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About this book

This friendly guide is packed with practical, succinct advice on the core processes involved in making the final push to successfully finishing a thesis and preparing for life after submission. It contains comprehensive guidance on writing for others, presenting research, networking and preparing for the viva. Hands-on workshop activities keep students engaged and help them to develop a positive approach to overcoming hurdles.

This is an indispensable guide for PhD students of all disciplines. It is also an ideal companion to Planning Your PhD.

Table of Contents

The Road to Completion

Frontmatter

1. The shape of the PhD project

Abstract
Every researcher’s journey is unique. There is, nevertheless, a common core to the shape of a research project — something like this:
The first loop of the process — the literature review, or context for practice in practice-based PhDs — is the powerhouse for the PhD. You are getting to grips with what’s out there, what is already known, how this is conceptualised and the different approaches used in related research. All the time you will be refining and refocusing your research question, until it sits in the gap in knowledge, is the right size, is researchable.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt-Brown, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

2. Managing the PhD

Abstract
A PhD is a big project to undertake, and to achieve it you need to put time and energy into managing it. At any given point you need to have a plan to manage your:
  • ◗ time
  • ◗ tasks, great and small
  • ◗ resources.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt-Brown, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

3. Looking ahead to completion

Abstract
It is worth pausing for a moment to look ahead to the finish, to allow the format of your final submission to influence what you do now.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt-Brown, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

4. Making a contribution

Abstract
This is what it’s all about, surely? Why else would you spend 3+ years of your life working to place a small brick into the gap in knowledge you identified? Think back to what motivated you to undertake this research. It will drive you through justifying your research, to the eventual contribution you make.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt-Brown, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

Writing and Publication

Frontmatter

5. Why write?

Abstract
A lot of what you write will be read by no one but yourself. Booth, Columb and Williams (1995) propose three reasons for researchers to write for themselves:
  • ◗ write to remember
  • ◗ write to understand
  • ◗ write to gain perspective (pp. 8–9).
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt-Brown, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

6. Writing for others

Abstract
It helps you to write well when you know who you are writing for. Not having a particular reader in mind makes it harder to write. Fix your actual reader clearly in your mind, and write for them. If you are writing for a wider audience, create a kaleidoscope of potential readers in your mind (pick out a few individuals from a room of conference participants, practitioners, fellow researchers), and imagine each one reading what you are writing. Don’t assume that they know the subject area in the way you do — you need to make explicit the premises or assumptions on which you base your work. Now write!
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt-Brown, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

7. Writing to publish

Abstract
Publication is the primary means by which your research becomes known in the field: it is how you make your contribution to ‘the literature’. Because of this, publication has become the proxy by which you and your work are judged for a whole range of purposes, the narrow neck of the bottle to academic success.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt-Brown, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

Writing Your Thesis

Frontmatter

8. The examiner and the exam document

Abstract
Yes, your thesis is first and foremost an exam document. Your preparation of the thesis needs to be geared to meeting — hopefully exceeding — the expectations of your examiner. So …
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt-Brown, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

9. Planning your chapters

Abstract
There are, of course, infinite variations on this theme, but it’s a good place to start … Discuss chapter structure with your supervisory team as soon as you start thinking about it. Conventions about chapter structure are there for a reason — they are tried and tested ways of presenting argument and evidence in your field. There is no point in alienating your examiners on the first page.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt-Brown, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

10. Writing for the examiners

Abstract
First, the examiner wants to get an overview of your argument and of your skill as an author. Before reading the thesis from start to finish, they turn the pages …
  • ◗ Preliminaries including abstract
  • ◗ Introduction
  • ◗ Conclusion: Is it consistent? Joined at the hip to the introduction?
  • ◗ Methodology, to see your structure, your approach — where it came from and where it goes.
  • ◗ References — to get an impression of the range and depth of your research. They will, of course, look to see if you have cited their work appropriately and accurately.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt-Brown, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

11. The introduction and conclusion

Abstract
These two chapters are the key elements in the craft of constructing a thesis. The introduction is presented first but is written — or at least revised — last, when you know exactly what you are introducing. The conclusion is written after all the other chapters — most probably immediately before you write the introduction. In this way you know that your promise of what lies ahead (in the introduction) is indeed fulfilled (in the conclusion), and conversely, that the point you arrive at in the conclusion is indeed a logical progression from the introduction.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt-Brown, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

