While many PhD theses are different, depending on location and area of research, most require at least one introductory chapter. This introductory chapter sets the scene for the thesis by introducing the thesis area and discussing relevant previous research. My thesis is going to have two introduction chapters, the first providing background information about sharks, the conservation challenges shark species face, and a discussion about previous research looking at human dimensions of shark conservation. The second chapter is going to discuss shark attacks, perception of risk, and the media.
I think that many PhD candidates have a plan to chip away at their introduction chapter(s) slowly throughout their candidature, however due to everything else that needs to be done this is often forgotten. So most of us start writing the chapters towards the end of our candidature (~6-9 months out of submission).
I started writing my first chapter approximately two months ago and I now almost have a complete (rough) first draft. When I first started, I found it really overwhelming to know what to write and how to organise the chapter- so I wanted to share a of my few tips.
1- Find examples of other theses
The first thing I did was find examples of other completed theses (my university has these available online). I printed off three relevant theses and looked through their introduction chapters. I think this is a great way to see examples of various chapter structures. It is also great to know that finished theses exist!!!
2- Make a rough plan
Before I started reading or writing anything, I made a rough plan of the sections I was going to include. Trust me- your plan will change as you go along and that is completely fine (preferred actually). But having an idea of the sections you are going to write about allows you to know what types of references to read and allows you to see if the ‘story’ makes sense.
3- Tackle one section at a time
Having your sections planned out also allows you to tackle one section at a time. Spend one day reading and writing notes all about ‘the biology of sharks’ (for example), rather than trying to write multiple sections at the same time.
4- Keep detailed notes as you go
Although I find focusing on one section at a time the best way to tackle a large chapter- if you are reading a reference that will be relevant in another section, jot down some brief notes about it and put a link to the reference under the relevant section heading.
5- Give yourself writing breaks
Writing can be challenging. If you are not feeling it you will not be productive. It takes a combination of creativity, critical thinking, and attention to detail to produce quality writing. Therefore, if you are not feeling it- don’t push it. Do other important tasks instead, maybe editing a paragraph you wrote the previous day, or making a diagram, or formatting references. Then when you are back in the writing zone, take advantage of it and smash out another section.