How many hours writing for the doctorate?

By Ian Brailsford, Postgraduate learning adviser, Libraries and Learning Services, University of Auckland.

The rose-tinted view of the leisurely doctorate taking as long as it needed to complete (if it ever really existed) has been consigned to history with global drivers for ‘timely completions’. But it’s fair to say that doctoral candidates have more flexibility in determining their work schedules than most other ‘knowledge workers’. So, in determining this schedule, how much time should doctoral candidates devote to the business of writing a thesis? Continue reading


Precision with word choice in doctoral writing



By Susan Carter

In the latest doctoral writing group, we blitzed words that were the cause of inaccuracy, often because the tone they added was too informal. This post gives our list of words that are treacherous. We welcome comments or offers of posts that identify more words that might be tricky. Here are words that we think should be used with caution by doctoral writers.

Firstly, ‘very’ probably does not have a place in a thesis. (Please add a comment if you disagree.) I’d recommend ‘significant’ as an alternative, one that may require a little rephrasing.

Myriad is a tricky word. My Shorter Oxford Dictionary (SOD) says that literally a myriad is ten thousand, and can also mean countless numbers, hordes. So whenever I read that there are myriads of challenges, I replace ‘myriads of’ with ‘many.’ So in that case, the problem is wild overstatement. Wild overstatement is acceptable in many circles, those inhabited by people who like to shriek “OMG!” often, and declare that they would die rather than revise their chapter again. However, the academic community tends not to be like that and can be disapproving. It is better to stay within the reality factor. Continue reading

The Perfect Coat: Form and Function in Thesis Writing



By Dr Anaise Irvine (Auckland University of Technology) and Dr Ian Brailsford (University of Auckland)

Anaise works as a researcher development coordinator at Auckland University of Technology, ensuring that the university offers opportunities for researchers to develop their skills. She has been providing writing tips via AUT’s Thesislink blog for a few years, and gives writing feedback to all students who submit abstracts for AUT’s Postgraduate Symposium. Ian works as a postgraduate learning adviser at the University of Auckland, supporting postgraduate student learning. He has had a long career working with postgrad students in mostly workshop and orientation sessions.

In her new book Developing Research Writing: A Handbook for Supervisors and Advisors (co-edited with Susan Carter), Deborah Laurs points out that learning advisors like ourselves “see many more instances of postgraduate writing than any one supervisor” (p.43). While supervisors become well-versed in the writing standards of their discipline, we witness the writing struggles that occur across disciplines. This equips us to engage in ‘big picture’ thinking about principles of good academic writing that transcend disciplinary norms.

We find it useful to translate these big picture ideas into metaphors and heuristic techniques that enable students to process the discipline-specific advice they are already (hopefully) receiving from their supervisor/s. If supervisors are giving detailed feedback on thesis drafts, then these heuristic techniques can help students to make sense of details by understanding the general writing principles underpinning the feedback they receive.

Through recent collegial coffee conservations, we’ve devised a metaphor to help students grasp the fundamental notions of thesis form and thesis function. We offer it here, in the hope that it can be useful in our colleagues’ conversations with students. Continue reading

When research moves too close: Maintaining awareness of boundaries


By Susan Carter

Some doctoral students find their study overwhelming for more reasons that all the usual ones. Sure, they face the same challenges as others do: the study is vast; there is so much to read and to write; and almost inevitably difficulties occur with the research itself—it’s hard to find participants, experiments don’t work, or data fails to make sense. But beyond all this, some students find that their research topic winds so intensely into other people’s lives it involves something of a meltdown. How can such crises be handled? Continue reading

Turning facts into a doctoral story: the essence of a good doctorate


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By Susan Carter

Recently three experiences collided for me: getting a rejection on an article that I had co-authored; examining a thesis; and giving feedback on a literature review. They brought home how essential it is in the world of doctoral writing to turn facts, even sophisticated original facts, into a story.

I’ve known this for some time, but it was starkly demonstrated by a blitz of seeing for myself how necessary the linkages are. Readers must have narrative guides so that they feel secure they are in familiar territory as they journey through academic writing. As I circled  round each chore on my list at present, I saw that it was problematic when the story-line was lost within thickets of academic writing. Continue reading

‘It’s gold!’ – A treasure to help you through your studies A.K.A “Postgraduate study in Australia: surviving and succeeding”



By Dr Susan Mowbray

Susan is the Academic Literacy Advisor in the Graduate Research School at Western Sydney University working with postgraduate students at all stages of candidature, supporting them to refine and progress their research and writing. Susan’s interests include exploring and supporting doctoral student experiences.

BOOK REVIEW: Postgraduate study in Australia: surviving and succeeding. (2017).  Editors: Christopher McMaster, Caterina Murphy, Benjamin Whitburn, Inger Mewburn. New York: Peter Lang

In 2017 I requested that my library buy a copy of Postgraduate study in Australia; surviving and succeeding. I was interested to read it given its focus on the experiences of Australian postgrad students – I was also curious given its protracted birthing process because “no Australian education publisher was interested in supporting students in their own country”.

The idea for this book came originally from Chris McMaster and Caterina Murphy, two academics from New Zealand (NZ). Motivated to offer meaningful advice to NZ PhD students from other NZ PhD students, they asked new graduates/late phase doctoral students for chapters in response to the question “If you could go back in time to when you started your studies, what advice would you give your younger self?”   Continue reading