Five tips for staying on top of your references

Ask any seasoned researcher if they’ve ever got into a muddle with references, and they will have a war story or two to tell. Whilst references are an essential part of any scientific piece of writing, they are undeniably a massive pain in the you-know-what.

It all makes sense. You’re writing your beloved thesis, the mind-blowing ideas and ground-breaking theories flowing from your fingers. You know the literature, you know where your research question came from and how it’s added to our knowledge. You’re in Csikszentmihalyi’s magical state of flow (Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde, 1993) (that, my friends, is an example of a reference) and you’re not going to break that off for a tiny little detail like who wrote the paper proving that positive mindset is the key to everything. You’ll come back to that! So instead, you insert something like (positive mindset paper, pink folder????, come back later) and carry on writing.

That’s fine if this is your strategy for one or two references.

It’s really not so fine if this is your strategy for the 500 or so which make up an entire PhD!

Fear not – here are PGPR’s five top tips for staying on top of your references from the outset.

An old painting of an intense battle scene with knights riding horses and dust clouds obscuring the background.
Ask any researcher about references and they’ll be certain to share their war stories…

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1. Start an account with a referencing software

This is essential. I know the software might seem alien and off-putting at first, and sometimes these systems are pretty clunky, but hand on heart, I think the best move I ever made as a researcher was to get to grips with EndNote from month one of my PhD.

Think of your referencing software as an online library where you store all the details of the reading you’ll do over the course of your thesis/paper/project. Most of them are simple to use once you’ve got used to them. Google and YouTube are also crammed full of helpful tips and videos for working these programs, or you can book an appointment with your uni librarian, who will walk you through it.

As stated, I use (and am a fan of) EndNote Web, which is free, but there are plenty of other choices out there, including the paid version of Endnote, Zotero and Mendeley.

Reading some of these blogs might help you to decide which to use. Or ask your PhD supervisor which they would recommend.

2. During the lit review, record each reference, with notes, as you go

One of the first steps of any research project, big or small, will be doing a lit review. This is good as it means you can get to grips with your new software early in the process and become confident with it. Every time you read a paper, chapter or web page, import or record its details in your software and make some notes. These notes will help you remember which paper is which when you come back to them in a few months. You can also keep different reference records in different folders for different projects, which will help you locate that finding you know you read somewhere at a later date.

Top tip: If you’re unsure what details you need to record, look for the paper in question in Google Scholar and then click the ‘cite’ button. This will tell you all the details you need to know (for journal articles, this will be title, authors, year and doi as well as publication name, volume, edition and page numbers), which you can then either import or copy and paste into your software.

3. Use your software system as you write

Now that all your references are neatly filed in your software, do ensure that you use that software to insert the in-text references as you write. If you use EndNote, you need to install a plug-in which then shows up in Word. Click ‘insert citation’ each time you need to do just that, and EndNote will format the in-text citation for you and put the full reference at the end of the document.

Writing references needn’t make you glum if you’ve got the right tools for the job.

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Inevitably, as you write, you will need to look for more references as questions arise, or to respond to feedback from your supervisor or peer reviewers. By this point, you will be confident with your software, so just keep adding to it as you go, being disciplined about recording all those details and notes with every paper you need. Then use the software to insert the new reference as you write.

4. Find out which referencing system you need to use for this piece and set that in your software

There are several systems for citing references in scientific papers, which include APA, Harvard, Vancouver and so on. These all differ slightly from each other and, to make matters even more confusing, differ within themselves as well. Harvard referencing, for example, is an umbrella term which is interpreted differently depending on which institution you’re at, while APA has 7 versions.

The intricate differences in these systems can lead to further confusion if you haven’t been staying on top of your references throughout the process. But this is where referencing software is so handy. If all the references in your thesis are linked to your software, you can change which referencing system the software uses to present those references, switching from APA7 to Vancouver at the touch of a button. This job would take days and days by hand and runs the risk of you throwing your laptop out the window in frustration.

5. Contact PGPR for help

If you’re reading this blog thinking, well, that’s all very useful but I’m already two years into my thesis and it’s all too late, don’t worry! PGPR can help. Our expert reference checkers can ensure that every in-text and full-length reference is formatted correctly for the system you’re using; locate any missing details, and even cross-check your thesis to ensure that every in-text citation appears in the bibliography and vice versa. We even have some crazy people on our team (Hannah and Shannon) who enjoy this work! So just hand it over to us and you can get back to uncovering more thrilling new findings. We’re always happy to help.

