of scholarship. Also, as people ask questions about your project, you will begin to see where your argument is unclear or unsubstantiated.
18. Learn how to read. Writing a dissertation requires a massive amount of reading. You must become familiar with the arguments of several hundred resources—books, articles, reviews, and other dissertations. What will you do? You must learn how to read. Effective reading does not require that you read every book word-for-word, cover-to-cover. Indeed, sometimes very close reading of a given volume may actually impede your understanding of the author’s argument. In order to save time and cultivate a more effective approach to knowledge acquisition, you must learn how to use your resources. This means knowing when to read a book or article closely, and knowing when to skim. It means knowing how to read large books within a matter of an hour by carefully reviewing the table of contents, reading and rereading key chapters and paragraphs, and using the subject index. If you want to finish your dissertation, learn how to read.
19. Set deadlines. Depending on your project, you may have built in deadlines that force you to produce material at a steady clip. If you do not have built in deadlines, you must impose them on yourself. Deadlines produce results, and results lead to completed writing projects. Set realistic deadlines and stick to them. You will find that you are able to accomplish much more than you anticipated if you set and stick to deadlines.
20. Take productive breaks. Instead of turning to aimless entertainment to fill your break times, try doing something that will indirectly serve your writing process. We need breaks: they refresh us and help us stay on task. In fact, studies have shown that overall productivity diminishes if employees are not allowed to take regular, brief pauses from their work during the day. What is not often mentioned, however, is that a break does not necessarily have to be unrelated to our work in order to be refreshing; it needs only to be different from what we were just doing. So, for example, if you have been writing for 90 minutes, instead of turning on YouTube to watch another mountain biking video, you could get up, stretch, and pull that book off the shelf you’ve been wanting to read, or that article that has been sitting in Pocket for the past six weeks. Maybe reorganizing your desk or taking a walk (see above) around the library with your capture journal would be helpful. Whatever you choose, try to make your breaks productive.
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Tips for finishing your PhD thesis on time
Scholar siân lindsay’s research on doctoral completion has yielded valuable insights and practical advice.
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The problems of meeting deadlines are as acute in academia as in any other line of work – if not more so. And perhaps the first high-stakes encounter academics have with this difficult-to-master discipline is the PhD.
Siân Lindsay, lecturer in educational development at City University London, has investigated the process of doctoral completion. She interviewed several PhD candidates at her institution as they were writing up their theses, in a bid to understand the factors that facilitate or obstruct their progress.
Dr Lindsay – who will speak about her project at a Society for Research into Higher Education event in London on 13 June – shared some of her discoveries with Times Higher Education .
“Overwhelmingly, students who were on track to complete their thesis on time had actually written their thesis as they went along,” she said.
“It seems really obvious to say, but the reason students don’t complete on time is because they don’t tend to have their thesis ready.”
She added that it was not particularly important what form such continual writing took, whether drafting chapters or keeping an academic diary, which is what she herself did.
“Every single day I’d write down what I’d done and why I’d done it, because when you write up your thesis you have to justify why you’ve gone in certain directions,” she said.
“Looking back on the diary helped me, particularly in the viva. I could use it to rationalise my decision not to approach it in a certain way.”
Dr Lindsay said she believed that “serial writing”, a term used by Rowena Murray in her book How to Write a Thesis , helped with the development of a thesis because you are not “just ‘telling’ knowledge, you’re ‘developing’ it”.
The second key factor she identified was a proactive supervisor who offered encouragement and feedback during the write-up.
“When you’re writing your thesis it’s very strange because you don’t know where the goalposts are. You can look at other examples of students’ theses, but it’s hard to figure out how your thesis needs to look. So your supervisor is key to guiding you towards what the end product should look like.”
Acknowledging that it was too simplistic to say “make sure you have a good supervisor”, she advised students to be “making and sustaining contact with your supervisor, particularly during write-up”.
“Then there are self-based factors: being motivated, organised, having self-discipline – strategies to understand how you work best,” she said. “Feeling overwhelmed” is common among PhD students, so breaking work into chunks can be a very productive approach.
“Having support and encouragement from friends and family and a good working environment are crucial too,” she added.
Immersing oneself in academic culture was a factor Dr Lindsay also rated highly. “At City we have an annual research symposium and students can present their work and talk about their research,” she said. “That’s so important because it not only prepares you for the viva, but it’s fun to do. Avoiding those offerings by universities is going to tempt you into isolation and wanting to leave the whole process. When you’re talking to other people, you’re getting new ideas and perspectives. It’s refreshing your isolated state of mind.”
Meanwhile, Dr Lindsay said that she was surprised at how few students had told her that they had “let their thesis fall by the wayside” because they had run out of money.
“A lot of the students went and sought part-time work anyway,” she said. “While they were writing they could have that part-time job as a distraction and it helped to structure the process. But being in full-time employment was a big no-no.”
The done deal: Siân Lindsay’s top tips on finishing your thesis on time
- Continual writing during your research project is key; don’t leave writing to the very end, as then the task of writing your thesis may seem impossible. Remember that the very act of writing things down can help you develop your ideas.
- Making and sustaining supervisor contact and supervisory support is essential, especially when nearing the end.
- Immerse yourself in academic culture and get talking about your research at conferences and research symposia. It is worth trying to publish in a peer-reviewed journal. This will be a valuable confidence boost for your viva.
- Don’t get a full-time job, even if you are sorely tempted. However, a part-time job could work in your favour because it could help to structure your time, providing a break from unhelpful spells of isolation and giving you an anchor to the rest of the world.
- Support and understanding from friends and family is important. Talk to them about the challenges you may be experiencing, especially during the final stages.
- Find a writing-up environment that works best for you and minimises unhelpful distractions.
- Reflect on what drives you to write your thesis. Breaking the task into manageable chunks with self-imposed deadlines works well for most, and being organised is paramount.
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What Is a Dissertation? | Guide, Examples, & Template
A dissertation is a long-form piece of academic writing based on original research conducted by you. It is usually submitted as the final step in order to finish a PhD program.
Your dissertation is probably the longest piece of writing you’ve ever completed. It requires solid research, writing, and analysis skills, and it can be intimidating to know where to begin.
Your department likely has guidelines related to how your dissertation should be structured. When in doubt, consult with your supervisor.
You can also download our full dissertation template in the format of your choice below. The template includes a ready-made table of contents with notes on what to include in each chapter, easily adaptable to your department’s requirements.
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- In the US, a dissertation generally refers to the collection of research you conducted to obtain a PhD.
- In other countries (such as the UK), a dissertation often refers to the research you conduct to obtain your bachelor’s or master’s degree.
Table of contents
Dissertation committee and prospectus process, how to write and structure a dissertation, acknowledgements or preface, list of figures and tables, list of abbreviations, introduction, literature review, methodology, reference list, proofreading and editing, defending your dissertation, free checklist and lecture slides.
When you’ve finished your coursework, as well as any comprehensive exams or other requirements, you advance to “ABD” (All But Dissertation) status. This means you’ve completed everything except your dissertation.
Prior to starting to write, you must form your committee and write your prospectus or proposal . Your committee comprises your adviser and a few other faculty members. They can be from your own department, or, if your work is more interdisciplinary, from other departments. Your committee will guide you through the dissertation process, and ultimately decide whether you pass your dissertation defense and receive your PhD.
Your prospectus is a formal document presented to your committee, usually orally in a defense, outlining your research aims and objectives and showing why your topic is relevant . After passing your prospectus defense, you’re ready to start your research and writing.
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The structure of your dissertation depends on a variety of factors, such as your discipline, topic, and approach. Dissertations in the humanities are often structured more like a long essay , building an overall argument to support a central thesis , with chapters organized around different themes or case studies.
However, hard science and social science dissertations typically include a review of existing works, a methodology section, an analysis of your original research, and a presentation of your results , presented in different chapters.
We’ve compiled a list of dissertation examples to help you get started.
- Example dissertation #1: Heat, Wildfire and Energy Demand: An Examination of Residential Buildings and Community Equity (a dissertation by C. A. Antonopoulos about the impact of extreme heat and wildfire on residential buildings and occupant exposure risks).
- Example dissertation #2: Exploring Income Volatility and Financial Health Among Middle-Income Households (a dissertation by M. Addo about income volatility and declining economic security among middle-income households).
- Example dissertation #3: The Use of Mindfulness Meditation to Increase the Efficacy of Mirror Visual Feedback for Reducing Phantom Limb Pain in Amputees (a dissertation by N. S. Mills about the effect of mindfulness-based interventions on the relationship between mirror visual feedback and the pain level in amputees with phantom limb pain).
