PhD: An uncommon guide to research, writing & PhD life

Your essential guide to the basic principles every PhD student needs to know
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About the book

PhD: an uncommon guide to research, writing & PhD life is your essential guide to the basic principles every PhD student needs to know. Designed to be applicable to virtually any field of study, it covers everything from finding a research topic, getting to grips with the literature, planning and executing research, coping with the inevitable problems that arise, through to writing, submitting and successfully defending your thesis.

The book is based on more than four years full-time work with PhD students from a vast range of disciplines, plus the author's own experience as a struggling, but ultimately successful, PhD student.

What makes this book different?

Many books on this subject try to over-simplify the PhD process to a series of pre-defined steps. This does not work. The variety and complexity of research projects, not to mention the differences in resources and personal circumstances of PhD students, means that no set process can ever adequately cover every situation.

Instead, this book identifies fundamental principles which can be adapted and applied in different situations. It recognises the complexity of research and writing, and that the key to success is in responding effectively to unpredictable circumstances, rather than following a fixed plan or roadmap.

No clichés, no tortured metaphors

This book deliberately avoids clichéd soundbite advice such as, "done is better than perfect" or "writing is thinking", as these are misleading over-simplifications. It also avoids using metaphors as a model. A PhD is not a marathon, it is not a journey, it is not a mountain to climb—it is a unique and complex undertaking, and it is important to describe it wherever possible in literal terms, rather than metaphorical.

Arguing using first principles rather than analogy, PhD: an uncommon guide contradicts much of the most common advice for PhD students, providing a unique approach to the most common problems.

About the cover


The "no clichés" rule extends to the cover. There are no cups of coffee next to a keyboard, no mortar boards, no stacks of books, no compasses or maps, no rolled up diplomas... Why? Because it's important to think beyond the obvious—a principle applied throughout the book.

Developing the skills of a professional academic researcher

At a fundamental level, a PhD is about developing the skills of a professional academic researcher (whether or not you intend to continue in academia, this is what the system is designed for). But without a set syllabus to follow, how do you develop those skills?

Using the fundamental principles of skill development, this book will show you how to structure your work to maximise your skill development while conducting your research, and explain why neglecting these principles can lead to overwhelming levels of stress.

It also provides an essential introduction to the world of professional academia, and explains why the skills that helped you excel at undergraduate level are not the same skills you need to succeed in your PhD.

Coping with the stress of research

Academic research is hard, and it is inevitable that things will go wrong, constantly, throughout the course of your project. How you respond to these difficulties will determine how successful you are.

This book will help you understand the fundamental nature of research, and explain why a focus on productivity and time management can make things worse, if used at the wrong time. Instead, knowing how to creatively solve problems will help you perform to your best when circumstances are at their most difficult.

Becoming a better academic writer

Writing is a vitally important, but very difficult skill to develop. Like research, it requires different approaches at different times, depending on the specific problem you are facing at any given time.

Most books follow a "write fast, edit later" approach, but this is fundamentally flawed and inappropriate in many situations. Sometimes you need to slow down and think about what you want to say, especially when writing about difficult concepts or key parts of your argument. Writing as fast as you can is also inappropriate if you are writing in a second language and want to improve.

PhD: an uncommon guide breaks down the writing process to its most fundamental parts, and shows some unique methods to improve your skills and cope with the demands of a long-term writing project.

The story of my PhD

I started my PhD in 2003, full of high hopes and expectations. It didn't take long for me to realise, though, that getting into a PhD programme is much easier than completing one. I ended up stressed, depressed, overwhelmed, and very nearly quit in my third year.

Throughout the book, I share my experience as a struggling PhD student, show the mistakes I made (and how they relate to the fundamental principles), and explain the changes I made that ultimately resulted in success.

Full Table of Contents

  1. "Because I Love Doing Research"
  2. The Best of the Best?
  3. About
  4. The Basic Principles of Skill Development
  5. Who You Work With is Just as Important as What You Do
  6. An Introduction to Academic Literature
  7. My Research Project(s)
  8. Choosing Your Research Project
  9. The Nature of Research
  10. Planning and Executing Research
  11. The Problem With Technology
  12. Becoming a Better Academic Writer
  13. Dealing With Research Stress
  14. A PhD is Not Everything
  15. Managing Demands on Your Attention
  16. Conferences and Presentations
  17. Getting Published
  18. The Writing Process
  19. The Final Year Before Submission
  20. Starting to Write The Thesis
  21. Formatting
  22. Writing Routine
  23. What Goes in the Introduction?
  24. Writing a Literature Review
  25. Analysis and Discussion
  26. Conclusions
  27. Editing
  28. Finishing
  29. Submission
  30. Defending Your Thesis
  31. The Result
  32. Beyond Your PhD

Where to find the book


(available as kindle-only on some Amazon sites)


Other retailers

If your country is not listed above, you can use the ISBN 978-0-9931741-0-0, to order through your local retailer.

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