My strategy for ‘writing up’ my PhD thesis

18 Apr

So I’m at what I consider to be the final leg of my PhD – the ‘writing up’ stage. I don’t really like this term because it implies that I haven’t been writing. I’ve been writing since I started and I have every chapter in draft. However, draft is the word – some of these chapters haven’t been touched in months, years even.

As a full time Lecturer, I am extremely fortunate to be given 12 weeks protected study time to ‘write up’ (thank you University of Dundee!). In other words, to revisit all my chapters,  revise,  then produce a first full draft by the end of the 12 weeks. I still have some work commitments in terms of my post graduate students, but this was my decision.

I’m excited but also apprehensive. While I’ve had blocks of study time throughout my PhD, I haven’t had this much in one go.  Having a big chunk with a very specific goal at the end makes me nervous – mainly in relation to the concentration I‘m going to need every day. I must also add that due to the time I spend in front of my PC I have developed what I think is coined ‘Mouse Shoulder’. My right shoulder now burns constantly and I worry about the impact of even more time at my PC.

So, I have come up with a plan to help me cope with all this. Basically I’ve decided to increase my physical exercise, therefore I’ve joined the gym.

Exercise is an integral part of my life anyway – I run most mornings and I practice Ashtanga Yoga (albeit not very well). I also get out and about with Dave – my dog (and my camera). However, for the next 12 weeks, class2I don’t think this is going to cut it, so I’ve just joined David Lloyd’s gym. I’ve had a gym membership years ago (only for using gym equipment), but decided to stop when I realised I was there more than the staff (damn those endorphins!). I had a taster Christmas special membership with David Lloyd and I loved the range of classes (apart from the spin class – that was just nasty!) and the times they were on. Plus, it’s only a 5 minute drive from home. I’m hoping this will also encourage my teenage daughter to actually use her membership too!

Anyway, with the goal of staying healthy and producing a first full PhD thesis draft, here is my plan for the next 12 weeks:


I am generally a healthy eater anyway, but alongside this I shall ensure my diet remains reasonably healthy and I’ll keep hydrated. Those who know me, know I love my red wine and a glass or two of bubbly – although I only tend to indulge at weekends. I plan to keep doing this! I do know of people who have abstained completely while writing up – this I couldn’t/wouldn’t even contemplate doing!

So that is my plan…. It sounds a little rigid, but I do need structure. Obviously, I’m flexible when I take my exercise classes and will work around that and I plan to fit in the occasional swim and sauna. I also might (probably will) have a little lie in at the weekends!  However, all-in-all, I’m hoping this will keep concentration and motivation levels up, prevent procrastination, distraction, cabin fever and worsening ‘mouse shoulder’.

So…. bring on the next 12 weeks I say! I shall let you know how this is going after a week or so (if you are interested that is). I’m really keen in hearing about the type of strategies you have tried (or trying) and if they’ve worked (or not!). Oh, also – if anyone knows about mouse shoulder, I’d be eternally grateful for any advice on how to make it better, or at least to make it stop it burning #ouch


9 Responses to “My strategy for ‘writing up’ my PhD thesis”

  1. adeeward April 18, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

    Looks like a plan Emma, if there is anything a long distance twitter buddy can do to help, let me know… Good luck in the final stages, can’t wait to see the pics of the celebrations when finished.

    • Emma Burnett April 18, 2014 at 5:30 pm #

      Thank you so much for the encouragement Dee!!

      • Shubhashnee Subryan April 19, 2014 at 1:56 pm #

        Emma, I have 5 months to submit my first draft of the completed thesis. I am in the middle of my fieldwork as well. Like you have have drafts of the first three chapters which I revisit occasionally. I also have an exercise routine of walking which I start at around 5:00 am most days. I have fallen off the wagon watching what I eat, so I’ve stopped thinking about it. Coping with the distractions of family and home leaves me guilt ridden. Light at the end of the tunnel is: my sister who lives in the Bahamas has invited me to do my final write up there for as long as it takes. Let’s hope this works. Good luck on your writing.

      • Emma Burnett April 20, 2014 at 9:23 am #

        Thank you for your response Shubhashnee. I’m very impressed with your 5:00am starts! I don’t think the guilt feelings will ever go, but I agree it’s hard. I am however very, very envious about your potential location to do your final write up – wow! Although, for me it may be far too much of a distraction! Good luck with the next 5 months – do come back and let me know how you get on (and it you go to the Bahamas!) 🙂

  2. phdthesishelp September 13, 2016 at 6:50 am #

    Thanks for sharing us nice post to gain interesting knowledge to complete my Thesis . i took helped of PhD Thesis writing in Chennai .it complete my thesis on time tanks .

  3. Luciano Ruocco February 14, 2018 at 4:13 pm #

    Thank you for sharing informative tips on writing PhD thesis and PhD Proposal. This is the most easy way of learning. This helps me to get some idea regarding this and helps me to bring a creative thought.

    • Emma Burnett February 14, 2018 at 7:51 pm #

      Glad you found this useful. I also found blog posts very helpful while I was doing my PhD. Good luck!


  1. So far, so good: Increased physical activity = productive thesis writing | Emma's blog - May 2, 2014

    […] promised a little update to let you know how things were going.  So my previous post was about joining the gym as a thesis writing strategy. It’s been almost two weeks now, and I can […]

  2. Dealing with unexpected interruptions to your PhD | Emma's blog - June 10, 2014

    […] In my blog post on 8th April I spoke about preparing for my study leave and the strategies I planned to adopt to help my productivity, in particular increasing my physical exercise routine. For a little while, this worked well. […]

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