The very first page of your document contains your dissertation title, your name, department, institution, degree program, and submission date. Sometimes it also includes your student number, your supervisor’s name, and the university’s logo.
Read more about title pages
The acknowledgements section is usually optional and gives space for you to thank everyone who helped you in writing your dissertation. This might include your supervisors, participants in your research, and friends or family who supported you. In some cases, your acknowledgements are part of a preface.
Read more about acknowledgements Read more about prefaces
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The abstract is a short summary of your dissertation, usually about 150 to 300 words long. Though this may seem very short, it’s one of the most important parts of your dissertation, because it introduces your work to your audience.
Your abstract should:
- State your main topic and the aims of your research
- Describe your methods
- Summarize your main results
- State your conclusions
Read more about abstracts
The table of contents lists all of your chapters, along with corresponding subheadings and page numbers. This gives your reader an overview of your structure and helps them easily navigate your document.
Remember to include all main parts of your dissertation in your table of contents, even the appendices. It’s easy to generate a table automatically in Word if you used heading styles. Generally speaking, you only include level 2 and level 3 headings, not every subheading you included in your finished work.
Read more about tables of contents
While not usually mandatory, it’s nice to include a list of figures and tables to help guide your reader if you have used a lot of these in your dissertation. It’s easy to generate one of these in Word using the Insert Caption feature.
Read more about lists of figures and tables
Similarly, if you have used a lot of abbreviations (especially industry-specific ones) in your dissertation, you can include them in an alphabetized list of abbreviations so that the reader can easily look up their meanings.
Read more about lists of abbreviations
In addition to the list of abbreviations, if you find yourself using a lot of highly specialized terms that you worry will not be familiar to your reader, consider including a glossary. Here, alphabetize the terms and include a brief description or definition.
Read more about glossaries
The introduction serves to set up your dissertation’s topic, purpose, and relevance. It tells the reader what to expect in the rest of your dissertation. The introduction should:
- Establish your research topic , giving the background information needed to contextualize your work
- Narrow down the focus and define the scope of your research
- Discuss the state of existing research on the topic, showing your work’s relevance to a broader problem or debate
- Clearly state your research questions and objectives
- Outline the flow of the rest of your work
Everything in the introduction should be clear, engaging, and relevant. By the end, the reader should understand the what, why, and how of your research.
Read more about introductions
A formative part of your research is your literature review . This helps you gain a thorough understanding of the academic work that already exists on your topic.
Literature reviews encompass:
- Finding relevant sources (e.g., books and journal articles)
- Assessing the credibility of your sources
- Critically analyzing and evaluating each source
- Drawing connections between them (e.g., themes, patterns, conflicts, or gaps) to strengthen your overall point
A literature review is not merely a summary of existing sources. Your literature review should have a coherent structure and argument that leads to a clear justification for your own research. It may aim to:
- Address a gap in the literature or build on existing knowledge
- Take a new theoretical or methodological approach to your topic
- Propose a solution to an unresolved problem or advance one side of a theoretical debate
Read more about literature reviews
Your literature review can often form the basis for your theoretical framework. Here, you define and analyze the key theories, concepts, and models that frame your research.
Read more about theoretical frameworks
Your methodology chapter describes how you conducted your research, allowing your reader to critically assess its credibility. Your methodology section should accurately report what you did, as well as convince your reader that this was the best way to answer your research question.
A methodology section should generally include:
- The overall research approach ( quantitative vs. qualitative ) and research methods (e.g., a longitudinal study )
- Your data collection methods (e.g., interviews or a controlled experiment )
- Details of where, when, and with whom the research took place
- Any tools and materials you used (e.g., computer programs, lab equipment)
- Your data analysis methods (e.g., statistical analysis , discourse analysis )
- An evaluation or justification of your methods
Read more about methodology sections
Your results section should highlight what your methodology discovered. You can structure this section around sub-questions, hypotheses , or themes, but avoid including any subjective or speculative interpretation here.
Your results section should:
- Concisely state each relevant result together with relevant descriptive statistics (e.g., mean , standard deviation ) and inferential statistics (e.g., test statistics , p values )
- Briefly state how the result relates to the question or whether the hypothesis was supported
- Report all results that are relevant to your research questions , including any that did not meet your expectations.
Additional data (including raw numbers, full questionnaires, or interview transcripts) can be included as an appendix. You can include tables and figures, but only if they help the reader better understand your results. Read more about results sections
Your discussion section is your opportunity to explore the meaning and implications of your results in relation to your research question. Here, interpret your results in detail, discussing whether they met your expectations and how well they fit with the framework that you built in earlier chapters. Refer back to relevant source material to show how your results fit within existing research in your field.
Some guiding questions include:
- What do your results mean?
- Why do your results matter?
- What limitations do the results have?
If any of the results were unexpected, offer explanations for why this might be. It’s a good idea to consider alternative interpretations of your data.
Read more about discussion sections
Your dissertation’s conclusion should concisely answer your main research question, leaving your reader with a clear understanding of your central argument and emphasizing what your research has contributed to the field.
In some disciplines, the conclusion is just a short section preceding the discussion section, but in other contexts, it is the final chapter of your work. Here, you wrap up your dissertation with a final reflection on what you found, with recommendations for future research and concluding remarks.
It’s important to leave the reader with a clear impression of why your research matters. What have you added to what was already known? Why is your research necessary for the future of your field?
Read more about conclusions
It is crucial to include a reference list or list of works cited with the full details of all the sources that you used, in order to avoid plagiarism. Be sure to choose one citation style and follow it consistently throughout your dissertation. Each style has strict and specific formatting requirements.
Common styles include MLA , Chicago , and APA , but which style you use is often set by your department or your field.
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Your dissertation should contain only essential information that directly contributes to answering your research question. Documents such as interview transcripts or survey questions can be added as appendices, rather than adding them to the main body.
Read more about appendices
Making sure that all of your sections are in the right place is only the first step to a well-written dissertation. Don’t forget to leave plenty of time for editing and proofreading, as grammar mistakes and sloppy spelling errors can really negatively impact your work.
Dissertations can take up to five years to write, so you will definitely want to make sure that everything is perfect before submitting. You may want to consider using a professional dissertation editing service or grammar checker to make sure your final project is perfect prior to submitting.
After your written dissertation is approved, your committee will schedule a defense. Similarly to defending your prospectus, dissertation defenses are oral presentations of your work. You’ll present your dissertation, and your committee will ask you questions. Many departments allow family members, friends, and other people who are interested to join as well.
After your defense, your committee will meet, and then inform you whether you have passed. Keep in mind that defenses are usually just a formality; most committees will have resolved any serious issues with your work with you far prior to your defense, giving you ample time to fix any problems.
As you write your dissertation, you can use this simple checklist to make sure you’ve included all the essentials.
My title page includes all information required by my university.
I have included acknowledgements thanking those who helped me.
My abstract provides a concise summary of the dissertation, giving the reader a clear idea of my key results or arguments.
I have created a table of contents to help the reader navigate my dissertation. It includes all chapter titles, but excludes the title page, acknowledgements, and abstract.
My introduction leads into my topic in an engaging way and shows the relevance of my research.
My introduction clearly defines the focus of my research, stating my research questions and research objectives .
My introduction includes an overview of the dissertation’s structure (reading guide).
I have conducted a literature review in which I (1) critically engage with sources, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of existing research, (2) discuss patterns, themes, and debates in the literature, and (3) address a gap or show how my research contributes to existing research.
I have clearly outlined the theoretical framework of my research, explaining the theories and models that support my approach.
I have thoroughly described my methodology , explaining how I collected data and analyzed data.
I have concisely and objectively reported all relevant results .
I have (1) evaluated and interpreted the meaning of the results and (2) acknowledged any important limitations of the results in my discussion .
I have clearly stated the answer to my main research question in the conclusion .
I have clearly explained the implications of my conclusion, emphasizing what new insight my research has contributed.
I have provided relevant recommendations for further research or practice.
If relevant, I have included appendices with supplemental information.
I have included an in-text citation every time I use words, ideas, or information from a source.
I have listed every source in a reference list at the end of my dissertation.
I have consistently followed the rules of my chosen citation style .
I have followed all formatting guidelines provided by my university.
The end is in sight—your dissertation is nearly ready to submit! Make sure it's perfectly polished with the help of a Scribbr editor.
If you’re an educator, feel free to download and adapt these slides to teach your students about structuring a dissertation.
