When it comes to listing the dreadful tasks on a PhD's to-do list, writing a dissertation is always ranked among the top ones. And for a good reason. This document needs to cover all the ground you have covered while working hard on the bench, including thorough discussion, detailed methodologies and an illustrated results section that will make your 5-years' work worthy of the Doctor of Philosophy title stuck right after your surname. And worse, you need to write it all by yourself. So, how does one approach and prepare a document that summarizes 5 years of hard work?
When to start?
It really depends on your writing abilities and the pedantry of your PI when it comes to reviewing manuscripts (I know of graduate students who were six months behind their last submission deadline due to a strict PI). Usually between 3 to 6 months is a fair amount of time for writing your thesis; make the effort to focus on solely writing and not performing complementing experiments.
Where should I begin? What sections should be included? Is it like writing a paper?
Like with writing an article, you should first read the thesis writing requirements before commencing any serious writing. These requirements will answer some of the questions above as well as instruct you on the thesis language, length and judgment process.
While thesis chapters can vary among universities around the world, it is common to have the following chapters, much like an article:
- Introduction including aim/motivation
- Materials and methods
- Discussion and conclusion
Of course, you should discuss the outline with your supervisor and get his approval.
Article vs. Thesis
Unlike writing an article (see "Write an Article a Journal will Love"), here each section should be more expanded and discussed more thoroughly. Another important difference between writing an article and a thesis is the fact that a thesis can include several publications, connecting them into a complete research story. In many cases a thesis will contain several sub-projects that are loosely connected and will require a certain creativity to connect them together under one roof.