Wednesday, 11 March 2009

workshop - writing up your DPhil or PhD thesis

My officemate persuaded me to go to this workshop, as we are both starting to think about the reality of the looming PhD thesis write up. This was the experiences of a post-doc researcher, on her writing up stage of her doctoral research.
Well worth going to this, even though we are both in our second year - I think that is the ideal time to go to a workshop like this as there is enough time to plan and consider, with the luxury of time still. Here's a summary of what was mentioned in the workshop, along with extra thoughts I had during the workshop.

General observations / motivation
  • Keep the end goal in mind
  • Whole process of writing up can maybe take 3 or 4 months or more, but if you do little bits as you go then it gets easier, and you can break it down a bit.
  • Enjoy the process of becoming an expert in your field!
  • Track progress to keep motivated, remember the bigger picture. Zoe suggested keeping a chart of progress on your desk as a visual representation of progress.
Planning and Organising the write-up
  • Always keep in mind the thread of your thesis, what story are you telling? Keep this prominent throughout.
  • Keep on looking for gaps in the story and aim for continuity
  • Keep records of what you do so you don't have to redo that work later
  • A useful software for graphs might be CollidaGraph (for mac) or Prism (for PC) (although Matlab seems pretty ok for my stuff so far)
  • Make a timetable, especially by working backwards from a deadline to make the time left seem more real. Factor in LOTS of extra time like printing time, admin, time for supervisors to give feedback, plus 'timeout' time in between reviews
  • For my two supervisors, is it worth giving them a chapter at a time or the thesis all in one go - closer to the time, double check what they prefer
  • Regular meetings with supervisors help to keep you on track, especially if you give them a piece of work each time and ask them to return the last piece of work at the same time?
  • Examiners - who do I want (I have some ideas for external examiners, not a clue for internal examiners)
  • Introduction chapter should be an introduction to this thesis, rather than a literature review, for example. Say what you're writing about, what's the story you're telling, your motivation for this study and summarise what's in the thesis.
  • Latex/Bibtex looks to be likely to save a LOT of hassle with formatting etc, especially if I can find a template for Sussex DPhil theses, which someone said might exist... (I've just spent a bit of time sorting out papers I've saved on my computer, and sorting out/updating a references bibtex page for these - at the time it felt like procrastination but actually now I think I'll find papers a lot easier)
  • Get started with whatever chapter seems easiest. Break everything down into chunks
  • The thesis isn't a descriptive account of the last three years' work, its a coherent description of a fully mature research project
  • Save each chapter separately with an annotation of date for that version and probably the filename its stored under as well - as a footer for each page, perhaps?
  • Check university formatting rules (so that template for latex would be amazing, if it exists?)
  • Before the first draft, make a VERY detailed chapter plan. Break it down into chunks that are clearly defined in scope. Max 3 levels of subheadings was recommended.
  • Concentrate the initial effort on thesis structure rather than on the detail in the text of the first draft - as the text is likely to be revised considerably in later drafts. Just write a draft and get it onto paper
  • Writing style: Keep It Simple Stupid! Be concise and don't talk a load of circular woffle. Don't try to sound clever... Active voice is often better than passive voice.
  • For a bit of variety in the writing, vary the length of the sentences (particularly if this tends to be quite uniform).
  • How can I use pictures/graphs/tables/other visuals most effectively? The whole 'picture paints a thousand words' thing comes into mind here...
  • Pay attention to little details - it suggests the work being described has been approached in a similar vein
  • Lengthwise - about 200 pages is a ballpark figure. Decent chunk of words (maybe 10,000) for the introduction, similar for the discussion (maybe 7000)
  • Make sure each part fits together as a story, refer between sections as necessary (without making the reader flit back and forth constantly
  • Worth talking to previous DPhil students about the process - not well documented
  • At least 2 months before submission, hand an 'intention to submit' form in with an abstract (to allow the university to contact potential examiners and sort out any difficulties)
  • Useful contact at Sussex House: Penny King
  • Initially hand in 3 soft bound copies and make a further copy for yourself for the viva.
  • Then if the viva is successful, after corrections, hard bound copies get done.

1 comment:

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