The PhD Files: Writing Tips

Today, I’m going to provide some tips for when it comes to putting pen to paper (or hands to keyboard), and writing up your research! Getting started can seem daunting, but it needn’t be. Read on for some handy hints to help you begin…

  1. Start small – Though your entire thesis is likely to be pretty sizeable, you don’t need to write the whole thing at once! It really does pay to start small, so decide on a section, and start writing. Don’t feel you have to stick to a chronology, especially if your thesis focusses on distinct areas, (for example, several authors and/or themes). It’ll all come together, I promise!

2. Little and often – In order to avoid becoming overwhelmed, it can really be useful to consider breaking up your writing into manageable chunks. Something in the region of 500-1000 words at each sitting can be a good way of putting the words in! Before you know it, they really do add up. You’ll be amazed at your progress, and you will be saved from a huge, stressed, frenzied write-up as your deadline creeps closer.

3. Get feedback as you go – If you have regular meetings set up with your supervisor, then consider asking if they would be happy to provide feedback on your writing each time you meet. That way, you can submit a few of thousand words ahead of each meeting, and receive feedback as you go. This is a great way of ‘signing off’ on your writing, bit by bit. The feedback helps you to keep track of your progress, and makes sure your ideas are on track in an organised way. It also holds you accountable, making sure you keep the ideas flowing.

4. Give yourself a break (Part One) – Yes, this one is in two parts. As important as it is to get the words onto the page, it’s equally as important to know when to give yourself time off. Even the most productive writer needs a breather, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking an afternoon, a day, or even a weekend, off. Trust me, you’ll come back refreshed and ready to go.

5. Give yourself a break (Part Two) – It is also vitally important that you do not beat yourself up during the writing process. You are not a robot, you are a human being. There will be days when the ideas do not flow and you will be certain you will never write a word again. You will, I promise. So, when the writer’s block strikes, take a nap, watch your favourite show, eat some cake, do whatever you want. Just don’t sit staring at the screen and questioning your life choices, that does not help anyone!

6. Don’t fear the re-write – I speak from experience when I say that you should not worry if you have to re-write some sections of those hard-won words. There are times when parts just don’t work, and all that is left is to go back to square one and start again. I remember all too well one particular section of one particular chapter that, try as I might, would not take shape. In the end, I had to re-write it six times. That’s right. But, after some of that life-choice questioning, and a fair few expletives, I eventually got the thing together. You will, too.

7. Find a good writing space – If you can, try to write in a place where you feel comfortable and able to concentrate. I know, sometimes it’s easier said than done, but it does help if you can write in a place where you can zone out and get going. It also helps to have copious amounts of tea, coffee, hot chocolate, [insert your hot beverage of choice].

I hope this list has helped if you are just starting to write your research, or if you are in its midst as we speak. However you write, just do your best to get the words on the page whenever you can, and you will do a great job. Good luck!

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