“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
Can you imagine writing a literary masterpiece like The Alchemist in just two short weeks? It may sound impossible, but it is the truth! This iconic novel, with over 65 million copies sold and translated into 80 languages, was written from the soul of its author in just 14 days.
Now, from the perspective of a PhD thesis, while not all PhD students may have the ability to write their thesis straight from the soul, it is still possible to accomplish the daunting task of writing a thesis in a matter of days, if you have a clear understanding of the work you’ve done in the past. I, myself, was a bit sceptical when I set out to write my thesis in a week. The thought of condensing years of research into just ~120 pages seemed impossible. But, with a little push from my professor and the encouragement of friends, I took on the challenge and finally succeeded.
In this guide, I’ll share tips and tricks that I learned from my own experience to help you write your PhD thesis in a week. Get ready to roll up your sleeves and dive in, 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.
Science PhDs, are you ready to conquer the thesis writing challenge?
- With moderate writing skills and a good understanding of your research, you’re off to a great start.
- Figures ready? Most PhD students have multiple figures from their published papers, any remaining figures can be plotted during the writing process or taken from other papers with proper citations.
- Essential tools at the ready? Laptop, writing software, and resources such as Grammarly Pro to rectify mistakes in real time.
- These tips are for preparing the 1st draft, additional time will be needed to polish and incorporate feedback from mentors and reviewers.
TWO BITS OF ADVICE:
1. Start early
Are you in the early stages of your PhD journey? Great news! It’s the perfect time to start honing your writing skills.
You don’t have to limit yourself to just keeping a hand-book of your progress, think outside the box and start a blog. Populate it with content, the more the better. It doesn’t matter what the content is about, just start writing. You don’t even have to publish it publicly. This habit of writing consistently will shape your writing muscles perfectly.
I can attest to this as I started my blog in 2015 with the sole purpose of developing my writing skills for my PhD thesis. My writing was terrible at first, and I received many disappointing comments. But, I couldn’t stop writing. Over time, I slowly learned how to write efficiently and quickly. I still have a lot to learn, but it all started with taking that first step.
So, if you haven’t started yet, it’s not too late. And for those of you who are finished with your PhD work and about to start writing your thesis, don’t worry about starting a blog now, focus on your thesis.
2. Overcome writer’s block
Feeling unmotivated to start writing? You’re not alone, many people experience the same thing, it’s called Writer’s Block. Even the most accomplished authors can feel it. But, don’t let it hold you back! Writer’s block is a mental barrier, that often comes from overthinking. The more you try to force yourself to write, the harder it becomes. The solution is simple, just start writing. Don’t wait for motivation, it will come once you begin. One trick to overcoming writer’s block is to set small goals for yourself. For example, tell yourself, “I will only write a paragraph today, the rest can wait till tomorrow.” Often, once you start writing, ideas will flow and you’ll naturally continue. But, if you still find yourself struggling, try a cup of coffee or a short walk, and try again. The key is to change the way your brain neurons are firing.
Don’t let writer’s block hold you back. Just start writing, and the rest will fall into place.
DAY 0 to 7
Day 0: Preparation
Today is the day of preparation, and it’s just as important as the actual writing.
Take out a pen and paper and make a list of everything you’ve accomplished throughout your PhD journey. No need for details, just jot down the main experiments, results, discussions, and concepts. It doesn’t have to be in any particular order, just write as you remember. You can also refer to your records, papers, and research logbooks for help. Each bullet point should be brief, two or three sentences long.
For example, “2D materials such as graphene and TMDs were optically characterized by two-photon microscopy using excitation wavelengths of a femtosecond laser, spanning from 1000 nm to 1500 nm.”
If you find yourself getting distracted, take a few deep breaths and refocus on the task at hand. This process may take anywhere from two to three hours or more, depending on the depth of your work.
Before starting day one of your writing, make sure that all your tools 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
Rise and shine at 7 am, fueled by a strong cup of coffee, and tackle your writing with determination and focus.
[UPDATE: Coffee is not mandatory. I significantly reduced my coffee usage recently, and I still produce dopamines!]
Eliminate distractions such as desktop notifications and messaging apps to stay on track. Trust that the world will go on without you checking your phone every five minutes. Take a moment to review your list from the preparation stage and read it mindfully. Consider how to connect the sentences and make any necessary corrections. As you read and re-read, a story will begin to take shape. Don’t rush this process, as developing your storyline is the most crucial step of your thesis. Keep in mind that once you begin writing, it will be difficult to make major changes. Be clear and confident about your theme, and don’t hesitate to discuss it with colleagues.
