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Thesis Information for Philosophy Students: Writing

The Writing Process

Thesis Prospectus / Registering for PHIL 8999
Before you begin writing you must submit a thesis prospectus and have it approved by your advisor and other committee members. In addition, you must be registered for PHIL 8999. See the information under the Department Policies tab for guidelines on completing the prospectus and how to register for PHIL 8999.

Start writing early and often
Set aside a little time each day to write, even when you don’t feel like it. Set goals for yourself and stick to your deadlines. While the due date may seem far off in the future, you will find that you will never have enough time to write.  

The following essays provide good advice on the process of writing and how to stay on track:

Set deadlines and stick to them
The deadlines you establish will keep you writing on a regular basis. Turn in chapters to your advisor, even if they aren’t finished. This makes you feel like you’re making progress, which is essential in keeping up your morale.  Make sure you are aware of and adhere to any deadlines the Department may set.

Back up your electronic files
Even the most seasoned researcher may not take proper precautions when it comes to data storage.  Print off drafts and notes and keep several electronic copies of your notes and drafts on a CD or flash drive.

Don’t throw anything away
Keep all your notes. Keep all your drafts. Date and number your drafts. You may need them if you lose access to your electronic files.

Think of the thesis as a series of small related tasks
One of the biggest mistakes thesis writers make is trying to write the whole thesis rather than writing it a piece-at-a-time.

Advice from the Philosophy Department web site:

Write discrete chunks. Trying to write a draft of the whole thesis and then sending it off to your advisor is usually a really bad idea. There may be serious problems at the beginning that render later work moot, such as a misunderstanding of a key argument you're considering, or a lack of clarity in a fundamental distinction you're making, or a host of other things, which could (and should) have been caught sooner. And if you think of the task ahead of you as the daunting one of "sitting down and writing my thesis," the chances of demoralization and wheel-spinning are quite high. In almost all cases, you'll do better if you set yourself a number of small, discrete steps to take, and then polish them off and send them to your advisor for feedback. Write up a draft of your exposition of one of the main arguments you'll be criticizing, or chapter 2 of your planned 4-chapter thesis, make sure it's on track, and then move on to the next step.

Keep your advisor and committee members informed
Don't choose an advisor/committee and then not talk to them again until you've finished writing (most advisors won't allow this to happen). Communicate on a regular basis; provide updates; discuss problems.

Advice from the Philosophy Department web site:

Keep in touch with your advisor. Let your advisor know what you're planning on doing. When you get extensive feedback on a piece of your thesis (or the whole thesis), look over it carefully, think about what you'll be doing in response to that feedback, and then share those thoughts with your advisor. Sometimes it's a good idea to throw out large chunks of what you've written, change the organization of your thesis, or significantly shift what you're arguing for. But it's a terrible idea to go ahead and do those sorts of things without first letting your advisor know you're thinking of doing them.

Write well
Use good grammar. There’s nothing worse for your committee members than having to read through 35 pages of misplaced modifiers, dangling prepositions, and run-on sentences. On the other hand, remember that the best writing cannot mask a poorly designed, executed, or analyzed study.

Write simply
Don’t use jargon. Even though your committee members may have some knowledge of your topic, write as if you are writing for someone unfamiliar with it.  

Maintain your interest
Remember that even though this is taking you some time to write, other people are going to read it from beginning to end, possibly in one sitting. Stay interested in what you are writing about, which will make it interesting for your readers.

Don’t endure writers block
Most writers get writer’s block occasionally. There are two kinds: the total block (you can’t write anything) and the partial block (you can write, but the writing is painful and difficult and is taking more time than it usually does). Don’t try to suffer through either kind of block. Get advice; talk to your advisor. These might help too:

Don’t isolate yourself / Use your friends
Although it may feel difficult at first to discuss your fears or doubts, talk to other people about your progress and any problems you may be having. Have other thesis writers, students, and faculty read and make comments on your drafts. Engage them in conversation. Listen to their advice.

Know when to let go and end it
Remember that your thesis is just another paper; a rather big paper, but just another paper.  As the end nears, you will have to come to terms with the fact that you are not going to be able to say everything you wanted to say. Don’t turn your thesis into a dissertation!

Revisions
You will probably go through a number of drafts of your thesis, as well as numerous complex revisions of problem spots and individual chapters. Ask yourself the following questions as you revise to ensure that your revision process is thorough and effective:

  • Do your argument and purpose remain clear throughout the paper?
  • Is your tone appropriate?
  • Are you considerate to your reader? Appreciative of his or her level of knowledge/familiarity with your topic?
  • Have you given your reader a sense of the current views on your topic so that s/he has a context in which to consider your argument?
  • Does your paper’s introduction clearly introduce your idea? Explain its significance? Provide background information? Attract the interest of your audience? Provide a clear plan for the paper?  Present your thesis clearly?
  • Does the body of your paper cover your major points in a logical order?
  • Is each of your major points supported by the appropriate amount of evidence and analysis?
  • Do you make clear transitions as your move from point to point?
  • Does your conclusion follow logically from your introduction and body?

Finish writing early
Aim to finish at least three weeks before the thesis is due: final revisions, proofreading, etc., will take more time than you think.  Stick to the deadlines you and your advisor have established. In a perfect world, you'd have a solid first draft by the end of the Fall semester before you graduate, but it's possible to carry your writing into the Spring semester (the semester in which you plan on graduating) and still have written a solid piece of work.

Zotero

Zotero is a free, easy-to-use, open source tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share your research sources. Originally created to work only with the Firefox browser, it can now be used with Chrome, Safari, and Opera (with the appropriate connector).

See the library's Zotero information page for help and useful tips. For additional information, see the Zotero website.

Endnote

EndNote is a program for managing bibliographic citations. It can automate much of the work of organizing and formatting citations and bibliographies in your writing. EndNote can connect to online sources such as GIL and article databases, output results in over 1,000 different bibliographic styles, and more.

Please see the library's EndNote information page for information on how to download and use the software.

Don't want to download the software? Use EndNoteWeb, the Web-based version that allows you to access your citations from any computer, any where, any time. .