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Writing Your Dissertation / Thesis. Andrea Cheshire & Robert Blake. Thanks to Anwen Woodcock & Maki Yasui. Outline. You as a Writer Planning and Preparation Actually Writing Plagiarism Writing Habits Q&A. Getting to know yourself as a writer.

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writing your dissertation thesis

Writing Your Dissertation / Thesis

Andrea Cheshire

& Robert Blake

Thanks to Anwen Woodcock & Maki Yasui

  • You as a Writer
  • Planning and Preparation
  • Actually Writing
  • Plagiarism
  • Writing Habits
  • Q&A


getting to know yourself as a writer
Getting to know yourself as a writer

Part of pre-writing and the early writing stages is realising what kind of writer you are and that writing for many is not a linear process

  • Look at the following slides describing writing types [adapted from Crème & Lea (2003)].
  • Can you classify yourself as one of these types of writer?


getting to know yourself as a writer4
Getting to know yourself as a writer

Can you classify yourself as one of these types of writer?

  • The ‘Diver’ writer
  • The ‘Patchwork’ Writer
  • The ‘Grand Plan’ Writer
  • The ‘Architect’ Writer


getting to know yourself as a writer diver writers
Getting to know yourself as a writer: Diver Writers

Divers leap in and start writing early on, to find out what they want to say.

Divers start anywhere to see what emerges, before working towards a plan


getting to know yourself as a writer patchwork writers
Getting to know yourself as a writer: Patchwork writers

Patchwork writers work on segments (perhaps under headings) quite early in the process, and combine them with linking ideas and words later


getting to know yourself as a writer grand plan writers
Getting to know yourself as a writer: Grand Plan writers

Grand plan writers

read and make notes, and do not write a

plan or much else

until they have an almost complete

picture of the essay ready in their head


getting to know yourself as a writer architect writers
Getting to know yourself as a writer: Architect writers

Architects have a sense of the structure (perhaps before the content) and could produce a complex plan or spider diagram early in the process


getting to know yourself as a writer9
Getting to know yourself as a writer
  • What might be the advantages and disadvantages of these styles?
  • Which way of planning is most like your own?
  • Can you classify yourself as one of these types of writer or as a writer do you mix styles?


planning and preparation
Planning and Preparation
  • Timetables
  • Reading Habits


timetabling your dissertation
Timetabling Your Dissertation
  • Make a wall/Gantt chart. Be realistic. Identify best work times and keep to a daily writing slot
  • Section dissertation/thesis (Bite-size chunks)
  • Familiarise yourself with deadlines and plan accordingly
  • Include time taken for supervisor input (drafts, re-drafts)


good planning research writing
Good Planning- Research & Writing

Look at the following examples of timetables & Gantt charts:

  • dissertation chart *
  • weekly chart*
  • detailed dissertation chart

Which timetables do you find most helpful?

What level of detail do you need?

Would these timetables allow you to keep to schedule?

Examples 1 & 2 from Strathclyde University Useful Learning website


reading habits
Reading Habits
  • Save literature searches
    • Metalib / internet databases
  • Keep up to date with new research
  • Record of reading
    • Index Cards
    • Endnote
    • Journal
    • Other formats*


what to include in your reading record
What to Include in Your Reading Record
  • Date read
  • Complete reference
  • Useful quotes - with page numbers
  • Own opinions
    • What you think of the reading?
    • How it fits in with your own work?
    • Identifying opinions


  • Knowing What to Write
  • Initial Writing Tasks
  • Writing About Existing Research
  • Organising Your Writing
  • Writing Clearly
  • Editing
  • Referencing


knowing what to write
Knowing What to Write
  • Requirements of PhD / MSc
    • Departmental expectations
    • Word count, format etc.
  • Look at previous dissertations/theses
    • Postgraduate secretary
    • Organisation
    • Level of writing
    • Content - how many experiments?
    • Don’t panic!


actually writing
Actually Writing
  • Other sessions in GSSE
  • Initial Writing Tasks
  • Writing about other people’s research
  • Writing about your own research


initial writing tasks
Initial writing tasks

Ideas while reading:

  • Documenting reading
  • Summaries
  • Reading & synthesising background theory
  • Critiques of other research
  • Drafting & revising proposals
  • Logging experiments/pilots/observations
  • Sketching plan of work [Gantt chart etc]
  • Explaining sequence of work [in sentences]
  • Sketching structure of thesis
  • Speculative writing: routes forward in project
  • Design for progress or 1st year report

