I am planning to write a thesis in three months. How to be more organised towards writing and get the first draft ready in three months? Has anyone written the first draft of the thesis in three months or so?

I have some writing done already as I have published some conference and workshop papers.

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    Consider using the early hours of the morning, so that you don't get distracted by family, friends, text messages etc etc Some find 5.30AM to 7.30AM tend to be worth about 4 hours of time later in the day due to distractions... – Solar Mike Jan 6 '19 at 13:55
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    Well, it worked for a couple of my students last semester and a long time ago for me (and I am no morning person :) )... So best of luck then! – Solar Mike Jan 6 '19 at 14:23
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    There’s no one-size-fits-all answer; it’s totally dependent on your specific circumstances, psychology, and work habits. If you’re typically good at working fast under pressure, and have already done most of the research for the thesis, then it’s definitely possible (I wrote almost all my thesis in the last 3 weeks before the deadline, following 6 months of complete writer’s block). If you’re not so experienced at writing quickly under pressure, or if the research isn’t sufficiently prepared, then this is a bit of a gamble and will need more discipline. But in any case, best of luck! – PLL Jan 6 '19 at 15:22
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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique might help – Eric Duminil Jan 6 '19 at 15:30
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    If you are in CS, then you might be able to do it in a few weeks if you can just staple together your pubs and smooth out the transitions between chapters. – Austin Henley Jan 6 '19 at 21:04

Make an outline and a schedule, then follow the schedule. Include time for revision and feedback in your schedule.

If you know all the content already, the writing can be done much faster than that. In my field, it is only necessary to write about 90 generously spaced pages, so three months is less than a page a day. In more verbose fields, your thesis need not be more than 500 pages, so that's an achievable 6 pages a day.

The real problem is when you do not know the content you need to write - that part we cannot help with here.

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    I can't imagine writing a 90 page math paper. My dissertation was <40 pages. – Matt Samuel Jan 6 '19 at 16:55
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    @MattSamuel I'm in math and I am working with some coauthors on a paper we are considering splitting because it is going above the ~100 pages mark.. (lots of technical lemmas needed for the interesting results :)) – Denis Nardin Jan 6 '19 at 17:00

I wrote my thesis in 10 days. Granted, I was well published before, so 3/4 of it was a cut and paste.

This was 90s so I had to use lab computer for typing. Went in at night and typed. Then did a morning run, ate breakfast and slept. Avoided distractions from lab group.

Avoided complicated LaTex and just did it old school. Even xeroxed in figures versus fancier drafting program. Did individual chapters to correspond to papers. Picked easiest endnote system (by chapter). I think I even did individual files by chapter because Word got complicated trying to do multichapter work.

At the end of the day, it's pass fail. Just get it done.

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    Thanks, I really like when you said "it's pass fail. Just get it done.". It took a lot of pressure off. It's admirable that you managed to write the thesis in 10 days. – ffl Jan 6 '19 at 15:13
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    At the end of the day, it's pass fail. – Some PhD theses are graded. – Wrzlprmft Jan 6 '19 at 16:49
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    @chepner: Depending on your country, field, grading system, employer, and the grade difference, it might. For example, if I were to higher people with a PhD in my field from Germany and they got the lowest or second-lowest passing grade for their thesis, this would at least make for a question in the job interview. – Wrzlprmft Jan 6 '19 at 17:58
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    Make sure that you know and understand the required formatting. A big time waster is writing a large chunk and then finding out it's in the wrong format. – D Duck Jan 6 '19 at 20:42
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    @DDuck using sensible document preparation practices, differences of basic format should be a complete non-issue to address. In LaTeX, it's a matter of changing some header declarations to denote a different desired arrangement. In Word, it's a matter of using page and text styles in a disciplined manner, rather than manually doing things like bolding and centering each heading. – Phil Miller Jan 6 '19 at 20:45

Having done this myself, one thing I did was work at certain desks in the stacks at my college library that happened to have metal walls. This acted as a Faraday cage, blocking all wifi and cell phone signals. It was very helpful for focus, while a the same time allowing me to easily access the internet if I needed to look up a paper simply by standing up and walking out of the work area. You may not have something similar, but the key issue of removing easy distractions like phones and especially the internet is very important.

Similarly, I would suggest not using your personal laptop to do this--it's another way for distractions to creep in. You'll want something that can download papers, compile TeX, and pretty much nothing else. You may be able to get a loaner laptop from your department for work purposes or get an old used laptop for cheap.

I also heavily relied on copy and paste from my previous papers, and even some of my advisor's papers. Obviously the sections from my advisor's papers had to be rewritten, but it gave me a complete draft, which was a big change psychologically. Having a complete document that needs lots of revisions is way different from having an incomplete document, even if the amount of work left to do is similar.

One last thing--keep a regular sleep schedule that gets 8 hours of sleep and involves waking up before 8. This is something grad students are notoriously bad at, but you'd be amazed at how much better you feel.

  • Thanks. I think getting the first draft by copy and pasting the papers is a great idea. At least, this will give a big picture and then revising them to smooth out the transitions between chapters will get the whole thing in a good shape. Initially, I was thinking to go chapter by chapter, but now I think I will get the first draft by copypasting and then revising chapter by chapter. Thanks eyeballfrog and Austin for the suggestion. – ffl Jan 7 '19 at 9:29

I found spending at least some time (a few hours/week) with a 'writing group' of people similarly in need of a focus on writing to be very helpful. We booked a conference room, took turns bringing in coffee and snacks to share, and set a common timer for when we'd take breaks. Even without any mutual accountability (we were all in totally separate fields, working on our own theses and papers), the shared goal was a strong force to keep us focused and averse to our own distractions.

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