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Tips for Completing Your PhD Thesis on Time
Completing a PhD course is undoubtedly one of the most fulfilling pursuits for academics. Recently, however, a new term arose: ABD (“All but Dissertation”). ABD refers to students who have completed their coursework and passed the exam, but have yet to complete and defend their theses. Indeed, ABD students are more common than previously thought. The PhD Completion Project revealed that the ten-year cumulative completion rate for PhD students ranges from 64% (engineering) to 49% (humanities). While not all students advance to the doctoral writing stage before dropping out, a significant portion do, based on these numbers. Leaving graduate school without finishing your thesis has psychological and occupational consequences. Completing your thesis on time is, therefore, essential for career advancement and personal growth.
Overcoming a Time Crunch
Being pressed for time will likely happen, especially if you are holding down a part-time job during your doctoral studies. The pressure to finish is greatest during the last year of your PhD and this is usually the time when conflicts and tensions arise. There are tips that can help you finish your PhD on time , even when you’re pressed for it.
- Prepare an action plan for your last year. This will help you optimize the time that you have left and avoid feeling overwhelmed by all the things that you have to do.
- Clarify your priorities. Ask yourself what you intend to finish first and stick to it. It may be helpful to break down your priorities into smaller and simpler tasks.
- “The truth can wait.” That is, it is vital to start writing your doctoral thesis once you have your data, even if more can be done.
- Know all the rules and regulations of the university. Prepare a list of all the documents and papers that you will need before you need them. This will help you avoid pitfalls in your last year.
- Familiarize yourself with software. Producing scientific documents entails the use of specific programs, such as LaTeX. While the program may not be as easy to understand as other editors, there are marked advantages such as ease in publication and faster manipulation of images.
- Pay attention to your career. While you may think that this is not the best time to think about your career , it is. Your career should follow suit after your doctoral studies, and focusing on what lies ahead will help you frame the current situation.
Key Tasks for Finishing Your PhD on Time
Finishing your PhD thesis on time is not as daunting as it sounds. Although many students will be pressed for time, completing your study is possible with a little ingenuity from your part.
- First, ensure that you meet all the PhD requirements set by your institution. Never presume anything without double-checking with your institution and your supervisor. This can save you from a lot of wasted time and stress.
- Keep a good perspective. Your peers are unlikely to read your thesis , but they are likely to read journals and articles resulting from it.
- Contrary to what most people say, your introduction should be written last. Breaking your thesis into defined stages is important for success. On that same note, your conclusion also should be written last.
- Get familiar with project management applications, such as Trello.
- Buy your own laser printer. This will save you from having to rush elsewhere to have your drafts printed. It will save you time and money as well.
- Get feedback on the entire thesis—from start to finish. Getting feedback for individual chapters is fine, but you should aim to get feedback on the entire work.
- “Begin with the end in mind.” Make sure you know when your doctoral studies are supposed to end, and when your work will be considered as done.
Planning and Writing Your Thesis
Breaking down your tasks into manageable blocks is one way to ensure that you actually finish the entire thing. There are plenty of techniques to help you along the way, such as the 25-minute Pomodoro for academic writing. Undoubtedly, writing your thesis is at least as hard as performing the actual study, but it is never impossible. With the right tools at your disposal and a positive mindset, you can finish your PhD on time. Below is a checklist of things that you need to do to get to graduation day.
- Draft your proposal and research design
- Acquire IRB consent
- Pilot study
- Gather data and information for your study
- Analyze your data
- Write, write, and write some more . Ideally, aim to write for a minimum of 30 minutes a day
- Defend your thesis
Completing your PhD paper on time is definitely possible. Knowing the tips and tricks of the trade can help you to get on your way towards a life in academia.
Thanks for the very useful article to complete the Ph.D. thesis before the deadline. The doctorate course is very difficult for the student so the student could not able to complete the work on time. But your article helps to finish the article to complete the work for the students.
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5 Tips on How to Finish your PhD Thesis in 8 Weeks
For many PhD students, the journey to complete their thesis can feel like running a never-ending marathon. Fortunately, with the right strategies and motivation, you can tackle the task of finishing your thesis in less than 8 weeks. In this blog post, we’ll give you 5 tips that will help you power through to the finish line. So lace up and get ready—your PhD is almost complete!
1. Establishing a Time Management Plan
For successful completion of a thesis, it is essential to establish a structured and efficient time management plan. Start by creating a timeline that is tailored to the topic being researched and goals that need to be met by the end of the eight-week period. Identify the tasks and steps that are needed to be completed including data collection, analysis, forming arguments, outlining main ideas, writing drafts and proofreading and make sure they fit logically in the timeline so you can refer back to it while completing the work.
Organize your workspace to help you stay on task. Small organizational tools like sticky notes or index cards can help quickly direct tasks when needed. Working with limited time also requires perseverance; stay focused on short-term goals rather than overwhelm yourself with long-term ones. Lastly, consider limiting distractions such as checking emails or messages or frequent social media breaks during your focus period; create designated off time for these activities which will help you allocate a more realistic amount of time for research and writing.
2. Utilizing Available Resources
A doctoral thesis can often seem like a mammoth task that is impossible to finish in 8 weeks or less. However, with careful planning, use of available resources and discipline, it is possible to complete an impressive thesis in a short period of time. In order to achieve this goal, here are five valuable tips:
- Take advantage of all the available resources: Many universities offer resources such as dedicated staff from the academic writing team and library services that can help reduce the amount of work you need to do. Make sure you’re taking advantage of what’s there so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
- Utilize online research platforms: Technology has made researching much easier and faster than ever before. Utilizing online research tools such as Google Scholar , Academic Search Engine Optimizer (SEO) and others will allow you to quickly find quality sources for your paper without spending time in libraries or digging through bookshelves for knowledge.
- Create a timeline: You’ll need an organized plan in order to write an effective dissertation in 8 weeks or less. Creating a timeline will help break up the work into manageable chunks that won’t overwhelm you and will make sure you stay on track throughout the writing process
- Stay organized with folders: Keeping folders for each section of your dissertation will help manage your content so it is easier for you to focus on writing when needed instead of rummaging through documents trying to locate something specific during key moments when time is precious
3. Developing a Writing Schedule
Developing a writing schedule is one of the most important things you can do when attempting to finish your PhD thesis in a short amount of time. This schedule should include all the components of writing and revision, from researching to creating an outline, drafting to editing. It should also account for activities like taking breaks and going for short walks or getting enough sleep.
Creating a well-defined timeline gives you something tangible that you can set goals around and helps ensure that your workflow is consistent, focused and maintained throughout your allotted time frame. Generally speaking, it’s wise to plan out how many hours per day you will devote to the process and how long each task will take. For example, if research takes two hours, drafting takes three hours and editing takes one hour, block out six hours in your schedule.
It helps if you find an accountability partner who can help keep you consistent in completing these tasks. Communication with your mentor/supervisor can also ensure that you’re staying on track. Creating deadlines and clear objectives for every task helps you stay focused until completion, thus staying ahead of schedule with your dissertation writing services .
Keep in mind that any unforeseen changes in your work can affect this timeline; plan extra time into each part of the process for unexpected setbacks or distractions. Additionally, give yourself permission to adjust tasks as needed when necessary — this could include taking breaks or revisiting topics that you did not fully understand previously — so that your progress stays on track as best it can.
4. Eliminating Distractions
First, set aside an uninterrupted period of time where you will only be working on your thesis and nothing else. Make sure that your study space is distraction-free and comfortable. If you feel too comfortable, like in bed or on the sofa, do not work there since working in those environments may tempt you to take naps instead of staying productive. Establish a strict routine where you set limits over Internet use, TV viewing and other activities that can easily distract you from concentrating on your work. Give yourself regular breaks and reward yourself after completing tasks or chapters. Create a timeline and plan when tasks need to be completed so that you don’t fall behind schedule. You can also seek help from writing professionals if you feel overwhelmed at any point in the process.
5. Completing the Final Touches
Once you have finished the bulk of your PhD thesis writing, there are several fine-tuning aspects that need to be considered in order to make sure that your paper is a polished and professional piece of work. This can often be the most time-consuming part of the process, but it is essential for submitting a high-quality document for examination. Here are five tips that may help you make those final touches:
- Proofread thoroughly: Make sure to check for grammar, spelling, punctuation and typos; consistently run spell checks and proofread multiple times. If possible, ask someone else to review your document as well.
