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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

A 2

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 Crme & Lea (2003)].

Can you classify yourself as one of these types of

B 3

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 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
B 5

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

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 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 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?
B 9

Planning and Preparation

Timetables Reading Habits


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)
B 11

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


Planning- Research & Writing-Dissertation timetable


Planning Research & Writing-Weekly timetable


Planning- Research & Writing-Dissertation timetable


Reading Habits

Save literature searches

Metalib / internet databases

Keep up to date with new research Record of reading

Index Cards Endnote Journal Other formats*

A 16

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


End Note example



Knowing What to Write Initial Writing Tasks Writing About Existing Research Organising Your Writing Writing Clearly Editing Referencing
A 19

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? Dont panic!

A 20

Actually Writing

Other sessions in GSSE Initial Writing Tasks Writing about other peoples research Writing about your own research


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 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?

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
B 24

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:

or paraphrase

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

B 25

Citing other writers in the body of your text :

When youve paraphrased or summarised another writer, always acknowledge the source. You can do this in two ways: 1. Begin the sentence with the authors 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 Gilletts very helpful UEFAP site. Look under citation and reporting ]
B 26

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 isnt crowded out by your presentations of other peoples thinking, or your own voice by your quoting of other peoples voices To do this paraphrase is more effective than quotation.
B 27

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

Avoid providing a purely narrative account of other studies. The literature review needs to be constructed logically and youll 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

B 29

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 Delete Are

10 of these that would most commonly used in your field verbs that would not be used in your field?

there verbs you wish to add?


Verbs for reporting other scientists findings

acknowledges admi ts agrees alleges argues assumes believes challenges claims classifies comme nts conce ntrates on concludes cons iders criticises deals with decides defin es demon strates denies depicts determin es di agnoses di scovers doubts emphas ises establishes explains explor es expres ses finds focuses highlights hypothes ises ident ifies implies indicates infers interprets makes the point main tains notes observes points out /to predicts presumes proves proposes provides evide nce for questions recognis es repor ts reveals says seeks to explain seeks to ident ify

shows signals states studies suggests tries to ident ify sums up underlines views wonde rs

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.

found shows


claims neglects




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.
B 32

How reporting verbs indicate your position towards the source

Task The table below contains 16 reporting verbs that range from positive to negative. Can you sort these verbs into the categories in table 2?
repor ts attempts to explain concludes proves negl ects to

suggests distorts lends support to contends [that] ident ifies


claims fails to take account of indicates points out

finds oversimplifies states declares assumes



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


Demonstrating competence as a researcher Audience?

Scholars in area, external examiner, supervisor

A 34

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 Writing

Chapter plans


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

Good structure Logical

Paragraphs single units of thought

Straightforward language Simple grammar

Managing readers expectations

Relevancy / need to know basis

A 37

Writing Not-So-Clearly

Too much jargon Too parsimonious Long sentences

Picking up bad habits


A Good Paragraph

Good length

Approx 150 words

Opening sentence - sets up what the paragraph is about E.g., argument, justification, elaboration or analysis. Clear, bottom line message
A 39

A topic sentence

The main body

The wrap

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 40

A Good Chapter


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
A 41


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

A 42


Different levels

Word level

misspellings, grammar mistakes, repetition of words How different sections link to each other Can your argument be strengthened? Can your links to previous research be strengthened?

Paragraph level

Chapter level

Use of external sources

Conferences, reading groups, publications

A 43


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

If you are using the author year system in the main

body of the text, use the name and date form 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
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, 19992001, Curtis 2003, Schmidt et al. 2003)
B 47

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. (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. (accessed on June 23, 2003)


Referencing: further guidelines


an accurate record of all reading using a card index

system or Endnote 9 + in your research journal


if a style manual or a particular journal is used as a

model for citation & referencing in your department


UEFAP website provides a good introduction to citation,

referencing, paraphrase & summary with exercises Try also
B 49

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

B 50

What are the limits of plagiarism?

From Purdue University

B 51

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 Accessed 12/05/2003




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

Worried about feedback Bored and tired Lack of momentum Hard Lack of rewards Too high expectations Size Other pressures on your time
A 54

How to overcome problems

Just do something Talk through problems with supervisor Have a break from writing Set manageable goals


Sources of Help

in Progress



Support Reading/Research Groups Seminars and Conferences Internet Books

A 56

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

Alistair Hetherington on Writing Grant Proposals Analysis of past dissertations/thesesplease read one and look at the questions before next weeks session


Good Luck!
Robert Blake

Andrea Cheshire

Any questions?
A 59

Verbs for reporting other scientists findings

acknowledges admits agrees alleges argues assumes believes challenges claims classifies comments concentrates on concludes considers criticises deals with decides defines demonstrates denies depicts determines diagnoses discovers doubts emphasises establishes explains explores expresses finds focuses highlights hypothesises identifies implies indicates infers interprets makes the point maintains notes observes points out /to predicts presumes proves proposes provides evidence for questions recognises reports reveals says seeks to explain seeks to identify

shows signals states studies suggests tries to identify sums up underlines views wonders