How to write every day

If you’re working on the final stages of your thesis, there’s probably a lot of writing going on in your world right now. It’s also likely that you’re juggling that with a job, cooking dinners, spending time with your family and trying to get out of the house once a day for fresh air. Therefore, despite your best intentions, writing might not be happening as often as you’d like.

Here are some tips for carving out some time every day to get those brilliant findings and interpretations committed to the page.

1. Plan ahead

As much as possible, try to plan your weeks so that writing time is scheduled. Of course, life is unpredictable and sometimes we can’t stick to our plans, but if you at least know what you’re aiming for, you’re more likely to get there. If your schedule looks jam-packed, try to think creatively. Can you get up earlier a couple of days a week? Work in the evening while everyone else is watching TV? Get the kids to make the dinner one night so you can spend that time working? (Age of child dependent, of course!)

Having a plan in place helps you in the long run!

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2. Tell your housemates/partner/family that you have to shut the door

If you’re a housemate, a mother, a father or a spouse, you might feel that you need to drop everything the moment you’re needed by the people you love. Genuine emergencies aside, this is not the case. Can you set a time for working when you tell everyone that you’re not to be disturbed? Even if it’s only for half an hour a day, those half-hours will start stacking up, and so will your word count.

Setting clear boundaries with your loved ones is essential when working on a big project!

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3. Turn off social media

There’s no point telling your family that the door is shut if you’re going to spend all your time behind that closed door frantically checking Twitter and replying to your favourite WhatsApp group chats. Put your phone on silent, don’t open your emails and try to resist the urge to start Googling things as you write – it’s all too easy to fall into an internet rabbit hole that way. You can always look up how to spell phenomenological later; for now, just fudge it and get those words down.

4. Recognise and reward the wins

Writing a thesis is really hard, even when there isn’t a global pandemic. You are doing an amazing job and you deserve to be rewarded. Sadly, most of the time, everyone else is too wrapped up in their own challenges to recognise how awesome you multi-tasking postgrad students are, which means you might need to reward yourself. And that’s just dandy, cos no one knows what you like better than you do! If you pass a milestone, no matter how small, book yourself a day off, buy your favourite cake, settle down with a novel and convince your other half to rub your feet. You’ve earned it.

Celebrating those wins along the way will help you eventually cross the finish line!

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5. Don’t expect the impossible 

It can be really tempting to start setting yourself huge targets: I’m going to write 2,000 words every single day without breaking a sweat. Sound familiar? The problem with these unrealistic targets is that if you can’t stick to them, you might start feeling discouraged, which makes it harder to come to your desk feeling positive and energised the next day. Plus, if you know you don’t have time for your 2,000 words that day, you might think well, there’s no point starting – I’ll begin tomorrow instead. You can see how this thinking can quickly lead to a week with no words written at all. Some of you might find it easier to set a time limit for each day instead or to think in terms of sections per week.

Do you have any tips for writing every day? Do let us know if so. And of course, once you’ve finished writing, you can always book us to proof-read your work so that you can be confident it’s as polished as it can be.

Seven ways PGPR can help you complete your qualitative project

Completing postgrad qualitative research is an adventure. It can be thrilling, enriching and rewarding… but it can also be arduous, stressful and exhausting.

Here at PGPR, we can help you through every step of your journey. Here are seven services we think will benefit you as you progress through your project.

The PGPR team is on hand to help you every step of the way!

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1. Interview schedule check

Collecting your data is so important. Asking participants the right questions can unlock access to the rich, lovely data which will underpin your entire study. We can look at your interview schedule and talk it over in a video consultation, giving you pointers for ensuring your questions are open, comprehensive and ordered in a way that is likely to generate rapport.

2. Feedback on analysis

Analysis can feel fun and fascinating – and it can feel overwhelming! Trying to conduct analysis without many qualitative colleagues or at a university without many qualitative experts can feel especially lonely and daunting. Fortunately, the PGPR team loves analysis, so we’re always excited when a client asks for feedback at this stage. We can offer written feedback or feedback via one of our video consultations. We’ll look at whether your data truly supports your conclusions, if there are areas where you can dig deeper, and whether your analysis fits in with your chosen methodology.

3. Feedback on word length and structure

Once you start putting the chapters of your thesis together, you might find that you’re several thousand words over your university’s word limit. Don’t panic – this is a common problem and is something we can help with. We’ll read your chapters and offer feedback which will help you tighten up your structure and delete those unnecessary words.

Feeling overwhelmed? We hear you!