- Neaten up the formatting: Pay attention to layout and make sure all pages are consistent with regard to font type, margin size and structure of headings/subheadings; include page numbers as well as references at the end of each section or chapter.
- Consider adding figures/diagrams: Review your text again; if appropriate – visuals (e.g. diagrams) can often assist in explaining complicated topics/concepts more succinctly than written text alone – though ensure accuracy where appropriate in any accompanying text as sometimes images take readers away from the main message being relayed.
- Update your existing bibliography: Add new sources gathered during data analysis or from other recent research (if applicable) – be precise with any references added; include full source details without fail so that readers can find information easily if desired; it may help to use a referencing software like EndNote or Zotero in order to save time when updating your bibliography entries quickly.
- Check file format specifications: It is essential that any specified format across all sections of your thesis adheres meticulously – these might include saving all pages on A4 paper size using appropriate margins (eg 12 pt Times New Roman); save documents correctly (.docx or .pdf) when sending files electronically; request advice on hard copy submission methods too if required – eg providing a printed copy versus binding specifics etc).
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5 Shortcuts to Finish Your Thesis 12 Months Sooner
Written by Dora Farkas, PhD
“I had to fight to get my thesis approved. At some point, you just have to put your foot down and talk about graduation. Eventually, my committee gave me the green light to defend,” Amy told me at her thesis defense party.
I was a fifth year PhD student, and I had already started looking for jobs, but the thought of having “the talk” with my supervisor about graduation terrified me.
I was trapped in a vicious cycle.
I was hesitant about fully engaging in my job search because I didn’t know when I would finish my thesis.
At the same time, the subconscious fear of, “What will I do after graduation to pay the bills?” paralyzed me when I tried to work on my thesis.
Amy’s story made one point crystal clear: I couldn’t leave my thesis up to chance.
Showing up at work and generating lots of data would not guarantee a PhD degree.
After my conversation with Amy, I became laser-focused on the question, “What do I need to do in order to graduate?”
I talked to my thesis supervisor until we had clear requirements for my graduation. It took several heated, but civilized, discussions.
While it may feel intimidating to speak to your thesis supervisor about graduation, they are more likely to respect and support you if you are honest with them.
As expected, there were disagreements at my committee meeting, but this time I took a firm stance.
I remembered Amy’s advice and I made sure I was well-prepared by having answers written down for their usual objections, and having backup slides with more details.
My committee members tried to push me as hard as they could, and they all had different opinions on which direction would be best.
Thanks to Amy’s advice, I had the courage to speak up about why I thought I could graduate in a year, even as three distinguished professors glared at me in disbelief.
By the end of the meeting, we had agreed on my graduation requirements, which consisted of a series of experiments that could be realistically completed within the following year.
If I had not taken a firm stance, perhaps my thesis would have taken an extra 12 months, or maybe I would have dropped out altogether.
5 Shortcuts To Finishing Your Thesis 12 Months Sooner
My motivation soared once I realized that I had to become my own project manager.
I had one year left before my anticipated graduation date, and there was a lot to do, especially if I wanted to look for a job too.
There was no time or energy to waste.
1. Don’t be “everyone’s helper”.
I used to pride myself on responding to emails quickly and being “everyone’s helper” in the lab.
It made me feel good that my expertise was valued.
The problem was, the more I helped others with their work, the more dependent they became on me, and the more they sucked up my time and energy.
Once I started tracking my time, I realized that I spent an unreasonable number of hours responding to other people’s demands.
I was not doing my thesis a favor, and I was not doing the other people a favor, either.
If I wanted to graduate in a year, I had to make my thesis a high priority.
I was still available to help others, but I found a way to “protect” my thesis time by working in the library, not responding to emails right away, or just telling people that I was in the middle of something.
2. Map out the path to your finished thesis.
Your thesis will not write itself.
The fastest way to finish your thesis is to know what you need to get done to satisfy the requirements, and then map out a plan.
The idea of creating a map may seem intimidating for a few reasons.
First, if your graduation is far in the future, you may not know what you need to do to finish it.
Students who graduate first in their class (for example, in 4 years instead of 6 years) usually start mapping out a plan as soon they begin research.
Your plan will change (because research and life are unpredictable), but having a plan will help you gain clarity about what you need to do and by when.
The second reason it can seem intimidating to create a map, is that you may discover that you need to do more than you want to, or that you don’t have enough time to complete everything.
It is better to know sooner, rather than later, if your thesis timeline is unrealistic.
You may be able to simplify your thesis question, or get funding for another semester, but you need to create a realistic timeline.
Don’t just “hope” that somehow your thesis will be finished.
Map out a plan and discuss it with your supervisor, so you can take the right steps to get your thesis done and move on with your life.
3. Start every day fresh.
After I clarified my thesis requirements and created a timeline, I came to work every morning with the question:
“What can I do today to make progress on my thesis?”
On some days, I had to set up a new experiment, on other days I had to write parts of my thesis, but I started every day fresh.
My stress levels reduced tremendously once I let go of any guilt I felt about not getting enough done the day before.
When you let go of guilt (or fear of how long something will take), that’s when you can put all of your focus on what’s in front of you, and actually get work done.
This may sound simple, but how many students do you know who complain about how slow their writing is?
I was one of those students too, until I realized that beating myself up was not only counterproductive, but it also alienated well-meaning friends.
Starting every day fresh (without guilt about the past, or fear of the future) will not reduce your stress, but it will also open up room for the creativity you need to pull your thesis together.
4. Break the chains of your desk.
Have you ever heard the saying: “The only way to finish your thesis is to glue yourself to your chair and stay there until it is done” ?
This conventional wisdom had the following effects on me:
1) Chronic back, shoulder, neck, and wrist pain.
2) Eye strain and tension headaches.
3) Glacial (almost negligible) progress on my thesis.
The worst part was, the harder I worked, the less progress I made.
In retrospect, this cycle makes perfect sense.
How can you be creative if your whole body is tense and your eyes are strained from staring at the screen all day?
In order to have the mental stamina to write your thesis, you must take regular breaks throughout the day (at least one 10-minute break every hour).
I used to feel guilty about taking breaks until I realized that my best ideas came to me while I was outside walking.
I wasn’t the only person who experienced this phenomenon.
Several studies have shown that the creative part of your brain is activated when you are not actively focusing on a task (i.e. sitting at your desk, staring at your screen) .
If you feel stuck, go for a walk and most likely you will come up with an idea to help you keep moving forward.
5. Pick your work environment carefully.
The environment where you work may not be the optimal place for you to concentrate.
Many students notice dramatic changes in their performance when they change their environments.
A simple modification, such as working in a library instead of your apartment, can double your focus.
Keep in mind that an environment that works for your friends may not be the best for your thesis writing.
Some students work best in silent environments, such as a library, while others prefer a little bit of background noise, such as a coffee shop.
If you have to work from home, some rooms may be more conducive to working than others.
Try out different work environments (consider asking friends or family about lending you a spare room for thesis writing), before deciding which environment (and which time of day) is best for you.
Bonus: Surround yourself with positive people.
Surround yourself with positive people who can support you, both academically and emotionally.
One of the most common challenges that graduate students face is that they feel isolated and lose motivation to do work.
In colleges, there are support groups organized by the teaching assistants and the residential community.
In graduate school, many students do not have any type of support.
First-year students usually start out enthusiastically but, due to lack of accountability, many of them lose track of time and fall behind on their thesis.
In contrast, students who join a support group feel that being part of a community is one of the best ways to keep themselves motivated.
Simply knowing that someone else believes in you, and celebrates each milestone with you, will motivate you to finish your thesis, and move onto an exciting career.
Are you working to finish your thesis? If so, Dora’s Writing Accelerator Bootcamp is opening soon. This Bootcamp differs from other thesis writing bootcamps in that it is not just one weekend. Instead, it trains each PhD student to write their thesis in the context of their everyday life, no matter how busy they are, even if they can only squeeze in 15 minutes a day. It is for “real” PhD students with “real” schedules, who cannot put their lives aside to write their thesis. The Bootcamp is several weeks long and by joining, you will get support until you Finish Your Thesis. Learn more about the Writing Accelerator Bootcamp here.
If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.
Hi, I'm Isaiah Hankel, PhD
I am CEO of Cheeky Scientist, the world's premier career training platform for PhDs. If you want free insights on resumes, LinkedIn, interviewing, careers and more, just enter your details below.
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ABOUT DORA FARKAS, PHD
Dora Farkas received her Ph.D. from MIT in the Department of Biological Engineering and worked for several years in the pharmaceutical industry as a Senior Scientist. Dora is a thesis and career coach and the founder of the online Finish Your Thesis Program & Community, which has helped hundreds of graduate students finish their thesis.
