How to write a PhD thesis in 7 days? Tips from my personal experience.


“Coelho wrote The Alchemist in only two weeks in 1987. He explained that he was able to write at this pace because the story was “already written in [his] soul.”

-Wikipedia

Such a classic novel like Alchemist in just two weeks? Seriously? A book that has now sold over 65 million copies and has been translated into 80 different languages did it only take just 14 days? The truth is yes! The question is, how? The answer is plain and simple: “He had already written it in his soul”.

Although many PhD students can’t write their PhD work in their soul (often they just want to get it out of their soul!), you can still manage to write your PhD thesis in a few days if you have a clear picture of what you have done during your past many years. When I wrote my PhD thesis, I didn’t know that I could write it in a week. I didn’t have any idea about how to frame all of my work in just ~120 pages. In fact, at that time, I was a bit lazy and had been postponing my thesis writing for months. Then things got heated when my prof started to force me gently, and that was the time I decided to write it away. Also, the presence of my friends urged me to put myself in the challenging task of writing it in a week. Here, we will discuss a few tips, taken from my own experience, on writing a PhD thesis in a week. Let’s get started:

This article is divided into four sections: 1. Assumptions, 2. Two bits of advice, 3. Day 0 to 7, 4. Writing Tips.

ASSUMPTIONS

  1. Being a science student, I wrote these tips meant for science PhDs.
  2. You are moderately good at writing skills with a good-enough vocabulary.
  3. You have some idea about your work!
  4. You have almost all the Figures already with you. This is often true, as most PhD students write their thesis after publishing one or two papers having multiple figures in their papers and supporting information. The remaining figures can be either be plotted during the writing process or be taken from other papers by giving proper citations.
  5. You have essential tools ready such as a laptop, writing software and other resources. Tip: Use Grammerly pro if possible. It’s a great add-on for MS word to rectify your mistakes in real-time in a professional manner.
  6. These guidelines are only for preparing the 1st draft of your thesis. You may need more time to polish it and to incorporate advice from your mentors and reviewers.

TWO BITS OF ADVICE:

1. Start early

If you are in the early stage of your PhD, it’s a good practice to start developing your writing skills from the beginning itself. There are many ways of doing it. I am not talking about keeping a hand-book of your PhD progress. Along with that, you can also think of writing something like a blog. And be prolific about populating your content. Don’t bother about the type of content so much. Just start writing about anything that you want to express. You don’t even need to publish them publicly, but this habit of writing consistently will shape your writing muscles perfectly. I started this blog in 2015 with the soul-purpose of developing my writing skills for my PhD thesis. Initially, my writing was terrible, and I got many disappointing comments from many people. But I couldn’t stop writing, and over time, I started learning about how to write efficiently and fast, although I have a lot to learn ahead. So, start now if you haven’t started yet. If you are already finished your PhD work and are about to start writing your thesis, you can forget about starting a blog for now.

2. Overcome the writer’s block

“I know I have to write, but something is missing, I am not getting the right amount of motivation to begin my writing”, many people complain. This is termed Writer’s Block. Even the famous writers feel so, so are you. Writer’s block is an imaginary mental block that stops us from writing. The more you think about the ways to overcome it, the more you feel like postponing. The solution is deceptively simple: don’t think, just do it. Yes, you don’t need any motivation to write it. Motivation comes after you start writing. The trick is to hack your mind by thinking something like, “I will only write a paragraph today. Rest will be done by tomorrow.” Many people naturally continue even after one paragraph because they get the momentum and their ideas are flowing. But some still struggle even after the first paragraph. If that’s the case, try a cup of coffee or a short walk, and try again. The key here is to change the way your brain neurons are firing.

DAY 0 to 7

Day 0: Preparation

This is the day of preparation. You don’t write anything today. Being the most important part, you might need more than one day to complete your preparation for the thesis. The first thing is to take a pen and paper and list down everything you have done so far in your PhD, not the details but only the main experiments, results, discussions, concepts etc. Let it be in the order you remember, and you can remind yourselves from your records, papers and research logbooks. Every bullet in this list can be two or three sentences long. E.g.: 2D materials such as graphene and TMDs were optically characterised by two-photon microscopy using excitation wavelengths of a femtosecond laser, spanning from 1000 nm to 1500 nm. Whenever you distract, take a few deep breaths and come back to the job. This might take two to three hours or more, depending on the depth of your work. Also, before day 1, make sure that every other tool such as your laptop, writing software, hard disk or cloud storage are working properly.

NOTE: ALWAYS MAKE A BACKUP OF YOUR WRITING REGULARLY. DISASTERS CAN HAPPEN IF YOU DON’T DO.

