The Graduate School

Writing Up


Some students believe that ‘writing up’ your thesis takes place in the late stage of the PhD life-cycle. And indeed this is the case for certain students, particularly those in the sciences/applied sciences who may spend the early and late stages of their PhD carrying out experiments the results of which will then be ‘written up’ in the late stage. However, for those students who are not constrained by lengthy data generation processes, it is essential that the ’writing up’ process begins as early as possible and continues steadily as you progress through the PhD.

Length of the Thesis

Before you commence, you should make yourself aware of Queen’s University’s guidelines on thesis length:

  • PhD and MD theses must not normally exceed 80,000 words (excluding appendices and the bibliography);
  • MPhil theses must not normally exceed 50,000 words (excluding appendices and the bibliography).
  • Where a thesis has a significant content of graphs, diagrams, scientific formulae, etc., a page limit will apply instead of the word limit; for PhD and MD theses this limit is 400 single-sided A4 pages, for MPhil theses it is 250 single-sided A4 pages.

Why write as you go?

Writing up your thesis is not simply a task to be done once the research and analysis components are finished. Rather, it is actually an important part of the research and analysis process itself. You may be tempted to delay writing until the late stage of the PhD, but there are a number of reasons for not doing so:

  • Writing is a skill that needs to be practised. The more you write, the easier it will become;
  • Writing helps you to think through what you are doing and forces you to analyse, make connections and identify patterns;
  • A doctoral thesis is a long document; tackling it in smaller chunks makes it much more manageable!

What can you write?

You can't start the process of writing too early. Try to structure your time so that you have opportunities to write and consider whether anything you are doing could be written up. Typically it is possible to write the following well before you get to the end of your research:

  • research proposals
  • literature survey
  • reports analysing data and detailing pilot studies
  • reports for your supervisor
  • a personal journal
  • methodology chapters
  • early drafts of other chapters

You will find much of this writing useful when you come to put your thesis together. You may need to restructure and rewrite to achieve greater coherency, but rewriting is easier than starting from a blank page.

Keeping track of your writing

Over the course of your doctorate it is easy to lose track of what you have written and how it all fits together:

  • Start thinking about your thesis structure early on as this will help you to write material that is more likely to be usable in the final thesis;
  • Develop a filing system for your thesis and create folders for each chapter. Put relevant results and relevant bits of writing into each folder. Ensure you are using your word processor effectively;
  • Make sure that you develop a system to keep track of your references, ideally by using a reference manager. Having a good system for recalling key articles and the notes that you have made on them will be invaluable at the writing stage;
  • Back up your work regularly i.e. Dropbox, Google Docs or their equivalent. Computers will go wrong and everyone has a nightmare story about a key file that was lost;
  • Copy any key parts of manual records, logbooks or diaries, ideally by creating a digital backup, as they can disappear from libraries or be lost.

A series of very useful webinars are now available on the University’s PRDP website, which outline how to write thesis introductions, chapters and conclusions.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Plagiarism involves deliberately or inadvertently presenting someone else's ideas as your own. It is an academic offence and is treated very seriously by the University, often resulting in disciplinary action. The University’s procedures for dealing with academic offences including plagiarism can be found by consulting section VIII of the University Calendar for Postgraduate Students, or by clicking here.

  • The University offers guidance on how to cite references and hence avoid plagiarism; this is available by clicking here.
  • Cite2Write provides an excellent online tool on how to cite references.

The use of Turnitin

The use of an originality checking service for theses to assess content for originality and potential instances of plagiarism is a requirement within the General Regulations for Postgraduate Research Students.  For detailed information on the use of turnitin software, please read this Video Tutorials for Postgraduate Research Students on enrolling in the Turnitin Service and uploading a draft chapter can be found here.

Further Information

  • Some ‘Tips on Writing Up’ are available here.
  • Check out Queen’s McClay Library for books and articles on thesis writing, as well as for Completed Theses submitted to the university.
  • Information on Computing at Queen’s, on how the University’s Information Services can support your studies, including where and how to Save your Work, is also available.
  • The Queen's Refworks subscription enables you to create a personal database of references to books and journals, and bibliographies can be compiled in a variety of styles with the minimum of effort. The Library offers courses, divided up according to faculty, on how to use Refworks. Like all PRDP courses, these can be booked via your QSIS account.
  • The University’s PRDP runs a number of courses on writing up, including: ‘Writing your Thesis for Early-Stage Researchers’; ‘Writing for Publication for Mid-Stage Researchers’; ‘Writing for Popular Audiences for Late-Stage Researchers’; the ‘International Students - Academic Writing’ series; and others.
  • There are a number of PRDP courses available as online training resources by clicking here, including the 'Epigeum Research Skills Master Programme'.
  • You should also consult the numerous self-administered IT Skills Training Resources offered by Information Services; for example, 'Working With Long Documents' is a particularly practical course to support you in improving your word processing techniques and focuses on the skills required for working on long documents such as theses, reports etc.
  • Queen’s INTO Centre caters particularly for the needs of international students.