How I wrote a PhD thesis in 3 months

After almost 3 years, I was on the verge of quitting my PhD in the summer of 2006.

I had nowhere near enough results, the equipment I was using didn’t work most of the time, and I could barely summon the motivation to get up in the morning.

So how did I write my thesis in 3 months?

1. Dealing with stress

After a near-breakdown, I started taking walks around the campus when I faced a problem in my research or found myself getting stressed.

I took the time to think about what I needed to do and get myself in the right frame of mind to come back and deal with the problem.

Previously I would have found myself killing time on the internet just to get through to the end of the day. This one change in habit probably saved my PhD.

2. Limiting the time available

Though my productivity increased once I figured out how to deal with stress, I was still doing experiments well into my fourth year.

I had a final submission date (at the end of my 4th year), but my research was still a bit chaotic. It wasn’t focused on finishing.

My supervisor (the brilliant Professor Moriarty) then told me that I would no longer be allowed into the lab after the end of March 2007, and that I would have to write whatever I had.

3. Adapting and acting decisively

Because of the limited time, I had to make some tough decisions. Anything I did, I would either have to finish or let go. There would be some loose ends, but that was OK as long as I tied up others.

I had to decide not to do certain things, and focus with energy and determination on others.

Still though, the thesis would be a little thin. So I took on a side project based on another student’s research, which could produce some results quickly.

This side project produced the most interesting result of my scientific career.

4. Finishing research before writing

By the time I stopped doing experiments, I knew I had enough for a PhD. Not the best PhD ever, and not world-changing, but good enough.

Because I wasn’t allowed back in the lab, I just had to focus on writing. The hard part was behind me. The results weren’t going to change, so it was just a matter of making sure I was productive when writing.

It is much, much easier to write when you know the raw material isn’t going to change.

5. Preparation

I decided to work at home, not at the office, because there would be fewer distractions.

I got rid of the TV, and had no internet connection on my computer. The lack of internet meant I had to gather all the papers I would need beforehand, forcing me to think about what I would need.

I also set up a dedicated space (2 large desks joined together and a very comfortable chair, next to a large window for plenty of natural light), just for thesis writing.

6. Targets and consistency

I set myself a target of 3 months, broken down into targets for each chapter. This would give me about 3 months in reserve before the final absolute deadline.

I had a daily minimum target of 500 words, which I knew I could meet even on the least productive days.

This meant that because I smashed the target most days, I finished every day feeling good about my progress, which in turn meant I started the next day feeling confident.

7. Routine

The two most important parts of the day are the beginning and end. It’s important to build momentum early, and have a routine for ending the day too.

At the end of each day I always left myself something easy to do to get started with the next day, so I woke up knowing what I was going to do.

I also tidied the desk at the end of every day, which also helped close the day mentally and stopped my brain going over and over the thesis at night.

8. Applying ruthless standards to what I included

Whether it was the lit review, or my own work, I cut anything sub-standard.

I focused only on the very best literature, saving myself a huge amount of time. It also had the result of associating my work with the very best in the field.

I only wrote about what I knew about, which made the thesis shorter, faster and easier to write, and of higher quality than if I had included everything whether I understood it or not.

9. Taking time over details that matter

I took painstaking care over the clarity of the writing, the diagrams and the overall look of the thesis.

If a diagram took 2 hours, so be it. If I couldn’t find a high-quality image in a paper to paste in, I would re-draw it myself. Why? Because it adds so much to the feel of quality running through the thesis.

“The unreconstructed Si(111) surface”. This took a very long time to draw and make sure the diagram was accurate.

By applying obsessive focus to one detail at a time, I could make sure that I wouldn’t have to do it again. This brings me to the final point…

10. One draft

I always edit as I write, with one goal only: to make sure I’ve expressed the idea in my head clearly on the page. I don’t move on until I feel the sentence makes sense, with no ambiguity of meaning.

Clarity of thought is always the number one aim. But it is very difficult to come back to a piece of writing days or weeks later and sort out a mess of thought if you don’t clarify your writing while the thought is still fresh in your head.

This means I was constantly re-reading and revising what I’ve just written, but also means that when I submitted something to my supervisor it needed very few revisions and saved months, simply by getting as close to “right” as I could the first time round.

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  1. Renu says

    Hi, Dr. James,
    I don’t believe it’s an accident I hit upon this blog post and I am so so thankful I did! I am exactly in the same seat as you were in the summer of 2006 and on step 2! Your post gives hope and it is not just “a pie in the sky” kind of a thing but gives very practical steps as well and I am so happy and really relieved and feel “It can be done”! TX a ton for this very useful information and also reading through the comments made me feel like I am not in an isolated situation. There are so many working people, mothers, or fathers unable to find time to work at home, people plugged into other things during the course of the duration and then suddenly realize, “it’s upon you!” Thank you for breaking the whole process down into bite-sized portions so we don’t bite more than we can chew and that’s what makes the whole experience “stressful” and you end up losing the joy that you experienced when you got started or dove into it with all your “passion” in the beginning!!! I think the challenge lies in “not losing sight of the victory” as that is what I am trying to do to keep going! Keep the end result in mind!!! I had to keep reminding myself every single day. That has really helped me.

