Writing your thesis as you go

Why write as you go?

Writing is part of the process of research and analysis rather than something to do once your research is finished. It can be tempting to leave your writing until the end of the doctorate, but be wary of doing this as:

  • 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 and better tackled in small chunks.

Try to get into the habit of writing from the start of your research. For example, summarise research articles you read and produce some written material for meetings with your supervisor.

What can you write?

Try to set aside time for writing 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 or laboratory notebook
  • Methodology chapters
  • Early drafts of other chapters.

Much of this writing will be useful when you come to put your thesis together. You may need to restructure and rewrite, but rewriting is easier than starting from a blank page.

Keeping track of your writing

Below are tips for making your early writing useful for you final thesis:

  • Start thinking about your thesis structure
  • Develop a filing system to keep track of relevant results and relevant bits of writing for each chapter
  • Keep track of your references and your associated notes, ideally by using a reference manager
  • Back up your work regularly
  • Copy key parts of manual records, logbooks or diaries, ideally by creating a digital backup