After lunch, assign broad captions to the sentences in your list that have been reordered according to your story. For example, “Two-photon microscopy of 2D materials.” Don’t worry about using every caption, many of them can be used for your index with some minor changes once your thesis is complete. After captions, it’s time to fit your existing figures into your storyline. This task will be a breeze since you already know the content of each figure.
Enjoy an evening coffee and some chit-chat with friends before organizing your story into chapters such as Introduction, Experimental techniques, Theoretical models, and Conclusion. Take your time to create a cohesive structure for your thesis. Now, it’s time to start writing. Kick things off with something you feel confident about, such as your published papers. If self-plagiarism is allowed in your university, feel free to copy and paste your articles as a confidence booster. With three published papers, you’ll have several chapters completed on the first day alone. We’ll tackle connecting the chapters tomorrow.
Take a deep breath and get some rest, you deserve it. Remember, even if your storyline appears disordered or unreadable at first, it will come together in the end. Trust in your ability to create a clear and polished thesis.
Take a look at the content of this blog, it’s a prime example of my pre-writing preparation. Don’t worry if your own storyline appears messy or disorganized at first, mine was too. But with time and effort, it all comes together. Trust in your ability to create a polished and clear thesis, even if it doesn’t look perfect at first glance. I have faith that your PhD storyline will be even more organized and presentable than mine.
Day 2 and 3: Preparing background Information
Good morning! You now have a clear idea of the flow of your thesis, making it easy to write the connecting paragraphs between your published works. Incorporate these paragraphs into the chapters you completed yesterday. Take some time to review and make any necessary corrections. You’ve made great progress and should feel proud of what you’ve accomplished.
After your lunch break, it’s time to tackle the “Experimental or Theoretical” chapter(s). Writing equations can be time-consuming, so be patient with yourself. To save time, it’s best to prepare all equations beforehand and then copy-paste them into the appropriate places in your chapter. The same goes for figures. By taking this approach, you’ll feel a sense of completion at every stage of the writing process. It’s likely that you’ll need one or two days to finish these chapters.
Note: Leave yourself a little reminder to add references by leaving a note in the sentences where you plan to include them. Each day, take some time to download and organize all your references in a folder, making sure to give each one a clear and descriptive name. By the 7th day, you’ll have a neat and organized folder ready to use as you complete your thesis.
Day 4 and 5: Introduction
This is the chapter where you’ll really want to shine and show the world how important and groundbreaking your research is. It’s crucial to clearly define any unfamiliar terms or concepts, give a comprehensive overview of current research in your field, and highlight the pros and cons of existing methods, techniques, or ideas. Make sure to highlight how your research stands out from the rest and include relevant figures and information from other papers with proper citations. Crafting the perfect narrative for this chapter will take time and effort, so take your time to brainstorm and create a compelling argument that truly showcases the significance of your research. By the end of this chapter, readers should be convinced of the value and originality of your contributions.
Day 6: Conclusion
Celebrate, you’ve made it to the home stretch! Your “conclusion and future directions” chapter is where you get to showcase the significance and future impact of your research. Gather all of your key takeaways and potential next steps and organize them into a compelling narrative. This is your chance to leave a lasting impression and inspire future work in your field. Now, take a step back and admire all of your hard work. The pages you’ve written, the notes you’ve taken, the tabs you’ve opened – it’s all evidence of the progress you’ve made. Give yourself a pat on the back, because tomorrow is all about fine-tuning and making those final revisions.
Day 7: References, style, revision and corrections
It’s time to add the final touches to your thesis! Organize your references with ease using tools like EndNote or Mendeley for a polished and professional look. Start with the references from your introduction, which you’ve been gathering over the last six days. Make sure to follow your university’s guidelines for formatting, including font type, size, line spacing, and placement of figures. Give your thesis one final review to catch any minor corrections before submitting it to your mentor for feedback. Congrats, the hard work is done!
A FEW TIPS:
- Write without fear of mistakes, focus on completing your thoughts first and come back later to edit.
- Keep your end goal in mind, and imagine the sense of accomplishment and pride you’ll feel once your thesis is finished.
- Have accountability partners who can push you to stay on track and meet deadlines.
- Take breaks and have fun to recharge and come back to writing with renewed energy.
- Remember, the more you push yourself to write, the more natural and effortless it will become.
- Stay organized by keeping track of your references and adding them to your document after all chapters are complete.
Caution: Don’t procrastinate on your writing by thinking you can power through it quickly. Start early and take your time. The goal isn’t to set a record for how quickly you can finish, but to create a high-quality thesis.
I hope these tips have provided valuable insights on how to approach your thesis writing in an efficient manner. I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to share your comments.