  2. fari says

    Hi James!
    It is really inspiring for me that you have finished your thesis in three months. I think you and your supervisor remained at same track while working on different phases till completion of your thesis. I am writing the review of related literature of my PhD thesis. Please guide me that how i can complete it as soon as possible by keeping the quality or the standard of good review. Many distractions including my job are hurdles in completion of my work.
    Need your advice anxiously . Hope to get answer soon

  3. Theodora says

    Hi Dr Hayton

    Thank you so much for writing this article – I am in the process of completing my Masters degree in Oil and Gas Law, and upon completion wish to begin my PhD, so this has been incredibly helpful!

    I know many people study their PhD part-time over a 6 year period. My concern is my topic is constantly evolving, and I worry that if I take that route, by the time I finish, my research “gap” will have been filled and my contribution to academic thought will no longer be relevant. Do you have any advice in this regard?

    Also, would you recommend doing a PhD full time as opposed to part time if circumstances allow, in order to focus completely on it?

    Thank you in advance, I will definitely be buying your book to help me on my journey!

    • Hapana Taka says

      What is required is full commitment, it does not matter whether you are studying full time or part-time. What is important, before submitting your thesis, is that it is up-to-date in terms of literature and information.

  4. Sarah says

    Hi James,

    I am glad that I have come across your website. I have found the advice here useful. I just wish that I had come across it sooner! I am in my completion year and I have realised that my thesis is utter rubbish. The scope of my thesis is quite wide and I ended up spending time and effort into research which has turned out not to be relevant to what I am writing about. Now, I’m working very hard to make up for the shortcomings in my thesis which exist due to lack of research, lack of time (I had to work and had other issues which limited the time I could spend on my thesis).

    Throughout the years I was pushed into writing and submitting work prematurely. As a consequence, I made the mistake of meeting targets rather than meeting my own personal standards. I have realised that my thesis is rotten to the core and riddled with many inaccuracies which were either not picked up on or not pointed out to me by my supervisors because they are not experts in the subject area I am researching. They tried their best to help me but I obtained a lot of poor advice over the years and the result is work that is not as good as what I wrote either at undergraduate or master’s level. I obtained First Class Honours and a Distinction respectively but now, I feel as though I am struggling to write something that is remotely decent.

    Your advice seems mostly geared at writing afresh (which is why I wish I had read it sooner!). What would your advice be to someone in my position? I have a thesis written (bar a conclusion which is in note form), I am forming ideas of how the thesis can be transformed but the endeavour is depressing. It’s much easier to write from scratch than to edit something that is dreadful.


    • James Hayton says

      rather than focusing on the negatives, what positive results do you have to report as a result of your research?

  5. Abi says

    Hi James,
    I am in the third year of my phD. But i feel like that i am not progressing as I dont get any feed back or any advice from my guide. I had to call, send msgs always to remind to reply to my msgs. I live far and need a Guide to say something step by step. But i am disappointed. I have publshed few papers on the subject. Now that prepared questionnaire to send out. Now my guide after so many mals, asking me what varieties of ststistics i would use, how many tables i would prepare…independent variable and dependant variable… Believe me… My head will explode soon… As i have no idea what so ever on all these…. Just got stuck…and worried…

  6. Elle says

    Hi there,
    I am
    Hopeful you or someone out there could help me?
    I was offered an honorary PhD in law several years ago, for exemplary international services to the court systems etc.
    However, I always wanted to submit my thesis, only one other piece of similar research exists, which is over 40 years old and there’s very few people in the world with my unique skill sets and working knowledge.
    However, I have set up charity and have not earned a penny in two years! My choice. I get head hunted, turn them down and work from home so I can be with my young family, as I’m rather an old person to have such new kids!
    I spent 23 years on my career then started a family. Which means I truly am broke but my thesis and methodologies etc are rather easy to write, because I know the subject matter inside and out.
    I’ve trained international Secretaries of State etc on the subject, provided lectures to one of London’s most prestigious universities in cutting edge subjects, never discussed before and only now being ‘normalised’ in television programmes, 15 years on, such as transgenderism and gender dysmorphia: self harming, addiction and self protection.
    My question is this:
    If I have zero money, yet have been involved in a dozen research projects that have radically changed the worlds court systems, have extensive understanding of the ethics Committe etc and I could produce my 500 words a day, while the children are asleep? Do I need to attend university? Am I able to self publish or apply to a university, who have already advised they’re desperate to take me, so I can help them create a diploma. Could I attend just for the last year, once my thesis is written, to get it polished, so to speak?
    Does one have to attend university to achieve their PhD?
    Thank you for this wonderful piece, I feel like a fraud having an H. PhD and feel confident I can produce an innovative, fully researched, publishable thesis, but unsure if being a student is a prerequisite of obtaining a PhD?
    Thank you again

    • James Hayton says

      Well you would need to register as a PhD candidate with a university to be eligible, but my question would be why do you need one? It sounds like you’ve already gone way beyond PhD level in your career!

  7. Abhishek Patil says

    This would definitely help me for sure..
    Thank you James Hayton
    Still I have a question ?
    Is it that we have to sit 24 hours of our work for completing our PhD work ?…Or is it some hours of dedicated work would just do fine ?…
    Thank u James in advacne

  8. Md. Nazmul Islam says

    Good job. That’s would be fruitful for me, if i follow the same. That’s i think. But you are making this easier to me by those ….

