Getting started on the final thesis
A lot of work has been completed and now it is time to put it all together in one document to ‘tell your research story’. As I found out, this took a lot more work than I expected but I found a number of things helpful to get the process completed.
- Take a look at the thesis submission guidelines for your institute. This helps you understand the process of completing your Masters or PhD. For UL students this information can be found at https://www.ul.ie/graduateschool/research-thesis-submission.
- Begin by making notes, drawing out diagrams (e.g. spider diagram) and coming up with ideas of how you want to structure the thesis.
- Look at other Masters or PhD theses for inspiration and guidance.
- Ask for advice from others who have completed their studies. They may share tips and tricks with you that save you a lot of time. I have to thank Cormac Powell for this, since he saved me a lot of time and worrying whenever I had questions.
- Set up auto-save from the beginning. This will avoid losing any work in the event of your Microsoft Word crashing.
Break it down
When I began writing, I couldn’t help but feel like putting together the thesis was an impossible task. I struggled through the first couple of weeks, trying to get into a system that would allow me be the most productive. Eventually I realised that breaking things down into smaller tasks and working through them worked best.
- Break the thesis into its chapters, then those chapters into sections, and those sections into sub-sections. Now begin to work on each sub-section and eventually small steps get you a long way.
- Create your own goals and deadlines for keeping your writing on track.
- Don’t stress if you miss one of your deadlines or goals. Instead, re-adjust your plan and keep working.
Breathe – breaks are essential
Although it can be hard to leave your work, it is essential to allow your mind to have a break and to re-focus. Each person is different but it is important to find the most effective balance between working and relaxing. I used sport and activities, short walks and lunch breaks with others to help me relax. When busier, I began watching 20-minute episodes of different TV shows as a useful break. My recommendations would be Brooklyn 99, The Office US, and Parks and Rec because they can be watched with little concentration.
Page breaks, margins and numbers
An aspect I didn’t take into account when completing the thesis was the formatting. During the whole time of writing, I always worried about the formatting; have the tables and text moved, are the margins correct, have I updated the table of contents, and finally would it all be OK when I transferred it to PDF. This worrying continued until I finally had the printed version. From this experience, I have a number of tips that I hope will help others.
- Check out your institutions formatting guidelines, which are often found in the Postgraduate Handbook. For UL students this handbook can be downloaded here
- Attend the ‘Working with Long Documents’ course in UL, or equivalent course in other institutions. Many of the skills taught in this workshop are essential for completing a document such as a Masters or PhD thesis.
- Look for tips and tricks on YouTube. You would be surprised with the help you find through video tutorials.
- When working on the formatting of your thesis, save as a new document each day. That way, if things go wrong you can always return to the start of that day. Trust me; it is a lot easier to lose a day’s worth of work instead of a month’s worth.
The final draft of the thesis is completed and it is sent to the supervisor for final comments and suggestions. Even though I was excited to give it to my supervisors, I was also fearful of what comments would come back but here are a number of lessons I learned.
- Get your friends to proof read certain sections of the thesis before you send it to your supervisors. This will help you remove any obvious mistakes and may save time when your supervisor is reviewing the work.
- Don’t panic when you get the comments. Remember the thesis is a long document and is bound to have a number of comments and suggested changes.
- The comments and suggestions are given to help you create a stronger thesis. Take these on board but remember that it is your thesis so you don’t have to agree with every comment and suggestion.
- A number of the comments may help identify possible questions that you need to answer in your final presentation or Viva Voce. Keep track of these and begin to formulate your answers.
The finish line – well almost
Take your time when reading over your work for the final time and ensure you are happy with submitting each section. That said, don’t become obsessed with perfection. Every time I read over my work, I found myself making small changes that probably make little difference in the grand scale of things. After all the months spent writing, formatting and proofreading, I feel that letting the thesis go and finally submitting it was the hardest part.
Now I’m waiting for my Viva Voce date and will spend the next few weeks preparing for it. Taking my own advice, I will break down this task and seek guidance from others.
Joey Murphy is a PhD research candidtate in the bDepartment of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick and you can contact Joey via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Joey on Twitter.