Writing a dissertation requires realistic scheduling and project management. In this section we focus on the workflow of the writing process. Writing can be both satisfying and challenging, it can lead to meaning and insight or be experienced as a waste of time. In most PhD-projects, both aspects will be present from time to time.
On this page you learn about
The scientific workflow for the majority of empirical studies, starting with a predefined research question and proceeding with a systematic literature search and review to production, analysis and discussion of the research data, does not fit in with work progress in other disciplines, such as the humanities or social sciences. Here the research process runs simultaneously with the writing process: the research question might be developed and redefined in the course of the project. Searching, reviewing literature and writing are most often intertwined activities throughout the whole period of a dissertation, and they have a strong influence on the redefinition of the research question. Relating to previous research is not only a matter of the literature review, but a crucial part of analysis and discussion throughout the dissertation.
It may be one of the popular misconceptions of writing that, once started, it all ‘flows’, and that those who do not ‘flow’ must have something wrong with them. (Murray, 2017, p. 191)
In the beginning of a dissertation, most PhD candidates start with great optimism, eager to realize their project and not always aware of possible difficulties that they might encounter in the course of their work. However, unforeseen problems are a part of any dissertation, and they can be handled if the workflow is managed diligently. Writing is a very individual activity, and there is no one method that fits all. In the following section, we do not wish to suggest general solutions, but offer some food for thought and practical advice.
Your writing workflow is not least a question of attitude; it can be worth reflecting on your concept of writing and your time management when doing a dissertation.
When the search is done, you might be confronted with a large amount of literature. In order to limit the amount of evidence, you should consider the following points:
Be aware that you can optimize your reading only to a certain degree: it is not possible to avoid reading a lot of literature during your PhD that will turn out to have been “unnecessary” to your work in the end.
Writing blocks, doubts, lack of faith in your project and a feeling of not being adequately informed are all quite common in the process of writing a dissertation. Regularly presenting pieces of text to others will allow you to discuss your writing and your work. To be in continuous dialogue with others about your writing can decrease stress and alleviate the impression of being lost in the writing process.
Be aware of your writing workflow and reconsider your concept of writing:
Read more about dealing with writers’ block in Nygaard (2015) and Murray (2017).
Check the FAIR guiding principles for scientific data management and stewardship and read more about data management here. Note that rules and regulations may vary in different countries, and make sure to comply with the guidelines and standards to which you are committed.
To be a PhD candidate is often a long and lonely journey towards a goal. It could be both fun and useful to share and discuss your work with peers at your institution, or collaborate with them in writing.
Writing can be fun, and it can be challenging. Sharing writing experiences can improve your insight about your workflow, and writing together can be motivating and disciplining.
Shut up and write! is structured writing in group sessions of 45 + 45 minutes, where writing is supposed to be fun and relaxing.
Some examples of institutions in Norway offering an arena for Shut up and write!
Can you find somebody to proof read your text or at least parts of it?
Casanave, C. P. (2014). Before the dissertation. A textual mentor for doctoral students at early stages of a research project. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press
Dunleavy, P. (2003). Authoring a PhD : How to plan, draft, write and finish a doctoral thesis or dissertation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
Murray, R. (2017). How to write a thesis (4th ed.). London: Open University Press
Nygaard, L. P. (2015). Writing for scholars. A practical guide to making sense & being heard (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage
Nygaard, L. P. (2016). On writer’s block. And how to prevent it through teaching academic writing. Presentation at the conference “Akademisk skriving og dialogisk rettleiing i høgare utdanning”, Western Norway University of Applied Sciences Library, November 10-11 2016.