What are you afraid of? What’s the worst that could happen? What would be the best outcome?
Learning to ride a bicycle versus learning a musical instrument. There is no substitute for practice. Begin from the start of your PhD: you won’t get it perfect first time. Meant to be a learning/training process.
Methods sections if appropriate. Results sections if at all possible. Record keeping: you think you won’t forget, but you will. Try hard to be kind to your future self! By the end, you may not recognize the ramblings of your past self...
Agreeing an overall structure with your supervisor and series of deadlines, building in time for re-drafts. Acquire a writing routine: 1000 words a day is a good target. Reward yourself for being efficient. Keep to the routine, but only up to a point... It is always easier to re-draft than to start from scratch. Introductory chapters versus experimental chapters first: pros and cons.
Accept the need to draft, re-draft, and re-re-draft, and re-re-re-draft and re-re-re-re-draft. Re-drafting is (usually) the key to good academic writing. Take the perspective of: A non-expert Your examiners, especially your external Your supervisor.
Would they understand this and follow your line of reasoning? Would they be convinced that this is important? Any important methodological/recruitment challenges you had to overcome? Remember, your thesis could be read by ANYONE in the future.
How much time are they realistically going to spend reading your thesis? Be kind to them! Clarity, brevity. Have you appropriately referred to your external’s work? Remember they may not always be as familiar with aspects of the literature as you! It is extra work for them if you have to do major revisions. They will be trying to avoid this if possible.
Very latest work published by your external. It will be on their mind. How are they likely to be in the viva? Students or ex-students. How hot are they on stats???
Balancing act between being supportive and encouraging best possible work. How much scope for improvement? Take the long view or see the bigger picture at times when you can’t. A failed PhD or one that needs considerable re-working is generally (rightly) blamed on the supervisor. However, remember you will be only one of many people your supervisor is trying to nurture...
How quickly are they prepared to turn around drafts? How polished do they want drafts to be at the different stages? What do they see their job as being with respect to drafts? How fussy are they about APA formatting, grammatical errors etc? BUT remember your external may be an APA nut... How much emotional support are they prepared to give you? Are there times over the writing-up period that might be especially busy for them?
Remember your supervisor is not a god. They were once in your position. They do not always get it right. A good supervisor will be prepared to discuss and debate their comments on your thesis. However, some thesis are not good because supervisor advice not taken on board. Try to figure out how to get the most from your supervisor during write- up, bearing in mind you can’t change the type of person or supervisor they are...
Only one real aim: setting up a rationale for doing your studies. Why are you doing THIS? What did you expect/hope to find? Make it clear you are knowledgeable without slavishly summarizing all relevant literature. Judging what to leave out is as important as judging what to include.
Use subheadings, but can also use figures or tables to summarize e.g., contrast theoretical options, describe models. Likely to need considerable re-drafting. Above all, try to remember you are telling a story.
Need not be in the order you actually did the studies. Remember, it is a story not a history. Some reminding/signposting ok, but avoid repetition. Presenting your stats clearly. Relentless analyses of the data in the hope of finding something vaguely significant offputting. Try to avoid duplication. Don’t be afraid to get second opinion on your stats.
You must summarize your key findings, but you can be creative in how you do this. Really vital to link back to the issues raised in your introduction: sense of completing the circle. Methodological advances? Theoretical advances? Your examiner will be looking for solid evidence that you really grasp the broader theoretical significance of your findings. Sell your work but don’t gloss over any problematic issues.
Re-reading from start to finish to see if either (i) too much repetition OR (ii) stretches long-term memory too much. You won’t know how your examiner will read thesis (in one go, one chapter a week etc.). Make good use of your numbered sub-headings for reminders. Law of diminishing returns...
Final tidy up, printing etc can take MUCH longer than you think. Do a last literature check – anything important recently? Try to get someone else to proof read it. You will not fail for small typos, but poor grammar will really annoy your examiners. Have something planned for the weeks/months after your submission.
Hopefully you will have a good sense of where the gaping holes and problems are in your thesis. However, your examiners may pick up entirely different issues. You may know more than your examiners about certain aspects of the thesis. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your examiners as well.
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