Thesis writing: Chapter by chapter or full first draft

Photo by Vladimir Kramer, sourced from Unsplash
Photo by Vladimir Kramer, sourced from Unsplash

It has been now a week since I gave my supervisors the full draft of my thesis, so (now recovered) I think it is a good time for an update.

My thesis has eight chapters:

  • Chapter One: Introduction
  • Chapter Two: Literature review and theoretical framework
  • Chapter Three: Methodology
  • Chapter Four: Case studies
  • Chapter Five: The case study sites
  • Chapter Six: Adaptation to the climate
  • Chapter Seven: The background and meanings of comfort
  • Chapter Eight: Conclusions

So far my supervisors have seen all chapters individually apart from introduction and conclusion, which means there is still more work to come. There are at least three chapters (three, four and five) which I am very comfortable that are done. The others might still need some polishing. The good thing is that classes will be finished by early June so I will have a month to work full-time on these improvements. Hopefully they will be ‘just improvements’. I will know in the next couple of days.

The process of writing and revising the thesis has raised some questions in my mind though. When I did my Masters in Building Science in Brazil, I discussed aspects of the dissertation chapters with my supervisor, made the final decisions about them, and when I had the full draft, it was printed and given to him.

For the PhD thesis the process was different. In March 2013 I presented a work at CELA. That paper was based upon preliminary results of my research at that stage, based upon 61 of a total of 86 in-depth interviews. After that presentation, it seemed to me the logic thing to do was to carry on writing the results. And I did. I wrote the three results chapters (five, six and seven), then I reshaped the literature review, methodology, case studies, conclusions and introduction. This was pretty much the rather messy order in which I wrote my full thesis.

This process was uncomfortable at times, especially because this is the first time my supervisors are reading my whole thesis, although they have seen pretty much everything before. The idea of ‘how it flows’ is what I am concerned at the moment. They know everything that is there, but does it work after all?

I have heard from some that the process of writing science and social sciences are usually approached different, what do you think? What is your experience?

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