I am going to write a manuscript based thesis. It will be having 4 manuscripts as chapters 3,4,5,6. Chapters 1 and 2 will be introduction and literature review. While 7 will be on conclusions. Now, I still have 50% work left for chapter 6, which I will complete withinn two weeks max. And will write the chapter as I go about doing the simulations to get the results.

My question is, I have to submit my thesis by June end. Extension is not an option. I am freaking out about deadline approaching so fast.

So, what should be my strategy be to complete the thesis on time? I know this is a vague question. But any advice would be most helpful!!

  • 9
    Just one: Head down and write! – Massimo Ortolano Apr 7 at 11:04
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    Surely literature review is basically complete - as it was necessary for each of the papers... – Solar Mike Apr 7 at 11:10
  • What did your advisor say? – Bernhard Apr 7 at 20:44

Make an output schedule that will let you finish. By "output" I mean completed material, e.g. a page a day. For each day, work at least as long as necessary to stay with the schedule.

If you can do that, you'll finish on time.


I'd strongly recommend consolidating chapters 1 and 2 together. The introduction and lit review will easily fit in the same chapter. Each manuscript should have an associated lit review anyway.

Focus 80-90% of your time on completing your last manuscript. The largest risk for you not finishing on time is if that last paper is grossly underdeveloped and gets rejected.

If you are indeed the first author on 4 papers, you should be fine. You are getting a degree based on the quality of your research which is contained in those middle 4 chapters. Throw together an introduction and conclusion chapter just before submitting to your committee. Don't waste your time on long-winded chapters.

Don't forget to leave time for editing. Believe me, your committee members will appreciate a succinct tightly written thesis over a super long-winded one.


Proposed Approach

First, do a critical path analysis.

  • You cannot finalize all of the conclusions (Ch 7) until you have validated all of the analysis.
  • You cannot finalize any global introduction or review until you finalize all of the content by itself.
  • You can draft whatever you want in parallel while you complete the remaining analysis.
  • You cannot submit your thesis until your advisor has approved of it.
  • You cannot use a Chapter in your thesis until it is approved for journal publication (my presumption).

Next, pick your significant milestones and deadlines (backward).

  • Thesis (June) <- Advisor's Approval
  • Advisor's Approval <- Review of All Chapters
  • Chapter 6 <- Acceptance by Journal
  • Acceptance by Journal <- Approval for Submission by Advisor
  • Submission Approval <- Review by Advisor
  • Intro + Review <- All Content Chapters
  • Conclusions <- All Content Chapters

Finally, realize what you have done and what you need.

  • Chapters 3-5 Completed, Reviewed, and Approved
  • Chapter 6 In Progress
  • Conclusions Yet to Be Started
  • Intro + Review Yet to Be Started


Finish Ch 6 by the start of May. While your advisor reviews it for approval, start the Introduction. As your advisor gives you back Ch 6 for update, do it. Submit Ch 6 for publication soon after the first week in May. Complete the Introduction at the same time. While your advisor reviews it, start the Literature Review. Work back and forth on Ch 1, Ch 2, and Ch 7 between you and your advisor. Have it all done by the start of June. In the meantime, hope that you get Ch 6 accepted for publication without need to amend it significantly. Put all the chapters together by the middle of June. Submit everything. Take a two week vacation or not depending on how you have had to expand the deadlines in between.

  • I don't think the last paper needs to be accepted. You can't assume acceptance in 4 weeks. I thing listing it as 'submitted for review to' is good enough. I've seen that in many theses. – Bernhard Apr 7 at 20:47
  • @Bernhard: The OP can/should clarify for sure. It is part of the critical path analysis to confirm what is/is not required. – Jeffrey J Weimer Apr 7 at 21:27

I did it in 10 days. Painful. But possible.

Chapter 1 intro/lit review summarized the organization and cribbed some applications and overall intro stuff from a school paper I had done. Chapter 2 methods was synthesis of methods from 4 papers. Then 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 were just the specific papers (cutting the methods section and intro and light editing for consistency). 4 of the 6 papers were already published. The other 2 were close to publishable (work done, wrote it up).

I did not bother with a general conclusion chapter (3-8 chapters had conclusions by chapter within them). Avoided the LaTex rathole and did it all in Word (significant amount done from published papers already). Didn't do a large Word file as Word tended (back then and probably still now) to break down for book length projects...and dealing with section breaks and the like is a pain (easy to mess up). Did each chapter as a separate Word file.

Endnotes were by chapter and at the end of whole thesis. Figures not embedded, but at the end of each chapter, just like a paper submission (even copied one diagram in on a transparency, totally old skool).

Did a chapter a day and had 2 days at the end to compile and print (used Kinkos for the print job). I typed at night, all night for isolation and concentration (this was before PCs at home were common, so in the lab). Would go for a run and eat breakfast and sleep in the day. Very disciplined.

Set all the pagination of the different files at the very end manually to make it all work (once edits done). Then printed all the different files and compiled them all (then went to Kinkos). Even did the TOC/TOT/TOFs manually (was easier to just kludge it).

Obviously follow the rules for margins and double space and all that.

I offered the advisor to see each chapter as I finished it, but he didn't give any input and huffed a little about how most students did their thesis with more warning. (But really the papers were all mine 100% in content anyways.) I just told the old man that I was treating him with the same rules as the rest of the committee (10 days to read and then a defense). If it wasn't good enough, he could fail me. He wasn't going to do that since I was a little golden boy with national award and first to graduate and fancy job (and really I had aced the Ph.D. program, written lots of papers, so why fuss about the thesis drill).

It ended up being fine. And was way faster to just hack it together like I did than people who told me I should spend a few months learning LaTex at the last minute or stuff like that. Just saw so many people struggling with huge documents but my hacking it into little Ricci flow segment approach worked great for being under the gun.

  • 7
    I just told the old man ... If it wasn't good enough, he could fail me ... I was a little golden boy — Hopefully, you don't need recommendation letters, because with that kind of disrespect, you're not going to get them. – JeffE Apr 7 at 17:34
  • I think this is really good, pratical, advice. (Maybe the tone is not so optimal for this site.) +1000 for "Avoided the LaTex rathole and did it all in Word"!! Don't learn elegant new programs when you have not time. – Holla Apr 8 at 12:31

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