Starting to write your dissertation

Peter Hancox, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science and PGR Lead for the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, gives his advice to those for whom the lockdown means starting to tackle your thesis…

That day has come.  You can put it off no longer.  You can’t even go into the lab under the pretence that you just need to do a little more work.

A laptop, coffee, cola, notes and books.
Photo credit: Rasmus Larsen

You must start to write your dissertation.

The experience of writing a dissertation can be lonely.  After all, it is your dissertation and no one else can (or should) write it for you.  It’s a bit like being at a social distance from your colleagues.

To get started, the first thing to do is to decide to start.  Continue reading “Starting to write your dissertation”

What’s the difference between a systematic review and a literature review?

In this post, Sue Stevens, a Research Skills Advisor in Library Services, talks about systematic literature reviews.

This is a question that I’m often asked, or I have a request to help someone with a systematic review, only to find that what they really need help with is a systematic search of the literature for a literature review.  So what is the difference? Continue reading “What’s the difference between a systematic review and a literature review?”

Helen writes: explicit content!

In the second of an occasional series, Writing Skills Advisor Helen Williams gives advice on writing more clearly.

I am often surprised by the difference between what people think they have written compared to what is actually on the page. I was reminded of this recently when helping a friend with a chapter of her postgraduate work; she was confident that she made frequent links back from her literature review to her own research. Trusting her opinion I had a look, but soon found myself writing comments like “How does this inform your approach?”, “I’m not sure how this relates to your topic” and “Can you link back to your own research here?”

Parental_Advisory_labelEither you are explicit in how you set out your ideas or discussion, or you are expecting your reader to pick up the implicit connections. Something about doctoral-level writing in particular seems to breed a fear of being explicit. Certainly on my part I always felt that the more complicated I made my writing and argument, the more ‘intelligent’ it would appear. Setting everything out clearly for a supervisor or examiner felt overly simplistic or even patronising – as if they couldn’t work out the links for themselves.

The reality is that no-one should have to ‘work’ to understand your writing; there is a difference between complex ideas (which a doctoral thesis should engage with) and complex writing. Continue reading “Helen writes: explicit content!”

In the footsteps of others

The University of Birmingham eTheses repository has a fantastic new look and improved functionality, so now is a great time to have a browse through previous UoB theses.

etheses infographic cropped

A research thesis is a very different piece of writing from anything else you may have produced before, and from anything you will need to do in future, and as such, it can be difficult to understand exactly what is required, particularly in terms of structure and style.  Looking at previous theses can provide really useful examples to help you navigate this unique form of academic writing.  Continue reading “In the footsteps of others”

Helen writes: getting started

In the first of a new occasional series, Writing Skills Advisor Helen Williams gives advice on getting started with your thesis writing.

In 2018 I started at the University of Birmingham as a Writing Skills Advisor, and when asked to contribute to this blog I considered the hardest part of writing my own thesis.

Helen Williams, Writing Skills Advisor, Library Services

Fittingly, ‘getting started’ was often the toughest task for me, which also felt apt for a first blog post. Preparation is essential in drafting effective writing, and there is a lot that you can do encourage this process before putting pen to paper. So, to start, here are four tips for getting started. Continue reading “Helen writes: getting started”

Write often!

In the week of the Writing Summer School, one “top tip” for writing is offered.

This week, it’s the University Graduate School Writing Summer School.  There are a lot of exciting workshops planned, covering wide-ranging topics on writing from mapping academic writing, writing for publication, reviewing the literature and doctoral writing groups to editing and proof-reading.  For full details, enrol on the Canvas module.

Writing for research is such a huge topic that it can’t be covered in its entirety in a 2-day summer school, so a blog post is definitely not up to the job.  But in the spirit of the writing summer school, I wanted to share with you my “top tip” for writing.  It’s not particularly original, and has been encapsulated in a thousand clichés, but here it is:

Write often.

Continue reading “Write often!”