Authoring a PhD Thesis How to Plan, Draft, Write and Finish a Doctoral Dissertation by Patrick Dunleavy

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doctorate they still pursue the most demanding ideal of original
research. ‘Nothing was ever yet done that someone was not the
first to do,’ said John Stuart Mill, and that is what the doctoral
ideal always has celebrated and always should.^2 Each doctoral
dissertation or thesis is to a large extent sui generis. But this book
reflects a conviction that in the humanities, arts and social
sciences research students also need to acquire a core of generic
authoring skills that are substantially similar across diverse
disciplines and topics. While research skills training has been
formalized a great deal in the last two decades, these ‘craft’
skills of authoring have been relatively neglected and left
For Oakeshott and other traditionalists my enterprise here
will seem no more than another brick in the wall, a further step
towards the bureaucratization of modern society foreseen by
Max Weber.^3 But I believe that learning the craft of how to plan,
draft, write, develop, revise and rethink a thesis, and to finish it
on time and to the standard required, is too important and too
often mishandled a set of tasks to be left to the somewhat erratic
and tangential models of induction and training that have pre-
vailed in the past. There is a long and honourable tradition now
of scholarship reflecting upon itself. It stretches back through
Friedrich Schelling’s idealist vision in On University Studies, to
Francis Bacon’s musings in The Advancement of Learning, and
before him to some significant reflective writings of the
medieval thinkers and the ancient Greek philosophers.^4 Now, as
in those earlier times, scholars and students are not (cannot be)
immune to external influences and rationalization processes. In
modern conditions universities can privilege their existing
modes of generating and transmitting knowledge only so long
as they are demonstrably the best of available alternatives.
Of course, completing a doctoral dissertation is also too per-
sonal and too subtle a process, too dependent upon students
and supervisors or advisers, too variable across thesis topics, dis-
ciplines and university contexts, for any generic advice to
encompass more than a tiny proportion of what a given doc-
toral student needs to help her develop as an author. But cover-
ing this fraction in a systematic way can still be very valuable,
time-saving and perhaps inspiring. PhD students know their
own situation better than anyone else in the world. They can

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