Have you started writing yet?
is a question I get asked (what feels like) often. Normally, it is a follow-up to
What year are you in [of your PhD]?
Inwardly, my response is not dissimilar to that of Mike in this PhD comic:
On the advice of several people, including one from this parish, at around the two-year mark I put together the outline of my thesis in LaTeX. Once you take into account the title page and space for each of the tables of contents, figures and tables, and a list of appendices, you already have at least half-a-dozen pages. Then at least one page marking the place for each of the chapters, a list of acronyms, a bibliography, and appendices takes your page count to twenty or more before you have done any writing proper. I was congratulated:
Wow, Erika, you have started writing your thesis!
But to say I have a way to go is an understatement.
To put meat on these bare thesis-bones, I have the material from my upgrade report that will give me the basis of my introductory and background chapters. My first paper will form the first research chapter, and the remaining chapters will comprise my subsequent work. With this material in hand, I am not putting pen to completely blank paper. Nonetheless there are numerous gaps to be filled in what I have already written. Results that did not make it into published work will have a place in the thesis, and some additional experiments will link the chapters together.
devoured was inspired by Cath’s account of how she wrote her thesis from scratch in a mere three months (hats off to Cath!). Richard took a similar approach. I digested Athene’s post on the topic from the point of view of someone who has both written (one) and read (several) theses. Advice on thesis-writing can be found on the websites of universities, other organisations, and individuals. The Thesis Whisperer has some helpful tips, and some inspiring posts.
I was glad I had taken Sylvia’s advice when my supervisor requested I bring an outline of my thesis in bullet point form to our next meeting. I was able to return to my skeleton thesis and start adding headings and subheadings to each chapter, with notes where the figures and tables will go. The table of contents now forms a bullet-point outline. This has the effect of breaking the writing task down into sections and sub-sections. I can see where what I have written already is going to fit in, and which gaps I still need to fill.
Now (or soon) is the time to start filling in those gaps. A fellow PhD student and I have discussed the idea of having a `writing day’, devoting one day a week soley to making progress on the thesis. I like the idea of a writing partner, as described in the first vignette on this page. I have seen others using the #shutupandwrite hashtag (HT the aforementioned Thesis Whisperer) or the Pomodoro technique to keep on-task. As you can see, I have a collection of useful tips already in mind. Do you have any more to add?