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FAQs

Why do I need to publish while I’m doing my research degree?

Publishing is important for you and the university. It allows you to:

  • stake your research territory and establish a reputation in your field. Many more scholars will read about your research in a journal than will read your thesis.
  • get valuable feedback from peer reviewers
  • deepen and broaden your knowledge of the topic by writing from different perspectives
  • develop a publishing ‘track record’ that may improve your career prospects
  • impress your thesis examiners. In the front of your thesis, you can list all publications emerging from your research
  • build your confidence, which in turn can boost your motivation to finish your thesis.

Check out the information on writing an academic research/journal article.

How do I decide on a thesis structure?

Thesis structures differ according to discipline or field.

It’s lonely studying for my PhD. I only come to campus for meetings with my supervisors. How can I meet with other PhD students to discuss my work?

Consider forming or joining a research writing group.

  • This is a great way to meet other students and give and get feedback on your writing.
  • Encourage participation among peers in your postgraduate community.
  • If you don’t know anyone in your area, discuss your interest with your supervisors who can arrange a get-together for doctoral students.
  • You need between three and eight students to form a viable group.

What’s the best way to manage citations for my thesis?

Researchers use a variety of bibliographic management software according to preference. The library runs training workshops for EndNote. Other software applications include Zotero (free online). Learn how to use these software tools by following the manuals.

What writing platforms do you recommend for organising the thesis chapters?

Again, researchers have different preferences. Some work in Word documents, one for each chapter. Others use a Word Master document divided into relevant chapter sections. A traditional thesis lends itself to being organised this way. There are also other writing software programs such as Scrivener, which offers a range of features for organising ideas and for writing text. For science and technology high production typesetting, try LaTeX, Scientific Workplace.

For more, visit Inside Higher ED and do your own web search. You should ask others in your discipline area what works best for them.

My supervisor suggests that I ‘rework’ my literature review. What does that mean?

This is very general advice that could mean a number of things:

  • Restructure the lit. review so that main points and sub points flow in a logical extended argument, ending with the research gap.
  • Shift perspective to include other studies.
  • Take control of the writing so that your voice directs the argument and other researchers supply the evidence (avoid ‘He said; she said’).
  • Edit the structure at macro, middle and micro levels.
  • Proofread for spelling, grammar, punctuation, and layout.
  • Some or all of the above.

In order to know what to do, call a meeting and ask your supervisor/s: “Sorry, what do you mean by ‘rework’? Could you give me an example?” If possible, do not have these ‘conversations’ by email; a face-to-face meeting will be more productive. Take a printout of a section of your writing that has been marked as requiring ‘rework’.

If your supervisor is not able to assist you, make an appointment to see a Study and Learning Centre postgraduate adviser.

Also, check out the resources here on Writing the Literature Review Academic Styleand PhD-Up Workshops

There’s so much to read. How can I find the time?

The more you actively read, the faster you become at identifying important points and key examples. The more you know about your research direction, the faster you get at skimming and scanning articles for relevant details. Make sure the article you intend to read is relevant to your research. Read the abstract first, and skim the introduction and images or diagrams. Set aside the articles you do not need to read right now. Have key questions in your mind that you want to answer. Look only for answers to your questions. See the workshop on Effective Critical Reading Strategies.

Should I have clear research questions at the start of my PhD?

This depends on your arrangement with your department:

  • If you’re part of a larger research project, research questions are likely t have been set. As part of a team, you’ll conduct research to answer one or more of these questions.
  • If you have approached a school/department with your own research topic, it is possible that you’ll spend the first year conducting preliminary research in order to clarify your topic (its contribution) and establish the research questions or key problems.

How can I find information about key journals and conferences in my field?

  • Ask your supervisors and other PhD candidates in your field.
  • Take note of key journals publishing the articles most relevant to your own research.
  • Join acacdemic and professional associations.
  • Subscribe to key disciplinary association mailing lists (published online).
  • Check out ERA approved high ranked journals (2018 info).

I keep looking for articles on my topic, but can’t find any. What am I doing wrong?

At the start of your research it may be difficult to know the keywords for your topic, so when you browse for relevant articles you can’t find them.

  • Note the key words used in journal articles and follow their trails.
  • Follow up on relevant cited works in bibliographies of books and journal articles.
  • Ask your supervisors what keywords they might use.

I’m doing a PhD, but I’m also working and looking after kids. How can I manage?

The work-study-life balance is difficult to achieve. It’s important to:

  • have the support of your employer, friends, and family.
  • set realistic short-term goals.
  • insist on regular meetings and deadlines with your supervisor.
  • find uninterrupted time (at least three times a week) to focus on your research.

Check out Managing yourself and your research project.

English is not my first language. How can I write a PhD?

It is true that your workload will be greater than your English-speaking colleagues. Remember to:

  • actively develop academic fluency (use the dictionary, note down keywords, practice them in a sentence).
  • attend all the PhD-Up Workshops for postgraduate research students.
  • notice how academics write in specialist journals and borrow their style (NOT their content).
  • write regularly, from the start of your research project until final submission. The more you write with focus, the better your writing will become.
  • join a research writing group to share writing and improve academic language skills.
  • make regular visits to the RMIT LIbrary Drop-in Learning Centres.

Should I have a clear idea about the thesis/dissertation structure when I submit my research proposal?

It all depends. If you are working on an established research project, you may have a clear structure for your research project. If you are starting from the beginning, it is likely that you are ‘finding’ your way in the first year.Your research project may change in the second year, and so will the structure. For some researchers, the structure only becomes clear in the final writing up stages in the third year.

It is important, however, to examine other theses in your field, at least to see what’s possible. How have they structured their work? Does your research lend itself to any of these structures? Check out the Research proposal, Thesis and dissertation structures and the RMIT Research Repository.

When should I start writing up my PhD?

Start writing about your project from Day 1. Take notes about your readings, and write them up as if they are part of the thesis literature review. It doesn’t matter if you throw words away later; every time you attempt to summarise, comment on or synthesise what you are reading, you are improving your critical thinking and your writing skills. Check out Becoming a research writer.

People ask me what my research is about, but it’s so hard to tell them in a few words. What can I do?

Follow the story: What I’m investigating or exploring (aim). Why the research is important (rationale). How I’m investigating this (methods). What I hope to find (results). By the end of this PhD, I will have done… (significance).

Check out this workshop: Articulating and summarising your research.

I need a professional to edit and proofread my thesis. Where can I find a trustworthy person?

Most of us are not able to proofread our final thesis or dissertation draft because we are too close to the work, and so easily miss mistakes. Before you send your writing to a proofreader, however, make sure that you have done everythingyou can to polish the draft.  See the video workshops in this series on editing and proofreading.

The School of Graduate Research has some useful advice: Professional editing for your thesis.

Sometimes the meetings with my supervisor are not as useful as I’d like them to be. How can I get the most out of our time together?

The meeting with your supervisor has a number of predictable objectives: You will demonstrate what you have done recently, what problems you are having, what discoveries you are making and what you’re going to do next. The supervisor will listen to you, and discuss your research process. They may make suggestions regarding ideas, readings, research method, or direction. In order to make sure you get the most out of the meeting:

  1. Create an agenda or list of issues you want to discuss with your supervisor.
  2. Email a section of writing to your supervisor for comment. Specify the type of feedback you want: clarity of argument, key ideas, or critique of the literature, etc.

Take control of your research! See more in Negotiating supervisor relationships.

 

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