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Researcher Development

Researcher Development

Drafting your thesis

This section of the resource will take you through an 8 step plan for drafting your individual chapters, and your thesis as a whole. Each step will have its own page with guidance, resource and activities to help you draft your thesis.

Congratulations; you’ve finished your research! Time to get writing…but before you start, it’s important to get organised. Take a step back and look at the data you have – re-organise your research, which parts of it are central to your thesis, which bits need putting to one side? Label everything, have logical folders, make it easy for yourself! Academic and blogger Pat Thomson calls this ‘Clean up to get clearer’. Thomson suggests these questions to ask yourself before you start writing:

‘What data do you have? You might find it useful to write out a list of types of data. (And your supervisor will find this list useful too.) This list is also an audit document that can go in your thesis. Do you have any data for the ‘cutting room floor’? Take a deep breath and put it in a separate non-thesis file – you can easily retrieve it if it turns out you need it.

What do you have already written? What chunks of material have you written so far that might form the basis of pieces of the thesis text? They will most likely need to be revised, but they are useful starting points. Do you have any ‘holding text’ – that is, material that already know has to be re-written but which contains information that will be the basis of a new text?

What have you read and what do you still need to read? Are there new texts that you need to consult now, as a result of your analysis? What readings can you now put to one side, knowing that they aren’t useful to this thesis – although they might be useful at another time?

What goes with what? Can you group together writings, data analysis and readings in ways that signal some of the things that are going to matter to your thesis argument? Can you create chunks or themes of materials that are going to form the basis of some chunks of your text, perhaps even chapters?

Once you have assessed and sorted what you have collected and generated in the previous years you are in much better shape to approach the big task of composing the dissertation.’ (Thomson, 2016)


Before you start thinking about planning or writing – clean up to get clearer! You can use Thomson’s approach, or the approaches we introduced you in the section on “strategies to identify your structure” would also be useful here.

A key message is a summary of new information communicated in your thesis. You should have started to map this out already in the section on argument and contribution – an overarching argument, with the building blocks that you will flesh out in individual chapters.


You have already mapped your argument visually – now you need to move to writing it in prose. Following another of Pat Thomson’s exercise, write a ‘tiny text’ thesis abstract. This doesn’t have to be elegant, or indeed the ‘finished product’, but will help you to articulate the argument you want your thesis to make. You create a tiny text using a five paragraph structure:

The first sentence addresses the broad context. This locates the study in a policy, practice or research field.
The second sentence establishes a problem related to the broad context you have set out. It often starts with But, Yet or However…
The third sentence says what specific research has been done. This sentence often starts with This research… or I report…
 The fourth sentence reports the results. Don’t try to be too tricky here, just start with something like.. This study shows, or Analysis of the data suggests that…
 The fifth and final sentence addresses the So What question, and makes clear the claim to contribution.

Here’s an example that Thomson provides:

Secondary school arts are in trouble, as the fall in enrolments in arts subjects dramatically attests. However, there is patchy evidence about the benefits of studying arts subjects at school and this makes it hard to argue why the drop in arts enrolments matters. This thesis reports on research which attempts to provide some answers to this problem – a longitudinal study which followed two groups of senior secondary students, one group enrolled in arts subjects and the other not, for three years. The results of the study demonstrate the benefits of young people’s engagement in arts activities, both in and out of school, as well as the connections between the two. The study not only adds to what is known about the benefits of both formal and informal arts education, but also provides robust evidence for policy makers and practitioners arguing for the benefits of the arts. You can find out more about tiny texts and thesis abstracts on Thomson’s blog.

It may be that you are not a ‘planner’ when it comes to writing, and prefer to sit and type, and think through ideas as you go. That’s ok. Everybody works differently. BUT the benefits of planning your writing is that you plan can help you when you get ‘stuck’. It is something that can help with writer’s block (more on this shortly!) but also maintain clarity of intention/purpose in your writing.

You can do this by creating a thesis skeleton or storyboard, planning the order of your chapters and think of potential titles (which may change at a later stage!), noting down what each chapter/section will cover and thinking about word count – how many words will you dedicate to each chapter? (make sure the total doesn’t exceed the maximum word limit allowed!).

Use your plan to help prompt your writing when you get stuck, and to develop clarity in your writing

  • This chapter will argue that…
  • This section illustrates that…
  • This paragraph provides evidence that…


Beth Mills, PGR in English developed a fantastic template document for planning your thesis tasks. Download the document, and start planning your thesis writing!

Of course, we wish it was that easy. But you need to approach your first draft as exactly that – a draft. It isn’t a perfect, finished product – it is your opportunity to start getting words down on paper. Start with whichever chapter you feel you want to write first; you don’t necessarily have to start with the introduction! Depending on your research, you may find it easier to start with your empirical/data chapters.

Vitae advocate for the ‘three draft approach’ to help with this – and to stop you second guessing finding exactly the right word or transition as part of your first draft.

You can download a text version of this infographic.

You may also find these resources useful:

Taking a break is important for your mental and physical health, and also to give you space from and perspective on your writing. Give yourself breaks between writing sessions and allow yourself to reflect on each chapter you’ve written. This is a great time to engage in self-care – we have lots of resources on this on our Maintaining Momentum, Productivity and Wellbeing course. Self-care is vital for productivity – find things to do which help you to relax and feel rejuvenated! Here are some self-care ideas.

You can download a text version of this infographic.

There are many ways to approach editing your drafts, and you may well have a tried and tested strategy you don’t want to mess with. In case you don’t, we’ve created three short videos on revision and editing techniques used by academics that you can use a different stages of writing your thesis – working with messy first drafts of sections, creating reverse outlines of chapter structures to make sure the argument is clear, and an editing cycle for when you have a complete thesis draft.

Advice from PGRs

One of the most challenging parts of the redrafting process is receiving and responding to feedback from your supervisors. Kelly Preece, Head of Academic Development and Skills, has developed a 10 step process for dealing with your supervisors’ feedback, adapted from blogger Get a Life, PhD. She has posted her full 10 step strategy on the Doctoral College blog.

We spoke to PGRs and asked for their tips on how to respond to supervisor feedback on your thesis, and have compiled them into a pdf.


In these videos, Dr. Edward Mills and Dr. Catherine Talbot, two of our doctoral graduates, talk about how they deal with supervisor feedback.

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