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PhD Thesis

theses on shelfFor most PhD students the writing of the thesis is the most difficult and demanding part of the whole research project. However, it is absolutely vital that it should be done properly. It is important to be aware that your external examiner never actually gets to see your project, other than through the pages of your thesis and through meeting you at your viva examination. And so, no matter how brilliant your research has been, if this is not conveyed clearly through your thesis and the viva then you risk failing the examination.

>>>>> FAILURE >>>>>   N.b. For detailed guidance on what to do if you fail your PhD examination, click here.

The following further points about the PhD thesis should be noted:

  • You should study closely one well written thesis as a guide to what is required. Your supervisor should be able to select one for you.
  • The task of writing a thesis requires a number of important sub-skills. Apart from basic essay-writing, other valuable skills include mind-mapping, time management and computing. And you will need motivation to keep you going!
  • As indicated earlier, it is vital that you should communicate very clearly the nature of your achievements through your thesis, i.e. what you have done which is distinctive and has pushed back the boundaries of the discipline. In other words, you need to be assertive and gently (but firmly!) blowing your own trumpet.
  • Busy examiners are likely to focus particular attention on the opening and closing chapters and the thesis abstract, and so it is crucial that extra special attention should be devoted to their preparation. In particular, you should ensure that the writing is lucid, well-structured and concise.


The writing of a thesis represents one of the most challenging writing tasks which you can face. You will probably not have tackled anything as remotely ambitious before, and it is clearly essential that it should be of the highest standard. In these circumstances it is crucial that you should get as much help as possible. Your supervisor should be your key guide, overseeing your writing strategy and the emerging structure of your thesis. Having a completed thesis to hand as a 'model' is also extremely helpful. Finally, writing the thesis can be an isolating experience (up in your garret!), but this can be much improved if you are able to meet other students who are at the writing up stage for mutual help and support.

Further Information

For further information about the preparation of a PhD thesis see:

How Not to Write a PhD Thesis by Tara Brabazon
How to Organize your Thesis by Prof John W Chinneck
How to Write a PhD Thesis by Joe Wolfe
Writing your thesis (Vitae)
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Page last modified: 12 May 2012
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