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Tips for managing graduate reading and writing

Managing your time

  • Allocate a set number of hours per week for thesis work; also allocate "time-off" for fun, exercise, and other commitments. Be sure to honour your scheduled "time-off"
  • Make a weekly plan for what to accomplish: set realistic, specific goals for each week
  • Make a list of tasks to accomplish those goals
  • Schedule times for reading/writing
  • Keep an ongoing "to do" list as need arises
  • Reward yourself for meeting goals


  • Develop an organized system for keeping track of your sources
  • Keep notes on everything you read by summarizing in your own words
  • Keep a reading/thinking log: write about what you just read, about your thoughts, questions and conclusions
  • Reread your notes from time to time and write about what you have discovered so far and questions that you still need to answer
  • To improve focus, keep your research question(s) in mind as you read
  • Read according to different purposes; skim to get the gist, scan to find specific info, preview and then read closely for details
  • Use reading aids where available: abstracts, intros, headings, prefaces, intro by the editor
  • Read others' theses in your field


  • Break your paper into sections and try to make a plan for a section before writing it
  • Start off by writing a ROUGH draft of a section:
    • Imagine a friendly reader, not your advisor or committee
  • Understand the nature of the writing process: writing goes from global to specific
  • Use idea generating strategies: brainstorming, clustering, free writing, flow charts, 5 W’s, talking to friends, etc.
  • Don't impose any constraints on yourself as you write - it is just a draft
  • Keep a clear purpose in mind as you write each section: ask, "What do I want to do to my reader in this section and how can I best do that?"
  • Revise over time (Focus on one area at a time: content, organization, language)
    • Read your work like a critical reader: Why do you say that? How do you know? So what?
    • Check organization by making topic sentence outlines, hierarchic trees of main ideas, etc.
    • Edit language for clarity and correctness: prefer ordinary words (aside from vocab of your field), active voice, and moderate sentence length; eliminate most adjectives and adverbs; get help if you need it
  • Expect lots of feedback (and directions for revision!) after you submit a draft to your advisor
  • See a Learning (Writing) Specialist at any point in the process for help and inspiration!
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