  9. valerina says

    Thank you for the encouraging piece. I am in the fourth year of my PhD. I have already published few papers got the data, I should say very positive data, but even after all this last couple of months I had been killing time sitting in front of my PC browsing internet, playing computer game. In short, I am doing everything other than working on my PhD. Every night I sleep with so much of guilt and I think tomorrow I am going to change everything and start working seriously but that tomorrow is just not coming. I have no distraction at office but that makes me feel more demotivated to even go to work. I know it doesn’t matter if I go to work or not as no one will check on me. I hope with your advice I will become more productive. I liked the idea of removing internet, writing 500 words a day and going for walks :) thank you again

  10. Mohammed says

    Hi James,
    great work, i like what you did there.
    in fact i feel i m following your path. i’m in my second year, i just changed the subject and i can’t start reading articles – i have no experiment to do what i m doing is pure math and computer science- . i just want the day to end, i feel stressed at the end of the weeks and when i meet my supervisor.
    i don’t know what i m facing, i think i m lacking some confidence

  11. iconforbest says

    Hi James,
    I really liked this article and so want to apply it as I’m about four months away from the deadline. I’ve pretty much finished the lab work with some analysis pending. I have done only one experimental chapter which still needs correction from the supervisors.
    Now I want to dedicate time to writing which is easier at home for sure but there is a lot of distraction around me as I have two school going kids 8-5 and I’m a clean freak as well. I feel distracted even when the kids are at school. not sure what to do … getting very desperate actually … may be near failure who knows. Please suggest.

    • James Hayton says

      Get on with it. There are no excuses. You feel distracted? Are you going to let yourself fail because of that?

  12. Marco says

    Hi Mr. James,
    only 2 days left for me before the deadline of my diss.. Please advise me what to do my results don’t look good, is it okay to just “manipulate (cheat)” some data? Thanks so much..

    • James Hayton says

      No, it is not ok to manipulate data. You might get away with it, but if you want me to say it’s OK, sorry but no.

      • Marco says

        so, what can I do for my bad data then? my supervisor is very useless and I have to do the whole thing. I’m in the verge of depression right now. I did perform my main objective (to perform and execute a method) but the results do not look good. What can you advise me then? thanks so much

        • James Hayton says

          I don’t know. If you’re doing a PhD, one option is to get an extension. If you aren’t doing a PhD, I don’t deal with masters or undergrad.

          I’m sorry, I know it must be stressful, but I don’t have an answer for you. You surely understand I cannot say “manipulating your data is OK”

          • Lydia says

            One of the ways to solve it is to turn your “negative data”, to say the “no results” into a finding in itself. Finding something wrong is part of the thesis and demonstration and it can be explained and even when working the “whys” of the “no data” helps to work out explanations.

            Loved your website! thank you! i need to finish my phd in 6 months! lol


          • James Hayton says

            Perhaps.. a negative result can be a useful thing to share IF you are certain that the negative result is valid, and it isn’t just a case of poor execution of research.

  13. ABreski says

    Dr. James-
    This blog spoke to me, as I am currently working on my literature review and feeling unmotivated. This has helped me understand that I need to be more serious- not to change the world- but to finish! My history- proposal was rejected several times, finally last month, I made headway and it looks like it will go in front of the IRB in mid-January. I am nervous and still cleaning up some of my loose ends. You’ve helped me understand “loose ends” do not have to be so perfect. A bow is a bow- some look different than others. I had spent many days and night in tears, screaming at my dissertation- the damn glowing light from my laptop- “Curse you!”- How silly! Later, I thought to myself, why, why do I hate what was once my passion to get me through my coursework? Why hate it now?? I think I felt I was beat down and rejected by my field (hits on my self esteem as a writer)- Instead of looking at it as a “writing process” and research discovery.

    Please write more on this- it really helped my motivation. I’m giving myself a deadline- March- 2015- interviews done- data analysis until June or July, data analysis by September 2015. WISH ME LUCK!

      • Ife says

        Thanks so much Dr. for this write up. Thanks also Abreski for your sincere response. like you I am at the literature review stage. Having a 9month old daughter to attend to has not made it easy. But thus far I believe I am doing ok — except for when I meet my supervisor she say, its okay but not quite.
        That can be really demoralising, but reading your blog Dr James, and responses such as Abreski’s give me a feeling that although “aluta continua, victoria acerta” (the struggle continues, victory is certain).

  14. Shirin says

    Hi James,
    Thank you for your inspiring article. I have one 1 year to the end of my PhD, but as my proposal is too big and hard to do i have lost my motivation and just think of quitting it somewhere.
    I spend my days in front of laptop and miss the time as a matter of demotivation. I will use your techniques and plz give me further information.

  15. melati raudah says

    Hi James. I’m a final year student in government university. I’m lose my motivation. I don’t know what my lecturer need. I already sent 3 proposals to her, but she said that my topic to big. What I don’t understand is, I already narrow down the topic. She keep comment my work but she accept my friends work. In this condition, I think I will repeat my semester just because she not accept my proposal. Sometime I think she hate me. I really sad.

    • James Hayton says

      Try making the proposal as simple as possible, rather than starting with something big and trying to narrow it.

  16. A says

    Hi James

    I keep coming to your webpage to find motivation. I am in my writing phase and my SV keep asking me to do more experiments. Honestly I think I have enough data and honestly I know what my SV asks me to do is only going to benefit my thesis. However I lack the motivation to go back to the lab and do more work. Worst, I also lose my motivation to write because of this. At the start I was really motivated to write my PhD off. Could you give me a piece of advice on how to overcome this. I really appreciate it. Thank you.

