Thesis/ dissertation: how to proceed (2/3: The 'writing' step)

Part 1 is here, if you haven't read it yet ;-)

At this point, you have gathered all the sources you need, fully understood the different sides of the topic you are working on, -hopefully- taken enough notes to start writing and made a clear plan. If your notes are well organized, you have absolutely nothing to fear. 

If not, maybe it's time you start dedicating more time to  that. For this, you can use mind maps, hierarchical lists or color codes. Mind maps and color codes are my favorites: they allow me to have a look at the whole work, establish the causal relationships and sometimes even reach the conclusions I have been thinking about for so long...

If you don't know what a mind map is, let me explain: it is a visual representation that has your topic at its heart (put it in the center node), and many nodes and subnodes representing subtopics, or other elements you want to include in your work, linked to each other. It is pretty simple, you just put the information you have visually, using minimal expressions (not to crowd it with text). It is important to use symbols, colors, and shapes in order for your map to make sense. The advantage of this technique is that it allows you to have an overview of all the elements you have on hands. (If you have better organization strategies, please share with us in the comment section below !)

Here is an example I made for you just quickly, but I am sure you can find more aesthetical ones online. I'd love to share with you the 'huge' mind map I made for my thesis, I'll remind myself to take a picture of it.
Example of a mind map
Once everything is organized, you'll be able to know what is missing, what needs to be expanded and on what parts you need more reflection/ data. This might require you to look for more sources and to redo some of the steps I talked about in part 1. The most important is that now you know what should be done, and you can just go ahead and do it.

If there is one piece of advice I can give you, it sure is the following "DON'T wait for the very last moment to start writing ". Start now, find a way to get inspired. You may call it a draft, it does not have to be perfect it just has to get out of your mind and be there somewhere you can go and modify/edit it whenever you want. This does not mean you have to write randomly, absolutely not! If you want the text to 'look' nice, set milestones to review your writing (by paragraph, page, chapter... as you want)

You remember (from part 1) that you have a lot of notes, in the form of citations (organized by topic/ theme, hopefully). Well that can really help you. How? You can compare and contrast what different people said on the same matter, add more to one's idea, and quote scholars in the field to give your work more value and credibility.

Here again, you should remember to keep the source in the same form you have it in your notes. You can agree with you supervisor about sending him parts of the work with sentences like: 'As [J] explains in his paper...'. Names are not very important at this stage.

To know exactly what notes you have already used, I suggest you change their color (I used to use blue). This will guarantee you don't repeat the same idea/ quote twice in your thesis. The more blue you have in your notes, the closer you are to getting done (if you keep expanding your notes each time you come across a relevant information to your topic, of course). Please keep in mind that you don't have to use all your notes just to add in more text or more quotes.

Don't worry about reaching a certain number of pages, you'll end up with more anyways. At a certain stage, you'll have so much valuable information, and so many different ways to interpret it that you'll need to stop yourself from going a 'bit' deeper each time a question strikes you. If you don't, you'll end up with 250 pages when you intended to write the half of that at the beginning (I know something about this!). And again, shoot for quality, not quantity!!

I'll leave you to your writing and will see you in the last article of this series. You can guess it will be about reviewing, finalizing and touching up your work to make it: "perfect", just like you. Good luck again !


  1. Thanks a lot for this, simple yet brilliant :D

  2. This is a very helpful and informative post. Thanks it to share keeps it up.


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