The First Steps
Writing a Ph.D is different from any other academic exercise and that is why it continues to carry the greatest prestige of all degrees in any discipline. Indeed, it is described in the Oxford English Dictionary as the ‘highest academic award in any field of knowledge’. This sounds impressive and it is but between the dream and its realisation is a hard road akin to Thomas Edison’s famous definition of genius: ‘one per cent inspiration, ninety nine per cent perspiration’!
Unlike other academic work, with a doctorate you will have nothing other than your own wits to fall back on when beginning your research, as although you will have immeasurable help from your appointed supervisor later, initially the germ of the thesis has to come from you. The absolute essence of a Ph.D. is originality and this means that you need to try to find a niche all your own if you are to impress the research committee of your academic body sufficiently to accept your proposal.
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In abstract, originality seems fairly simple, after all you are not intending to use anyone’s ideas but your own, are you? However, as with most aspects of the doctorate, familiar terms need to be redefined. Originality, when applied to a Ph.D., means something quite different from ‘all your own work’, it means truly original, that is, a topic or aspect of a topic that has literally never been studied in depth before: now that sounds more difficult, doesn’t it? Nevertheless, you can do it.
You need to find an area in which you are not only interested but enthusiastically so and remember that the thesis will need to be extended and developed over approximately, on average, 100,000 words. This means that you need to determine:
- The precise nature of your research
- What else has been written on the topic
- What it will add to the body of knowledge on the subject
- Whether you can sustain and develop the central thesis over the required length
- Whether you can produce a sufficiently strong thesis proposal from your topic to impress an admissions board
- Whether you can produce an original, imaginative, coherent and thoroughly researched piece of work of publication standard and an extensive bibliography to support it.