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Tips for writers: structuring your PhD dissertation

There is an old piece of advice that keeping things simple is often the best way to go. As a tertiary student and one tackling the highest level of academic achievement, the writing of a PhD dissertation, you will have experienced a great many times the writing of a fundamental essay. One outstanding piece of advice in structuring your PhD is that you remember the structure of those simple basic essays which you did way back in your high school years.

The structure of any piece of writing should rely upon tested and proven methods of operation. The people who have successfully completed a thesis will have used the tried and tested methods. They most certainly have not tried to reinvent the wheel. Your first piece of advice is to keep things simple. Your second tip is to stick with what is known. You can win a prize by writing a dissertation which uses a sound structure. You won’t a prize for trying something untried and unproven.

What is the structure that works?

You will have the benefit of dealing with a supervisor who themselves has not only created a dissertation as part of their student activities but will also have worked with a number of budding PhD writers just like yourself. Call upon that experience. Learn from those in the know.

You will spend time researching the topic for your thesis and you will discuss a number of possibilities with your supervisor. Getting the right topic is obviously important and once it has been chosen setting up the structure is your next step.

Work in stages

You will never choose a topic and then go away returning six months or a year later and handing the first draft of your dissertation to your supervisor. It never works that way. You have to learn to work in stages. With the topic in mind you will create a plan. This will include the structure of your essay which will include the technical aspects such as the synopsis or introduction, the main points which will be included in each section of the thesis, obviously the question to be answered, the list of research material you will have referred to throughout your thesis as well as the summary or conclusion. It’s a standard formula.

This will simply represent the bones or framework of what you are to write. You will not write until the first stage of your structure has been completed and approved by your supervisor. It is such an onerous and time-consuming task. Proceeding with care or as some would say, hastening slowly, you allow the structure to remain in place as you build around it.

The writing itself

This is a task in itself and requires your ability to write fluently and without ambiguity and certainly without repetition. And your writing is something you need to edit, to check and refine as you go along and certainly once you finish the first draft. But the writing itself is created by the structure. Because you have a detailed plan with appropriate subheadings and points to be made within each section, it is easy to see that you are on track and on time. Regular meetings with your supervisor will confirm this situation.

Remember!

“If you learn nothing at all about the creation of your PhD dissertation, you should understand that the structure of the work is the key to your success. Get that right and everything else flows from it. It sounds simple and straightforward and that’s because it is. Unknown numbers of PhD students have followed this procedure for generations.”

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