    • James Hayton says

      either do the experiments (and pause writing until you have done them, or make a clear decision not to.

      I can’t give you motivation, but I don’t think that’s what you need anyway; you just need to be decisive.

  17. Jorge says

    Nice post! I would like to ask: Which software did you use for the diagrams in your thesis? (like the one in point #9) Could you please recommend me some?

    Thank you.

  18. Mary says

    Thanks for the helpful thoughts. I have to defend my dissertation in five months but i feel i am nowhere with lots of paradoxical sets of data and theories in my mind. The most difficult part is that i am writing this social science thesis in English as my second language. I am not confident at all about the clarity and meaningfulness of my writing. It is frustrating and takes huge time and energy to focus on my subject and at the same time avoid any ambiguity in my writing. Any comments or thoughts how i can manage such chaotic situation?

    • James Hayton says

      With 5 months left you have to be ruthlessly decisive.

      What do you have that you know is good? This must form your core content.
      The weakest material you should cut. Some will lie inbetween, and you have to decide what to strengthen to include and what to cut.

      If you haven’t analysed the data, or if you don’t know how to analyse it, you might need an extension.

  19. Francis says

    I’m just two months into my PhD and i find this quite motivating. Good job in finishing your thesis. Hopefully, the tips i took of from your blog will help me. Best wishes.

  20. Satya says

    Dear James,

    I am revisiting your blog. I successfully defended my PhD in nanoscience in March of this year. During my PhD, I was very busy with my experiments and trying to get them working. In the mean while I was working hard to obtain unique findings that had not been discovered yet. Writing was never something that I did much. So, when it came time to start writing my thesis, I was in jitters. There were quite a few mental barriers that needed to be broken and your blog was a huge help. It helped me come up with an action plan. Your journey to the other side of thesis writing was hugely inspirational. Your tip about disconnecting the internet was what drove me to a solid finish. Completing my dissertation writing was something I knew I had to do but didn’t know how to, so I am most appreciative of this site and hope more people get empowered and shake off the strain of inertia and pessimism that could derail any project.

    To the other readers starting out, go get ’em! It is possible!!

  21. Zeina says

    I feel so wick and desperate.I finished my master courses I still have my thesis.It has been since last fall that I have registered for my thesis and till now I barely wrote the introduction.I should submit my thesis in January 2014 and I am still not ready for it.I couldn’t concentrate, I am pregnant now for already 6 weeks and I am afraid to loose my master degree because of my thesis .The environment where I life doesn’t help me to study.Since I got married I came to Saudi Arabia and it’s being so hard for me to find the good ambiance to sit and study for hours As I used to do in my BA and MA .I am blaming myself so much which is creating a feel of sadness from inside because I was never the same .

    • Hapana Taka says

      You are not the only one who has to face several problems and to have doubts about your ability. My suggestion is persist with you work and you will succeed. Read the thesis that have been submitted in your area and you will see that it is not that difficult.

      • James Hayton says

        Persistence does not guarantee success- it can be misleading to say “persist and you will succeed”, because many people do not.

  22. kalapi says

    Great help….have been tied up with family responsibilities so long and was under the impression that I can never ever complete my Research….thank you so much sir for this positive approach that has made me buck up in my work and finally hope to apply apply for my Pre-submission Seminar in November.

  23. Claire says

    Thank you so much for the advice. I’ve been really struggling to complete my Ph.D thesis, too often procrastinating on other (smaller) projects, but your blog has given me the inspiration I need to submit in the new year. I have a detailed, yet realistic, plan made out for myself from now until Xmas, giving me the break to tidy up the draft. etc. Will let you know how I get on!

    Thanks again.


  24. Kerry Joe says

    Dear Dr.Hayton,
    One sweet day I’ll drop by this page to tell u my story of success.
    It all started the minute I read this ever-so-positive piece.
    500 words a day.

  25. Michael says

    Trying to finish my thesis and getting bogged down in life commitment. Your blog has given me a bit of motivation to keep chipping away at it. For me I have to leave home when I want to study and find a quite spot in the university library. When at home my family assume I am available for all activities or chores such as putting the bins out, mowing the lawn, pick up and drop off for the kids including grocery shopping if my teenagers have consumed the contents of the fridge in a couple of hour. Thanks for the tips

    • nili. says

      Tnx 4 sharing information,im weak student, im worry;i cant write a thesis that could be publish in ISI journal;my information is not enough;if i cudnt prepare i cant get phd university;tell me wt i can do,who can help me.

  26. Sylvs says

    Gosh, thank you so much I really needed this. Such a timely article for somebody just getting back into the saddle after months of not writing or even thinking about my PhD, working full time, single Mum and trying to figure out how to just sit down and write. I am on it, I have 6 months to go and if you can do in 3 months there are no excuses.
    Thanks for sharing, you’ve made a world of difference.

    • Rina says

      kicking off a phd soon…a single mother too and would be working pt (cannot do ft with 2 kids). All the stuff about not being able to finish was getting to me but this post is encouraging…and then your about being a single mother working ft and pursuing a phd…makes me feel better.