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Industry Resume Guide for PhDs
Isaiah hankel, phd.
Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.
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Preparing and Submitting Theses and Dissertations
All graduate theses and dissertations must be submitted electronically.
Apply for graduation.
Master and doctoral degree candidates must apply for graduation by the specified deadline by logging into MyIUP .
After you have completed the final copy of the thesis or dissertation, a minimum of one copy of the signature page must be signed by the committee chairperson and each member of the committee and submitted to the Thesis-Dissertation Office. All signatures must be original. Keep a copy of the signature page for your records. The final PDF file will have an unsigned signature page. Therefore, do not scan this page into the final thesis or dissertation.
It is optional to add the date of the defense and "Signature on File" by the committee's names before uploading the final file. No date should be listed by the School of Graduate Studies and Research dean's name. See the appropriate sample of the signature page for the correct format.
When your thesis or dissertation has been approved by your committee, submit it to the Thesis-Dissertation Office for format and compliance review. It must be submitted by July 1 (for August graduation); November 1 (for December graduation); or April 1 (for May graduation) to [email protected] . The Thesis-Dissertation Office will verify that your thesis or dissertation meets the style manual guidelines you indicated you would use on your Research Topic Approval Form, and will contact you via e-mail with all necessary corrections. We will also confirm that all necessary approvals have been obtained (including, but not limited to, RTAF, IRB, IACUC, and outside reader). Additionally, we will review the document for plagiarism using iThenticate software. You will receive an electronic copy of the iThenticate report with your format revision notes.
Converting File to PDF
The final electronic file that is uploaded to UMI/ProQuest must be one file that is converted to Adobe PDF format. You have several options for creating the PDF file:
- MS Word 2007 has a "Save as PDF" feature.
- The UMI/ProQuest submission website has a section to convert the file to PDF format.
- Files can be converted at the CutePDF website .
Combining Multiple Files in Word
If you have created your thesis or dissertation as separate files (preliminary pages, text, appendices), add a section break after the preliminary pages and then insert the text. Do the same steps if appendices are in a separate file. An overview of the steps to add both section and page breaks is provided.
Combining Multiple Files in Adobe Acrobat
Frequently, the documents you want to include as appendices in your thesis or dissertation will be in PDF format. To combine these documents with the rest of your thesis or dissertation, it may be advisable to include these files after creating the PDF of your thesis or dissertation. You will need Acrobat Pro software, available on any university computer, for this or you can use a non-Adobe converter available online from an alternate provider. Instructions are provided for combining PDF files using Adobe Acrobat Pro .
IUP Publishing Agreement
IUP requires a signed publishing agreement to be kept on file in the Thesis-Dissertation Office. This agreement grants the IUP Libraries the right to post your dissertation on the university's website. Please complete the Dissertation Publishing Agreement or Thesis Publishing Agreement and submit it to the Thesis-Dissertation Office.
Change of Grade Form
Ask your committee chair to initiate a Change of Grade form for your thesis or dissertation course.
Survey of Earned Doctorates
This is a federal survey that is conducted by RTI International on behalf of several government agencies. All PhD candidates are asked to complete this survey and submit it to the Thesis-Dissertation Office.
Submission and approval.
After the format has been reviewed by the Thesis-Dissertation Office, submit the PDF file to the UMI/ProQuest submission website . You must submit your document by July 15 (for August graduation); November 15 (for December graduation); or April 15 (for May graduation). As part of the submission process, you will create a ProQuest account. This account is used to manage and maintain your thesis or dissertation in the system. The Thesis-Dissertation Office will review your file in ProQuest and notify you if there are any questions or if additional edits are required. You will be able to replace the original file with an updated copy in the system, if necessary.
Once the file has been reviewed and all required forms have been submitted, the SGSR dean will approve your thesis or dissertation and you will receive an approval letter. After your thesis or dissertation has been approved, you will not be able to make any changes to it.
Should I Embargo My Work?
There are many benefits to allowing open access to your thesis/dissertation; however, students concerned about prior publication and its potential to impact future publishing opportunities are advised to review the information provided by ProQuest/UMI on this subject, to review general publication restrictions for their specific anticipated publishers and confirm this information with the publisher directly, and discuss any concerns with their thesis/dissertation committee chairs.
Obtaining Bound Copies
If you want to have personal copies of your dissertation bound, or if you department requires a bound copy, there are several options available. You may purchase copies through UMI/ProQuest by logging in to your account. Other options are here . Please note that the School of Graduate Studies and Research makes no particular recommendation for or guarantee of these services.
If you plan to attend Commencement, you must RSVP online through MyIUP. Please see the IUP Commencement website for instructions.
Please direct questions regarding the preparation and submission of your thesis or dissertation to the Thesis-Dissertation Office, 120 Stright Hall, [email protected] , phone 724-357-2224, fax 724-357-2715.
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Dissertating Like a Distance Runner: Ten Tips for Finishing Your PhD
The above photo is of Sir Mo Farah running past Buckingham Palace into the home stretch of the London Marathon. I took the photo two days after my viva, in which I defended my PhD dissertation. Farah become a British hero when he and his training partner, Galen Rupp, won the gold and silver medals in the 10k at the London Olympic Games.
I had the honor of racing against Rupp at Nike’s Boarder Clash meet between the fastest high school distance runners in my home state of Washington and Rupp’s home state of Oregon. I’m happy to provide a link to the results and photos of our teenage selves since I beat Galen and Washington won the meet. (Note: In the results, ‘Owen’ is misspelled with the commonly added s , which I, as a fan of Jesse Owens, feel is an honor.) By the time we were running in college—Rupp for the University of Oregon and myself for the University of Washington—he was on an entirely different level. I never achieved anything close to the kind of running success Rupp has had. Yet, for most of us mortals, the real value in athletics is the character traits and principles that sports instill in us, and how those principles carry over to other aspects of life. Here I want to share ten principles that the sport of distance running teaches, which I found to be quite transferrable to writing my doctoral dissertation.
To provide some personal context, I began as a doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham in 2014. At that time my grandparents, who helped my single father raise my sister and me, continued their ongoing struggle with my Grandfather’s Alzheimer’s. It was becoming increasingly apparent that they would benefit from having my wife and I nearby. So, in 2015 we moved to my hometown of Yakima, Washington. That fall I began a 2/2 teaching load at a small university on the Yakama Nation Reservation as I continued to write my dissertation. Since finishing my PhD four years ago, in 2018, I have published one book , five research articles , and two edited volume chapters related in various ways to my dissertation. As someone living in rural Eastern Washington, who is a first-gen college grad, I had to find ways to stay self-motivated and to keep chipping away at my academic work. I found the following principles that I learned through distance running very helpful.
(1) Establish community . There are various explanations, some of which border on superstitious, for why Kenyan distance runners have been so dominant. Yet one factor is certainly the running community great Kenyan distance runners benefit from at their elite training camps, as discussed in Train Hard, Win Easy: The Kenyan Way . Having a community that values distance running can compel each member of the community to pursue athletic excellence over a long period of time. The same can be said for academic work. Many doctoral researchers have built-in community in their university departments, but for various reasons this is not true for everyone. Thankfully, alternative ways to establish community have never been easier, predominantly due to technology.
Since my dissertation applied Aristotelian causation and neo-Thomistic hylomorphism to mental causation and neural correlates of consciousness, I found it immensely helpful to meet consistently with neuroscientist, Christof Koch, and philosopher of mind, Mihretu Guta. Mihretu does work on the philosophy of consciousness and Christof propelled the dawn of the neurobiology of consciousness with Francis Crick . Though Mihretu lives in Southern California, we met monthly through Skype, and I would drive over the Cascade Mountains once a month to meet with Christof in Seattle. As my dissertation examiner, Anna Marmodoro, once reminded me: the world is small—it’s easier than ever before to connect with other researchers.
It can also be helpful to keep in mind that your community can be large or small. As some athletes train in large camps consisting of many runners, others have small training groups, such as the three Ingebrigtsen brothers . Likewise, your community could be a whole philosophy department or several close friends. You can also mix it up. As an introvert, I enjoyed my relatively small consistent community, but I also benefitted from attending annual regional philosophy conferences where I could see the same folks each year. And I especially enjoyed developing relationships with other international researchers interested in Aristotelian philosophy of mind at a summer school hosted by the University of Oxford in Naples, which Marmodoro directed. For a brief period, we all stayed in a small villa and talked about hylomorphism all day, each day, while enjoying delicious Italian food.