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4. Correcting your spelling and grammar

While we love giving feedback, we’re also all huge word nerds here at PGPR, so you can come to us if you need any sections of your thesis proof-read. We’ll correct any spelling and grammar issues, ensure that you’ve used terminology consistently and offer suggestions to make your sentences read as smoothly as possible.

5. Checking references

Reference sections: can’t get by without them – but you CAN offload them to us! When you’re immersed in analysing your beautiful data or wrangling with that tricky discussion section, ensuring that your reference list is also perfect can feel incredibly onerous. Don’t worry; we’re here to help. Our proof-readers Hannah and Shannon particularly enjoy checking reference lists, so it’s likely that one of these two superstars will undertake this job for you. They find it soothing – clearly, we need to clone them!

Enjoy more time to relax while we proof-read your reference list for you!

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6. Formatting

Word has lots of features that can help you present your thesis in a professional manner; unfortunately, it often feels like you need a degree in IT to be able to get them all to work. We have several Word experts on the team who will be more than happy to create tables of contents, ensure that your headings are consistent and caption all your figures for you.

7. Conference check package

Once your research is complete, it’s time to share it with the wider world. If you have a conference coming up, PGPR can offer feedback on your slides and give you an opportunity to practice your presentation via video for a friendly audience. Just get in touch to find out more.

We look forward to hearing from you – just fill in the contact form below and we’ll get back to you ASAP.

Client FAQs

As well as proof-reading, will you edit my work?

We will ensure that your work reads well and is in good English. Depending on the level of service you have paid for, we will also offer feedback on structure, methodology and analysis. However, we won’t change the meaning of your work or re-write any sections for you.

We’ll make sure your paper reads well and is in good English!

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How quickly will you return my work?

We will aim to get your work back to you as quickly as possible. We can usually proof-read 5,000 words per day, meaning a 15,000-word piece takes three days after we start.

Johanna often has a waiting list, so you might have to wait longer if you are specifically requesting to work with her.

We can work to your schedule; if you have some sections finished earlier than others, we can start work on those while you complete the rest of your thesis. Please note that we don’t book work in with a member of the team until we have a copy of that work.

Why can’t I book a slot before my piece is ready?

Postgrad work is unpredictable. It might take longer to recruit your participants than you had hoped. Your supervisor might go off sick. You might really need a break. For this reason, we no longer book clients in until their pieces are ready to go. This saves you having to feel stressed about a deadline that is no longer realistic and saves us reserving time for work which doesn’t materialise. We have a large enough team of experts that we can still offer quick turnaround times.

You’re already working to multiple deadlines, you don’t need to with us!

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What format should I send my work in?

Send your work to us in Word: either .doc or .docx. This is essential because we use Word’s track changes function to proof-read your work.

Why will you send me back two copies?

Many proof-reading services will only send you back one clean copy. You may feel that this approach would mean less work for you. However, since this is your project and is so crucial for you, we feel it’s important to offer you the chance to collaborate. Ultimately, it’s your choice whether to accept the changes we suggest. Including a copy with the track changes on it gives you the option to accept or reject those changes. The clean version means that if you are happy to trust our judgment, you can work with this version rather than going through the changes we’ve suggested.

What is included in the service?

We will proof-read your work and, depending on the level of service you are paying for, suggest feedback as well. See how it works for more detail about this. We are also happy to answer short questions via email and may, in certain circumstances, agree to brief video chats to talk through the work.

If you have booked a video consultation, we will spend an hour beforehand reading the work you have sent us, and then an hour talking it through with you online. If you need more time, that can be arranged with the team on a case by case basis.

PGPR is not a supervision service, so we cannot offer ongoing extended conversations about your work or emotional support for the ups and downs of postgrad life.

What if I need to cancel or change my VIDEO CONSULTATION timeslot?

If you need to cancel or change your video consultation, you need to give us 24 hours’ notice. Otherwise, your payment is non-refundable.

How can I pay?

You can pay via BACS transfer or Stripe. Please note that we do not accept PayPal.

If we are working on a larger piece, we will ask for a deposit of 50% before we commence work. We will send a second invoice for the balance once the work is done.

We are confident you will be happy with our work!

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What if I’m not satisfied?

For larger pieces, we will work on and return a small section to begin with. This gives you a chance to check that you are happy before we go any further. Working together in this way means you can let us know if there’s anything you would prefer us to do differently. However, we are so confident that you will be pleased with our work that we will not charge you for any completed sections if you are unhappy.

