How to Write a Thesis

How to Write a Thesis 


Rowena Murray 

Open University Press

Praise for this edition:

 “This book has filled a huge gap in the market…Using wonderful examples, this book will not only help students build up a writer's ‘toolbox’, but will also build confidence and empower thesis writers.”

PROFESSOR WILLIAM J. KERR, Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry, WestCHEM, University of Strathclyde Praise for the previous edition:

“Rowena Murray's down to earth approach both recognises and relieves some of the agony of writing a PhD. The advice in this book is both practical and motivational; sometimes it's ‘PhD-saving’ too.”

DR CHRISTINE SINCLAIR, Lecturer in the Centre for Academic Practice and Learning Enhancement at the University of Strathclyde

  How to Write a Thesis provides a down-toearth guide to help students shape their theses. It offers valuable advice as well as practical tips and techniques, incorporating useful boxed summaries and checklists to help students stay on track or regain their way. The book is the culmination of many years of work with postgraduates and academics and covers all aspects of the research, writing and editing involved in the process of successfully completing a thesis. In this book, the author moves beyond the basics of thesis writing, introducing practical writing techniques such as freewriting, generative writing and binge writing. This edition now deals with the range of different doctorates on offer and integrates more examples of thesis writing. Building on the success of the evidence-based approach used in the first edition, there is also new coverage of Masters theses and undergraduate research projects, along with outlines of useful generic structures for social science and humanities projects. How to Write a Thesis is the most grounded guide available to students on the practicalities surrounding thesis writing and should be recommended reading for, and by, all supervisors. Rowena Murray is a Reader in the Department of Educational and Professional Studies at the University of Strathclyde. She has developed a Thesis Writing course, runs consultancies on Writing for Publication, and has published books on many aspects of academic writing. She is also the author of How to Survive your Viva (Open University Press 2003) and Writing for Academic Journals (Open University Press 2004).


Preface to the first edition xiii
Preface to the second edition xv
Acknowledgements xvi
Overview xvii

Introduction: How to write 1000 words an hour 1
The need for this book 1
What the students say 3
A writer’s ‘toolbox’ 5
Principles of academic writing 11
The literature on writing 12
Disciplinary differences 14
Thinking about structure 18
Prompts 19
Enabling student writing 20
Writing in a second language 21
Grammar, punctuation, spelling 22
Goal setting 24
Lifelong learning 27
Audience and purpose 29
Timetable for writing 29
Checklist: defining the writing task 30

1 Thinking about writing a thesis 31
Doctorate or masters? 31
What is a doctorate? 32
New routes to the PhD 35
Why are you doing a doctorate? 36
Internal and external drivers 37
PhD or professional doctorate? 38
Full-time or part-time? 41
What will you use writing for? 42
Regulations 43
How will it look on the page? 46
Demystification: codes and guides 47
How will my thesis be assessed? 53
What are the criteria? 54
Defining ‘originality’ 58
What is the reader looking for? 60
IT processes and needs 64
Reasons for not writing 67
Peer discussion and support 67
Your first meeting with your supervisor 68
Questions for reflection 70
Prompts for discussion 70
Writing timetable 70
Checklist: pre-planning 72

2 Starting to write 73
Can’t it wait till later? 74
Audiences and purposes 75
Primary audience 75
Secondary audience 76
Immediate audience 77
The role of the supervisor 78
A common language for talking about writing 82
Writing to prompts 86
Freewriting 87
Generative writing 99
Checklist: starting to write 102

3 Seeking structure 103
Revising your proposal 104
Outlining 105
Finding a thesis 107
Writing a literature review 108
Plagiarism 121
Designing a thesis 123
‘Writing in layers’ 125
Writing locations 127
Writing times 128
Checklist: seeking structure 129

4 The first milestone 130
First writing milestone 131
The first-year report 131
From notes to draft 132
Dialogue 135
Monitoring 137
Pressure 138
What is progress? 139
Work-in-progress writing 140
A writers’ group 147
Checklist: the first milestone 154

5 Becoming a serial writer 155
What is a serial writer? 156
Scaffolding for an argument 157
Paragraph structure 157
Introductory paragraphs 161
Writing about the method(s) 163
Study buddy 165
Regular writing 166
Problems with writing 167
Writer’s block 168
Incremental writing 176
Writing binges 176
Developing a writing strategy 178
Checklist: becoming a serial writer 179

6 Creating closure 180
What is closure? 180
Interim closure 182
Don’t put it off any longer 183
Research journal 184
Writing habits 190
Halfway point 192
Brown’s eight questions 194
Pulling it all together 196
A design for writing 197
Frustration 197
Writing conclusions 198
Checklist: creating closure 203
7 Fear and loathing: revising 204
Why ‘fear and loathing?’ 205
Repetition 206
Forecasting 207
Signalling 208
Signposting 209
Conceptualizing and reconceptualizing 209
Managing your editor 212
End of the second phase 215
Look back to the proposal 215
Checklist: revising 216

8 It is never too late to start 217
Step 1 Take stock 221
Step 2 Start writing 222
Step 3 Outline your thesis 224
Step 4 Make up a programme of writing 227
Step 5 Communicate with your supervisor(s) 230
Step 6 Outline each chapter 231
Step 7 Write regularly 232
Does the fast-track mode work? 233
Step 8 Revise 234
Step 9 Pull it all together 235
Step 10 Do final tasks 235

9 The last 385 yards 237
The marathon 238
‘Done-ness is all’ 239
Concentrated writing phase 239
Well-being 240
Peer support 241
Discussion chapter 242
New goal 243
Style tips 244
Finishing 245
Enough is enough 245
It is good enough 247
You have made a contribution 248
Convince your reader 248
‘Polish’ the text 249
Motivation 250
Presentation of final copy 250
Timetable for writing 251
Checklist: polishing 253
10 After the thesis examination: more writing? 254
More writing? 256
What is a viva? 256
Pre-viva 261
Defining tasks 263
Talking about your writing 265
Practice 267
Anticipate the questions 268
Mock viva 273
Fear 273
The external examiner 275
During the viva 277
Post-viva 281
Endurance 282
Revisions and corrections 282
Anti-climax 283
Is there life after a thesis? 283
Was it really worth it? 284
Recovering 284
Getting your thesis published 285
Audience and purpose (again) 285
Looking for topics 288
The end 289
Checklist: before and after the viva 289

Bibliography 291

Index 299

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