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Manage your information

Writing a Masters or doctoral thesis involves accumulating and managing a large amount of information:

  • bibliographic information about the references you read
  • notes from your reading
  • data from your research
  • successive drafts of your thesis

From the beginning plan systems for storage and retrieval - it will be much easier to find the information as you need it.

Your systems will depend on the kind of research you are doing, the resources you have, and the ways you work best.

Here are some tips:

  • Use a bibliography management tool, like EndNoteOpens in new window
  • These programs can be used for storing notes as well as bibliographic information.
  • Keep computer files in folders with names that correspond to aspects of the research or chapters of the thesis.
  • Folders for paper notes can have the same names as the electronic ones.
  • Create a file naming protocol which allows you to keep track of successive drafts, because you never know when you might want to restore something you cut from an earlier version. For example:
    • introduction v1.doc; or:
    • ch1draft3.doc
  • Whatever system you create, be consistent!

Remember all those warnings to back up your work regularly!

Keep backup copies of all your computer files - computer disasters can occur, and you would not want to lose critical material. In fact, you would not want to lose any of your writing, data collection or notes. It is all valuable.

Make sure that as the thesis progresses you have backup copies of thesis drafts in different locations. Even though the notion of theft or fire may seem remote, protect yourself against an unexpected eventuality in which years of work could disappear.

Everyone knows backing up is important - but the biggest lesson I learned was not to simply back up and wipe over old versions, but to make sure I have a backup of every version. Sometimes I'll realise that material I wrote quite a while back was really what I was trying to say all along, but in the process of working through my ideas, drafting new drafts, and re-writing previous versions of text, the original material would be long gone and a lot of time gets wasted having to re-write old text. Likewise, when drafts go out to different supervisors and they make edits and tracked changes using a PC for one and a Mac for another, I found that all my formatting (e.g., italic fomatting in quotes that cite as having the "emphasis in original") got lost! Later, I had to spend hours going back to original sources to find out what had been the emphasis/italicised. Now, I have all my versions backed up on one master disk (USB flash sticks are great) which means I can refer back to pr evious versions whenver and whereever I am. And I don't accept track changes; I keep the two versions open and work through making my own changes to the master document."
– PhD candidate, Faculty of Education

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