How to start writing your PhD thesis

August 26, 2019

How should you start writing your PhD thesis?

If you are part-way through your research, I would always suggest focusing primarily on gathering and analysing your data. This needs to be the priority because you can’t present results you don’t have, and it’s impossible to write with confidence if you don’t know what your contribution will be.

Once you have the bulk of the results and analysis, then you can shift your focus to writing (there may be an exception to this if writing is part of your analysis: see this post if this is the case)

The way I approach any writing project it is to start with the introduction and work through in sequence (trying not to leave any gaps and finishing sections to a submittable standard). This is because;

  • You don’t have to decide what to work on and you always have a clear point of focus
  • You can move on to the next section knowing that the previous ones are at least submittable
  • You always know what you’ve already told the reader
  • It forces you to make decisions and deal with problems as they arise (instead of leaving them for later)

You might find it difficult to start with the introduction, but it’s important to stay with it rather than switching to another section. It is a solvable problem given time, persistence and patience.

But if there is a reason why you can’t write the introduction (for example, if you haven’t decided what your research questions are), then this needs to be addressed. You need to face the fundamental problem and make a decision.

This is the writing process in a nutshell; facing the problem in front of you, considering your options, making decisions and moving forward.

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