Planning Your Final Year

No one ever said writing a thesis was easy, but there are things that you can do to make the process less painful.

In particular, having a clear plan for your final year that tells you what to do and when to do it will help you take control of your work instead of allowing it to control you.

Develop Your Final Year Plan

Step 1 Develop a Thesis Plan

If you do not have one already, a good place to start is by putting together a thesis plan - something that shows the individual sections/chapters that will make up your thesis and says a bit about what each one will contain.

This does not have to be too detailed and probably one side of paper will be enough for this, but it should show:

  • the order of the sections/chapters that will make up your thesis
  • the title of each section/chapter
  • a brief note on what each section/chapter will cover
  • an indicative word count for each section/chapter (making sure that the total does not exceed the maximum word limit)

As you develop your thesis plan, try to remember that the purpose of your thesis is to explain what original contribution to knowledge your research has made. Try to think about how your thesis will tell this story - where will you set out what your contribution to knowledge has been? how will each section/chapter develop that story?

It is also a good idea to get some feedback on your thesis plan from your supervisory team to make sure that the structure of your thesis is consistent with normal practice for your discipline.

You may find it useful to look at some recent theses in your Department to get a better feel for how a thesis should be structured and the sort of tone it should have.

Step 2 Develop a Work Plan

The next step is to take your thesis plan and develop a work plan for completing each section/chapter.

Your indicative word count for each section will give you some idea as to which sections/chapters may take longer to write than others and there will be some sections (like your acknowledgements) which should not take very long to write. You should also take account of sections/chapters where you will be able to re-use something you have already written - like a conference paper or progress report.

The important thing in developing your work plan is to be realistic - clearly you cannot spend all day every day writing, but you should be writing regularly and giving sufficient time to your writing to allow you to submit your thesis before you complete your maximum period of registration.

Most research students find that in their final year they need to spend at least some time each day writing their thesis in order to complete it on time and many find that keeping "office hours" for their thesis is a good way of making sure they focus on their writing.

We would suggest that in your work plan you set specific dates for completing each section/chapter and for submitting draft work to your supervisory team as it is completed. Having specific dates will give you concrete objectives to work to. Within your overall work plan you also need to allow sufficient time for:

  • your supervisory team to read and comment on each draft section/chapter
  • your supervisory team to read and comment on a final complete draft
  • you to reflect on and respond to the comments made by your supervisory team

As with your thesis plan, we would suggest that you get some feedback from your supervisory team to make sure that your work plan is realistic and that they know when you expect to submit draft work to them for comment.

Step 3 Use Your Plans

Any plan is only as good as the use that is made of it. Once you have developed your thesis plan and your work plan and have agreed these with your supervisory team, it is important that you use them by regularly referring back to them and comparing your actual progress with where your plans say you should be.

As you do this, ask yourself questions about whether what you are doing is consistent with your plans:

  • am I giving as much time to my thesis as I had planned to do?
  • am I on track to complete each section/chapter by the planned date?
  • am I providing draft work to my supervisory team by the dates agreed?
  • does each section/chapter include the information that it was supposed to?
  • does each section/chapter help explain what my original contribution to knowledge is?

If you are finding that you are not keeping to your plans, then you may have to adjust your working practices. A common problem is to not give enough time to your thesis - regular writing is not only good for your progress, it will help you gain confidence, develop a more effective writing style, and make sitting down to work much less off-putting.

Another common problem is to confuse thinking about work with actual work (procrastination) or to worry that what you have written is not good enough (perfectionism). If you find yourself in a situation where your work is affected by these problems, the best way to deal with them is to speak about them to someone else - perhaps your supervisory team or a friend.

Talking about the issue will help you clarify your thoughts and make a decision that enables you to move on with your work.

Step 4 Take Care of Yourself

Writing your thesis is hugely demanding and it is easy to forget basic rules for healthy living:

  • taking regular exercise
  • eating a healthy diet
  • getting enough sleep

All these things will help you maintain your motivation, stay positive, and manage stress. You can find lots of easy to follow advice on the NHS LiveWell Hub.

You might also find it helpful to arrange a consultation with the University's Healthy Living Service.

If you are based in Leicester, the University has excellent sport and recreation facilities as well as a number of sports clubs for students and staff - visit the Sport and Recreation Website.


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