Good practice in PhD writing


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I have been reading and examining a lot of PhDs recently (4 in as many weeks!) and this has got me to reflect on some principles of good practice. Doing a PhD is a significant undertaking and dominates the person’s life for a number of years, so it is important that this adventure isn’t taken lightly. Chosen a good supervisor is vital, their role is to guide you and keep you on track, it’s all too easy to go down blind alleys, it is important to remain focused on your core research questions.

I always advise my students to keep an ongoing bibliography of references and for each reference to summarise the main points and indicate how the reference might be used in the thesis. It is a good idea to keep references in referencing software, such as Endnote, Zotero or Mendeley. Write as you go along and stick to a standard structure such as: introduction (setting the scene, explaining why the focus is important, an indication of the contribution to the field and research questions), literature review and explanation of key terms, methodology (data collection and analysis), findings, discussion, conclusions and suggestions for further research. The THES provides a useful set of tips for writing a PhD. 

At times you will be daunted by the scale of the mountain ahead of you but don’t give up! People are productive at different times of the day, some like working in the morning, others at night, reflect on what your preference is.  Therefore at points in the day you will be more productive, use this time to focus on your data analysis or writing of chapters, at other times you will be less productive, focus on routine tasks such as ensuring references are in the correct format.

A PhD is a major achievement, I always ask candidates at the end of the viva, did they enjoy the viva? And usually they say yes. I also point out that it is the only time in your research career when two people will have thoroughly read your research ;-)

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