Thesis Writing Advice: never give up

The fact that most doctoral candidates—the vast majority, actually—don’t succeed at earning their PhDs. Less well understood is the reason why they fail. A brief survey, however, of students who have and have not completed their thesis quickly reveals an answer. Is the problem that those who fail weren’t smart enough? That they were less enthusiastic in the beginning? Were those who succeeded simply better suited for becoming PhDs? Not at all. In fact, the only defining difference between these two groups is the fact that those who fail gave up.

Giving Up

Giving up is the number one cause of failure for doctoral candidates. This is obvious simply by looking at the background and academic careers of those who succeed and those who fail. Those who fail almost universally do so simply by not completing their thesis. They’ve undertaken all of the other many challenges inherent in pursuing a doctoral degree and succeeded, yet when faced when this one final task, they surrender. Why?

Why Students Quit

Doctoral theses are unique among all of the other academic assignments a student has experienced in his or her academic career. They involve original research, an incredibly stressful, high-pressure responsibility which the student must shoulder alone, and the longest, most in depth, and strictly judged writing project the student has ever undertaken. Many believe that despite all of the preparation a student goes through before having a thesis approved few are adequately prepared for handling such a large, individually driven project. Many proceed energetically through their research only to find themselves stymied by the task of actually organizing and writing this research down in thesis form.


Nonetheless, these students do indeed have what it takes to complete their thesis. They’re well versed in academic writing, they’re known already to be intelligent and dedicated workers, and they know their topic inside and out. What they lack, at a basic level, is confidence. If you’re facing down the intimidating prospect of finishing your thesis and fear that you’ll fall short, understand this one simple fact:

If you don’t give up, you’ll succeed.

This isn’t true of all things in life, of course, but in this particular case it’s been shown time and time again to be the case. Those students who do finish their dissertations weren’t necessarily top of their class, they simply hung in there until it was done. You can, too. Never give up.