How to Write a Thesis - SECOND EDITION

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How to Write a Thesis - SECOND EDITION

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In 1995 I wrote a personal statement about my motivation to teach and write about thesis writing. The urge to write this book originated in my own experiences as a student in Scotland, Germany and the USA: As a graduate of a Scottish university I made a deliberate choice to enter a PhD programme in what is often disparagingly referred to as ‘the American system’, as if there were only one system in the USA.

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  1. SECOND SECON D EDITION S E C O N D E D I T I O N Write How to EDITION a Thesis How to How to Write a Thesis provides a down-to- Praise for this edition: Write a Thesis earth guide to help students shape their “This book has filled a huge theses. It offers valuable advice as well as practical tips and techniques, incorporating gap in the market…Using useful boxed summaries and checklists to help wonderful examples, this students stay on track or regain their way. book will not only help The book is the culmination of many years of students build up a writer's work with postgraduates and academics and ‘toolbox’, but will also build covers all aspects of the research, writing and confidence and empower editing involved in the process of successfully completing a thesis. thesis writers.” PROFESSOR WILLIAM J. KERR, In this book, the author moves beyond the Department of Pure and basics of thesis writing, introducing practical Applied Chemistry, WestCHEM, writing techniques such as freewriting, University of Strathclyde generative writing and binge writing. This edition now deals with the range of different doctorates on offer and integrates more Praise for the previous examples of thesis writing. Building on the success of the evidence-based approach used in the first edition, there is also new edition: “Rowena Murray's down to Rowena Murray earth approach both coverage of Masters theses and undergraduate research projects, along with outlines of recognises and relieves useful generic structures for social science some of the agony of Write and humanities projects. writing a PhD. The advice in How to Write a Thesis is the most grounded guide available to students on the practicalities surrounding thesis writing and this book is both practical and motivational; sometimes it's ‘PhD-saving’ Murray How to should be recommended reading for, and by, too.” all supervisors. DR CHRISTINE SINCLAIR, Lecturer in the Centre for a Thesis Rowena Murray is a Reader in the Department of Educational Academic Practice and and Professional Studies at the University of Strathclyde. She has Learning Enhancement at the developed a Thesis Writing course, runs consultancies on Writing University of Strathclyde 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). Cover design Hybert Design •
  2. How to Write a Thesis SECOND EDITION
  3. How to Write a Thesis SECOND EDITION Rowena Murray Open University Press
  4. Open University Press McGraw-Hill Education McGraw-Hill House Shoppenhangers Road Maidenhead Berkshire England SL6 2QL email: world wide web: and Two Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10121-2289, USA First published 2002 Copyright © Rowena Murray 2006 All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purposes of criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher or a licence from the Copyright Licensing Agency Limited. Details of such licences (for reprographic reproduction) may be obtained from the Copyright Licensing Agency Ltd of 90 Tottenham Court Road, London, W1T 4LP. A catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library ISBN-10: 0 335 21968 3 ISBN-13: 978 0 335 21968 1 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data CIP data applied for Typeset by RefineCatch Limited, Bungay, Suffolk Printed in Poland by OZ Graf. S.A.
  5. This book is dedicated to Jimmy Walker And to anyone who’s thinking about writing a thesis out of irrepressible enthusiasm for a subject – do it! Chapter 8 is for Morag.
  6. Contents 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
  7. viii CONTENTS 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
  8. CONTENTS ix 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
  9. x CONTENTS 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 1Take stock 221 Step 2Start writing 222 Step 3Outline your thesis 224 Step 4Make up a programme of writing 227 Step 5Communicate with your supervisor(s) 230 Step 6Outline each chapter 231 Step 7Write 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. CONTENTS xi 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
  11. Preface to the first edition In 1995 I wrote a personal statement about my motivation to teach and write about thesis writing. The urge to write this book originated in my own experiences as a student in Scotland, Germany and the USA: As a graduate of a Scottish university I made a deliberate choice to enter a PhD programme in what is often disparagingly referred to as ‘the American system’, as if there were only one system in the USA. As a ‘graduate student’ in the English Department of the Pennsylvania State University I had the opportunity to take courses, and be examined, on research methods, two foreign languages, a theory course, three years of course work (before starting a thesis, a major piece of original research, on a par with PhD theses in the UK system, a fact which will surprise some academics), with teacher training for higher education, mentoring, observations and evaluations of my own teaching . . . On my return to the UK in 1984, I felt strongly that there was a need, in the UK system, for postgraduate training of some sort. There was also demand for such training among students; when I offered a thesis writing course at Strathclyde University in 1985 it proved very popular . . . we now have a programme of . . . courses for postgraduates. Some faculties and departments now offer customised induction courses for novice researchers . . . So things are improving. Yet writing is still neglected; there is often no writing instruction, creat- ing problems for those students who have never done much writing or, if they have, have not done so on the scale of the PhD. (Lowe and Murray 1995: 78–9) In addition, having read many other books on ‘writing a thesis’, it seemed to me that there was still room for a book that covered the whole writing process. More recent motivation was provided by students in my writers’ groups who demanded that I finish this book in time for them use it. Unfortunately, that was not feasible for all of them, for which, having raised their expectations, I apologize. Fortunately, some were able to read drafts of my chapters and their comments improved this book immensely. For that I thank them sincerely. You have made this a better book. Finally, ‘Will supervisors read this book?’ I cannot count the number of times I was asked this question by those – students and supervisors – who