New PGPR team members

Exciting times here at PGPR… our team has doubled in size over the past few months. We now have more staff members who can help you with all your proof-reading and feedback needs. Additionally, our new staff are bringing new expertise to the fold, so it could be that we can now help you or your colleagues with areas you hadn’t previously considered contacting us about.

While PGPR has traditionally helped qualitative psychology students, most of whom are using IPA or thematic analysis, we can now also help criminology, humanities, history and musicology students as well as students who are using quantitative analysis, mixed methods, ethnography and discourse or framework analysis.

Hurrah – we can help more students than ever!

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Here’s a rundown of our new stellar staff members.

Claire M has a BSc in psychology and criminology, an MSc in psychology of health and wellbeing and a PhD from Keele University. She is another discourse analysis expert who can offer feedback and video consultations in this area, as well as transcription. She has also edited the PsyPAG Quarterly Journal for two years and worked as an editor on the QMiP Bulletin since 2016. She believes it’s important to give encouraging feedback that doesn’t make students physically cringe and hide away for a week.

Claire R is a mixed-methods health psychology and health services researcher with a keen interest in digital health, long-term conditions and implementation science. She can offer proof-reading and feedback for students working with thematic analysis, framework analysis, ethnography and mixed methods. She has worked and studied at a variety of universities in the UK and completed her PhD in improvement science at the University of Southampton. She is currently based at the University of Oxford but lives in Southampton.

Talking your research over with one of our experts can lead to a breakthrough.

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Josie has been working as a lecturer in psychology, teaching BSc and MSc Psychology, for the last 12 years. She’s currently working as a teaching fellow at King’s College London. She can help you with proof-reading and feedback for thematic analysis, IPA and quantitative work as well as video consultations. She has taught research methods in psychology (both qualitative and quantitative), biological psychology, cognitive psychology, mental health, and the psychology of sleep and dreaming. She has also supervised many research projects for final year BSc psychology students, using a range of qualitative and quantitative methods and has written a popular book on the psychology of dreaming.

Nick can help you with any proof-reading needs. He has an undergraduate degree and a master’s in history and became an English language teacher after taking a CELTA course. He has also taught academic English and critical thinking skills to university-level students. Now based in Malaysia, Nick combines proof-reading and editing with tutoring. He has worked with a wide variety of texts, including journal articles for publication, dissertations, academic theses, corporate documents and university papers, while his proof-reading experience covers engineering, hospitality, political science and management.

The PGPR team are addicted to reading

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Shannon is another proof-reading whizz with expertise in quantitative methods. She also offers transcription. She completed a Bachelor of Business Science and a Master of Commerce in economics at the University of KwaZulu Natal. During her time there, she also worked as an economics tutor and an academic coordinator. She has assisted in various quantitative research projects, primarily working with econometric and statistical models. Working in research led Shannon to the role of proof-reader and editor for research papers, prior to their submission for publication. She also proof-read postgraduate dissertations in a variety of business-related subjects.

And last but certainly not least is Steph, a musicologist and early modern music book historian who can offer proof-reading and feedback. With a master’s degree in early music editing from Hull and a PhD in seventeenth-century music publishing from Manchester, she is now an Associate Researcher at Newcastle. She works on music in early modern England, particularly within the broader cultural contexts of print, book history and economic trade. She’s also the editor for the Northamptonshire Victoria County History Trust, meaning she is used to working with historians from a broad range of backgrounds.

The PGPR team have more degrees than you could throw your cap at

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If you or any of your colleagues would like to book one of our new team members to look at your work, please just get in touch via the box below – we’ll be happy to help.

How to write a qualitative paper in seven easy steps

By this stage in your postgrad journey, you have probably read thousands of academic papers – or at least it feels that way. Indeed, you may have written one or two as well. But was the process quick and painless – or did it involve tears, tantrums and having to cut far too many of your carefully honed words? If you fall into the latter camp, you’ve come to the right place. Don’t panic; paper writing is challenging at first. But the more you practice, the slicker the process gets.

We already looked at how to get your qualitative study ready for publication in a previous blog. In this entry, we look at the more practical steps for writing a paper as efficiently as possible. 

We’ve all felt like this at some point during the writing, right?

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1. Start with the method

The method section is the simplest section of the paper. What did you do? Can you remember? If so, write it down. Check your target journal to see whether they have certain subheadings they want you to include (examples might be data collection, analysis, ethics and so on). If they don’t, have a look at other papers and copy their headings. Writing this short, factual series of paragraphs gets you into your stride and breaks that terrifying ‘blank page’ syndrome.

