Yep, I said it: writing your thesis. Your dissertation. The end of all those years of work. You know you gotta do it. And I know you’re probably dreading it. I mean, it’s a lot of work, right? Or maybe you’re already in the process and are spending your days wondering when it’ll all be over. Which is fair enough. But there a few little things you can do to make it more bearable. Dare I say it, enjoyable (apparently there are people out there who genuinely enjoyed writing their thesis! Seriously…).
Don’t start with the introduction
I know the default approach to writing your thesis is to launch straight into the intro, get all that juicy lit review material down, and craft the intro you’ve read in other papers a hundred times. But don’t. Just, don’t. It’ll take far too long as you’ll spend your days recapping past work rather than focusing on your work. How can you properly introduce research you haven’t written about yet? Leave it until the end when you’ll have a much better idea of what your results and conclusion sections look like. Then you can make your intro go POW! RIGHT IN THE KISSER.
Stop waiting for motivation
We all know what it’s like: “I don’t really feel up to it – I haven’t got any motivation right now. I’ll just go and do this instead for a bit…” All of sudden you’ve spent your day organizing your sock drawer, dusting the skirting boards, relabeling every solution in the lab, and generally procrastinating like a pro. Stop waiting to be motivated. If you only did stuff when you were motivated, you’d never get anything done. You don’t need motivation. You need discipline. Which brings me on to my next point.
Set a daily goal. Of words.
About 300–500 words. Every. Single. (Working). Day. I’ve tried setting time goals, like 30 minutes to an hour, but I just end up being inconsistent with my word count, staring out of the window wondering why I did this to myself or firing up some game until my writing time was up. So, write a set number of words every working day. Some days you’ll blitz through 300 words in an hour, and then you can reward yourself with some time off. You earned it. Other days it’ll take you hours to get 300 words down. But then you can reward yourself with some time off. Because you really earned it. You don’t need to write the whole thing right now. Focus on today’s word count. Deal with tomorrow’s word count tomorrow.
Step away from the computer
For at least one full day each week, just stop. Step out of the office, the lab, or your house, and get out. Go to the pub, the beach, the gym, the park, the roller disco, whatever. Just take a break from the thesis and do something else. Hammering away at your thesis every day is going to make you feel like crap. Take the time to recharge your brain.
Get all the feedback
Send sections or chapters to your supervisor as you complete them. This can be a difficult one as some supervisors are more, erm, ‘involved’, than others, but make the most of them when you can. Get their feedback on your writing as often as possible. They can help point out gaps you may have missed, derail tangents you might be heading down, or get you back on track to focus on the more important aspects. Feedback can be a double-edged sword so try not to take it too personally; criticism will typically make your writing better.
Edit as you go
Writing is mostly editing, so don’t wait until you’ve written tens of thousands of words to go back and copyedit! Do it as you go along. Write your 300 or so words, take a break, then go back and edit as needed. This will save you so much time and make your writing so much better. Trust me.
Just remember, you don’t have to write the whole thing right now, set regular word-count goals, stay disciplined – don’t wait for motivation, get feedback when you can, edit as you go, and take a break now and then. Focus on one day at a time. And when it’s done, it’s done. Congrats – you totally wrote a thesis. You can breathe. It’s over. (At least until the viva… :D).