By Drew Thomas |


At some point during your PhD after reading hundreds of monographs, articles, book reviews and primary sources, you will sit down, staring at a blank page on your computer screen and be overcome with fear at the task before you. Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not here to tell you how to write your thesis. But, I am going to give you some tips that will make it much easier by the time you get to the end and are putting on the finishing touches (can you tell I’m currently writing up?).


1. Don’t name your files after the chapter numbers

The best thing about completing a draft chapter and sending it off to your supervisor is the relief of being done. The worst thing about completing a draft chapter is the realization that you’re nowhere near done. Now you sit in fear of your supervisor’s pending comments. As you write your chapters, however, you might realize they should be rearranged. My own thesis has been rearranged many times. My last chapter is now my second chapter. One chapter got axed, another split in two, etc. Saving your files as ‘Chapter-2.docx’ really makes everything confusing once you start shuffling everything around. Avoid it.

2. Write proper footnotes now

I’m pretty sure the punishment in one of Dante’s circles of hell was editing footnotes and creating bibliographies. I could be wrong, though. The last thing you want to do after all the stress of writing your thesis is to spend days updating your footnotes to the proper style. If there is one thing my peers (now doctors) have warned me about is the amount of time spent on footnotes. Much longer than anticipated. Don’t put yourself through that. You can avoid it by learning the proper style now and adhering to it. Also, if you’re not using a reference manager, then close your flip phone screen where you are reading the text-only version of this article and go watch your VCR-recorded reruns of Friends and don’t forget to change the tape on your answering machine in case your friend calls to confirm he got the tickets to see Episode I: The Phantom Menace because you can’t wait to see Michael Jackson play Jar Jar Binks. It’s 2017, people, use a reference manager! (Zotero, Mendeley, Qiqqa)

3. Ibid., oh, you speak Latin now?

Other than assisting you to save words for your word count, using Ibid. in your footnotes also saves time because you don’t have to constantly type the same citations over and over again. But when you’re writing up, it’s much better practice to add short citations after the first usage, such as Surname, Title, page number. Paragraphs and sentences will be moved around as you’re writing. And if you used Ibid. in your footnotes, it’s likely to get separated from the citation it is referring to. It’s a pain trying to hunt down the original citation in such a situation. I’m all for using Ibid., but it’s best to add those in at the very end to prevent frustration and footnote errors.

4. Restart the labeling on images for each chapter

Look how easy this is: Chapter 1: Fig. 1.1, 1.2, 1.3. Chapter 2: Fig. 2.1, 2.2., 2.3, etc. This is a must for most publishers and you should do it in your thesis too. Not only does it help better organize everything, but it also prevents you from having to change all the numbers if you change one. Even better, have Microsoft Word automate it for you.

5. Note the source of every image

Depending on how many illustrations or photographs your thesis has, it can be difficult remembering where every image came from. Check your university’s policy. For some universities, you don’t need the rights for the submitted version, but you do for the final version, which will go online. It can be a nightmare trying to figure out where images came from. If you do need help and you took the photo yourself, the photo’s metadata likely recorded the date and location of the photo, which can help you figure it out which institution you were at.


Writing a thesis is a daunting task. There are so many little things to remember, which can distract you from actually writing. Try to adopt these simple habits now, so at the end, you don’t have to spend more time stressing over the little things.


Drew Thomas is a PhD student at the University of St Andrews. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Theology and Philosophy from Saint Louis University and a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard University. His PhD is a study of the rise of the Wittenberg printing industry during Martin Luther’s Reformation. He is currently the Technical Editor for Pubs & Publications, the Communications Manager for the Universal Short Title Catalogue and the Project Manager of the Caroline Minuscule Mapping Project. You can follow him on Twitter at @DrewBThomas or on


Image: Shared under the CC0 Creative Commons License