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Set Realistic Goals When Planning Your Doctoral Thesis

Setting realistic goals is a major part of planning any piece of writing, no matter at what level a student is working. Whilst at school study is completely directed, with the hope that students will gradually become more autonomous.

Some of the academic skills and strategies needed for independent learning, are not taught or directed and tend to be acquired by experience. By the time a student is an undergraduate, they have hopefully accumulated work- load and coping strategies.

At postgraduate level, the learning process is almost entirely self-directed and furthering academic skills a priority, especially as postgraduate studies are usually research based.

So, how do you set realistic goals for planning your doctoral thesis?

  1. Look at your time management skills, as this holds the key to making the process more successful and less stressful.
  2. This might be obvious but, read and reread the remit and expectations of the work you need to provide for your doctorate thesis. Look carefully at time frame.
  3. Discuss at some length your research proposal with your tutor. Listen to their advice and experience.
  4. Start writing, now! The sooner you start putting your ideas on paper, the less jumbled they become.
  5. Preferably you need a dedicated project folder or large book in which to put all your notes for the thesis.
  6. . Realistically, look at the size of the project you want to do. Trying to combine too many ideas makes the project too big, unmanageable and complicated.
  7. In the project book, keep a detailed record of the references and citations you are aiming to use. This will save you time when you are writing up the thesis.
  8. You can’t do too much planning, let your plan evolve, put in as much detail as you can. Go back to your tutor. Stick to your plan. Allow time for re-drafting in your plan.
  9. Plan your literature search. Goal set by allowing a specified time for undertaking the literature search (keep notes). What ever time you are allocating for your literature search add at least 25 - 50 % more, as it always takes longer than you think. Read past thesis.
  10. Plan for your Viva as you go through the process of writing up your thesis. Think like an examiner.
  11. If you get stuck at any stage in the process, is because you have set the task too hard. Review. Go back to your tutor to discuss.


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