How to write your PhD thesis (12-week intensive course)

Duration: 12 weeks (48 hours)
Price: £690 (this may be paid in three instalments of £230)
Format: Online live sessions
Places available: The course is now full for January 2018
Next intake will most likely be September 2018

Writing is one of the most important and powerful skills you can have as an academic.

Not only do you need to write your thesis, you also need to be able to write clear and effective emails, publications, job applications and grant proposals. Doing these things well can change the course of your life and career.

Too often, writing is seen as a mysterious and terrifying process, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Yes, writing is hard, but with the right approach and investment of effort, it is a learnable skill.

The aims of this course are to;

  • Save you time and stress by showing you exactly what you need to do at every step
  • Help you write better and with greater confidence by giving you clear, specific and actionable feedback

And overall to;

  • Help you write and submit an outstanding thesis
“James helped me to understand how to structure arguments in a convincing and cogent manner, and to understand that writing is a skill that must be regularly practised. Ultimately, the examiners all agreed how well written my thesis was, which was very nice after all the effort!”
-Dr Karen Ruse

The best way to learn is by doing. By the end of the course you will have written several submittable sections of your thesis, including;

  • Your introduction and research aims
  • The significance of your research project
  • Major sections of your literature review
  • A description of your research methods
  • Key findings, conclusions and future work

You will also know how to use writing to develop your ideas, arguments and analysis, and you will be able to plan and structure your work effectively. All of the principles can also be applied to other pieces of writing (such as proposals, publications or upgrade reports).

You will be part of a small group of PhD students, providing group support and accountability as well as insights into the difficulties other students face. You will not be alone!

Course structure

Each week you’ll learn a few new principles and how to apply them to specific writing tasks. In each subsequent session, we will start with an in-depth discussion of the previous week’s content and homework assignments, before moving on to the next.

You will be expected to complete each assignment at least 24 hours before each session. Help will be available throughout the week, though, when you have any problems or questions.

Each session lasts 4 hours.

Week 1: Course introduction, essential principles and taking stock of what you have

In this first session, you’ll learn some essential principles and start to assess your potential content and potential obstacles. This will be done using a series of specific, in-depth questions; answering these will tell you exactly what you need to communicate to your readers and will help you later in deciding what non-writing tasks you need to do.

We will also look at techniques for avoiding distraction and developing focused attention (a crucial skill for all your writing projects).

Homework tasks: Complete the planning questionnaire, practice “focused attention” exercises.

Key skills:
  • Creating focused time and attention
  • Creating a stock of ideas
  • Systematic planning

Week 2: Introductions

This week, we’ll look at opening paragraphs to set the context of your thesis, and also how to plan, prepare and then write (using the preparatory work from week 1).

Homework task: Write the opening paragraphs of your introduction

Key skills:
  • Settling context
  • Considering alternative options
  • Deciding what to say and what not to
  • Focused reading
  • Writing with a clear purpose
  • One point at a time

Week 3: This thesis aims to…

Some sections of your thesis are more important than others. Perhaps the most important is the section that sets out your research aims because your examiners will judge your work based on your stated goals.

This week, you will learn how to state your research goals clearly and concisely. We’ll also look at ways to balance necessary perfectionism with the need for productivity.

Homework task: “This thesis aims to… ”

Key skills:
  • Writing with clarity
  • Balancing perfectionism with productivity

Week 4: Linking ideas

How do you link from one point to another in a way the reader can follow? In this session, we’ll cover how to construct a logical flow and how to think about overall structure.

Homework task: Write paragraphs to lead the reader from your opening paragraphs to your research aims

Key skills:
  • Thinking ahead
  • Creating structure
  • Deciding what to say and what not to
  • Writing with a clear purpose

Week 5: How to edit your writing

Assessing your own writing and deciding what needs to change is an essential skill. You need to be able to do this on a small scale before you can do it for a whole thesis. This week we will go back over your introduction and edit it to a submittable standard. If you can do this for one section, you can do it for the rest of your thesis.

