Thesis writing: a linear or non-linear process?

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If you are writing or about to start writing a thesis, you certainly have the structure of your work. Although we should always start the process by deciding the the parts that will constitute the final volume, the writing schedule not necessarily is a linear one.

Three days ago I sent Chapter 7 to my supervisors. Yes, Chapter 7 is close to the end of the thesis. But no, I am not that close to the end.

I have lots of messy drafts of all chapters. Drafts that I have been keeping and updating with notes to myself and essential literature to be added on the final version. But real chapters I have 3 on the way (read sent to supervisors): Chapter 5, 6 and – now – 7.

Last March I went to a conference where I presented a paper about the preliminary results of my thesis. Because I was on the flow of writing results in the social sciences field, I agreed with my supervisors to keep the flow and start the thesis writing from the results chapters. I have written these three chapters in four months, which is not a ‘too long’ time, but is in reality longer than I was expecting.

These three chapters present the main results of my research:

  • Chapter 5 is the results based upon the case study sites and highly based on participant observation. This chapter is also very descriptive of what I have seen in the sites and what was said in the interviews with key informants.
  • Chapters 6 and 7 were one chapter to start with, but ended up being split in two.  They are both based upon the in-depth interviews and focused on characteristics of the local culture that affect the perception and adaption to the local climate.

At this stage both chapters 5 and 6 need some revisions, but nothing really major. I believe that in 2 weeks (roughly one week for each) all the needed amendments can be done.

Next step is to go back to Chapter 2 – Literature Review and Theoretical Framework – then chapters 3, 4, 1 and 8! A mess I know, but introduction and conclusion are outlined and although every now and then I go back there to make some notes, my intent is to write them properly when all the other chapters are finished.

The goal for the next 50 days is to finish – at least! – Chapters 2 and 3 before going back home for summer holidays. But right now it feels so good to have Chapter 7 out of my hands for the next week!

How is your writing schedule? Are you in a linear – from chapter 1 to the end – or in a non-linear process ? 

2 thoughts on “Thesis writing: a linear or non-linear process?”

  1. My process depends very much on the sort of writing I’m doing. My thesis for my Ph.D. in philosophy I wrote in a very linear fashion, I think because the work took place primarily in the analytical part of my brain. But when I write something more creative, I’m much more all over the place. And I will rewrite the entire piece many times, sometimes completely changing my approach, before I find a draft I’m happy revising in more detail.

    Sounds like your work is going well. Good luck as you continue!

    1. Hi Sharon. I guess it is related to the kind of writing, you are right. When writing my Masters dissertation I wrote from beginning to the end as well, and that was in science so more straight forward than this thesis I am writing at the moment. For this project I do think it has been working this way, and I hope these 3 chapters I – sort of – finished were the most complex ones! Thanks for your comment!

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