    • esraa says

      it is very motivating that someone already finished by 3 months !
      I am master student and I work fulltime , having charity activities that I can’t leave
      which make me so busy and can stay months with no progress
      but reading this makes me inspired :)

  27. Vrishali says

    I am so glad to find that last tip on the ‘first draft’. I too spend a lot of time and energy in re-reading and revising my first draft with the intent that it should need least revisions from my reviewer and should have least trouble for my sympathetic reader (friends/ guide). But all the writing advice focuses so much upon ‘just-produce-the-first-however-shitty-draft’, that it used to make me feel guilty. I would not assert that my ‘first drafts’ are perfect, ready-to-publish; but at the same time I feel preparing the final manuscript becomes much easier when I have done your best to maintain coherency, style, and quality in my first drafts.

    Perhaps I understand the logic behind this usual advice of shitty first draft. I guess it wishes to push the student/ writer out of the so-called writer’s block. Honestly, even I have gone through it. But now in the last year of my PhD, I feel that the reasons for that block were deeper than just an urge of writing ‘perfect’… Actually those were insufficiency of the actual research (data and analysis), stress/ nervous breakdown etc. So, now I feel that if I can tackle those things first, and then write, I am less prone to procrastinate and my usual inclination (I do not want to say ‘obsession’!) to write careful first drafts eventually saves quite a lot of time and energy for revisions. And after reading your post, I can even let go of my guilt! Thank you.

  28. P.C says

    Thank you so much for this blog post. I’m currently one thesis away from finishing my M.A degree. I was supposed to finish my thesis two years ago but life happened Marriage, baby, etc. Now i’m 100% committed to completing it and I have no other choice because my deadline will be January 1 2015! You gave me some helpful tips. Congrats on finishing.

  29. Prasad says

    Hey Brother where ever the world you are! I am currently in the exact (identical) status of PhD as you were 6 months before your completion. Your story motivated me and given me light to come out of the stressed pissed whole I am living in thanks. I ll keep you posted in six months how I progressed.!!


      • Mimi says

        The article is very motivating. I’m a busy mother of two. I have so much distraction around me and also lots of responsibilities as well. I have done lots of lab work but when now I’m looking at it it’s all repeated and to reproduce same results. I have not read a lot as well. Now from yesterday I have starting writing my thesis because I think if I will start writing I will then have to cite and read literature. Still not reading the whole paper which is not right may be. After reading your article I want to finish my thesis not in three but four months. Three would probably unreal :-) thanks and congrats on such an achievement.

  30. she-can says

    I am guilty over disappearing from my supervisor..I am already at my 5th year of my phd and happen to report back to duty in the same faculty as my SV (FYI, i am already an academician thru’ my clinical Master) but in different dept. I still have the final chunk of my labwork part need to be done and now avoiding him as I feel that I did not progress much due to my teaching commitment. FYI, I have lost interest in my Phd work since I got so many rejections of the manuscript I sent for publication and to think there is no novelty of the work since the plant that I chose for my study has been deeply researched by others. Also, partly I am blaming my SV for not forecasting such things to happen in my study and he does not even want to read any draft of my manuscript. The only thing he read so far is my ppt slides I prepared for my defence and he showed very little interest in my project. I feel abandoned and this drive me farther from him. Please advise. I am on the verge of giving up.

      • bluebutterfly says

        Somehow, a same case as with me. I have transferred to other country and the thing is that the company, that I am currently working for, doesn’t have a support on this effort. I am working on my own and currently in my second draft of thesis revision. I have done a lot of revisions on my simulations and also taught that my knowledge isn’t yet enough to finish the thesis. I have already lapsed my MRR and have been always followed up by focal person from Graduate Studies regarding the status. Though, the pressure is really on, I am currently doing my very best to be focused. So my piece of advise, just continue your thesis, we can do this!

    • Hapana Taka says

      Perhaps you are depending too much on your supervisors. It is your thesis, you have chosen a research question(s) so go ahead and answer it.

    • James Hayton says

      PhD in physics is worth quite a lot actually. Maybe you had a bad experience, doesn’t mean you can apply a sweeping generalisation to others, especially out of context here since I didn’t mention being stressed during my write up.

  31. Angel says

    I have been delaying with my Masters because of pressure. I now know the best way put is to get in and finish it. Then kiss academia goodbye….I am glad the pressure has helped me discover what works for me and what doesn’t. I would not want a gap of 2-3 years strggling with a coerced project that stresses me.

    I am happy for you…..Dr…..the world is your oyster.

  32. reza says

    Thanks mate, I’m working on my MS thesis, it was paused for two years, yep so stupid world, but I’ve worked on my life’s thesis, such a great results for my personality, I have no real supervisor, he never cared and supported me, so I’m totally alone and I just wanna finalize my work in 5 weeks, I had worked in theory enough, I have some delay to do in implementation phase, I just liked to comment about how is my current experience about thesis stuff.

  33. OMKAR GAWAS says

    truely mate you changed my approach towards handling of stress and indeed helped me in working it out….ambadnya

  34. thandi says

    I tried to make a copy of this “The 3 month thesis” article at least PDF, but I was unfortunate.

    Thank you

  35. danadler says

    correct is better than done and/or handed in……. sounds like a an orphan in regard to supervision… well done in any case to close the project out.

  36. angela says

    I am in my first year of my PhD. and have been stressed on coming up with my dissertation topic. I have submitted several for approval but no luck. Working full time as a teacher, with three children this one task has taken me a three weeks! I am still not pleased with my topic, but getting depressed and stressed about choosing one that will be 100% accepted.
    Any suggestions?

    • Hapana Taka says

      Why not chose a topic relating to your work and with which you are familiar with? Have you also heard about getting PhD through publications?