Day 1: Storyline development

Every day starts roughly from 7 am and ends at 10 pm with a few breaks in-between. You have entirely dedicated yourselves to something bigger than yourself. After a strong cup of coffee, you can start your day 1 with a smile. All the distractions, such as desktop notifications and messaging apps, should be kept silent or inactive. Nothing will happen to the world if you don’t look at your phone regularly, so stay calm. Now, it’s time to look back at your list and read it mindfully many times. Think about the ways to connect your sentences and make corrections if needed. After reading and thinking about it several times, slowly, you will develop a story out of it. You should write and rewrite your developing story by rearranging these sentences to fit into your storyline. Take your own time because “development of your storyline” is the most crucial step of your thesis. It’s hard to have major changes in your storyline once you start writing the thesis. So be clear and confident about your theme, discuss with colleagues if needed. After setting the skeleton of the thesis and your lunch break, you can now start assigning broad captions to the sentences in the list that are already reordered according to your story. E.g.: For the sentence mentioned before, the caption can be broadly “Two-photon microscopy of 2D materials”. Although we might not use all of these captions, many of these can be used for your index with required changes after completely writing your thesis. Once you are done with captions, it’s time to fit your existing Figures into your storyline. This is relatively a simple task as you know the content of every Figure. After your evening coffee and some chit-chat with your friends, it’s time to make chapters out of it. Usually, a thesis can have chapters such as Introduction, Experimental techniques or Theoretical models or both, chapters of your papers and finally Conclusion. Take some time to partition your storyline into chapters. Once you are done with this step, now you are going actually to start writing. Start with something you are confident about, such as your published papers. As a confident booster, just copy and paste every article (This depends on whether self-plagiarism is allowed in your university or not. You should check your university guidelines beforehand). If you have published three papers, you will see three (or more / fewer ) chapters that can definitely make a smile on your face. Yes! You have just finished a few chapters on the first day itself. We will bother about connecting these chapters tomorrow. Now, forget about everything and go for good night sleep. You deserve a deep rest.

As an example, below is the content of this blog I prepared before writing it. Sometimes your storyline can be unreadable (by others) or a bit disordered because of lines, arrows and scribblings. Looking at the way I prepared my storyline, I am confident that your PhD storyline would be looking much better and neater than mine.

This is how I prepared the storyline for this blog content. You are a genius if you can understand anything in the above photo!!

Day 2 and 3: Preparing background Information

Awesome morning! Now you have already an idea about the content flow of your thesis. Therefore it’s not a tiring task to write the connecting paragraphs between your published works. Incorporate those connecting paragraphs in the chapters you finished yesterday! After this, you can abruptly go through what you have written so far, and correct it if required. These chapters are the heart of your thesis, which you have just completed without much effort. You already made enormous progress, so be proud of it. After your lunch break, you can start writing about your “Experimental or Theoretical” Chapter(s). Writing equations might take a bit of time, so be patient with yourself. It’s recommended to prepare all equations before writing these chapters. Copy-paste them into the places wherever applicable after the chapter writing. The same method goes for Figures. This gives you a sense of completion at every stage of your writing. You definitely need one or two days to complete these chapters.

Note: Leave an empty space with a note in the sentences wherever you want to add a reference. Every day you have to download and keep all these references in a folder with proper naming. It would be best if you had this folder on the 7th day.

Day 4 and 5: Introduction

This is where you are going to spend more time compared to other chapters because you need to establish a perfect reason for why your research is essential and how innovative it is. You can include definitions of unfamiliar terms and concepts, and a proper mini-review of the current research in your area, the advantages and disadvantages of the existing methods, techniques or ideas, and how your research stands out of the noise etc. You can also include the work or Figures from other papers with proper citations. This chapter itself requires its own storyline for perfection. Spend some time writing it on a piece of paper. Have as many compelling arguments as possible to make your idea different from others. Reading this chapter should decide whether your research contributions are actually significant or not.

Day 6: Conclusion

When you finish writing all other chapters, you now have a clear idea about your work. But writing a conclusion and future directions still need some effort as this favours your work to be continued by other people. Browse about it and write down the points you find. Reordering and elaborating these bullet points will finish your final chapter. Now, it’s time to look at the number of pages you have written, the scribblings you made on your notebooks, the number of tabs you have opened o your browser! Great! You have come a long way—time to rejoice. At the end of this 6th day, you have one more day for your revisions and minor corrections.

Day 7: References, style, revision and corrections

Let’s add references first. Use EndNote or Mendeley for proper and consistent referencing. Most of the references come from the Introduction part. This is mostly straightforward as you have been gathering appropriate references for the last six days. Next, do the styling as per your university regulations. Your font type, size, line spacing, placing of Figures etc. should be formatted correctly. Finally, revise your entire thesis once and make minor corrections wherever needed. Yes, now your 1st draft of your thesis can be given to your mentor for further suggestions. However, the heavy task is done!

A FEW TIPS:

  1. While writing, don’t bother about making mistakes. Finish writing your paragraph(s) first. You can always come back later to correct it. This is something I learned from my mentor. Never break the flow of your writing.
  2. Whenever you feel demotivated while writing, imagine your thesis is completed; imagine how people wonder about how you finished it in such a short time.
  3. Have some “forcing friends”: Sometimes, it’s good to have some friends who can force or challenge you to finish writing in a timely manner. Even if they fail to keep their word after you win the bet, be thankful to them because you did it because of them!
  4. After a long day, try to have some fun so that you rejuvenate yourselves for the next day.
  5. Remember, the more you force yourselves to write, the more naturally you feel like writing.
  6. Dowload and keep your references in a folder after every chapter is written. Add these references only after finishing all the chapters.

Caution: Do not postpone your writing because you think you can write it fast. Always start early. The point is not to set records on how many days you have taken to finish it, but the point is to write a quality thesis.

I hope you got some insights about how to write your thesis in a short period. Let me know your comments below.

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