Whatever your community looks like, whatever shape it takes, what matters is that you’re encouraged toward accomplishing your academic goal.
(2) Know your goal. Like writing a dissertation, becoming a good distance runner requires a lot of tedious and monotonous work. If you don’t have a clear goal of what you want to achieve, you won’t get up early, lace up your running shoes, and enter the frosty morning air as you take the first of many steps in your morning run. There are, after all, more enticing and perhaps even more pressing things to do. Similarly, if you don’t have a clear goal of when you want to finish your dissertation, it is easy to put off your daily writing for another day, which can easily become more distant into the future.
(3) Be realistic about your goal . While it is important to have a clear goal as a distance runner and as a doctoral researcher, it is important for your goal to be realistic. This means your goal should take into account the fact that you are human and therefore have both particular strengths and limitations. Everyone enters the sport of distance running with different strengths and weaknesses. When Diddy ran the city it would have been unrealistic for him to try to break the two-hour barrier in the marathon, as Eliud Kipchoge did . If Diddy made that his goal, he probably would have lost all hope in the first mile of the marathon and never finished. Because he set a more realistic goal of breaking four hours, not two hours, he paced himself accordingly and actually finished.
The parent of two young children who is teaching part-time can certainly finish a dissertation. But the parent will have a greater likelihood of doing so with a reasonable goal that fits that individual’s strengths and limitations. If the parent expects to finish on the same timescale as someone who is single with no children nor teaching responsibilities, this will likely lead to disappointment and less motivation in the middle of the process. Motivation will remain higher, and correspondingly so will productivity that is fueled by motivation, if one’s goal is realistic and achievable.
Another element of having a realistic goal is being willing to adapt the goal as your circumstances change. Sometimes a runner might enter a race expecting to place in the top five and midway through the race realize that she has a great chance of winning (consider, for example, Des Linden’s victory at the Boston Marathon ). At that point, it would be wise to revise one’s goal to be ‘win the race’ rather than simply placing in the top five. At other times, a runner might expect to win the race or be on the podium and midway realize that is no longer possible. Yet, if she is nevertheless within striking distance of placing in the top five, then she can make that her new goal, which is realistic given her current situation and will therefore sustain her motivation to the finish line. Sara Hall, who could have and wanted to crack the top three, held on for fifth at the World Championships marathon because she adjusted her goal midrace.
The PhD candidate who initially plans to finish her dissertation in three years but then finds herself in the midst of a pandemic or dealing with a medical issue or a family crisis may not need to give up on her goal of finishing her dissertation. Perhaps, she only needs to revise her goal so that it allows more time, so she finishes in five years rather than three. A PhD finished in five years is certainly more valuable than no PhD.
(4) Know why you want to achieve your goal . My high school cross-country coach, Mr. Steiner, once gave me a book about distance running entitled “Motivation is the Name of the Game.” It is one of those books you don’t really need to read because the main takeaway is in the title. Distance running requires much-delayed gratification—you must do many things that are not intrinsically enjoyable (such as running itself, ice baths, going to bed early, etc.) in order to achieve success. If you don’t have a solid reason for why you want to achieve your running goal, you won’t do the numerous things you do not want to do but must do to achieve your goal. The same is true for finishing a PhD. Therefore, it is important to know the reason(s) why you want to finish your dissertation and why you want a PhD.
As a side note, it can also be immensely helpful to choose a dissertation topic that you are personally very interested in, rather than a topic that will simply make you more employable. Of course, being employable is something many of us must consider. Yet, if you pick a topic that is so boring to you that you have significant difficulty finding the motivation to finish your dissertation, then picking an “employable dissertation topic” will be anything but employable.
(5) Prioritize your goal . “Be selfish” were the words of exhortation my college cross-country team heard from our coaches before we returned home for Christmas break. As someone who teaches ethics courses, I feel compelled to clarify that “be selfish” is not typically good advice. However, to be fair to my coaches, the realistic point they were trying to convey was that at home we would be surrounded by family and friends who may not fully understand our running goals and what it takes to accomplish them. For example, during my first Christmas break home from college, I was trying to run eighty miles per week. Because I was trying to fit these miles into my social schedule without much compromise, many of these miles were run in freezing temps, in the dark, on concrete sidewalks with streetlights, rather than dirt trails. After returning to campus following the holidays, I raced my first indoor track race with a terribly sore groin, which an MRI scan soon revealed was due to a stress fracture in my femur. I learned the hard way that I have limits to what I can do, which entails I must say “no thanks” to some invitations, even though that may appear selfish to some.
A PhD researcher writing a dissertation has a substantial goal before her. Yet, many people writing a dissertation have additional responsibilities, such as teaching, being a loving spouse, a faithful friend, or a present parent. As I was teaching while writing my dissertation, I often heard the mantra “put students first.” Yet, I knew if I prioritized my current students over and above finishing my dissertation, I would, like many, never finish my dissertation. However, I knew it would be best for my future students to be taught by an expert who has earned a PhD. So, I put my future students first by prioritizing finishing my PhD . This meant that I had to limit the teaching responsibilities I took on. Now, my current students are benefitting from my decision, as they are taught by an expert in my field.
While prioritizing your dissertation can mean putting it above some things in life, it also means putting it below other things. A friend once told me he would fail in a lot of areas in life before he fails as a father, which is often what it means to practically prioritize one goal above another. Prioritizing family and close friendships need not mean that you say ‘yes’ to every request, but that you intentionally build consistent time into your schedule to foster relationships with the people closest to you. For me, this practically meant not working past 6:00pm on weekdays and taking weekends off to hang out with family and friends. This relieved pressure, because I knew that if something went eschew with my plan to finish my PhD, I would still have the people in my life who I care most about. I could then work toward my goal without undue anxiety about the possibility of failing and the loss that would entail. I was positively motivated by the likely prospect that I would, in time, finish my PhD, and be able to celebrate it with others who supported me along the way.
(6) Just start writing . Yesterday morning, it was five degrees below freezing when I did my morning run. I wanted to skip my run and go straight to my heated office. So, I employed a veteran distance running trick to successfully finish my run. I went out the door and just started running. That is the hardest part, and once I do it, 99.9% of the time I finish my run.
You may not know what exactly you think about a specific topic in the chapter you need to write, nor what you are going to write each day. But perhaps the most simple and helpful dissertation advice I ever received was from David Horner, who earned his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oxford. He told me: “just start writing.” Sometimes PhD researchers think they must have all their ideas solidified in their mind before they start writing their dissertation. In fact, writing your dissertation can actually help clarify what you think. So “just start writing” is not only simple but also sage advice.
(7) Never write a dissertation . No great marathoner focuses on running 26.2 miles. Great distance runners are masters of breaking up major goals into smaller goals and then focusing on accomplishing one small goal at a time, until they have achieved the major goal. Philosophers can understand this easily, as we take small, calculated steps through minor premises that support major premises to arrive at an overall conclusion in an argument.
Contained within each chapter of a dissertation is a premise(s) in an overall argument and individual sections can contain sub-premises supporting the major premise of each chapter. When you first start out as a doctoral researcher working on your dissertation, you have to construct an outline of your dissertation that maps out the various chapters and how they will relate to your overall conclusion. Once you have that outline in place, keep it in the back of your mind. But do not focus on writing the whole, which would be overwhelming and discouraging. Rather, focus on writing whichever chapter you are working on. The fastest American marathoner, Ryan Hall, wrote a book that sums up the only way to run long distances in the title Run the Mile You’re In . And Galen Rupp discusses in this interview how he mentally breaks up a marathon into segments and focuses on just finishing one segment at a time. Whatever chapter you’re writing, make it your goal to write that chapter. Once you’ve accomplished that goal, set a new goal: write the next chapter. Repeat that process several times and you will be halfway through your dissertation. Repeat the process a few more times, and you will be done.
By the time you have finished a master’s degree, you have written many chapter-length papers. To finish a dissertation, you essentially write about eight interconnected papers, one at a time, just as you have done many times before. If you just write the chapter (which you could call a “paper” if that feels like a lighter load) you’re writing, before you know it, you will have written a dissertation.
(8) Harness the power of habits . Becoming a great distance runner requires running an inordinate number of miles, which no one has the willpower to do. The best marathoners in the world regularly run well over one hundred miles a week, in addition to stretching, lifting weights, taking ice baths, and eating healthy. Not even the most tough-minded distance runner has the gumption to make all the individual decisions that would be required in order to get out the door for every run and climb into every ice bath apart from the development of habits. The most reliable way around each distance runner’s weakness of will, or akrasia , is developing and employing habits. The same can be true for writing.