  37. notfreakingout says

    You don’t know me , but you pretty much changed my life. Not being over dramatic or anything i was on the verge of quitting . 3 years on, had an annual review that completely killed any moral i had left. I’m frustrated, tired, depressed and distressed. I honestly believe i am giving it my all. Add a full time job which i need , 2 drafts 3 incomplete chapters submission date in 7months . i feel i am for lack of a better word screwed . I will chug on but an accident right now sounds like a better idea.


      I know exactly how you feel. I have been doing my PhD 4 years and have 6 months to go. I feel like I know nothing, my supervisor has systematically bullied me to the point where I no longer have the confidence to write a simple introduction. I have worked every day for the past month – weekends and evenings – and I know that when I send her my work it will still be pulled apart, no help given, and returned to me again to do again. My doctor has advised that I quit for the sake of my mental health but I don’t feel I can as I will have a huge 4 year gap on my CV. I really hope that I can follow the advice here because I think at this point it’s my only chance.

      • Teresa says

        Your post really resonated with me. I have a rather unsupportive supervisor and am at the point where I feel morally obliged to continue, otherwise I’ve wasted 4 years and a lot of time and money. I see this post was written in August – how are you going now?

      • Hapana Taka says

        Do you have supervisory meetings in which the work submitted by you is discussed and any disagreements? Initially you might have to depend on your supervisors to guide you but once you are into new things (interpretations, disagreements, proposal for reform, etc) discovered through your research then you are the master.

  38. Anthony Parks says


  39. says

    Dear colleque,
    First, I would like to congratulate on your success, cause it is really success write a Phd thesis in 3 months. Second, i would like to thank you cause, after all that experience, you still have enough will and strength to share it with common Phd students, like i am.
    Third, this is really most usefull paper about how to move from death point and write a discussion part.
    So just to say, after 6 moths, this is a first day that I successed in writing anything, not just that 700 words. So, it’s really works.

    • Hapana Taka says

      A student should not leave writing until the last moment. It is through writing at the early stage that helps in clarifying ideas and thoughts about the topic.

      • James Hayton says

        This is only partially correct- in many cases, students focus far too much on writing rather than the practical aspects of research.

        You need to be careful with soundbite advice, such as “it is through writing that helps in clarifying ideas”, because it is not applicable to every situation, project or student.

  40. mAGGIE VILLAR says


    Great blog post! No wonder why it has a lot of traffic. I really need your advice, I have so much on my plate right now (I work as an analyst and I’m reviewing for law school admissions) and I’m in the middle of finishing my thesis about Corporate Social Responsibility. I have four months left before my deadline and I have a great thesis adviser but she acts like she does not care if I finish it on time or not. I’m lost in the plethora of literature and she said I should bombard my thesis with referencing but it’s just not my style because I’m used to writing feature and opinion articles for our paper rather than scientific writing. I really hope you could help.


    • Hapana Taka says

      It seems writing about corporate social responsibility has become a fashion and of course a lot has been written about it. The question is how your thesis will be different (new insight, interpretation, etc) on the topic. You could limit it to a one country not previously examined or carry out a comparative study.

  41. genie says

    Dear James,
    I really like your article in fact I’ve been coming back to your blog a few times now just to remind myself I can do it. Thanks. Would like to ask for your opinion. Is it possible to write a good thesis if the results were negative? Not everything negative: first half of my research was good but the second half did not produce any result. I had to stop trying because it took too long and my supervisor asked me to write first to see how strong my thesis will be. I always feel uncertain about whether I could produce a good thesis based on negative result or not, and this has made me very unmotivated to write up. Thanks in advance.

    • Anne says


    • Hapana Taka says

      The question is what contribution your thesis makes, a negative result may be a contribution based on the he research findings.

  42. Erin says

    Whoa. I always edit as I write, but I have always considered it an issue. Many people insist on rough drafts, but I’m with you: I will lose the clarity of thought if I don’t get it right the first time. That said, I do struggle with maintaining a flow in my writing if I’m constantly interrupting myself to fix a typo or some other irregularity. Does this happen to anyone else?

    • Char says

      Haha, I am the most chronic edit-as-I-write person EVER. I see it as a problem. I wish I could break the habit, but it’s so ingrained. I tend to agonise over each sentence and progress at snail’s pace!

      Hope yours is going well now Erin.

      • James Hayton says

        Well if you do it to excess, it can be a problem. I try to aim for clarity of expression… if it isn’t clear then I will stay with it, if it’s OK then I move on.

        It’s equally problematic if you just write as fast as you can without thinking. I think the ideal lies somewhere in between, taking care, but not agonising. Not easy to get the balance right, admittedly.

        • Sarah W. says

          If English is your second language, you HAVE to edit anyway. I think I will let my native speaker find proof read my writing. I am not that confident.

  43. Alex says

    We deal with making of all kinds of research projects. No matter what is your query but we provide you with the solution of all your queries.

  44. dissertation structure says

    Very positive approach on handling the challenges of writing the thesis. I think it’s better way of battling it to make sure you’ve done something for your phd.

  45. muhorane justin says

    thx a lot ,good advice to us, i have dream, one day i will get my phd or doctorat, iam i young man ,but i believe, i have only degree in business management. ok thx God bless u.

  46. hamimah says

    thanks for sharing – i am left with not much time now & I cant believe someone out there have done it in 3 months. you have build the confidence in me :)

  47. Jazzkrauser says

    You got the famous Prof.Moriaty? OMG! He’s like celebrity.Thank you for writing such a guidance.I’m just 3 months old in my PhD program.I like ‘500 words a day’.Maybe I can adapt it in my thesis starting from now.

