Author: Julia Hallas, Doctoral Candidate
My supervisor recently set me an interesting challenge. She asked me to write the table of contents and chapter one first. Now you should know that as of today, I have not written any other chapter. I mentioned to her (just in case she had forgotten!) that people tend to write the table of contents and chapter one last. This did not phase her. She informed me that there were many benefits to starting with these sections. Firstly, I would gain confidence through having written something. Secondly, I would have completed the first draft of chapter one and finally, it could act as a plan, and guide the rest of the chapters. I wasn’t altogether convinced, but she said I should look at other theses to see how these sections were constructed. She also said that I should look upon them as a work in progress and update them as I proceed with my study.
Once I got my head around the idea, I looked forward to the challenge of actually completing something. I enjoyed developing the table of contents, but it wasn’t easy. I looked at how other people had written up their multi case studies and decided on some options for myself. This will change as I go along, but already I can see the benefits. Breaking down my thesis into sections and subsections, makes it doable. I just have to work on one small section at a time. That is achievable.
Chapter one was an entirely different story and I found it extremely difficult to write. The first day I sat down to write it, I got confused and then stumped. I spent most of the day wondering how on earth I could write a thesis if I couldn’t even manage chapter one. I must have said, “why on earth did I think I could do this” a million times that day. So I did what I usually do when i get stuck – I began reading my ‘how to do research texts’, and promised myself I would write it tomorrow. In the end, I managed to complete most of chapter one over a weekend and I have been editing it over the past week or so. I am now at the stage where I know that there are some sections that are not quite right, and some sections that need more drafting, but at this stage of my research, spending more hours on it won’t help. I’ve done all I can.
Of course, my wise supervisor was right. I’ve drafted a difficult chapter and become more confident as a result. And the table of contents hangs on my wall, and acts as a To Do list. I don’t intend to be a substitute for your supervisor, but if you think you might benefit from drafting the table of contents and chapter one – go ahead. It’ll probably take a couple of weeks, but you won’t be disappointed with the result. Let me know If you have any questions. Julia
Note: my wise supervisor is Dr Jennie Billot, University Postgraduate Office