You’ve done years of research, you’ve got the results, you’ve done the analysis, drawn your conclusions… But what if the examiner tears your thesis apart?
Obviously you want to avoid the humiliation of having your thesis torn to pieces. So here are the 7 deadly sins of thesis writing to avoid at all costs.
Any hint that you’ve fabricated results, or tried to cover up major problems by lying, and the examiner will tear you apart.
If you feel tempted (or pressured) to lie about your research in your thesis or in published journals, it’s really time to have a good look at your situation, and talk honestly with someone you trust. The temptation is understandable, but it’s just not worth it.
Distinct from outright lies, bullshit involves trying to give the impression of expertise in a subject you actually know very little about.
It’s tempting to try to appear like you know everything, but it’s far better to give more detail on subjects you are genuinely expert in.
Even if you get away with plagiarism in your thesis, you can lose your doctorate if someone finds out later. This happened to the German defence minister in 2011.
It is sometimes hard to paraphrase other people’s writing, so it’s better to try explaining the idea to someone verbally then writing about it in your own way.
Never sit with the paper in front of you and try to rearrange sentences to make it look different. It just doesn’t work.
4. Misrepresentation of other people’s work
You will have to write about other people’s work, and give references to back up your arguments. It’s very, very important that you know what these references actually say, because the examiner will tear you apart if you misrepresent other people’s work (especially if it is the examiner’s work).
Don’t cite anything you haven’t actually read.
5. Getting the basics wrong
It’s OK to have the occasional mistake, but if you make a fundamental mistake in your assumptions which then undermines your conclusions, then you are in trouble.
While you aren’t expected to know everything, you should have a good knowledge of relevant developments in your field and some knowledge beyond your highly specialised niche.
It depends how broad your field is, but at the very least you should be aware of who the top people are and the most highly cited papers.
7. Lack of insight
What does it all mean? How does your work relate to the wider field? What are the limitations of your research and what open questions remain (or are raised)?
You have to give the examiner an idea of what and how you think, beyond just the dry technical details.
You have to be willing to commit to what you think, and know that you can defend it.
It will be OK!
If you avoid these 7 sins, as long as the basic research is OK (it doesn’t have to change the world), and as long as you write honestly and don’t stray too far from what you are expert in, then you should be OK.