Early stages

When should I look at other dissertations and theses?

“One of the things I say to new MPhil and PhD students is ‘Go to the library and get some completed PhD theses off the shelves and marvel at them.’ (I have to choose my words carefully.) Rid yourself of the idea that all the people who wrote these things before you were path-breaking social theorists. They are ordinary students, very bright but just writing a thesis. As early as you can, disabuse yourself of the idea that you’re splitting the atom. It’s great if you could, but you don’t have to for us to give you a PhD. It’s a practical task.”

“Checking completed theses enables you to think about the structure of your thesis and will give you some idea of what you are working towards. They are your best guide to what your final product should be. I have an exercise where I ask students to read the abstract of a relevant thesis and then sketch out a rough structure of what the content might be before looking at the body of the thesis.”

“One thing that I found very useful in learning to write within that disciplinary structure is to find out how people read the work. People never read the Introduction first. They read the Abstract and then they go to the Conclusions and then they go to the Discussion. They rarely read your Introduction unless they need to pick your sources. They go to the Introduction for the previous work and theoretical stuff and how you contextualise your work within the broader area in which you are writing. What they are really interested in is your Results.”