Dissertation Guide

Our comprehensive guide to the process of writing a dissertation or thesis. Back to Student Resources

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How important is planning?

“If I was doing my thesis now I would do it as a commercial undertaking. I would treat the university as a client and write a proposal of what I was going to do and how long each task was going to take. As a professional freelance writer, I have to cost jobs, and to do that I need a good idea of what is required. I don’t want to end up working for six months on something that I’ve thought was going to take two. I have to be in agreement with a client as to what is required, so I will invariably write them a detailed proposal with costs: specifying the number of words, the number and type of illustrations; allowing for liaison with production staff, designers and proofreaders; clarifying the target audience; and so on. Then we know what we are talking about.”

“The amount of planning I do for a book is incredibly variable. When I’m doing my introductory talk for new PhD students, I will spend quite a bit of time talking about the importance of planning, setting out structures, thinking about a skeleton, thinking about subheadings, and some of the time I will do that. At other times, I think for good reasons, I’m quite happy to go ploughing straight into the writing and then maybe at some later stage I will take a breath and do some planning. It really depends on how I am feeling about the bit of writing. I think that’s partly to do with how clear I am in my mind at the outset of what it is I’m trying to write, or how clear I think I am, and also how I’m feeling about writing as a task. If I’m feeling quite positive and excited about the idea of writing something then I’ll go straight into writing. If I have anything that approaches block, if I have a feeling that I can’t be bothered, or I’m not very happy about it, or anything that’s getting in the way, then I’m more likely to sit and plan.”

“At the time only two people in the history of the university had ever had extensions. One was an Arab who was called up for military service. The other was a seriously ill woman who was in hospital for months. I did nothing for months and months. I had until the August and I responded to the deadline.”