12. Become an editor!

Abstract
There comes a point when you take off your writing hat, and become an editor …
  • ◗ Do your sums. How many words do you have for each chapter? The introduction and conclusion will be a bit shorter. What is left to divide between the rest?
  • ◗ Do you really need that quotation/example/cameo in your text or can you simply reference it?
  • ◗ Does the chapter need a radical reshape? To be divided into two?
  • ◗ Check your tenses — do not write in the future tense. Especially check ‘cut and pasted’ material from previous drafts of your methodology. This is now ‘what you did’ — use the past tense.
  • ◗ Be ruthless, but make sure nothing is lost! Cut and paste the deleted text into another document and save it as ‘Cuts to x version y’.
  • ◗ Date all files and keep copies of earlier drafts until your final write-up.
  • ◗ If you can remove a word from a sentence without changing the meaning, take it out. And, crucially, have you cited your external examiner’s work? They will go straight to your bibliography/references to see whether your citation is relevant and accurate — it may act as a proxy for your thoroughness throughout.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt-Brown, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

13. Final stages

Abstract
As you reach the final stages of your PhD, you will need to answer some important questions:
  • ◗ Will I be able to complete a final draft by the deadline agreed with my supervisors?
  • ◗ If so, will this draft be good enough to submit for examination?
  • ◗ If not, can I extend my deadline?
  • ◗ And if I do this, what will the impact be on my funding/finances/career plans/life plans?
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt-Brown, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

Talking and Presenting

Frontmatter

14. Talking about your research

Abstract
Explaining your research to non-experts — to family and friends and people you encounter day to day — is hard. You have to find a way to describe difficult concepts in plain language. This helps to crystallise your thoughts and strip away the jargon to get back to the essence of your research questions and your findings. Get talking — it keeps you in touch with people!
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt-Brown, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

15. Conferences

Abstract
The true test of your argument will happen when you take it to audiences beyond the safety of your university. Conferences are an essential step to becoming a well-rounded academic, and provide vital networking opportunities, so select your conferences carefully.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt-Brown, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

16. Presenting a conference paper

Abstract
Fifteen to 20 minutes is the usual time given to present your work, and then the Chair of the session will ask the audience for questions. This is the most nerve-wracking aspect of conference presentations. Yet, it is also potentially the most valuable: you get new insights into your work and it is good practice both for defending your ideas and for taking advice from others.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt-Brown, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

17. Presenting a poster

Abstract
An alternative to presenting a paper is to give a poster presentation. Sometimes you may be invited to give a short presentation based on your poster.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt-Brown, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

The Oral Examination: The Viva

Frontmatter

18. The examiner and the examiners’ report

Abstract
Whether held in public or private, the viva will follow a pattern. It is the examiners’ job to encourage you to demonstrate and defend your work, ideas and thesis.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt-Brown, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

19. Preparing for the viva

Abstract
Find out when your viva will be. Typically it will be 2 to 3 months after submission of your thesis, but it is alarmingly dependent on the circumstances of the individual examiner — illness can delay it, or a change in travel arrangements can bring it forward (to 3 weeks after submission, in one case we know of!). Administrative delays on the part of your university can delay it up to 6 months. It is a moveable feast.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt-Brown, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

20. The viva performance

Abstract
Go into your viva with a positive attitude and an understanding that you will be tested in a fair and well-regulated manner. Codes of practice for viva examiners and candidates have become better regulated over the years (QAA 2004). The presence of the Chair, and at least one internal examiner (and a public audience in some countries), will ensure that your viva is witnessed by several independent parties.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt-Brown, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

21. Viva outcomes

Abstract
Once the viva ends you will usually be asked to wait outside whilst the examiners make their decision. In truth, they have often made it before you walk in the door, but nevertheless a poor viva might result in an outcome that means more work for you. When you are called back, you will learn the outcome. With some variation between countries, typically these are:
  • ◗ Pass — no corrections.
  • ◗ Pass — minor corrections. These can include: typos, addition or deletion of a small amount of text; some other amendments requested by the examiners — normally to be completed within about 4 weeks.
  • ◗ Pass — major amendments and corrections. This usually means some more substantive work, e.g. revising of a section or several chapters of the text — to be completed typically within 6 months.
  • ◗ Award of an MPhil — the examiners did not feel the work was of doctoral standard, but did feel it merited a Master’s qualification (possibly with additional time).
  • ◗ Resubmission and re-examination — of thesis, viva or both within a time frame.
  • ◗ Fail — the work failed, without the option of resubmission.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt-Brown, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe

Life after Your PhD

Frontmatter

22. What comes after …

Abstract
You will still be tingling from the thrill of being told that you have (or soon will have) passed your PhD, the shiny, new sound of ‘Doctor’ before your name reverberating in your head. Phone calls to your nervous family members and friends are a good opportunity to bask in your well-deserved glory. Depending on your relationships with your supervisors and examiners, they may want to celebrate with you too.
Kate Williams, Emily Bethell, Judith Lawton, Clare Parfitt-Brown, Mary Richardson, Victoria Rowe
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