Writing a thesis is a daunting task. Many students don’t fully understand what thesis writing should look like, and embark on their PhD with misconceptions around what constitutes good practice. Here are a few common ones.

"I should model my writing on the style of published papers"

As you begin researching your topic of interest in earnest, your first point of call will often be journal articles. And of course your own writing is influenced by what you read. But the tone of a thesis should be different from that of a published paper: less impersonal, with more use of the active voice for instance. Make sure you read other PhD theses for reference.

"Grammar is the most important language skill"

A sound mastery of English grammar is a good start, but only half the battle. Words don’t just align one by one to form a sentence; they belong together in ready-made chunks. If you aren’t familiar with those, your text will be grammatically correct but clumsy. So learn how words and phrases relate to each other and how they are used in context.

"Only direct quotes need referencing"

Most people know that copy-pasting someone else’s words requires a citation. But even if not copying text verbatim, don’t forget to cite other authors (by name and year of publication) if you are reporting their ideas or results. Paraphrasing is no substitute for referencing, and plagiarism is considered a serious offense in academia.

"Using plain language undersells my expertise"

A thesis is the culmination of years of research into a very specific topic. There’s no question that it should reflect the work that’s gone into that, but don’t think this equates convoluted language. Pompous vocabulary and unnecessarily complex syntax create ambiguity and detract from the substance of the work. That is the last thing you want for your thesis.

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