Homework task: Polish and add detail to the opening section.

Key skills:
  • Assessing your own writing
  • Identifying bad habits
  • Getting things done to a submittable standard
  • Thinking ahead

Week 6: How to review the literature I

Literature is the backbone of any thesis, but the lit review can be one of the hardest parts to write. The key is to focus on the problems that the literature solves, rather than simply describing what the authors did or said.

Homework tasks: Write a short description of a groundbreaking paper, including context and significance; write a short description of a disagreement or debate in your field.

Key skills:
  • Filtering literature
  • Focused reading
  • Getting to know the field
  • Setting context
  • Writing as an expert

Week 7: How to review the literature II

Not everything you write needs the same amount of detail. In this session, we will look at techniques for writing concisely and techniques for writing in detail.

Homework task: Write a section of literature review summarizing trends and key events

Key skills:
  • Deciding what to say and what not to
  • Setting context
  • Varying the detail
  • Writing as an expert
  • Summarizing large areas of research concisely

Week 8: How to write your methodology

Having set out your research problem, how will you solve it? The methodology needs to be clear, detailed and accurate, but it does not need to be complicated.

Homework tasks: Write a concise but detailed summary of your research methods.

Key skills:
  • Writing with clarity
  • Providing precise and specific detail
  • Linking methodology to research questions

Week 9: How to develop your ideas and analysis through writing

Many PhDs require you to write before you have research results or use writing as an analytical tool. In this session, we’ll look at how to write these exploratory pieces.

Homework task: This week you’ll be given an exploratory writing task depending on your research stage.

Key skills:
  • Writing with focus
  • Use of rhetorical questions
  • Linking ideas

Week 10: Presenting results

How to systematically present your data and findings. In this session, you’ll also learn how to make your images and figures clear and professional.

Homework tasks: Create a figure following the design principles outlined, write a summary and analysis of a key result (this will be modified depending on the stage of your research).

Key skills:
  • Assessing your content
  • Thinking ahead
  • Linking ideas
  • Figure design

Week 11: Conclusions

Even if you don’t yet have all your results, you can still practice writing conclusions. In this session, we’ll talk about:

  • The difference between a conclusion and a summary
  • Conclusions for chapters and the thesis as a whole
  • How to differentiate between and write about strong and weak results

Homework task: Write a summary of your conclusions and remaining open questions (this will be modified depending on the stage of your research)

Key skills:

  • Assessing your content
  • Linking to the broader literature
  • Considering future work

Week 12: Planning for completion

Planning the overall structure and pulling things together. What do you need to do to get the research and writing finished?

Homework task: Get your thesis written!

Week 13 (bonus session): How to write your academic CV

Writing a good CV involves many of the same skills you’ve learned throughout this course, and it’s also a useful exercise in assessing your own skills and achievements.

Key skills:
  • Writing with a clear purpose
  • Identifying and communicating your strengths
  • Deciding what to say and what not to

Week 16: Follow-up session

In this follow-up session, we’ll meet up to discuss your progress since the end of the course and answer any questions you have.

James helped me through the initial roadblocks to start writing and through the middle of my PhD candidature. Thanks to James, I was able to save a lot of time and did not waste my energy and attention on things that were not important. I would recommend working with James to anyone without hesitation.

– Guzyal Hill

You will also receive:

  • Tutorial videos explaining key principles
  • Weekly worksheets to help guide you through the assignments
  • Personalized advice tailored to your specific situation and stage of research
  • Access to a group chat so you can ask questions and discuss the assignments between sessions

We’ll also discuss solutions to common problems such as writer’s block, procrastination, fear of failure and anything else that arises as you work.

You will need to be willing to:

  • Attend all the live sessions
  • Dedicate time to doing the homework assignments every week
  • Share your writing with other members of the group
  • Participate in group discussions

You will need a reliable internet connection, webcam and headset with microphone to make the most of the course. Recordings will be available after each session.

How to join

Send an email to, introduce yourself and let me know any questions you have about the course.