Building a Routine for Composing a Doctoral Thesis

Writing a doctorate is a complex project, undertaken over a duration of years and often involving long periods of isolated study. For this reason, it is essential that doctoral researchers establish a work routine that will enable them to compose the various parts of their thesis in an efficient way and to a high standard.

This routine may well change and be adapted at different stages of the process. For example, a doctoral student’s routine during particularly research-intensive periods will be very different to that of the writing-up period. The former may well involve fieldwork, archival research, or lab work that requires a much more flexible schedule to take account of travel requirements, unpredictable archival or fieldwork timetables, or the vagaries of gathering experimental data. The writing-up experience, by contrast, is far more likely to be stable and predictable; however, this stability also means that the writing process is far less variegated, which presents its own challenges in terms of maintaining momentum and clarity.

How might writers develop routines that allow them to get around these various problems? For some scholars, this means having a familiar environment in which to write, and particular times of the day set aside for sustained writing (with other time periods blocked out for teaching and other academic commitments, attending seminars or keeping up with relevant literature, or socialising and family life). For others, writing is best accomplished in unfamiliar environments, particularly away from the distractions and obligations of home life. This is particularly the case when researchers might need to consult academic literature as they write (for example, when composing footnotes), something which may only be possible in the library. Developing a sensitivity to the different demands of different moments in the process of composing a PhD is a necessary part of an effective writing strategy.