  48. Peter malling says

    Tnx for some great inputs. Could you say something about organising the structure of the text? I like the idea of setting do-able goals of which sections to write. But that requires a certain degree of top-down approach to writing. You need to know the structure in advance in order to put up a plan on how to write them. But i think that the structure often emerges through my writing, and i don’t know how the text will look in advance. This is also a great pain, as it implies that the structure keeps changing and expands in size, and it becomes impossible to finish it.
    I would really like to be able to set up a detailed section-by-section outline before starting writing, that would make planning much easier, but i can’t handle it due to the above reason.

  49. Comsoc says

    Thanks for the wonderful advice. I was on verge of giving up after spending 4 loooong years. At least I am happy to know I am not the only one. My guide is very particular for simulation based results but my thesis is completely based on mathematically calculated results. I am stuck between these two because to set up a simulation model will take up another year and I am not at all willing to waste further time. Any advice ???

    • Marco says

      lol, I’m in the same position and my thesis is due in 3 days, and my results don’t look beautiful!! I hate looking at it!! Was thinking of “manipulating” some data and have no plans to publish my work.. just for the sake of completion! I hope everything goes well

  50. cliff says

    Very good article. Some very handy tips. I’m nearly finished writing my thesis now but i didn’t do the usual putting three months aside for writing. I just published my work as i went along. this is very convenient at the end when you can sit back and relax because all you have to do is the literature review. if this is possible i strongly suggest doing this as you will really appreciate it at the end. if possible of course.

  51. Amir says

    Wow great tips James !

    Now I know I’m not alone, now I got only 1 month to finish my draft, 2 month to refill anything that is not sufficient to my supervisor and my final deadline is the end of this year . Wish me luck.

    Again, Thanks for the tips!

  52. Helen says

    Nice and motivating tips! Thanks!

    I am on my 3th month of PhD Thesis writing. I also planned 3 months. But now I think I am fading. Sometimes I just do not manage to get focused, I sit in front of the computer and my mind is white… pure white. Did it happen to you? I have tried walking around to organize my thoughts, changing the activity for 10-15 min, reading something related to what I want to write…, but I cannot get out of that stuck-mode. It is like if my brain was on strike! do you have any advice?


  53. Immy says

    Great Advice James!! I have been using your book and tips (especially the e-book on the 3 month thesis) now as sort of a semi- bible- guide to do things more efficiently and it works!

    However, I have one major concern, as I am only now entering my 2nd year of the PhD, my major problem is finishing my experiments in time, so it is more of the doing process than the writing process, in fact I have come to the realization that when it comes to writing I can manage quite well and actually that is the one thing I seem to be doing well, according to my supervisor, however, when it comes to thinking of creative ways to set up my experiments and initiating the process I am actually quite slow and less progressive. currently, I am at a complete halt in this very process.

    It would be nice if you also had a blog describing how to fast track through the experimental(testing phase)or how to design and initiate experiments efficiently and quickly.

    PS: Perhaps I need to explain to you that my experiments mostly involve designing serious games to test hypothesis in my domain, hence quite different from a more structured physical science approach such as Physics or chemistry. However any tips u can offer on fast tracking the experimentation (creativity phase ) would be very much appreciated :)

    Thanks again!

  54. Andra says

    Just a thought… You could use pdf instead of eps for the images. I never used eps, because i usually save my images in pdf anyway and didn’t want to convert them just for Latex, so i just used the package for pdf images. If you have the images in word you can easily turn them into pdf and usually the quality is good (great if u have adobe professional, but ok with other free / less expensive software too). I found that to be the best way to use images in my thesis. Images in bmp were never clear enough, especially if i used them at only a percentage of the column width, and since i had tons of composite images i usually had to use 0.4*\columnwidth. I never had that problem with pdf figures, they always looked great.

  55. Gemma Tombs says

    Thank you so much for this! I’ve just completed my third year and bought a write-up year, but have now moved to part-time with a full-time job. This is a great reminder that with dedication it can be done, and that sometimes “good enough” just has to suffice. Done is definitely better than perfect.

  56. Sha says

    Awesome advice!
    I had been following this blog for a while and the tips were extremely valuable in thesis writing. Thank you!
    Btw, I had a question. I’d like to graduate in June this year, so it means only have 3 months to complete the thesis (including adviser reading and all editing), I’m still in lab doing fabrication (cuz had a cool idea that will help finish the story of this thesis and I’m the last graduate student working on it) and I’m TAing for a quite demanding course also (for funding). With all these in mind, my question is LaTeX or Word?
    I have seen those two posts you had on this topic, and I can’t agree more that there is only one answer and it is LaTeX. However since all my reports had been in Word, now I have about 3 chapters of the thesis in Word and about a chapter or two in LaTeX. The plan was to transfer the word ones to LaTeX. But the issue is my thesis has myriad number of images (very little equations) and making .eps files out of images that are in word is a pain, it is time consuming, and reduces the quality of images drastically.
    So with all these in mind, shall I write the whole thesis in Word or LaTeX in your opinion?
    I’m very much panicking whether I will be able to finish on-time with all the lab/TA work and also need to write a journal paper these days, and the major two chapters of my fabrication and results are unwritten at the moment.
    I think if I had summer (for that I need to push the unhappy department and if they agreed, will have to tolerate the shame of answering friends that I won’t graduate in June), with that relaxed 3 extra months, I could write happily and calmly, and make the thesis very beautiful w/ LaTeX, now under time constraint I’m thinking maybe Word is the only way that can save me some time. Will it?

