Publish at February 16 2022 Updated February 24 2022

What are the priorities for writing a thesis?

The golden rule: write without delay

The thesis: the culmination of years of study in a field we were passionate about. An essay that should be simple then, right? Especially with the fruit of extensive research, everything should be relatively easy... However, no doctoral student will claim that writing was a piece of cake. On the contrary, for many, it is a painful period that occupies several years besides.

Already, one must hope to work with a thesis director who is less in boss mode than as a guide through this period. That doesn't always happen unfortunately. Second, it's necessary to motivate yourself to write. Because it is a major piece of work that will have to be defended in front of a panel in order to get certified. This demonstrates the abilities to research and support the fruit of one's research.

Getting unstuck

There are plenty of testimonials of thesis writing that have been difficult online. No matter how many tons of data they've accumulated, students don't know where to turn with all that has been amassed. Martha Boeglin was one of those for whom the first few writing experiences were catastrophic. Every line written was erased, every moment without writing was experienced with great guilt, etc. Fortunately, as she recounts in this episode of the Papa PhD podcast, she managed, thanks in part to writing workshops, to break free from the blank page syndrome.

Today, she runs the Scriptoria blog and offers science writing training. She suggests using the SMART system to get unstuck in thesis writing. That is, to give yourself specific, measurable, attractive, realistic, and temporally defined goals. A very popular approach among telecommuters and others who need to advance independent projects.

A shared chore

For others, this ordeal is best experienced together. Indeed, all future PhD students go through the writing stage. Working in groups seems then a more motivating and productive solution. Of course, writing periods are often done in silence or quiet. However, it is possible to take time to discuss each other's experiences, read what has been done, suggest avenues and encourage each other in other necessary tasks such as upgrading one's resume.

In Quebec, by the way, the non-profit organization "Thèsez-vous?" supports Quebec students in writing theses, scientific articles and others such as grant applications or internship reports. Writing retreats are organized, online spaces are available for writing and sharing, and there is even a space in Montreal that students can reserve. Many of its services require a small fee to ensure the organization's activities, but it also offers virtual workshops that also use the SMART approach. Moreover, a study published in the summer of 2021 showed that these scheduled retreats have a strong positive effect on productivity and the well-being of writers.

Eating the frog every day

For those in need of tips on how to motivate themselves in lonely moments, there are plenty of tips online. Already, you should start as soon as possible. Do not wait until you have the inspiration, all read the planned bibliography, etc. This English-language blog with dozens of articles on writing is aptly titled, "Write the Damn Dissertation". This is what should be the primary motivation of the PhD student. Because there is no such thing as a perfectly written dissertation on the first try. It will take dozens of revisions and rearrangements at least. When they start, they will have a base to work from. Much easier to edit a text than to start from scratch.

The writer Mark Twain said, "Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day." The idea is to start the writing period with a task that seems boring or thankless so that what comes next seems more enjoyable. A ritual that will make writing less scary for many. And then, there is nothing to stop you from using techniques like voice recording in order to start putting your ideas in place and then copy them to writing.

Finally, another important element, it is not necessary to write every day. Yes, you have to do this thesis but it is essential to give yourself time in order to see loved ones, perform enjoyable activities, go out to air your mind, etc. Constantly living with the guilt of writing will not make the process go any faster. On the contrary, it can be a hindrance. Many simple activities, both solo and in groups, will keep one's sanity during this time.

Illustration : Christin Hume on Unsplash


Boeglin, Martha. "SMART Goals: Where's Your Thesis Going?" Scriptoria. Last updated November 21, 2021.

"Unlocking Thesis Writing With Martha Boeglin." Papa Phd Podcast. Last updated February 25, 2021.

Gul Ali, Samina. "Tips for the Final Year of Writing Your Thesis (opinion)." Inside Higher Ed. Last updated September 21, 2021.

Poliquin, Emilie-Jade. "Some Pitfalls to Avoid In Writing Period." University Affairs. Last updated November 12, 2021.

Do you? Accessed February 10, 2022.

Tremblay-Wragg, Émilie, Cynthia Vincent, Christelle Lison, William Gilbert, Philippe Valois, and Sara Mathieu-Chartier. "Structured Writing Retreats Among Doctoral Students: What Conditions Foster a Legitimate, Productive, and Pleasurable Writing Experience?" Scholar - Canadian Journal of Education. Last updated in 2021.

Turbiau, Aurore. "The Thesis, The Writing, The Rest: At The End Of... Two Years And Eight Months (To Avoid Saying Three Years)." Engaged Literatures. Last updated: January 18, 2022.

Vairet, Florent, Ariane Blanchet, Julia Lemarchand, and Hélène Bielak. "When The Thesis Director Becomes An Obstacle." Les Echos Start. Last updated January 26, 2021.

"Write the Damn Dissertation." Coaching to Help Women Finish Writing Their Doctoral Dissertation. Accessed February 10, 2022.

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