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Writing up: tips versus reality

Writing up – turning all those data, all that analysis, three year sof work, into one coherent body of writing. With a narrative. With a contribution. With an end.

I haven’t (really) started yet, and already the advice is flying in.

Whether good advice or not, sometimes it’s easier to provide suggestions after the fact, or outside of the PhD experience altogether. Here’s of the useful (and less useful advice) I’ve already been given… and my ability to make the most of it (or not).

Tip No. 1 – Start writing EARLY

Word has it that one should start writing the thesis from Day 1.

Save those reports at 9 months, 18 months – any and all reports. Save the conference papers, and journal papers.

Save, save, save!

And even then – start on the main body as early as possible.

Reality No. 1 – Starting soon?

I’m pretty sure the first Gantt chart I made for the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences‘ requirements had me relaxing on a beach by now, while my thesis gently hums in the background, awaiting final finishing touch-ups and then voilà – submission!

Reality: I know I should be writing. I wish I could be writing, but sorry, I’m still collecting data, so writing is something for next week (or maybe next month).

If only my REAL Gantt chart had so many colours, holidays, and confidence…

Tip No. 2 – Always be writing

Write things as you go!

Not, per se, the thesis, but write down why you did X and not Y (why did I go to Dorset and not Devon, hmmm can I remember?), write down that great analysis thought you had, write down that juicy sentence you thought of – don’t let it slip down the slipper slide of “not being committed to long term memory and not being written down either!

Reality No. 2 – Always be losing my writing

We’re all our own worst critic, right? So, in an attempt to be too critical I want to say: I haven’t done too bad of a job of this. Every time I’ve made a choice in choosing case studies, methods, and literature, I’ve made a note of why and when I made that choice.


I’m not sure where all these bits of information are!

I love my document versions. For example, for the questionnaires I designed this year, I had 39 versions before the final copy. Which is great for not losing things, but terrible for finding which versions contain my decision to include question X and not question Y!

The exact number of times the questionnaire was edited won’t actually fit in this caption box.

Tip No. 3 – Swap chapters with colleagues and friends

Final bit of PhD thesis advice versus reality for today, as we can all only take so many pieces of advice in one go.

Swap your work with others.

Swap until it falls on its face, it is so dizzy from being swapped.

Swap it with peers.

Offer to proofread a professor’s paper if they agree to read your chapter.

Swap it with your undergraduate friends who are now writing awesome, concise, zesty reports for companies, so they can chop your lengthy, wordy, epic saga into smaller, digestible pieces.

Reality No. 3 – Great idea, just let me polish this chapter first

I loathe handing people my work when I’m not even happy with it yet.

I don’t want to waste their time with my half-written garble that is Version 1 of an eventual 39. I don’t want them to be correcting my misspellings when, with another 30 minutes of my own attention and Word’s help, I could have found the mistakes myself.

Problem with this?

By the time I’m ready to swap, the deadline is probably tomorrow.

For anyone out there like me: be brave, be bold – swap it before it’s ready, swallow the mistakes they spotted that you could have found yourself, and be grateful for the ones they’ve pointed out that you couldn’t.


The thrilling moment of handing out the final questionnaire for one case area.
Time to head back to the office and WRITE ABOUT IT.

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