[MURRAY 2002]


writing prompts in the middle stages to outline your work
Writing prompts in the middle stages to outline your work

What can I write about -the context background

  • My research questions/hypotheses are e.g. [50 words]
  • Researchers who have looked at the subject are [50 words]
  • They argue that….[25 words]
  • Smith argues that ….[25 words]
  • Brown argues that ….[25 words]
  • Debate centres on the issue of ….[25 words]
  • My research is closest to that of X in that ….[25 words]

[slightly adapted from Murray 2002]


why do we bring other scientists into our work
Why do we bring other scientists into our work?
  • To demonstrate to readers and examiners that we are familiar with the field and that we have been selective in reviewing relevant studies
  • To provide an overview of current knowledge in a particular area of application and or/methodology
  • To provide a context for our current study and to locate it within a specific field
  • To review other studies critically
  • To highlight a gap in knowledge, areas of application, etc
  • To justify the use of a particular methodology, area of application, etc
  • To support to data/facts


methods of bringing other writers into our writing
Methods of bringing other writers into our writing:

We can either do this by

  • Rephrasing in our own words & adding an acknowledgement. This can be either through:




This is the norm for most writing in sciences & engineering. It also makes it easier for the writer to comment critically on the source text.

2. Direct quotation & acknowledgement: this method is much less common in science & engineering


citing other writers in the body of your text
Citing other writers in the body of your text :

When you’ve paraphrased or summarised another writer, always acknowledge the source. You can do this in two ways:

1. Begin the sentence with the author’s surname + year of publication in brackets e.g.

Berridge (2002) has demonstrated that statistical analysis can be used …

This method emphasises the author you are citing.

2. Paraphrase the idea, then give the surname of the author + year of publication in brackets e.g.

Statistical analysis can be used to demonstrate… (Berridge 2002)

emphasises the study rather than author and can be used when the focus is on studies in your field.

[See Andy Gillett’s very helpful UEFAP site. Look under citation and reporting http://www.uefap.co.uk/writing/writfram.htm ]


integrating the source into your text
Integrating the source into your text

When reviewing other studies, they need to be integrated into your own text, rather than read as a series of disconnected voices of other researchers [patchwork writing]. So when you refer to another writer, you should begin and end in your own voice, with the middle part consisting of paraphrase or summary of the source and the final part a commentary on the contribution of this writer. However, you will still need to adopt an impersonal scientific style* [See session 1].

Harvey (1998:) outlines 3 basic principles for integrating sources in academic writing:

1. “Use sources as concisely as possibly so your own thinking isn’t crowded out by your presentations of other people’s thinking, or your own voice by your quoting of other people’s voices”

To do this paraphrase is more effective than quotation.


integrating the source into your text28
Integrating the source into your text

2. “Never leave your reader in doubt as to when you are speaking and when you are using materials from a source.”

Part of your responsibility as a scientific writer is to make the source of any data very clear so that it can be verified.

3. “Always make clear how each source you introduce into your paper relates to your argument (analysis)”

It is poor practice to insert quotations or a series of paraphrases without indicating how each source is used. Use paraphrasing [or (sparingly) quotations, for example, to support data, to illustrate a point, to give an opposing view, to evaluate and criticise a point


organising a review of other studies
Organising a review of other studies

Avoid providing a purely narrative account of other studies. The literature review needs to be constructed logically and you’ll need to find a way of grouping studies. Here are some suggestions for doing so:

  • Follow a general- to -specific pattern
  • Chunk studies using a matrix structure, by explaining the overall structure first before examining a particular branch in detail. Tell the reader when you are returning to the main stem of the branch [signposting]
  • Introduce each paragraph with a clear topic sentence (beginning sentence of each paragraph). This should make clear the aspect of literature that is being reviewed and the purpose of that aspect of your review.
  • Each study discussed needs a clear introduction that highlights its purpose or relevance. A possible pattern is:
  • General idea of study
  • Application/relevance
  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • If relevant, relationship with to the present study


reporting other scientists work
Reporting other scientists’ work

One of the most difficult skills for postgraduate students is to develop a critical discussion of other writers' work. Dissertation writers and supervisors have commented on the difficulties of

1] clearly distinguishing their critical voice from that of the authors they are reading

2] indicating their position in relation to the work they are reviewing.