    And with your expertise, do you think I will be able to finish or shall I start pushing for summer?

    Really sorry about the long note. But I very much needed an expert opinion on this. Thank you!

    • jameshayton says

      Word or LaTeX… honestly, it really doesn’t matter that much. I would never go back to Word having used LaTeX for my 1st year report, but the most important thing is to just make a decision and stick to it.

      Re fabrication… decide how long you are going to spend doing it, THEN STOP. It is the only way, and if you ignore everything else I say on the blog, just follow that one thing. You have to let go!

      And whether you finish on time (i.e. before summer) is down to you. If you cut back on other commitments, and can write consistently every day, then of course it’s possible. On the other hand, who cares if the department are happy? If you are happy to spend the extra months working, and you think it’s the only way, then do it! Again, you just have to decide. But either way you’ve go to stop gathering new material at some point and go with what you have.

    • me and you says

      i just print-screen the images, paste into paintbrush, save in bmp file, then convert into eps.
      if there is somebody u trust who is willing to help do it, then it’ll save ur time.

      • jameshayton says

        Yeah, sometimes that will work… but sometimes the quality of the image in the pdf sucks. I wouldn’t use paintbrush though if there is any decent alternative!

        And sometimes there just isn’t a figure that illustrates exactly what you want to say. The figures are as important as the words, so it’s worth spending the time on them

  57. says

    “It is much, much easier to write when you know the raw material isn’t going to change.”

    Alas, this (point #4) is where I am struggling, and I’m not sure what I can do about it. My research efforts are rife with feedback loops between the calculating (the “research”) and explaining (the “writing”): I calculate something, try to explain it, realize that I needed to calculate something slightly (or entirely) different, after which I can explain it to a point but then get stuck on what I need to figure out (via calculating or explaining or a mixture of both) next, and so on. This makes it very difficult to set targets and be consistent (#6).

    The heartbreak after every failed target or deadline (#2) has led to much stress (#1), which I’m still working on figuring out. All I know so far is the first step is to notice when I am avoiding my work, and then to actively choose to calm myself in a way that lets me continue work. But both parts of that are hard, because I seem to be quite clever in finding “useful” ways to procrastinate, and I also seem to be perpetually in denial of my stress. Also, when I do notice my stress, it’s because it is so strong that it is difficult to face directly, even after attempts at calming myself. But I what you say you did for stress might help me out a lot too, especially because I keep telling myself I need to take more walks. :)

    Fortunately, I am getting pretty good at #3, #8, #9 and #10, and my home office and starting-work ritual (for #5 and #7) are awesome. One thing that helps me get going each day is journalling: I review the last day’s journal entry, which had summarized work from the day before and also set me up with directions to investigate or questions to tackle that day; then I review my efforts on answering those questions, summarize how that went, and journal my way towards figuring out what to do next. Summarizing at the end of the day is sometimes useful, but more often I like the clearheadedness of morning for that task, because it can help me see whether a particular line of investigation was not going to turn out helpful after all.

    Anyways, thanks for this article, because it is reminding me of some of the things that I am doing well, in addition to the few aspects I can make better. I might just have to continue to deal with the inherent uncertainty in the line between research and writing, but it might work out anyways if I am careful to attend to all the other things I can control more easily.

    • jameshayton says

      The problem you have with calculating, writing and recalculating is that you’re trying to do both at the same time. FORGET about writing, just sit and think about what your calculation means. If you go straight to writing, you are skipping a crucial step in the analysis.

      Give the analysis the time it deserves, including thinking and explaining to other people what you think it means. Writing is the last thing you should do, and only when you have well thought out analysis to deliver.

      • says

        Thanks for this thought. Now I’m wondering if I know of any other way to analyze other than to write!

        It’s very possible that, when everything is finally figured out, I’m going to have to start from scratch and rewrite in a much more clear way. Maybe my analyzing-as-I-go is not something the examiners are going to want to read anyways. But then again, one of my research goals is to demonstrate the ease of the mathematical approach in deriving and explaining the ideas, so some of the “figuring” is crucial. Maybe I won’t know how much will need to be written, not until I’m done getting through the figuring.

        I have come to conclude (by analyzing myself, through the writing of this comment) that it’s best for me to continue as I have been going, because my advisor didn’t seem concerned by my approach when I handed in the first two parts of my work for his perusal of my ideas. If I do end up having to rewrite parts, then so be it, but I need something written (and the corresponding ideas figured out in full) before I can rewrite it (and/or re-figure out ideas).

        So, mine may not end up being a 3-month thesis, but the tips I’m absorbing from this site will help me minimize the wasted time in many other ways, I’m sure. :)

  58. Ben says

    Great advice. I especially like the bit about editing as you go along because it’s something I’ve never been able to do. I tend to segregate editing and writing. It works for me, but it probably means I produce more drafts as a result. Ultimately I probably have to write a lot more as well to compensate for what I cut out when editing. I think both approaches have their merits, but I’m certainly going to try editing as I go along.

  59. Tom says

    Great tips. I think these could be applied to lots of different types of project. The idea of moving ahead with what you have rather than endlessly gathering new material is a really important point.

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