It’s a bit of a kick up the arse to compile an actual top 10 tips on how to write a thesis. Not a successful one mind, as I don’t know for certain how good it was, but basically how to write something that ruins your life for a long period of time, or at the least how to cope with the worst few weeks of your life. As it’s only truly awful for a few weeks; I’d say a total of it being awful half the time, so in my case just over 10 weeks.
These are in no particular order as it definitely depends on who is writing as to which will most apply to you.
- Build up a support system.
This can involve anyone; friends, girl/boyfriends, family, supervisors, co-workers, weird people you meet on the bus, anyone. You need people who are going to spend time with you when you’re not writing. Friends are probably the best as they have very little clue as to what you are doing, and just want to hang out as before. Girl/boyfriends are good for venting, you can moan all you want at them and they can’t get annoyed because that is their job. In my case I lived with my parents whilst writing and they were useful for random help, but awful for others. “Choose your parents carefully” is what I’m saying. Supervisors and co-workers are valuable for actually motivating you to write stuff. Some of them have the experience required to give you genuine advice on writing, and some are idiots but as long as you beat them you feel great.
- Make your figures early.
As regular readers will know, I hate figures. My friend says she makes them as a break from writing, but she is clearer a nutter. In sensible terms, it makes it a lot easier to write about your data if you have your figures made. In bats hit-crazy terms figures they take up all the time and I hate them so bad. Just get those things done, and concentrate on lovely words.
- Plan different places to write.
I was a bit stupid, and spent most of my time writing at my office, and then ended up spending my final few weeks nailing it in the library and the office lab late at night, which s**ed! Some days you’ll definitely be up for writing loads, and some days you’ll want to stay in and watch Daytime Babe station.
- Plan procrastination.
In a similar vein to the above one, plan some procrastination. If you know you’re busy in the evening, you’ll do work during the day. Admittedly I could have been slightly better seeing as I went to cities, Berlin and Prague, but those breaks felt amazing, and also the support system thing in  applies here as well.
- Write when there are no major sporting events.
You may have no control over this, but seriously, writing when there is Olympics or sports match were on was the worst.
- Reading is not writing.
This may be just for me, but sitting in bed reading papers does not a thesis write. (That’s a sentence right?). But yeah, referencing a massive ball ache at the best of times, so just sitting reading papers to get a background understanding isn’t too helpful. And you end writing stuff you know it right, but how does anyone else? At least scrawl some notes, but in your thesis. You won’t forget about them, because you’ll find them in proofreading, or if you really think you won’t just add a comment. Word is useful like that. I can’t believe the amount of time at the beginning I wasted with writing (ref?) after sentences. I found it much easier to just add a little sentence with a reference and then a comment like “Sort this later!”
- Try your best to make your supervisor read everything more than once.
I was quite lucky in some respects in that my supervisor was willing to read everything a couple of times. So he saw each of my chapters and gave me comprehensive corrections. Then he saw them all again a final thing, and again gave me corrections. And I’m sure if he saw it again he’d have more corrections. In my experience you’ll never be completely happy with your thesis; you just need to make it good enough. (And hopefully it won’t be too awful, as I’d really hate to jinx myself as I’m kind of depending on passing for my job offer).
- (This may be more a Manchester thing but) Aim to have your thesis finished by the six week submission notice.
I figured I’d get a draft of everything to my supervisor by the six week submission notice, and I pretty much did. I’d done the majority of corrections by then as well, but seriously get them done. Once you hand in the notice of submission your life ends. You don’t get friends, sleep or regular meals; just stress and the ability to punch through walls (you don’t gain this ability). Having writing and corrections to do during this time just add to the stress. The best possible thing would be to have your supervisor look through everything once, given you corrections, you get them done, and then give it to your supervisor as an entire document and submit your six week notice.
- Do your corrections immediately.
This should probably be higher, as it should be important to everyone. It makes sense in theory, but once you’ve finished your chapter and your supervisor has destroyed it the last thing you want to do it is work on that chapter, but believe me you have to! The longer you leave it, the worse the corrections will be. Roughly, add an extra day of corrections/reading for every day you leave it after getting your document back.
- Try and keep deadlines.
I don’t care how good you are at deadlines, you will miss them. You surely will, do not tell me differently! Obviously the submission is a deadline you can’t afford to miss, but I mean sending chapters to your supervisor or lab mates. Proofreading and formatting takes all the sodding time in the world; even if you try to stay on top of it, it will take forever. And then slightly more time. Try your hardest though, your supervisor is an enormous help, so don’t piss them off.
I hope that helps you lot. 🙂
Also, you will get fat. :p