If you simply try to write a little bit each weekday around the same time, you will develop a habit of writing at that time each day. Once you have that habit, the decision to write each weekday at that time will require less and less willpower over time. Eventually, it will take some willpower to not write at that time. I have found it helpful to develop the routine of freewriting for a few minutes just before starting my daily writing session of thirty minutes during which I write new content, before working on editing or revising existing content for about thirty minutes. My routine helped me develop the daily habit of writing, which removes the daily decision to write, as I “just do it” (to use Nike’s famous line) each day.
I have also found it helpful to divide my days up according to routines. As a morning person, I do well writing and researching in the morning, doing teaching prep and teaching during the middle of the day, and then doing mundane tasks such as email at the end of the day.
(9) Write for today and for tomorrow . Successful distance runners train for two reasons. One reason—to win upcoming races—is obvious. However, in addition to training for upcoming races, the successful distance runner trains today for the training that they want to be capable of months and years ahead. You cannot simply jump into running eighty, ninety, or one-hundred-mile weeks. It takes time to condition your body to sustain the stress of running high mileage weeks. A runner must have a long-term perspective and plan ahead as she works toward her immediate goals on the way to achieving her long-term goals. Similarly, for the PhD researcher, writing a dissertation lays the groundwork for future success.
For one, if the PhD candidate develops healthy, sustainable, productive habits while writing a dissertation, these habits can be continued once they land an academic job. It is no secret that the initial years on the job market, or in a new academic position, can be just as (or more) challenging than finishing a PhD. Effective habits developed while writing a dissertation can be invaluable during such seasons, allowing one to continue researching and writing even with more responsibilities and less time.
It is also worth noting that there is a sense in which research writing becomes easier, as one becomes accustomed to the work. A distance runner who has been running for decades, logging thousands of miles throughout their career, can run relatively fast without much effort. For example, my college roommate, Travis Boyd, decided to set the world record for running a half marathon pushing a baby stroller nearly a decade after we ran for the University of Washington. His training was no longer what it once was during our collegiate days. Nevertheless, his past training made it much easier for him to set the record, even though his focus had shifted to his full-time business career and being a present husband and father of two. I once asked my doctoral supervisors, Nikk Effingham and Jussi Suikkanen, how they were able to publish so much. They basically said it gets easier, as the work you have done in the past contributes to your future publications. Granted, not everyone is going to finish their PhD and then become a research super human like Liz Jackson , who finished her PhD in 2019, and published four articles that same year, three the next, and six the following year. Nevertheless, writing and publishing does become easier as you gain years of experience.
(10) Go running . As Cal Newport discusses in Deep Work , having solid boundaries around the time we work is conducive for highly effective academic work. And there is nothing more refreshing while dissertating than an athletic hobby with cognitive benefits . So, perhaps the best way to dissertate like a distance runner is to stop writing and go for a run.
Acknowledgments : Thanks are due to Aryn Owen and Jaden Anderson for their constructive feedback on a prior draft of this post.
- Matthew Owen
Matthew Owen (PhD, University of Birmingham) is a faculty member in the philosophy department at Yakima Valley College in Washington State. He is also an affiliate faculty member at the Center for Consciousness Science, University of Michigan. Matthew’s latest book is Measuring the Immeasurable Mind: Where Contemporary Neuroscience Meets the Aristotelian Tradition .
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Finish Your Thesis
Get a PhD and Finish Your Thesis 12 Months Sooner
What Procrastination Tells You in Graduate School
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How Do You Deal With Distractions During Thesis Writing? Distractions can make your life seem out of control. Even if you lock yourself in a room to focus on your thesis writing, distractions in your mind will always be there. Thoughts pop into your head about your career, the bills, your family, and that thing […]
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How Do You Get a Job in a Bad PhD Job Market?
January 15, 2023 by Dora Farkas, PhD
The PhD Job Market is Never Easy One of the interesting things about the PhD job market is that it’s never exactly “great.” Regardless of how the economy is doing, getting a PhD level job can feel like an uphill battle. There are many job you “could” do, but you are overqualified for them. Conversely, […]
Can’t Decide Between Academia and Industry After Your PhD?
January 8, 2023 by Dora Farkas, PhD
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How Do You Get a Job After Your PhD? Here is a conundrum: Every year thousands of students get their PhDs, and many of them know that (according to the news) there aren’t enough jobs for PhDs. Being unemployed is one of the most common fears that PhDs face. The question isn’t why someone would […]
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Haven’t been able to finish your thesis yet? You’re not the only one
by Bastis Consultores | Nov 1, 2021 | Gestión del Tiempo , Personal Fulfillment , Thesis Advice | 0 comments
It is easy to be intimidated by the prospect of writing a thesis, a project that is the culmination of studies and an achievement that reflects enormous effort, creativity and experience. The process of finding a tutor to guide you, asking the right questions, coming up with a thesis topic, doing the research, and putting all of this in writing can be overwhelming. Let’s explain why students should be brave and embrace this experience.
What should you know about finishing your thesis?
Your tutor is there to guide you.
He will be happy to help you. Your thesis will allow you to forge a close and meaningful relationship with a mentor, a person who not only guides the thesis writing process, but can also direct you to other opportunities such as conference presentations, graduate programs, prestigious scholarships, or employment connections (and can also provide you with a great letter of recommendation).
Try to choose a tutor who has a research experience that matches the topic of your thesis. If you want to write a thesis on corporate social responsibility and communication, try to find a professor who has experience in corporate social responsibility. If you’re not sure who to ask, talk to your faculty director.
It’s a great opportunity to develop transferable skills for graduate and your career as a professional.
Not only is the thesis a great opportunity to prepare for graduate school, but it prepares you for a career as a professional. Writing a thesis is a transformative experience that allows students to become mini-experts in their chosen field. The process sharpens students’ written and oral communication skills and develops students’ critical thinking, synthesis, and analysis skills.
The thesis is the student’s way of demonstrating to employers that they have the motivation and determination to complete an important project, as well as the practical skills that employers want from their employees.
Researching should be fun
By researching you are expanding on what you have learned in the classroom. You will be able to explore the topics that interest you and become a mini-expert in your field. If you’re having trouble finding a topic, see if something piques your interest in the class.
If you don’t come up with a topic, you shouldn’t be distressed
This is probably the biggest concern expressed by undergraduate students: the fear of having nothing to investigate. Talk to your professors, review some academic articles in your discipline, meet with professors in your discipline who regularly mentor students’ research projects, and meet with the principal or assistant principal. This is supposed to be a challenge. Don’t be discouraged.
You can work on your thesis for two semesters
Most students work on their thesis throughout their senior year, giving them more time to explore their topic, collect data, and build a relationship with their tutor. The distribution of the workload makes the process much less intimidating.
How should I get started?
Have a very clear vision of what is expected of you.
It’s impossible to reach a goal you don’t have, and yet that’s what many graduate students try to do. They plan to graduate in 6 or 12 months, but are asked what they have to do to finish their thesis they answer something like: “I’m not entirely sure…” or “I haven’t raised it with my committee…” We know how intimidating it can be to have the “talk” with your tutor or get in front of a committee. How can you plan the completion of your thesis if you don’t know what to do?
By definition, research is uncertain, and the requirements of your thesis will change as you collect and analyze the data. However, you can only adjust your trajectory when you are on the move. It can’t make adjustments if you’re standing. You need a vision, a starting point, to help you gain momentum in your thesis, but what if your thesis tutor or committee is evasive and you don’t get a clear answer?
Don’t accept a “not now” as an answer from your thesis tutor or committee
It is never too early to be clear about the requirements to finish the thesis. You may feel guilty about taking time away from a teacher, especially if they are very busy. But keep in mind that they are also interested in you doing a good job and producing publishable research. You can be “politely persistent” until you get the answer, opinion, or mentorship you need.
There is no substitute for daily action. If you work full-time or if you have a family, working on your thesis on a daily basis may seem impossible. But it’s not. So what is a “little” of time you need to devote to your thesis on a daily basis? It depends: the closer you are to finishing it, the more time you should devote to it. However, there is something magical about dedicating at least 15 minutes a day to your thesis. No matter how busy you are, you can always find 15 minutes at some point in the day. It can be first thing in the morning, during lunchtime at work, or in the evening (rather than TV or social media).
