The writing challenges PhD students face

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Writing your PhD thesis – which is likely to be the single biggest piece of written work you’ve done – presents many challenges. When you’re in the midst of a long academic paper, surrounded by people with opinions and feedback and under pressure to publish, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

But don’t lose hope! Here are some tips to help you tackle the most common challenges you might face when writing up your PhD.

Avoiding the pitfalls of procrastination

Everyone procrastinates.

Whether you’re binge-watching your favorite show, dealing with the easy things on your to-do list or simply daydreaming, procrastination is an easy trap to fall into. Unfortunately, your PhD thesis won’t write itself. But procrastination is common, so there are plenty of tools – even apps – to get you back on track.

Scheduling writing (and relaxation)

One such approach is to schedule your work – and play. Track your energy levels for a week and work out the best time for you to write. Then schedule it in – try making to-do lists or keeping a planner.

Don’t forget to take time for yourself – you can’t write a good thesis if you’re exhausted. When you’re buried beneath a pile of papers that need grading, and you have dozens of emails to read, and you’re meeting with your supervisor tomorrow morning, life can seem particularly grim. Treat yourself every once in a while. And don’t forget to sleep!

Busting language barriers

Although English is the primary language of science, it’s not all scientists’ native language. It might be daunting to write a PhD thesis if English if this is the case, but there’s help available.

First, check out what support is available at your institution: many universities have a writing center or provide training in academic writing, or you could find a mentor.

If you’re still not feeling confident, the alternative is to write in your native language and have it translated – there are services you can use, like Elsevier’s Translation Services.

Breaking the feedback loop

If scientific writing were a musical score, it would be for an orchestra rather than a soloist. You’ll often find yourself collaborating with others, whose input can help you shape your work into something great. But the process can take forever.

The key to keeping control is planning. Work out who you need to get feedback from and give them deadlines. Not only will this keep you on track, it will mean you’re not spending time worrying about when you might hear back from people.

Editing and proofreading

Have you ever stared at a word for so long that it starts to look weird? Editing a PhD thesis can be painful, especially when you’ve been reading the same text for months.

You’re likely to go through several rounds of editing, so be prepared to find plenty of support. When you’re editing your own work, make sure you’ve slept on it – you’ll need fresh eyes to spot any errors. When you’re ready for some professional editing and proofreading to polish your thesis, the experts at Elsevier’s Language Services can help.