Writing as you go
Why write as you go?
Think of writing as part of the process of research and analysis rather than as something to do once your research is finished. It can be tempting to leave your writing until the end of the project, but be wary of doing this for the following reasons:
- writing is a skill that needs to be practised. The more you write the easier it will become
- writing helps you to think through what you are doing and forces you to analyse and make connections
- a doctoral thesis is a long document. It is better to tackle it in small chunks.
Try to get into the habit of writing from the start of your research. For example, make a commitment to produce some written material at every meeting with your supervisor.
What can you write?
You can't start the process of writing too early. Try to structure your time so that you have opportunities to write and consider whether anything you are doing could be written up. Typically it is possible to write the following well before you get to the end of your research:
- research proposals
- literature survey
- reports analysing data and detailing pilot studies
- reports for your supervisor
- a personal journal
- methodology chapters
- early drafts of other chapters.
You will find much of this writing useful when you come to put your thesis together. You may need to restructure and rewrite to achieve greater coherency, but rewriting is easier than starting from a blank page.
You might also want to consider reporting some of your work in conference or journal paper. From reading published literature you should have a good idea of where your research will fit. You are unlikely to get your first paper published in a top tier journal so discus suitable publications with your main supervisor. If your paper is rejected, don't worry, the comments of the reviewers will help you to refine your argument for your thesis.
Keeping track of your writing
Over the course of your doctorate it is easy to lose track of what you have written and how it all fits together.
- start thinking about your thesis structure early on as this will help you to write material that is more likely to be usable in the final thesis
- develop a filing system for your thesis and create folders for each chapter. Put relevant results and relevant bits of writing into each folder. Ensure you are using your word processor effectively
- make sure that you develop a system to keep track of your references, ideally by using a reference manager (see links to right). Having a good system for recalling key articles and the notes that you have made on them will be invaluable at the writing stage
- back up your work regularly (see links for free online backup services). Computers will go wrong and everyone has a nightmare story about a key file that was lost
- copy any key parts of manual records, logbooks or diaries, ideally by creating a digital backup, as they can disappear from libraries or be lost.
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