PhD: An Uncommon Guide…

Possibly the best guide to the PhD, it has clarity , purpose and is easily readable making it a book that you can both study but also dip into as you go through the PhD journey. If you are thinking about doing a PhD then this will give real practical insight before you take the plunge.


(See this review on Amazon)

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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 covercover

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

order today

The book is available from:


(available as kindle-only on some Amazon sites)


Other retailers

If your country is not listed above, you can use the form below to get a quote for delivery to your country (if your country is listed above, then ordering via those links will be quicker). The ISBN is 978-0-9931741-0-0, most high-street retailers should be able to order you a copy using this number.

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65 thoughts on “PhD: An Uncommon Guide…”

  1. Dear James

    Can the book assist with analysis of survey data, do the Chi square analysis and test independent hypotheses ? I need to link all of this to the research questions and a sustainability model.

    • It doesn’t cover those specifics, no. You would be better off with a specialist guide to survey analysis.

  2. Dear James

    I am busy analyzing my PhD research data and would like to know if the book can help me to analyze the data using Chi square statistic and test hypotheses.

  3. Does your book include the 500 word cross-out table you used to have on 3monththesis? That single page pdf allowed me to get out of a depression funk and finish my thesis! It was the most valuable thing imho.

  4. Dear James
    I am stuck up with my Ph.D. I cannot do what my supervisor instructing me to do nor can I come up with my own idea to work on. Now I get really frightened to meet him. Can this book help me.
    Plz reply.. Mr. Shantanu

    • It might help- it depends why you can’t do what your supervisor wants you to. I can’t promise that it will solve the exact problems you are facing, but it should give you some guidance as to the kind of things you should be doing.

  5. Thank you. Your comments and inspirations have help me tremendously. I find writing very challenging. I am told I am to analyze the researcher research yet I am to do my own. I am working to get that down.

  6. Hi Mr. James,

    Finally i will read your book i’ve been waiting to have it in Tunisia and i just ordered it from Amazon France. I can’t wait 🙂

  7. Hi James,

    I’m a reader from China.
    I think it should be an awesome book but unfortunately its Kindle version is not available in Amazon China. It would be very great if we can have this book in the Chinese market. Do you have any idea of this?


    • The ISBN is 978-0-9931741-0-0. If you go to a bookstore they should be able to order it for you using this number, though I don’t know how long it would take. I don’t know if you’d be able to order from Amazon Japan?

  8. Sounds like the book would be a valuable resource. Could you let me know where I could get a copy in India? Thanks!

  9. Hi, James! I am Sonia, a PhD student in business, just got a kindle one! Looking forward to reading it!

  10. Dear James,

    I am also trying my luck to reach you in this comment section. We would like to invite you to give a talk at our Postgrad Conference on June 26th 2015 for an hour slot. We would appreciate it very much if you could get back to us about availability and other relevant matters. Hope to hear from you. Thank you.


      • You are a very smart guy. I appreciate your efforsts.

        I am a PhD candidate in a South African university.

        Where can I can purchase this book in South Africa?? Dont you have link with or



          • I’ve added an enquiry form below the list of online retailers. Fill it in with your address details and I’ll work out how much it’ll cost to send you a copy.

  11. hello james
    i am persuing my phD in engineering
    in digital signal processing
    will this book helpful for me

  12. can you sir send me the copy of that book so that may I learn something from you. my email adress is [email removed] thanks

  13. Hi James,
    Greetings from Hong Kong.
    Congratulations on the publication of your book.
    When will the Kindle version be available?

  14. Dear James
    I am very glad to learn of your completion of this book. It has been a tedious journey but you have consistently been at it until completion. You have set a wonderful example for the rest of us especially some of us who have observed the dream born and now achieved. I will definitely get a copy although I am soon ending my PhD. God bless and please continue with the good work.