If you can, it’s often a good idea to start writing your method section while you’re still conducting the research. This ensures that you don’t forget any of those details about exactly where you found participant 14 or when you made those all-important changes to your interview schedule.

2. Use your table of themes to create your findings section

The findings are the most important section of a qualitative paper. This should be the longest and most detailed element and will guide the material you include in your introduction and discussion sections. This is why, once you’ve got started with the super-simple method, you should tackle the findings next.

You’ve got a table of themes that you lovingly created during your analysis, right? Well – I say lovingly created – what I mean is wrote, crossed out, re-created, kicked down the stairs a few times and cried over until you reached this final draft. Am I right?

Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that (nearly all) of the hard work is already done. Created correctly, your table of themes should be the blueprint for your findings section. This means that you already know what points you want to make, in what order, and supported by which quotes. Brilliant, right? Well done past you. In theory, all you need to do now is turn write about why you named the themes and subthemes as you did, how those ideas are supported by the quotes and any interplay between the themes. With the right table of themes, this is easier than it sounds – the section almost writes itself.

The bad news – which really isn’t all that bad – is that analysis continues during writing. This means that, as you write your findings up, you are likely to realise that some quotes don’t quite do the right job, or that some points need shuffling around. You might need to seek out some different quotes, or re-order things. That’s fine; it’s good, in fact, as it shows you’re really engaging with the material. In this instance, use your new findings section to re-order the table.

Take the time to reflect on your own ideas.

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3. Introduction

The next stage is the introduction. These can be tough to write when you start writing papers as opposed to a thesis. They are somewhat equivalent to the lit review chapter of the thesis – but much, much shorter. And shorter does not mean easier!

Start by making a bullet point list of all the points you need to make in your introduction. These should include:

  • Setting the scene for your research question
  • The main points which need addressing from that question. So, for example, if you’re asking what it is like to work in criminal law (a heteronormative culture) as an LGBTQ person, you might have a bullet point on heteronormativity, a bullet point on the culture in criminal law and a bullet point on the challenges faced by LGBTQ people working in heteronormative environments. (I kinda want to read that paper now…)
  • Why your approach is the best way to answer your question

Once you have the list, approach this in the same way you did the method section – just fill in the blanks and write a paragraph (two at most) for each bullet point. If you’re lucky, you’ll already have done all the relevant reading. If you’re not, you’ll need to conduct a lit review at this point. However, knowing exactly what areas you’re interested in will make this quicker and easier than if you were just exploring the topic as a whole. Search for relevant, recent papers, plug them into EndNote or whichever referencing system you’re using, whizz through the relevant sections and make notes on anything useful. As you go, slot useful points into your skeleton intro, following the bullet points. You can refine it later. Ensure you don’t just look for papers that back up your pre-existing point of view; remember to be critical at all times, even of your own ideas.

Think of your introduction as a funnel. You’re starting with the wider context of the question and then narrowing down to the point where the reader agrees with you that answering this is question is essential, and that your stance is the best way to do so.

4. Discussion

Once you’ve presented your findings and shown the reader why they are important via the introduction, the next stage is to discuss them (hence the name!) in the light of other people’s work. Discussion sections can be notoriously tricky, which is why we have an entire blog post dedicated to getting them just right.

Qualitative discussions will generally follow the same structure as your findings. Work through each theme in the same order you presented them, showing how your findings confirm, contradict or build on existing work.

If time is of the essence, you can start your discussion section simultaneously with the introduction – after all, the two map onto each other to a certain extent. As you read the papers and make notes in a skeleton discussion section too. Write out your theme names under the ‘discussion’ title and note down any useful findings from others. All you need is to polish up your notes (and potentially look for a few more papers), and voila! You’re nearly done.

5. References

Please tell me you’ve been doing these the whole time? And that you’re using a handy piece of referencing software like EndNote or Zotero? If so – easy peasy. Use your software to set the references to the right system for your chosen journal (APA 7, Chicago or Harvard, most likely), and away you go. If you haven’t been using software, step one is to amend this immediately for next time. I know it feels like an intimidating pain before you get started, but it is SUCH a lifesaver in the end. Step two, for now, is to get onto Google Scholar and copy and paste those bad boys in by hand.

Ever tried to cook without spices? A good abstract provides a taste of what’s to come in your paper!

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6. Abstract

And finally, the abstract. Journals often have tight rules for how long an abstract should be and what structure it should follow, so check those first. Your abstract needs to give a small flavour of all the other elements of the paper. They can be hard to get right and might be best left for a week or so (if you have time) so that you can get a bit of distance from the work. Or, if you’ve done the bulk of the writing, you might ask another member of your research team to have a crack at this bit.

