Writing your PhD is an exciting process that involves much more than just conducting your research. Your PhD research never stands alone and always depends on all kinds of circumstances. In addition, you are expected to give lectures, follow courses and participate in research from colleagues. After three years of research, you already have some chapters of your dissertation on paper, along with many documents with passages and reflections that the dissertation will never reach. This article gives you tips to create order in the chaos and to come up with a plan in four steps which helps you to get to your final sprint: writing the thesis.
1. Back to the core: the research model
As a young academic you know that it is easier to criticize a research design after the research has been carried out. Make use of that science and get your theoretical framework back to the drawing board with the knowledge you have now. In this way you create a perfect foundation for your research. Writing then goes automatically, because you no longer run into pieces that turn out to be more paradoxical than you initially thought.
Discover your research variables and interrelationships by rebuilding your research model. In this way, your sense of cause and effect is refreshed again. This can help you in your next steps.
Finally, check with yourself whether you have paid enough attention to all variables and connections during the past years. If not, it is wise to update your knowledge in those areas before you start writing.
2. The table of contents as a framework for your thesis
The next step is to determine the order in which you want to make your point, with the table of contents of your thesis as a result. You can use your research model to derive a logical sequence from it. The main theme of your dissertation must be clearly stated out in the table of contents. Research often consists of an introduction, theoretical framework, method, hypotheses, results, conclusion and discussion. If your research does not lend itself to that, you can deviate from it.
3. Complete your framework: a first rough version of your thesis
The next step is to put all the titles, headlines and subheads you just defined in the table of contents on paper. Try to fill these the table of contents with everything you wrote earlier: texts or just catchwords. In this way you know exactly what you already did and where you still have to do a lot. Walk through your document and create a task list of all the pieces that you still need to edit, modify or write.
Once you have that task list, you can use it in the last year to complete it according to your own judgment. Only when the date of your PhD ceremony is determined, you plan the tasks. Try to make a time estimate per task, look at your available time per week and try to give all your tasks a spot in your agenda. Do not forget that you also have to schedule time to wait for feedback, process feedback and preparing your dissertation design and print. It is also wise to take a few days to take a look at all your citations.
Finally you can start writing. Take into account that while writing you will still run into things that can destroy your planning. Therefore it is always wise to keep your task list updates, so you know exactly where you are. In the extreme case you can prioritize the tasks.
However, this will not happen in most cases. With a good writing plan, you save so much time that you can enjoy your freedom as a PhD student more than ever before.
By taking into account the following points, you keep the risk of delays low:
- During the writing process of your dissertation it is difficult to distinguish main issues from side issues. Therefore, carefully adjust the content of your paragraphs and agree with yourself not to step over it. In this way you not only prevent that you lose time, but also that unscheduled theoretical trips sneak into your text.
- It is tempting to start writing the conclusion immediately. However, first investigate whether the theory, method and results are clear enough on paper. This way you avoid losing too much time to the conclusion because you have to adjust it to new insights into the theory.