Attikiouzel’s Aphorisms for Thesis Writing

Writing is not a linear process but a cyclic one. What appears first may be written last, with the benefit of hindsight and a unified perspective. But, where does one start; how does one revise, and how many times? As an entr´ee, let us listen to those with experience:

  1. Start writing early. Do not delay writing until you have finished your project/research. Write complete and concise “Technical Reports” as and when you finish each nugget of work. This way, you will remember everything you did and document it accurately, when the work is still fresh in your mind. This is especially so if your work involves programming.
  2. Spot errors early. A well-written “Technical Report” will force you to think about what you have done, before you move on to something else. If anything is amiss, you will detect it at once and can easily correct it, rather than have to re-visit the work later, when you may be pressured for time and have lost touch with it.
  3. Write your thesis from the inside out. Begin with the chapters on your own  experimental work. You will develop confidence in writing them because you know your own work better than anyone else. Once you have overcome the initial inertia, move on to the other chapters.
  4. End with a bang, not a whimper. First things first, and save the best for last. First and last impressions persist. Arrange your chapters so that your first and last experimental chapters are sound and solid.
  5. Write the Introduction after writing the Conclusions. The examiner will read the Introduction first, and then the Conclusions, to see if the promises made in the former are indeed fulfilled in the latter. Ensure that your Introduction and Conclusions match 100%.
  6. “No man is an Island”. The critical review of the literature places your work in context. Usually, one third of the PhD thesis is about others’ work; two thirds, what you have done yourself. After a thorough and critical literature review, the PhD candidate must be able to identify the major researchers in the field and make a sound proposal for doctoral research.
  7. Estimate the time to write your thesis and then multiply it by three to get the correct estimate. Writing at one stretch is very demanding and it is all too easy to underestimate the time required for it; inflating your first estimate by a factor of three is more realistic.

*Aphorisms: A concise statement of a scientific principle, typically by an ancient classical author.



  1.  Y. Attikiouzel, “Writing the PhD Thesis.” Private verbal communication, as the author’s PhD supervisor, Centre for Intelligent Information Processing Systems, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, The University of Western Australia, Nedlands, WA 6907, Australia, 1993–1996.
  2. Chandrasekhar, R. (2002). How to write a thesis: A working guide. (pp. 10). The University of Western Australia.

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