  12. xiv PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION discussed this book with me and read my draft chapters. The question implies that my exploration of the whole thesis writing process could help super- visors, or, as one student put it, ‘Supervisors need to know this stuff too.’ While this book is targeted at thesis writers, I recommend that supervisors read it too. Throughout the book I identify topics for student–supervisor discussions, in the hope that this will lead to more – and more explicit – discussions of writing. It is my sincere wish that this will improve the experience of thesis writing for both writers and supervisors.
  13. Preface to the second edition In evaluations, unsolicited emails and narratives of their experiences, doctoral and masters students tell me that the first edition helped them get started and complete their theses. For example, one supervisor told me that she knew some students who were writing a ‘page 98 paper’, using prompts in a box on page 98 of the first edition (page 104 in this edition) to draft papers at an early stage in their projects. However, some students and reviewers requested new material, and I have added this for the second edition: new examples of different sections of a thesis and further definition of features of thesis writing. Two important topics covered in Chapter 10 – the examination of the thesis and publishing from the thesis – are retained here, and are covered in more detail in my two other books: How to Survive Your Viva (2003) and Writing for Academic Journals (2005).
  14. Acknowledgements I would like to thank my editors at Open University Press and the reviewers of the first edition. I must also thank those who advised on the first edition: Liz McFarlan, Gilbert MacKay, Graeme Martin, Professor Portwood, Beth McKay, Pavel Albores, Lorna Gillies, Veronica Martinez, Betsy Pudliner and Alan Runcie. Chris Carpenter, Carolyn Choudhary, Ellie Hamilton and Enkhjarkhlan Tseyen gave me important insights for the second edition. Dr Morag Thow provided support, insight and humour.
  15. Overview Different chapters are constructed in different ways: for example, Chapters 1 and 2 are long and discursive, teasing out ambiguities and subtleties in thesis writing, in order to demystify the thesis writing process, while Chapter 8 is much more compact. It lists steps in a concentrated writing process and has checklists and tasks instead of definitions and explanations. It is also more directive in style. The Introduction, ‘How to write 1000 words an hour’, sets out the theory, practice and assumptions that underpin the approaches to writing proposed in this book. Chapter 1 helps you think your way into the thesis writing role. Chapter 2 has strategies to start writing right away: writing before you ‘have something to say’, using freewriting and generative writing. Chapter 3 is about bringing structure to your writing. A thesis has conven- tions you can use to shape and progress your thinking and writing. Chapter 4 marks the first major milestone in writing a thesis: the end of the first phase. Reporting on your work and gauging your progress is the priority at this stage. Chapter 5 has strategies for regular, incremental writing, for getting into the writing habit. A writers’ group is one example. Chapter 6 marks the halfway point in the writing of your thesis: time to move on to drafting chapters. ‘Fear and loathing’ were suggested for the title of Chapter 7 by a student who had recently completed his thesis, because they convey the frustration of constant refinements to text. Selected strategies for revising are provided here. Chapter 8 is either the introduction to the last phase or the condensed version of the whole process, depending on your progress with your thesis. This chapter shows how to pack all the writing into one full-time year or two part-time years. Chapter 9 covers ways of making your thesis ‘good enough’ – knowing it can still be improved – and defining what that means in terms of your thesis. Chapter 10 covers ways of talking about your writing convincingly – during the viva, the examination of your thesis, with suggestions for managing final revisions and publishing from your thesis. These chapters are arranged to guide you through the thesis writing process, from start to finish, but you can use the techniques described
  16. xviii OVERVIEW at different phases of thesis writing. Use the contents page initially to get an overview of the whole process and then strategically to locate writing problems or challenges that you face at any given time.
  17. Introduction: How to write 1000 words an hour The need for this book • What the students say • A writer’s ‘toolbox’ • Principles of academic writing • The literature on writing • Disciplinary differences • Thinking about structure • Prompts • Enabling student writing • Writing in a second language • Grammar, punctuation, spelling • Goal setting • Lifelong learning • Audience and purpose • Timetable for writing • Checklist: defining the writing task The need for this book This introduction unpacks the theories and assumptions that underpin this book. It brings together what might seem to be a disparate collection of topics, all of which can impact on your thesis writing. The aim is to help you under- stand the context for your writing – an important first step in any writing project – and to learn from the literature on academic writing. Although there is abundant research on writing it has not been fully integrated into the research process: . . . what knowledge there is concerning the actual PhD process is scant. (Hockey 1994: 177)
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