Motivation: Maintaining progress

When to start Maintaining progress Some writing techniques

>> When do I start?

Why you should start now!

Research only becomes useful when others in your field can read and learn from your results.

  • You may be just starting your research, but you can still begin your research writing.
  • By this means, you will produce notes that build up into your first research report and eventually to your thesis.

There are many issues to consider in research writing; by starting as soon as possible you will best prepare yourself to learn most from this process.

Meeting your deadlines:

For all kinds of reasons (financial, career, personal pride, etc) it is important to complete your PhD within the time frame.

For the University requirements on Thesis submission see the relevant University Ordinance, provided as a link from the PGR Student team web-site.

The easiest way to write a PhD is to spread the work over three years. Starting your research writing now will give you two main advantages:

  • Your academic writing style will improve more through more practice;
  • You will be far better prepared for the actual thesis write-up.
If you cannot express your ideas in writing, are you sure that you really understand them yourself?

".. frequently what has seemed to me true when I first conceived it, has appeared false when I have set about committing it to writing." Descartes

How your research material accumulates over three years

how materials accumulate over three yearsIf you continue with the writing over the three years of your PhD, you will gradually build up a set of materials as a basis for your thesis.

  • A considerable part of the first year must be spent developing your research skills, of which writing skills are particularly important.

    At the beginning you may have little idea where the research is going, but you will need to record the progress of your research, (either on paper or electronically).

    And while you might expect to record your methods, you should also try to record your ideas, summaries of relevant literature, suggestions to explore etc.

  • Typically you will build up most of the work in your second year. But by building on your early notes as you continue your research, you will find that your written report gradually gains shape.

  • By your third year you will have developed most of the necessary skills and should be able to begin assembling your thesis with much greater confidence.

As you continue

As you continue writing, you will appreciate the benefits.

The process of writing becomes easier by experience.
As you write, your understanding of the writing process increases, and the standard of your work improves.
You will also have time to compare your writing style with that in the literature for your discipline.

As you start to write up your work, your understanding of your subject should improve, and you will even do better research.

This experience is even more crucial if you lack confidence with your writing or language skills:

  • By starting as early as possible, you will gain more practise,
  • You also gain time to get help and advice from your supervisor and others,
  • And to improve your language skills as your writing progresses.

The alternative scenario

Consider the alternative, if you write only when absolutely required by your supervisor:

  • At the same time as you compile your results,
  • you will have to learn the new techniques:
    • how to build a literature review,
    • to organise your work,
    • present arguments effectively,
    • interest the reader
    • and produce convincing conclusions,
  • while remembering what you did 18 months to two years ago,
  • thinking about your original research objectives,
  • working out which data is inaccurately documented ...

>> Your first research writing

Recording your research

Your first writing will begin in the form of research notes as you gather ideas before you start formally writing.

With hindsight, there are many aspects of your research that you will want recorded, so ways to begin your research writing will include::

  • Summarise the literature, particularly that relating to your research questions;
  • Expand on your research questions and ideas;
  • Record your data collected or results obtained, and their possible significance;
  • Any particular achievements or unexpected results;
  • Any underlying trends that you suspect in your research;
  • Any other issues that may be influencing you or your research.

At the start of your research, you will need to choose which items to record, probably in discussion with your supervisor. All these topics relate to your research questions.

Exercise: Starting Research Notes

1) Outline your proposed research techniques (data collection, experimental apparatus, computer calculations and so on) in about 50 to 100 words;

If you work as part of a team, consider dividing this into two sections:

  • A brief summary of the methods used by the complete team,
  • And further notes that describe your own contribution in greater detail.

2) At this stage you should also decide how you will collate your results (unless you have already agreed a procedure with your supervisor).

  • Draw a rough diagram (on paper) to display your proposed organisation.
  • Describe, and justify, your plan in two or three sentences.

3) When you have your first set of results or ideas, e.g. from first preliminary survey, experiment ..., write a brief summary of these results,

  • include any problems and changes that are required in your method.

Developing your notes

As your research progresses, you should revisit and revise your notes:

And particularly to those relating to the relevant literature and your research questions;

Possibly several times if the research focus changes when you view your results.

This process of constant revision may help you gain a clearer purpose and to focus on the results you need for any publication.

The nature of research means that some ideas can later prove irrelevant, but you will not know this until you have tried out these ideas.

In this way, many of the original notes will help contribute towards a research publication, although your prose may be considerably re-written during the development.

"All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered;
the point is to discover them."
Galileo Gililei

As your notes build, you may want to sub-divide the work into sections.

At this stage you may want to preview the section on Document Structure and decide a suitable division of material according to the customs of your own research area.

As the research approaches some form of completion, and you will become ready to start the formal write-up, using your notes as a starting point.

>> Why you need to start now! (video)

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