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How to stay motivated

Lucy English

Image credit: Simon Goldstein

So you’re embarking on a Master’s dissertation or PhD in the Arts or Humanities. It can be exciting at the beginning but how do you maintain your enthusiasm throughout such a long project? When I was working on  my doctoral thesis, my attitude changed throughout the different phases.

I like to compare the process to growing vegetables. After planting the seeds comes a long period of tending your crops until you eventually harvest them. Your dissertation or thesis is like a crop that requires constant attention to ensure you reap the rewards.

Sowing the seeds

At the start, record your thoughts about why you are undertaking the project, describing your feelings and what you want to find out. Consider what you will be adding to the body of knowledge about your subject and how it will help others in the future.

The seeds are sprouting

The research period can be enjoyable as you explore your field, seeing what comes up. Check in with your supervisor and ask for feedback on your developing ideas; you may need to adjust the focus of your work. Share your research with other students and academics through papers and conferences, so you are not working alone.

Full bloom, but messy!

To present your research effectively, you need to create a clear, consistent narrative. I’d advise you to break down the work into manageable chunks, treating each chapter like a separate mini-project and rewarding yourself when you complete it. At this stage you may find that you go through moments of disengagement and even be tempted to give up. If this happens, try to reconnect with your passion for the subject. Why did you want to do it in the first place? Read the notes you made at the start to rediscover that early enthusiasm and get back on track to complete your draft.


After you draft each chapter, you will return to edit it, probably several times. I don’t enjoy editing and I find referencing tortuous, but I know both need to be done. My strategy is to create an editing timetable with hourly sessions; in each one, I give a section my full attention. Even if the process seems tough, you will have the satisfaction of seeing progress. After a final proofread, the fruits of your labour will be ready to present to the world.

5 December 2019

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