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The day-to-day process of thesis-writing
It’s important to organise your time well, and try to get into a routine for thesis-writing. It’s not easy because your situation will keep changing. It’s a very individual activity, but I want to talk about how I do it.
I do not live at university – my house is an 80-minute journey away (walking, train, waiting, bus). That’s when I do most of my reading – papers, and proof-reading my thesis (usually the bit I’ve just written). I generally do no work once I get home, which is usually between 21:30 and 22:00. I usually go to bed just after midnight, and I require 6h30m to 7h sleep to operate effectively.
On a good thesis-writing day (expect plenty of bad ones, though, when you just don’t feel like it! ;-)), I arrive at university at 9:20 or 9:50 (depending what train I catch). It’s good to start with editing the thesis according to the comments you’ve written on yesterday’s draft (mainly tactical-level), because it’s a gentle introduction to a day of thesis writing. If you don’t take a comment on board immediately, insert it into the text of the thesis using special characters to delimit it, and don’t forget to grep for such comments before you submit!
It’s important to block out distractions, because it’s easy to make excuses to put off starting work for the day, especially something as vague and difficult as research (concrete tasks are easier to get down to). My particular vice is emailing and surfing the Internet, so I have actually written a Perl script to keep me off until 17:00!
The week-to-week process of thesis-writing
It’s important to plan what you intend to achieve each week, and at the end of each week, to take stock of what you’ve done that week, and plan for the week(s) ahead. For this purpose, I write a weekly summary of up to one side of A4.
I’m within six months of my thesis deadline, and I have six chapters to write in that time, so I’ve planned to spend three weeks writing up each chapter and working on the plan for the next chapter, leaving a month before the deadline for proof-reading and editing (do not underestimate the time needed for this – that was one reason why I was two months late submitting my MPhil thesis).