Planning and Presenting your PhD

You might consider that it is unnecessary at this stage to make a plan, after all you seem to have been ‘planning’ all along! However, after all the reading and note taking it is useful to pause to reassess your thinking and re-organise – it can even be a good idea to take a break at this point as your head can be so full of ideas that you lose all sense of where you are heading with this.

A PhD. Graduate comments: ‘When I had everything in place I suddenly felt that I needed a break. My head was swimming with a confusion of ideas and I had file after file of notes. My supervisor was happy with the plans I had and everything seemed to be going well but then I hit a brick wall. I suppose that after all that reading I had lost track of what my own thoughts were. It felt wrong to take ‘time-out’, as though now that I had been given the go-ahead, and all that faith had been placed in me, I should keep going. However, I had a talk with my supervisor and was reassured to know that this often happens at this stage. I was recommended to take a short break and forget about everything to do with my doctorate for a while. I did just that and came back ready to start again with a fresh perspective on what I had done before.’

Do not feel guilty about taking a break like this it should be part of your planning to have some time to yourself. Writing a PhD. is not something that can – or should - be rushed. In fact, there is no way in which such a deep and intensely developed sequence of thought can be, so make breaks such as this a part of your plan then you won’t feel guilty about taking them!

The need to reform your plan at this stage, i.e. after taking a break and before you start writing your thesis is essential.

Just as you went back to your books, you now need to go back to your research proposal with particular attention being paid to your methodology.

You have discussed your method of work with your supervisor and he/she will have given you some tips on how you can sharpen this, so take these ideas on board and return to your proposed methodology in order to form a plan as to how to structure your thesis, using evidence critically and analytically.

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Tips on the Presentation of Your Thesis

It is essential that your thesis be correctly presented and that the rules regarding formatting prescribed by your academic institution be adhered to throughout. These tips should help you to present your thesis correctly, even in draft form:

  • Before you begin, consult the style book of your university or college to see precisely how the thesis is required to be written, once you have discovered this, adhere to it rigidly, writing to publication standard.
  • Most theses are presented double-spaced in size twelve font using Times New Roman but there may be variations so check.
  • The usual layout for a thesis is a follows:
    • Title page
    • Contents page
    • Preface
    • Introduction
    • Chapters (numbered consecutively)
    • Conclusion
    • Bibliography
    • Appendices
  • Ensure that you proof-read your work carefully to avoid errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation – it can be useful to ask a friend or colleague to help with this as we often overlook errors when reading our own work seeing  what we expect to see rather than what is there. If you cannot get someone to proof-read for you, try reading your work aloud, that usually helps you to spot errors. Nothing looks worse than simple errors like this in the finished thesis.
  • Be very careful with referencing, in extreme cases a thesis can be failed for errors in this. Ensure that you adhere to the specifications laid down in your style guide and make sure that every ‘dot and comma’ is in the right place!
  • Construct the bibliography carefully. If you are wise and have followed the advice in this guide, you will have been keeping a record from the beginning of your research regarding every book that you consult, correctly referenced.
  • Use appendices correctly, especially if you are including maps, graphs etc.

Specimen Thesis Layout

Title page
This needs to include: the title of your thesis, your name, the name of the college or university to which the degree is being submitted, the degree for which the thesis is being submitted and the date of submission of the thesis.

Contents page
This will be similar to the contents page that you submitted for your research proposal (see our guide on research proposals).

A preface is usually very brief, concerned principally with acknowledging the help and support you have been given during the research and writing of your thesis. This will, of course, give priority to your supervisor and your typist (if you used one) but may also include family members and others who have ‘suffered’ with you! (However, it is not an ‘Oscars speech’ so don’t go too far!)

This needs to establish the theme and methodology of your thesis (see our guide to writing your introduction).

Chapters (numbered consecutively)
Or more information on the writing of the chapters themselves (see the section of this guide on writing your thesis). Ensure that the page numbers for each of the chapters are listed correctly and consider giving each of the chapters an individual title instead of just a number.

This should summarise your thoughts and indicate future areas of research (see the section in this guide on writing your conclusion).

This should include an alphabetical list of all books you consult, subdivided into primary and secondary sources and other subdivisions you might care to employ (see further information in this guide regarding bibliographies and referencing).

These should include supplementary material to the main thesis.

Applying Your Methodology

This is a vital stage in your planning as you are about to apply what up until now has only been an abstract idea of how to work.

This might be a good time to consider how different methods of work can be applied to different subject areas:

  • An Arts thesis (incorporating most of the Humanities e.g. English, History, geography etc.) will largely follow the methodology of critical reading, analysis and formulation of an original perspective on your topic. Arts theses offer the greatest scope for interpretive and speculative writing based upon close-reading and ideas emanating from that analysis. The background reading would be heavily textual and, in the case of History, fact-sourced comparatives.
  • A Social Science thesis would adhere to a similar principle but there might be a greater emphasis on case studies, this would also apply to a Psychology thesis. These theses, reflecting the courses which have preceded them, require the student to use a scientific methodology in many ways because although they are based upon analysis of texts, they are also based upon facts and will in all probability include statistical analysis often based on a major survey and its results, which are then used to formulate the thesis itself.
  • An Education thesis employs a methodology centred on educational theory and would rely heavily on classroom experience for the formulation of original theory and practical evidentiary support. Educational theory changes rapidly and a thesis conducted in this area will need constant updating in the area of research. An education thesis will also require you to be fully conversant with Government policy on Education, Ofsted reports and personal teaching experience.
  • A Science thesis (incorporating subjects such as Chemistry, Physics and Biology) will rely heavily on factual, theoretical analysis for the methodology, the interpretation being consigned to judgment of data. Theses of a scientific nature depend almost entirely on proven facts but they also offer the greatest capacity for original discovery and it will probably be in these disciplines that these are most likely to form the basis of the PhD. indeed, it might stand or fall more heavily than in other theses upon whether or not the thesis is proven.
  • A Mathematics thesis will use a similar methodology to that of an Engineering thesis or an Economics thesis in that all three will involve statistical analysis and factual deduction and will have little scope for guesswork or imaginative writing. These theses depend on ‘facts and more facts’ with even background reading being based upon the ‘QED’ principle. The structure of these theses is closely connected with the subject matter and will involve less actual writing but more statistical work.

The methodology you are applying, therefore, should be adapted according to the subject matter and in reassessing it now you need to ensure that you are using your ideas and the research you have compiled most effectively. Do not simply rely on your initial ideas to carry you forward now, build upon them so that your final thesis is the best that you can possibly make it.

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