7 weeks till thesis hand in- words words and more words!

This week I achieved one of my goals!!!!!

My methods chapter is finally written which is fantastic.

However finishing the methods pushed my word count up to an astonishing 97,000! Super close to the 100,000 word limit.

This really stressed me out.

I already knew I needed to edit a lot but knowing the word count was that high really hindered my ability to continue writing the introduction chapter. As I couldn’t focus because I was anxious about all the extra words I was generating.

People always tell me that editing is easier than generating words but I’m not so sure anymore. I attempted some editing and found it pretty painstaking and time consuming.

The problem is finding the right words to cut. I think I find editing hard as when dealing with a long document such as this you need to keep an overview of the whole document in your head to be able to edit it. So you need a good memory to be able to remember if you have already introduced this concept in chapter x otherwise in my case it requires a lot of flicking around the documents.

Another point is I did not write my results chapters in order which I now regret. I think writing the first results chapter first etc automatically controls your writing so you know to be more detailed in this chapter then you can reference that section later in the following chapters.

Still plenty of work for the next 7 weeks to get this thesis in the best shape it can be,  I’m sure I will have developed ruthless editing skills by the end of the process! But the aim this coming week is to finish my introduction chapter.

My advice

Write your results chapter in the order they will be presented in your thesis so that the level of detail is appropriate and to reduce repetition

Work out the maximum length of a chapter at the start (e.g goal 90,000 words with 6 chapters each chapter should be approx 15,000). Then when first writing the chapter look at the word count if you are massively over 15,000 do the editing at the time as you have a better sense of what can be lost as you just wrote it.

Think carefully about how to present data. I chose a way that I though would separate my results out clearly making it easier to discuss. However I have found that in the end this has actually resulted in a lot of repetition and wish now that I had grouped results together to reduce the words needed to introduce the data.

Plan your thesis outline carefully. I had a plan but listened to the ‘just write it’ advice out there. This is great advice if you are procrastinating or really delaying the start of your write up out of dread but I think there is a lot to be said for making a really good plan before you jump into writing. As this process is going to take the average student between 3 to 6 months  it’s better to have a well thought out path. If possible discuss this plan with a post doc or ex PhD student who has recently graduated as they might be able to provide extra insight.

Live with the thesis you have! Of the few people who choose to do PhDs most will only ever do 1- This means you will write a total of 1 thesis in your lifetime and this will be your first experience of writing a properly long document. Of course you would do things differently next time- but there will never be a next time!!!! So relax about the way your thesis is turning out.

Another big event this week: My friend did an excellent job and passed her viva!! The lab won’t be the same without her, I’m sure she will achieve everything she puts her mind to in her post PhD life.

hannah unicorn





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