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Thesis Writing

Writing a Thesis

Your thesis/dissertation is not the end of your study but your first piece of significant academic work. Completing it is both a contribution to new knowledge AND a learning process for you. What you learn about research and writing will outlive the relevance of the content. You can start by breaking the task of producing a thesis/dissertation into manageable “chunks”. This section addresses many of the challenges you will face along the way.


Challenge 1 – getting started

Find out what you are expected to do by:

  • Attending department based orientation and technical programs
  • Read course handbooks
  • Read the Graduate Students Office guidelines
  • Books and websites on dissertation writing
  • Look for previous dissertations in the library

Challenge 2 – managing your writing

Set up your dissertation files – a separate file for each section (See session on “Planning thesis production using MS Word”)

  • Cover page – see your handbook
  • Formalities – see Graduate Studies Office's guidelines
  • References/bibliography
  • Appendices
  • Key words
  • Abstract
  • List of Tables and Figures
  • Ethics statement
  • Statement of original authorship
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of contents

Chapters (one file each)

  • Chapter 1. Introduction and overview
  • Chapter 2. Literature review
  • Chapter 3. Research question
  • Chapter 4. Methodology
  • Chapter 5. Results
  • Chapter 6. Discussion
  • Chapter 7. Summary and conclusions

Challenge 3. - Free up headspace

  • Write down everything you can so that you do not need to keep it in short term memory
  • Do not write sequentially and be prepared to leave gaps
  • Recycle
  • Copy and paste into the appropriate chapter any material you have already written including preliminary reference sections or bibliographies (see sessions on EndNote)
  • Set up a “recycle” file. Do not delete any paragraph you write.  Save it because you may be able to reuse it somewhere else.

Structure each chapter

  • Tell ‘em what you’r goin to tell ‘em (8)
  • Tell ‘em (2)
  • Tell ‘em what you told ‘em (6)
- Mark Twain

E.g. Chapter 1

  • Introduction
  • What the thesis is about (write now)
  • What the chapters say (write after they are written)
  • Summary and conclusion and
  • Why the research is important (write anytime you work this out)

Challenge 4. – figuring out what your thesis is about

  • Free up headspace then focus specifically on your research question and write it down
  • Use research seminars, study groups, conferences and peers to get feedback on your idea
  • Make sure it is expressed in terms that your peers can understand
  • Discuss the refined statement with your supervisor and reach agreement as early in the process as possible

Challenge 5. – planning and management

  • Identify the tasks that need to be done to complete each chapter
  • Estimate how long each task will take
  • Use planning tools such as Gantt Charts to establish important sequences
  • Enter start dates, milestones and completion dates in your diary
  • Review and revise regularly
  • Hopelessly inaccurate estimates are much more efficient than no estimates at all

Challenge 6. – managing content AND process


  • Set task targets with your supervisor
  • Make maximum use the library and resources (see library sessions)
  • Get your material reviewed by peers (seminars, conferences)
  • Make contact with people doing similar research (network)


  • Staying motivated
  • Rewards for progress
  • Graph your word-count (chapters and refs only)
  • Keep a journal of your progress recording how you solved problems and overcame difficulties
  • Manage social support
  • Keep your sense of humour
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more about Theses
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Thesis Writing

Essay Writing Video
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Postgraduate Study References

This handout provides some follow-up references on Postgraduate Study.

Download: Postgraduate Study References.doc - (MS Word 36kb)

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Thesis Structure

A generic structure for theses.

Download: Thesis Structure.doc - (MS Word 23kb)

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A guide on using outlining to help with your writing.

Download: Outlining.doc - (MS Word 28kb)

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Thesis Writing Presentation

Our PowerPoint presentation from Thesis Writing workshop.

Download: Thesis Writing.ppt - (MS PowerPoint 193kb)

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Dissertation Planner

Download:Dissertation Planners.xls - (MS Excel 26kb)

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Last updated 9 April 2018 by Student Learning Development (Email) .