Fifteen minutes is long enough that, if you’re focused, you can make measurable progress (write several paragraphs), but it’s a short amount of time, so it seems feasible each day. The goal of daily commitment is continuity. Continuity helps you pick up where you left off, so you don’t have to spend 15-30 minutes trying to figure out what you need to do. When you dedicate at least a little time to your thesis every day, you get to be more creative, have more ideas and more knowledge that will help you solve problems that previously seemed impossible.
Focus on results, not to-dos
Most students, and people in general, operate from a to-do list. They write down all the work and unrelated things they should do, but they think little about the tangible outcome they want to see. When you let a “to do” list run your life, you’ll always feel exhausted and playing catch-up. In fact, the more things you cross off your list, the more things you realize you have to do.
As long as you live your life according to a to-do list, you won’t be able to earn, no matter how efficient you are. It’s time to try something new. Instead of following a to-do list and gorging each day as much as possible, write down what the end result you want is. For example: instead of writing on your calendar “Work on the slides for the jury meeting” write “Create an outstanding presentation for the jury meeting to show them that my data is solid and that I am prepared to move on to the next phase of my research.” Below, you can list the actions needed to achieve that result.
An action plan with a well-defined goal to finish your thesis is much more motivating than a random to-do list. With a results-oriented action plan you can prioritize better and perform the actions that most help you advance your thesis.
Soak up the energy you need from a support group
Students’ number one complaint is that they feel isolated and lose motivation to do the job. At the university there are support groups in the form of study groups, office hours and the community at large.
Freshmen usually start with enthusiasm, but due to lack of responsibility they lose track of time and fall behind in their milestones. Instead, students who did join a support group thought that being part of a community was one of the best ways to stay motivated. There is no shame in receiving support, whether academic or emotional, to focus on finishing the thesis. The more people who care about you, the more perspectives you’ll have and the smaller your problems will seem. When you live in your own head you can exaggerate a minor problem.
Suddenly, missing two days of work because you’re not feeling well can seem like a big setback until you hear from others that what you’re going through is normal for a student. There will be times when you feel so exhausted that you won’t want to work for weeks. Or you may start to doubt the point of college when you don’t know what you’ll do next. Without context, these situations can rob you of self-confidence and motivation. How are you going to be motivated when you identify as “irresponsible” and think that it doesn’t make sense to finish the thesis anyway?
What if I lose important information?
The fear of missing important articles or blibliography can be crippling, and can lead to a vicious cycle of guilt and procrastination. The requirements of each thesis are different and this can lead to doubts such as:
When are you ready to stop reading and start writing?
When do you have enough data to start your analysis?
How do you know when the thesis is “good enough”?
There is no recipe for knowing for sure the answer to any of these questions, but there are some guidelines that will help you reduce the anxiety resulting from perfectionism. If you constantly notice perfectionism in the writing of your thesis, this will lead you to procrastinate and perform low-quality work. Unfortunately, perfectionism can cost you months or even years of extra work because of the anxiety and fear it generates: fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, or fear of being judged. But what if you could substitute your fear for a more empowering mindset?
Producing higher quality work and reducing perfectionism in your thesis
The following 5 steps will help you produce higher quality work, while eliminating (or at least reducing) perfectionism:
Clarify your purpose and the question(s) you need to answer
Can you summarize your manuscript in one sentence? Do you know which question or questions your thesis should answer? If you are not clear about the purpose of your thesis, your work and your time will be lost.
Everything you include in your thesis has to contribute to your central argument or the question you need to answer. What if you don’t have a clear research goal yet? Start by creating a schema or index and fill in as many sections as you can.
Don’t wait until you have everything ready
Ideas are born through writing, and to enter the creative flow you have to allow yourself to make mistakes. You can start creating a structure for your literature review and thesis and alternate writing with reading. In fact, you’ll absorb more of your readings if you’ve already written some, and this in turn will make the rest of the writing easier.
Replacing fear with a sense of contribution
The truth is, no matter how many articles you gather, or how many times you review your thesis, you’ll always discover areas for improvement. The goal of going to college is not to create a perfect thesis. Your goal is to make a unique contribution to your area of research. You don’t have to cover all the articles in the literature or have a perfect style to meet the requirements of your thesis. Your first draft will have many repetitive phrases, but your manuscript will improve with each round of corrections.
Commitment to contribution is the best antidote to the anxiety that results from perfectionism in writing your thesis. Instead of aspiring to a perfect thesis, ask yourself what you need to add to your manuscript to make the most meaningful contribution to your area of research. Don’t let word choice, table formatting, and other details stop you from completing your thesis. Instead, focus on whether your main argument is clearly conveyed. You can always add more details and embellish your thesis to support your main argument.
No matter how many times you review your thesis, you will always notice areas for improvement. Fortunately, if your purpose is clear, the number of corrections will decrease over time. Once you feel you are at 95%, your thesis will be ready to be delivered.
Take frequent breaks to distance yourself from your job
One of the dangers of perfectionism in thesis writing is that it leads to tunnel vision. You may exaggerate the small details or overanalyze details that others wouldn’t notice. Anxiety, exhaustion and physical pains are just some of the consequences of perfectionism. The fastest way to break this cycle is to take a distance from your work:
Take frequent breaks while you work.
Set a structured writing schedule, such as alternating 25 minutes of writing with 5-minute breaks or 45 minutes of writing with 15-minute breaks.
Be sure to get up and walk away from your desk during breaks.
Drink water, stretch your back and arms and take a short walk.
Take longer breaks over the weekend so you can recharge.
There won’t be many people telling you this, but being kind to yourself is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress. It’s impossible to maintain your productivity if you never take a day off. Experiencing perfectionism in thesis writing is often accompanied by perfectionism in other areas of your life. Perfectionism can develop from years of self-doubt in ultra-competitive environments.
Spend at least a few hours a day each week socializing with friends and other positive people who support you. Establishing a support network is the number one way to reduce anxiety and get the motivation and energy you need to finish your thesis. Also, make your health your number one priority, developing a regular exercise routine and eating the highest quality foods available to you.
Use similar works and theses as templates
It’s hard to know how much to write if no one gives you guidelines. How do you know when you’ve collected enough articles for your literature review? How exhaustive do your statistical analyses have to be? If your tutor or jury doesn’t give you specific requirements, read their department’s recent theses. Students’ theses can serve as templates to give you an idea of the structure that your thesis should have, such as:
Approximate number of references
Length of the literature review
Data types and statistical analysis
Details of the results and discussion section.
Most students are relieved when they look at their faculty’s recent theses, because they realize how much work they already have prepared for a thesis. If there are no recent thesis topics similar to yours, look for review articles in your area. In a novel field, a review article may have only a few key references, while more established fields may have hundreds of references. Review articles and recent theses can also inspire you with new ideas and point you in the right direction for other articles you can use.
Respect your time by setting specific goals for each block of time
Have you ever written “Working on the thesis” on your calendar? Such a vague plan will lead you to take a nap or spend a few minutes at work and then surf the Internet. The best way to stay focused without falling into the trap of perfectionism in writing your thesis is to be very intentional with your time. Have a specific result for each block of time, such as:
Complete a figure
Type a certain number of words
Review specific sections of your thesis or data analysis.
Define in advance what to achieve
When you define in advance what you want to achieve during each block of time, you will find an efficient way to make it happen. If you fall prey to perfectionism in writing your thesis, you may spend days in a section because it never seems good enough. It’s hard to meet a goal if you haven’t defined it well. However, if you plan to spend an hour completing a figure, you’ll find a way to finish it. Similarly, you can set goals for a certain number of words you want to write each day.
If you focus on the goals you want to achieve each day, you’ll feel more efficient and less focused. If you resist planning for fear of not complying, keep in mind that no one is perfect. Life goes by and most of the time writing, researching and analyzing data takes much longer than anticipated.
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Yuan, Yanyue (2014). ‘Thesis-phobia’ and ‘Thesis-mania’. In: https://selenayuan.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/thesis-phobia-and-thesis-mania/
Thesis-phobia: Why Fear Shouldn’t Stop You from Getting Your Master’s Degree. In: https://www.worldwidelearn.com/articles/masters-thesis-fear/
Write the Thesis/Dissertation with Less Stress and Anxiety. In: https://www.cultivatethewriter.com/post/write-the-thesis-dissertation-with-less-stress-and-anxiety
You might also be interested in: Dafne Diaz’s thesis on antibiotic resistance in poultry
Haven’t been able to finish your thesis yet? You’re not the only one. Photo: Unsplash. Credits: Jeswin Thomas
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