Tag Archives: Thesis

Are You Struggling With Your Writing?

Computer-Frustration-Cartoon-2‘How do I write an introduction?’

‘What do I put in my conclusions?

‘How do I manage to keep on track when I feel I have completely lost my motivation?’

‘My submission deadline is approaching fast but I still haven’t completed my thesis and I’m now panicking. What can I do?’

‘How do I decide what to reference in my text?’

These are just some of the questions that I get asked all the time.

Do you relate with any of these? If so, don’t miss my FREE Webinar:

‘How to Write Your PhD Thesis, Proposal, or Research Paper in 5 Easy Steps That Will Save You Time, Stress, and Sleepless Nights’

In this webinar, I’ll be sharing:

  • The single most important thing to get right in your thesis, proposal or research paper
  • My top 3 tips for productive and effective writing
  • The worst mistake you can make and how to avoid it
  • My proven 5-step approach to writing that will help you enjoy it and become more confident

Interested? Then, make sure you register now as spaces are limited and they are filling up quickly.
http://www.handsonwriting.com/webinar

After the webinar, I’m also going to open up registrations to my online course ‘Hands on Writing: How to Master Academic Writing (in the Sciences)’ where I teach the very same strategy that I now use for my own writing and when supervising my PhD students.

And… I’ll be telling you about some juicy bonuses on how to avoid procrastination, stay on track, enjoy a great work-life balance so you can feel confident and in charge again.

I’ll tell you more at the webinar, so just make sure you do not miss it! 🙂

Here is the link again:
http://www.handsonwriting.com/webinar

How to Master Academic Writing in the Sciences

Ok, this is an announcement more than a post.

writing

But first…

…did you know that only 2% of academics have ever undertaken any formal training in academic writing [1]?

This is amazing when you consider how critical it is for academics to be able to write well. Think about a PhD thesis. Or a research paper. Or a proposal to obtain research time at some international facility (a major lab or a big telescope). Or even a grant application. Or a job at a prestigious university.

Your chances of being successful at any of these hinges greatly on one simple factor: How well you can write!

Sadly, most PhD students (and, dare I say, academics!) are expected to (magically!) master academic writing with very little guidance, almost by osmosis. Of course, there is much you can learn by trial and error and by attempting to emulate the work of the masters. But this is a lengthy, inefficient, and serendipitous path to take. And one that does not guarantee success either! (Do you really want to find out how to write a good job application by trial and error?)

Far better is to understand what makes for good writing, to learn the dos and don’ts of academic discourse, and to follow some simple strategies that can massively improve the quality of your writing. Then, you realise that scientific academic writing is a craft. And one that you can learn!

Yes, I know. There are hundreds of books out there, which could teach you how to write successfully in academia. And actually many of them are really great.

But here is the problem. Do you actually ever read them? I suspect, your answer is no.

And if you do, have you ever wished you could get in touch with the author to ask any question you may have? If that’s the case, then here is my announcement for you:

I have developed a stepbystep programme specifically designed to take you through the process of academic writing, at your own pace, but with my support.

Interested? Then, have a look at

Hands on Writing: How to Master Academic Writing in the Sciences.

In this course, I will share with you some simple tools and techniques that I regularly use in my own writing and that have proved helpful to many students already.

Whether you are working at your PhD thesis or a research paper, this course will provide you with an easy-to-follow framework to become a more effective, confident and productive writer.

And even if you are not in a scientific discipline, you can still benefit from plenty of very general strategies and tips to help you improve on your skills.

Now, here is the important bit!

The course will go live online for the first time on November 4th and then registration will be over until next year.

And because this is the course debut, I’m going to offer it at a very special price for this time only.

So, now is the time to take action. Click here to register.

But hurry up! This offer expires on Sunday, November 3rd.

PS Oh, and if you think that this post may be relevant to someone you know, please be so kind to pass it on.

[1] Source: Helen Sword, Author of Stylish Academic Writing, Harvard University Press (2012)

City Maps and Theses Layouts

If you have been travelling to some new place this summer, chances are you will have planned your route before setting off and will have studied the map carefully to find out how to get there. If your destination was a city you had never visited before, you will have explored the city’s map to get a feeling of its layout. How do you get to the city centre? Where are its most important monuments located? How to find that famous restaurant? Most of this information will be in your map and you’ll need it if you want to avoid feeling lost.