The next slide gives a list of verbs used to report others writers’ ideas.

  • Select 10 of these that would most commonly used in your field
  • Delete verbs that would not be used in your field?
  • Are there verbs you wish to add?


how reporting verbs indicate your position towards the source
How reporting verbs indicate your position towards the source

You can see from the table that selecting a particular verb involves taking a particular position in relation to other scientists’ ideas. We can grade reporting verbs on a scale i.e. from those that show a strong level of agreement to those that indicate a strongly negative stance.

Show can be seen as positive as it reports an observation or finding as a proven fact. At the other end of the scale, claims disassociates the writer from the position of the author cited. This allows the writer to establish a critical perspective and follow with a counterargument.


how reporting verbs indicate your position towards the source33




How reporting verbs indicate your position towards the source

Task Thetable below contains 16 reporting verbs that range from positive to negative. Can you sort these verbs into the categories in table 2?


writing about your own research
Writing About Your Own Research
  • How it is different from writing a paper
    • Length
    • More space for arguments and justification
    • Tell a story over a number of studies
      • Accumulative
    • Demonstrating competence as a researcher
    • Audience?
      • Scholars in area, external examiner, supervisor


organising your writing
Organising Your Writing
  • Overall Plan
    • A paragraph per chapter outlining the key points/arguments
    • How each paragraph links together
    • Can be revised
    • Stick it on your office wall


organising your writing36
Organising Your Writing
  • Chapter plans
    • Experiments
      • Intro, method, results, discussion
    • Other chapters (Dunleavy, 2003)
      • Intro (200-1000 words)
      • 3/4 main sections (2000-2500 words each)
      • Conclusion (200-1000 words)


writing clearly
Writing Clearly
  • Good structure
  • Logical
    • Paragraphs single units of thought
  • Readability
    • Straightforward language
    • Simple grammar
  • Managing readers’ expectations
    • Relevancy / need to know basis


writing not so clearly
Writing Not-So-Clearly
  • Inaccessibility
    • Too much jargon
    • Too parsimonious
    • Long sentences
  • Picking up bad habits


a good paragraph
A Good Paragraph
  • Good length
    • Approx 150 words
  • A ‘topic’ sentence
    • Opening sentence - sets up what the paragraph is about
  • The main body
    • E.g., argument, justification, elaboration or analysis.
  • The ‘wrap’
    • Clear, bottom line message


a good chapter
A Good Chapter
  • Interesting opening
    • High impact
      • Memorable quotation / striking example / problem or paradox
  • Framing text
    • Linking opening to main points in chapter
    • 1 paragraph - 4 pages
  • Effective signposts
    • E.g., First… Second… Finally…


a good chapter41
A Good Chapter
  • Subsections
    • Short headings (punchy, 4-8 words)
    • Framing text
    • Brief conclusions
      • Draw out the main message
  • Chapter conclusions
    • At least 2 paragraphs long
    • Gather key points (use section conclusions)
    • Outline broader issues
    • Point forwards to the next chapter


  • Vital part of writing
  • Accept the fact you have to edit
    • Timetable editing sessions
    • Expect to have to completely rewrite sections
  • Time in between writing and editing
  • Using your supervisor
    • Set up clear deadlines - both ways
    • Ask for clarification


  • Different levels
    • Word level
      • misspellings, grammar mistakes, repetition of words
    • Paragraph level
      • How different sections link to each other
    • Chapter level
      • Can your argument be strengthened?
      • Can your links to previous research be strengthened?
  • Use of external sources
    • Conferences, reading groups, publications


  • Some questions to guide editing…
    • Is the chapter structure good?
    • Are the subheadings appropriate?
    • Is the argument clear and logical?
    • Are your paragraphs linked to each other?
    • Does each sentence say what you want it to?
    • Are there any sentences out of place?
    • Is the language appropriate?



References should be listed alphabetically or numerically depending on the conventions adopted by your department. Double check that you have listed all the works you have used in the text.

Some departments specify the style of a particular journal. See your postgrad handbook or website for format e.g.

ES dissertation referencing guidelines:



citation referring to other writers in the main body of your work
Citation- referring to other writers in the main body of your work

If you are using the author –year system in the main body of the text, use the name and dateform e.g.