    • It hasn’t been tedious at all! Sometimes difficult, but I enjoy writing! Thanks for the kind words though 🙂

  15. Dear sir
    i hope that the book is very valuable for researchers and i didt know about this book and really what it will says but i read the comments for the viewers its really amazing.

  16. Thank you James. Just placed an order for your book.

    I have been and always will be a fond reader of your blogs and I’m sure the book will supplement my PhD journey which by the way will be concluding mid next year when I undertake the viva and hopefully successfully pass.

    Keep up the good work.

  17. Good for you James. This is a fabulous achievement. I’ve anticipated, previewed and preordered your book. I already know my ‘why’ – now I’m looking forward to gaining a better understanding of ‘what’ and ‘how’ 🙂

  18. I am looking forward to read the book .
    Prob you will come to Heriot Watt University and I will have a chat with you. I have finished Ph.D and I do not know what to do next .

  19. Yes, well done Hayton James, your academic and scientific contribution had come out in form of a book called PhD. I may like it, because I have just finished my M A Thesis in Rural Development, University of Juba, Republic of South Sudan. And because I intend to apply for my PhD in Rural Development, then your work will assist me a lot.
    When the right time comes, I will order a copy through our local bookshops in Juba.
    One of my major concern Hayton is, how does research differ between Social Sciences and Natural Sciences like one you did in Physics. Which is more soft and tough as well as in value contribution to the society especially for developing countries whom we are laboring to assist through our research work or contributions.

    [contact details removed]

    • Which is more tough? Which has a greater value? There is no easy answer to this, as each individual project has its own difficulties and merits to society.

      In the book, I’ve tried to make the advice applicable to all research disciplines (or at least as broadly applicable as possible)

  20. Hi James,
    I would like to buy one. Now i am in Sydney, Australia. Whats the price in USD? Shipping included? Please advise.

    Thanks mate.

    • I don’t know what the shipping will be- It’ll depend where you buy it from! You should be able to get your local bookshop to order it for you and there won’t be any shipping fee. If you order from amazon it might be a bit more expensive.

      I am in the final stages of sorting out distribution and will make an announcement soon about how to get a copy

  21. Dear Mr. Hayton, is there any chance to write You an e-mail? For I have a few questions I wanted to ask You… Best Petra

    • For the print edition, £19.99. There will be a kindle edition published soon after the print one, price to be confirmed

    • The basic assumption I work from is that the aim of a PhD is to develop the skills of a professional academic researcher. I use the principles of skill development as a foundation, then use those principles to look at the various challenges involved in PhD research. I don’t know of any other book that does this.

      I’ve also avoided the use of stretched metaphors (a PhD is neither a journey nor a mountain to climb). I’ve also avoided the typical, cliched advice you see rehashed in other books; so you will not see phrases like “writing is thinking” or “done is better than perfect”. Even the cover attempts to avoid metaphor and cliche (no cups of coffee, stacks of paper, rolled up diplomas, mortarboards, and no roadsigns, mountains, compasses, etc), because I’ve tried to go beyond the obvious.

      Much of the advice directly contradicts some of the most commonly given tips in this area, but I’m not trying to be contrarian, I just approach things from a different set of assumptions and end up with different conclusions.

  22. I really want to read this book. I still in the middle of journey in doing my PhD. Hope can get some motivation from this book

      • It might not be your aim to motivate but surely it’s subjective, it depends on what the reader will get out of it and since everyone is different, some will be motivated, others inspired, some may even be put off the idea of doing a PhD entirely or as you put it, some will see it as a foundation to build their own ideas. You will find out in time of course.

        • You’re right; it is of course subjective. But I stand by my statement that my aim is not to motivate, nor to inspire. In fact, if someone tells me they are inspired by what I’ve written, I feel I have failed. I don’t want someone to think “he overcame difficulties, I can too”, but rather, “now I understand better what I’m trying to achieve”. If that then results in higher motivation, great, but the understanding has to come first.

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