The same holds true for any piece of writing. When you hold a thesis or a report in your hands, what you want to get at first is a sense of orientation, a bigger picture. What is the report about? Why should I read it? What can I expect to find in it? You need a map to show you how to get to its core, how to figure out what its most important conclusions are, and how to retrieve any key references cited throughout.  Without a proper map to indicate you where to go, you will soon feel lost and unsure about what you are doing in there (metaphorically speaking, of course).

So, now, imagine you are a writer. What do you think your readers will expect? That’s right! They’ll want a map. So, how do you provide one? There are various things you can do. Here are just some ideas:

  • Include a Table of Content. Whether your script is a 6-page document or a 150-page PhD thesis, a ToC will be extremely useful to see at once where to find what.
  • Use sections and sub-sections. These do not have to be pages and pages long. It is enough to make sure they have a core message that justifies a dedicated section or sub-section to it.
  • Choose titles wisely. Ideally, short is better, but there is no point in having something like “Introduction”, “Methods”, “Data Analysis”, or similar even if this is precisely what the sections/chapters are about. Use titles that are more specific to the content they refer to and make them more interesting and engaging to your reader.
  • Highlight key concepts, as appropriate. Here you are spoilt for choice: underline, use bold typeface, frame in boxes,

centre,

     basically anything that makes the concept stand out.

  • Spell out the conclusions of what you have been presenting thus far. Again, this can be achieved visually by using a stand-alone paragraph, maybe in italics and possibly preceded by its obvious signpost conclusions:
  • Does your investigation still leave open questions? Group them all in an outstanding issues paragraph.
  • Use pictures, plots, graphs, and tables wherever possible and make sure they are clear and informative and can stand alone (without your reader having to go through the entire text to find out what they are about).

By now, the bottom line of this post should be clear:

Do everything you can to make sure your reader does not have to think too much or look too hard to find out the information he is after.

Ultimately, if he likes the place and knows how to get there, chances are (s)he’ll come back for more.

What elements do you use to map out your writing? Leave a reply and share with us.

How to Keep on Top of Your Writing and Reading Activities

If you follow PhD-related topics on Twitter, you may have already come across the #phdchat forum, founded and moderated by Nasima Riazat. In the forum, a topic previously chosen through a poll is discussed “live” every Wednesday (7.30pm-8.30pm BST) as a Twitter chat. Some time ago, the question on “How to keep on top of your writing and reading activities” came up as one of the popular “problems” faced by PhD students. In fact, I would argue that this can be challenging for established academics as well. Luckily, becoming a better writer and a more careful reader gets easier with time and practice.

If you are also struggling to keep up with the literature search for your PhD thesis or if you are losing track of all the papers you are reading for your Review Article, here is a simple yet effective way to manage your reading and help you with your writing.

The first thing to do is to create a template file with the following fields: title, authors and journal (for easier retrieval later on); nature of the paper (theoretical, computational, experimental); aim of the work; why was the study undertaken (i.e. importance in the wider context); method used for data taking; method used for data analysis; key findings of the study; implications for the wider context; limitations of the study; conclusions and outlook. Of course you can pick and choose the fields that are more relevant or modify them to suit the specific needs of your subject.

Then, every time you read a paper, just fill in the relevant information in the appropriate field. You can do so by hand, or on a computer, depending on your preferred learning style (I typically prefer to take my notes by hand when reading a journal article). Also, you can fill in the form as you read the paper (my recommended option), or you can do so at the end. Whatever you chose, make sure that you:

1) Do not spend too much time on doing this activity. A few minutes should be enough. If you spend any longer, you will soon lose interest and motivation and will not see this exercise as worthwhile. Remember too that things will get easier with some practice.

2) Record only key pieces of information (bullet points are perfectly fine). The purpose of the exercise is not making a summary of the article you are reading, nor to transcribe all of its details. Simply aim at notes that are factually correct and do now worry about style.

3) Do not exceed two A4 sides. This should be plenty to record the key aspects of the paper. It is also a good length to provide a quick overview of what the paper is all about.

Once finished, attach your filled-in form to the paper and store in a folder.

With a bit of practice, this activity will become very natural to you every time you read  an article relevant to your writing project. As a result, you will become a better reader because you will:

  • focus on the key issues
  • extract critical information quickly and effectively
  • retrieve relevant info from papers easily, even months after you first read them.

In addition, this activity will help you becoming a better writer too, because you will more easily:

  • compare and contrast different papers, methods, and results
  • spot and highlight possible discrepancies in the current state of the art
  • organise your literature review.

I hope this is useful and just in case you think preparing a template is too much of a hassle here is one for you to download: Paper Annotation Tool-Sheet.

Happy reading!