How I wrote a PhD thesis in 3 months

Before reading this post please note: it took three and a half years of full-time research to gather the data for myΒ  PhD thesis; the three months refers only to the writing, which I did quickly at the end. I do not claim that everybody can write that fast, and, certainly, if you have not done the research it will be impossible. You probably won’t write as fast as I did, but you might gain some useful insights from the way I approached it.

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 turn things around, get the results I needed and 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 with two publications and enough data for another, I felt it was 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.

Please Note

I’ve had some comments on this post reacting as if I completed my entire PhD in 3 months. No, I did three and a half years of research first, then wrote the thesis. I also do not claim that anyone can write that fast, as it depends on a lot of different factors. This is why the title is “How I wrote…”, not “How to write…”

165 thoughts on “How I wrote a PhD thesis in 3 months”

  1. Very good advice for those who are preparing themselves to write a thesis. Of course, it’s a really big deal to make it of high quality and on time. That’s why your tips how to adjust the process of writing is very useful.

    • I had read a lot. I had to fill a few gaps as I went and I had to re-read some papers before citing them… The most important thing is that I had done all my experiments and most of the analysis.

      The focus of a PhD thesis should be on what you have done, not what others have written. You should have a strong knowledge of the field, of course. If you have that then you know where to look when you have to fill a few gaps as you write.

      • Thank you for your answer, but in the field “law” there is no experiments and analysis. Especially in my country (Republic of Serbia) emphasis is on theoretical work.

        • OK, we can reframe it another way using the same principle. Whatever field you are in, you will have some questions you want to answer and some process for answering them (that might be, for example, comparing legal theory with practice around a specific piece of legislation, using specific cases).

          Once you’ve been through that process, you then have some idea what the answers are. You can then present it in any way you like (in a talk, a paper, a thesis chapter, an animated cartoon, interpretive dance…)

          Too many people get caught up in writing without having any clue what they want to say. It’s a means of presentation, not of research.

  2. Point 10. One Draft….I couldn’t agree more. At the end of a long piece of writing, the last thing we need is another, long piece of writing. I have never written anything like a thesis but I’ve dome my share of academic writing. It was and is always extremely satisfying for me to know that, having completed a lengthy essay, I can relax and change hats as it were from author to proofreader/editor. If I have committed to paper the best that I possibly can, any tweaking after that will only make it sparkle.

  3. it feels as if I have someone who sailed in the same boat that I am sailing presently. Lost my interest totally from within. A do die as it is a must do for me. As it affects my personal and professional growth. Thanks Mark! Reading your article gives me some comfort.

  4. Talofa lava James. Thank you kindly for sharing your experiences and ideas. I am hitting 50yrs old and have just been accepted for doctoral study, yay! I am nervous and excited all at once! I appreciate reading your experiences and will take on board some of your ideas during the research period and especially the writing time. Thank you so much and I wish you well in your future endeavours. *HUGS* πŸ™‚

    • Wow, I am struggling to get my proposal ready at 39, what is your field, mind if I know?

      • I’m 53 and in the middle of 1st year – so age is not relevant here! My field is history. I’m currently trying to find the “question” – arrggh! But, I’ll get there I know as millions have before me. What I’m finding hard is the transition from writing functionally to a purpose and having to consciously spend time thinking. Reading and thinking are really important as then the ideas come. Good luck everyone.

        • If you’re in your first year and still searching for “the question”, don’t worry about writing chapters just yet. You should absolutely spend time reading and thinking, and maybe write short exploratory pieces with a specific focus. Many of these won’t end up in your final thesis, but that’s OK.

    • I am in the same age bracket and starting my PhD in sep if funding is in place and this advice priceless. I feel no age is right for anything but ones focus and determination. 50 here i come and phD am ready

    • that’s exactly what i want to achieve. i have clarity of thoughts but the concept is so complex and endlessly entangled that it seems humanly impossible to pen it down for fellow beings intellectual digestion and comprehension.
      its like traveling in infinity and try to finite your itinerary.
      the only way left it to say it in a biblical and revealatorical manner to let its readers to believe and interpret in their own way.
      the only issue with that approach is that i wont get PhD .

  5. Hi Dr James, it is not your making or effort, but rather, it is God’s doing in your life that people around the world will know that this is the finger of God upon your life, while undergoing for your Doctorate Degree programmed. I also completed my MSc programmed since 2014, am trusting God for my PhD progamme soon as God permitted me.

  6. I don’t think is was by chance that I stumbled across this post. I am in the process of writing my dissertation and it has been a daunting task to say the least. I’ve had to stop and start because of life circumstances; however, I am committed to completing the task. Your post was very encouraging and I look forward to completing my journey in the very near future. Again, thanks for sharing and HAPPY WRITING to the brave souls in the same boat. We WILL get there!!