  ... the texture of rock buns is akin to that of gabbro (Beaton, 1834), although Craddock (1975) has argued that they are nearer to diorite, and examples of Diserens et al. (1979) have been widely likened to peridotite ..


citation web referencing
Citation-Web Referencing

Do not include URLs in the text! Simply give the author/body and date as with the citation convention detailed previously e.g.

…Two different Fluxnet (Baldocchi et al. 2001b) deciduous forest sites have been chosen for the illustration of the model development: Harvard Forest, Massachusetts (HF, 1994-1999, Wosfy & Munger 2003) and University of Michigan Biological Station, Michigan (UMBS, 1999-2001, Curtis 2003, Schmidt et al. 2003)…


web references in the reference list author year system
Web references in the reference list [author- year system]

Curtis, P.S. (2003) UMBS Forest Carbon Cycle Research. UMBS research. Ameriflux network. UMBS data access. http://cdiac.esd.ornl.gov/ftp/ameriflux/data/us-sites/preliminary-data/UMBS (data accessed on February 14, 2003)

Wofsy, S.C., Munger, J.W. (2003) Harvard University. Atmospheric Sciences. Forest and Atmospheric Measurements. Data exchange. NIGEC data archive. http://www-as.harvard.edu/data/nigec-data.html (accessed on June 23, 2003)


referencing further guidelines
Referencing: further guidelines
  • Keep an accurate record of all reading using a card index system or Endnote 9 + in your research journal
  • Check if a style manual or a particular journal is used as a model for citation & referencing in your department
  • The UEFAP website provides a good introduction to citation, referencing, paraphrase & summary with exercises


Try also http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/research/r_paraphr.html



Plagiarism means using other writers’ ideas, words or frameworks without acknowledgement.

It means that you are falsely claiming that the work is your own.

This can range from deliberate plagiarism such copying whole papers, paragraphs, sentences or phrases without acknowledgement to splicing phrases from other writers into your work without acknowledgement.


what are the limits of plagiarism
What are the limits of plagiarism?

From Purdue University http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/research/r_plagiar.html


what are the limits of plagiarism52
What are the limits of plagiarism?
  • Copying a paragraph verbatim from a source without any acknowledgement.
  • Copying a paragraph & making small changes - e.g. replacing a few verbs, replacing an adjective with a synonym; acknowledgement in the bibliography.
  • Cutting and pasting a paragraph by using sentences of the original but omitting one or two and putting one or two in a different order, no quotation marks; with an in-text acknowledgement plus bibliography.
  • Composing a paragraph by taking short phrases from a number of sources & putting them together using words of your own to make a coherent whole with an in-text acknowledgement + bibliography.
  • Paraphrasing a paragraph by rewriting with substantial changes in language & organisation; the new version will also have changes in the amount of detail used & the examples cited; citing in bibliography.
  • Quoting a paragraph by placing it in block format with the source cited in text & bibliography.[Carroll J. 2000 Teaching News November, 2000. Based on an exercise in Academic Writing for Graduate Students by Swales and Feak, University of Michigan, 1993] on http://www.ilt.ac.uk/resources/Jcarroll.htm Accessed 12/05/2003


writing habits
Writing Habits
  • Regular writing sessions - daily?
  • Writing location
    • Office vs home vs library vs other
  • Writing times
    • When?
    • For how long?
  • Reference as you are going along!


potential problems
Potential Problems
  • Worried about feedback
  • Bored and tired
  • Lack of momentum
  • Hard
  • Lack of rewards
  • Too high expectations
  • Size
  • Other pressures on your time


how to overcome problems
How to overcome problems
  • Just do something…
  • Talk through problems with supervisor
  • Have a break from writing
  • Set manageable goals


sources of help
Sources of Help
  • Thesis in Progress
    • http://www.lancs.ac.uk/depts/celt/sldc/courses/tip.htm
  • Student Support
  • Reading/Research Groups
  • Seminars and Conferences
  • Internet
  • Books…


some recommended books
Some Recommended Books
  • Dunleavey, P. (2003). Authoring a PhD
  • Murray, R. (2002) How to Write a Thesis.
  • Sternberg, R. (2000). Guide to Publishing in Psychology Journals.


next week
Next week
  • Alistair Hetherington on Writing Grant Proposals
  • Analysis of past dissertations/theses-please read one and look at the questions before next week’s session


good luck
Good Luck!
  • Robert Blake
    • r.blake@lancaster.ac.uk
  • Andrea Cheshire
    • a.cheshire@lancaster.ac.uk

Any questions?