finishing the phd – write a Tiny Text

You’ve finally finished your data generation and analysis. What next? Oh, it’s the big text… but working out how to move now, working out how to structure the thesis … well it can feel a bit like trying to fight your way out of a maze.


Here’s one strategy that can help.

Before you start planning your thesis chapters, it can be a very good idea to map out the overall argument that you are going to make. Once you know the rough shape of the whole picture, the line you are taking and the point you are making, you can then think about the best way to stage the text. You can focus on the choreography, knowing where the argument is going.

You can get a grip on the big picture by writing a Tiny Text – your first go at a thesis abstract.

Now, a thesis abstract is not the same as a research proposal – it doesn’t create the mandate for the study, leaving the reader to find out what happens later. A thesis abstract is a miniature version of the whole. It is, if you like, a mini-me. Because of this, the Tiny Text that can help you, a lot. The thesis abstract follows the same kind of moves that you make in the thesis itself.

Here is a rubric that might help you construct the first version of the thesis abstract – it’s one that helps you to structure the thesis. Your final version might be  a little – or even a lot – different. That’s because writing the thesis itself always produces some refinement of the argument, and often the structure too.

But you have to start somewhere, and a Tiny Text can help you to sort out the big argument before you plunge back into the detail.

So – the rubric uses a five paragraph structure. You start however with five sentences. These are not elegant sentences, but are designed to get the point that you want to make across.

The first sentence addresses the broad context. This locates the study in a policy, practice or research field.

Example: Secondary school arts are in trouble, as the fall in enrolments in arts subjects dramatically attests.

The second sentence establishes a problem related to the broad context you have set out. It often starts with But, Yet or However…

Example: However, there is patchy evidence about the benefits of studying arts subjects at school and this makes it hard to argue why the drop in arts enrolments matters.

The third sentence says what specific research has been done. This sentence often starts with This research… or I report…

Example: This thesis reports on research which attempts to provide some answers to this problem – a longitudinal study which followed two groups of senior secondary students, one group enrolled in arts subjects and the other not, for three years. 

 The fourth sentence reports the results. Don’t try to be too tricky here, just start with something like.. This study shows, or Analysis of the data suggests that…

Example: The results of the study demonstrate the benefits of young people’s engagement in arts activities, both in and out of school, as well as the connections between the two.

 The fifth and final sentence addresses the So What question, and makes clear the claim to contribution.

The study not only adds to what is known about the benefits of both formal and informal arts education, but also provides robust evidence for policy makers and practitioners arguing for the benefits of the arts.

These five sentences form the basis of a five paragraph abstract. They are the topic sentences for each paragraph. And the idea is for you to simply add the relevant detail to each sentence. This helps you to think about what material has to go together.

You will probably need to have a few goes at the five sentences. It may take you a while to write the abstract so you get down all of the key points that you want and need to make.Thats because you are compressing two years worth of thinking into a small set of words.  And you will probably need to modify your initial five sentences further as you go along.

You might want to generate the five sentences and then the first draft of the five paragraphs using separate timed-writing sessions (pomodoros). That free writing will give you a set of stuff you can work on and refine.

Once you have your Tiny text, and you know the overall argument of the thesis, the question you next need to consider is –  What is the best way for me to present this case? What structure will make the argument work?

And at this point – see using a storyboard to plan the thesis structure.

There’s  more about thesis abstracts here, looking at the final – not a planning- version.

And even more – Barbara and I write a lot about using Tiny Texts in our three writing books. Detox your writing has quite a bit on thesis abstracts.

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in abstracts and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to finishing the phd – write a Tiny Text

  1. valerie says:

    I love your writing – so clear, so illuminating, so helpful. Thank you 🙂


  2. cguerrag says:

    Loved this post! Thank you very much


  3. Sarah says:

    You are worth your weight gold. Thank for sharing ideas that really make a difference .


  4. Chrissi Nerantzi says:

    Very useful! It has helped me re-write my abstract. Now much clearer…


  5. Reblogged this on Caroline+Kühn and commented:
    Great advice for writing! Hopefully we’ll get there 🙂


  6. This is, as ever, really useful Pat.



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