  7. Pingback: Wie man seine Dissertation in drei Monaten schreibt | Criminologia
  8. Thank you for this excellent article.

    I, like you in the summer of 2006, have also finished all my primary research. I have just started on the literature review. My question is: Had you also read everything you planned on reading before you began writing? In past essays and dissertations in my life, I had always written while reading. Now though, I feel the reading has to be so thorough, so I’m reading and note-taking and categorizing the documents I read, before writing the Literature review section. Am I right in doing this? Or am I wasting my time by reading and THEN writing? Even though I have already chosen my topic, I am doing exploratory reading at this stage. After gathering a deeper understanding of my topic, I would like to refine the chapters of my thesis. I will then do deep research per chapter before finally writing each chapter. Otherwise, I feel it will be too overhelming. Any thoughts?

  9. 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.

  10. 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

  11. 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!

  12. 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.


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

  13. 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…

  14. 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

    • 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!

  15. 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

      • Thank you James for your article.
        Can you tell approximately how many hours did you spend on writing each day to achieve your goal of minimum 500 words a day? It is really hard to get this information anywhere..
        Thanks a lot. Anita

        • Sometimes I could write 500 words in just over an hour. Other times it would take all day. I accepted this variation because some things are harder to write about than others.

          The amount of time I spent per day varied, but it was usually 6 to 8.

          Try to set a target that’s suitable for you. I knew that I could always manage 500 good words even on a difficult day, but for some people, this target should be lower.

  16. 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 ….

  17. 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 πŸ™‚ thank you again

    • My self in the 4th year of PhD in Cancer therapeutics still struggling for some lab works. Planning to write daily atleast the review of literature and some introduction and the chapters will be my papers published. But not getting focussed yet on writing work. Wasting time in gadgets etc. Now I think that I must write atleast 3 A4 size pages daily with no plagiarism and decent english. May Allah help me in that….Aameen.

  18. 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

  19. 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.

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

    • dear iconforbest,

      you wrote here in 2015. i hope you are doing well and perhaps finished your thesis! am a mother of a 7 year old child who just started primary school this year. she has been in kindergarten for the past years while i happily go to work. however, this has been unexpected down time since i stay home after two years of hectic life collecting data. i think i can relate to your point when kids/husband leave and you’re not doing as much at home. leaves a lot of sense of guilt. am picking up myself after a few months of break..due to circumstances too. it has been quite nice when my days are filled up with busy at research sites for the past years, but towards final year am home alone coping with house chores, kid and homework and thesis..all these can be quite tiring unmoving and depressing eventually. i like it my home is more organized and clean but not on slow progress on writing. we do not notice this but it is happening. mothers are used to being a multitasker but it doesnt mean we can do everything at our best. maybe we need to keep try and error and learn best to manage work-life balance. it is hard to just focus on writing but i like it that we see it as a temporary period. it is only for these few months.

      i like it that you (Dr Hayton), highlighted the quality while running through the bits in the thesis and not equate thickness/bulkness of thesis with diligence, comprehension and satisfaction on a finished thesis. pasting all these tips on the wall so i can remind myself. thank you for the meaningful tips.

  20. 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..

    • 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.

      • 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

        • 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”

          • 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


          • 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.

    • The best way is you can refer to the previous thesis that same field/topic like you…Trust me, it will give you idea how to write your thesis…

  21. 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!

      • 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).

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

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

  24. 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.

    • 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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?

    • 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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!!

  29. 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 .

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

  30. 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.

  31. 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.


  32. 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.

  33. 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

    • 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.

  34. 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.

    • 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.

    • 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 πŸ™‚

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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.!!


      • 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 πŸ™‚ thanks and congrats on such an achievement.

  38. Pingback: Great links: All the best advice on dissertation writing in one post! | Meagan Kittle Autry
  39. 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.

      • 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!

    • 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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

  42. Great recommendations ! Especially the review part. I will save my time for me master dissertation.

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

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

    Thank you

  45. 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.

  46. 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?

  47. 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.

      • 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?


  49. 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.

    • 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.

  50. Hi!

    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.


  51. 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.


  52. 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?

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

  53. 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.

  54. 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.

  55. 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.

  56. 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 πŸ™‚

  57. 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.

  58. 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.

  59. 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 ???

    • 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

  60. 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.

  61. 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!

  62. Hi,
    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?


  63. 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 πŸ™‚

    Thanks again!

  64. 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.

  65. 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.

  66. 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!

    • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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

  67. “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. πŸ™‚

    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.

    • 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.

      • 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. πŸ™‚

  68. 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.

  69. 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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