7. Send to PGPR

Whether you’re a total paper-newbie or an old hand, we can all use an extra pair of eyes now and then. If you’re struggling with any element of your paper writing, just get in touch with us using the form below, and we’ll be happy to help.

How to make your writing sing

If you’re an academic, you are also, by proxy, a writer. Academics lives are full of words. Emails, feedback to students, grant applications, papers, theses – all of these require the careful placement of the one word next to another. As Prince once (almost) said, if you put the right letters together, you make a better day. And if it’s good enough for Prince, it’s good enough for the rest of us mere mortals.

However, while we university types are educated up to the eyeballs in our particular topics, we’re not often taught much about writing itself. Sure, we might have had an undergrad lecture about writing essays which follow the funnel structure, but other than that, we’re left to sink or swim. Which, given how much of our lives we spend trying to communicate complex ideas through the written word, is perhaps a bit of an oversight.

Humans have been communicating their ideas through writing since ancient times.

Photo by Kyle Smith on Unsplash.

With that in mind, here are some of PGPR’s top tips for creating words which stand out.

1. Read

Every writer also needs to be a reader. Fiction writers are experts in their genre, reading everything they can get their hands on by the writers they admire. The same counts for academic writing. Read as many papers and books in your field as possible. Spot what works and what doesn’t. Try to use the best techniques in your own writing.

Additionally, two great how-to books that can help every writer are Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style and Stephen King’s On Writing. I’m sure there are other great books on writing which haven’t been written by someone called Steven, but those are a great starting point.

2. Plan

That funnel structure lecture you sat through in undergrad was actually pretty useful. Good academic writing should always follow a structure. This might feel boring, but it makes it easier for others to read, which should always be your aim. Think carefully about the points you want to make. How you order those points will influence how the reader digests your ideas, so plan carefully before you start.

A good plan is worth its weight in sticky labels!

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3. Write tight

As we’ve said in a previous PGPR blog, a key tenet of writing is to ‘omit needless words’ (Strunk, 2007). Effective writing is concise. We all write in longer sentences when we’re drafting something, so look back over your work and get rid of those filler words (‘that’ ‘very’ ‘really’) which aren’t needed.

Another tip for writing tighter prose is to avoid repetition. We all have favourite phrases which we use over and over again without even noticing. Try to spot yours and find new ways of phrasing. This will keep the reader’s attention.

4. The Curse of Knowledge (Pinker, 2014)

This concept, which Steven Pinker discusses in detail in The Sense of Style, is especially relevant to academics. When we’re an expert in any topic – be it phenomenology, attribution theory or fuzzy logic, it can be easy to forget that our readers don’t share our knowledge. This can mean we don’t provide essential explanations, leaving the reader lost. This is a tough nut to crack, but if you ask for feedback from a non-expert friend or colleague, they will be able to help you spot the holes that need filling.

A good friend will always help you out of a tight spot!

Image by Anja🤗#helpinghands #solidarity#stays healthy🙏 from Pixabay

5. Read your work aloud

You might feel like a bit of wally doing this, but it is super helpful. There’s something about reading aloud which helps you spot the awkward clauses or overly long sentences you might otherwise have missed. You could read to a friend or family member, or just to yourself in your locked office – whatever you choose, release your words into the ether and you’ll spot lots of areas to improve.

6. Impactful words should be at the start and end of sentences

This is a neat trick. If you are using words which pack a punch – and let’s hope you are – try to place those words at the start or end of the sentence, and your writing will immediately improve.

Let’s look at an example. Perhaps you’re writing up some qualitative findings from your fascinating study about eating tasty cakes. You’ve drafted the following sentence:

It was reported that the chocolate cake was the most delicious out of all of the options.

The three best words there, I think we can all agree, are ‘cake’, ‘chocolate’ and ‘delicious’. At the moment, while there’s nothing technically wrong here, those words are a little lost. Our hacky human brains might therefore jump over them, in our rush to skip to the end.

What might work better?

Most delicious, reported participants, was the chocolate cake.

The chocolate cake was reported to be the most delicious.

Chocolate was found to be the best flavour.

There is no one right answer. When you’re faced with a sentence like this, play around. Is ‘best flavour’ a more impactful way of saying ‘the most delicious’? Several needless words were omitted in the edited versions. Which sounds best to your ear?

Keep an ear (or two) out for those unnecessary filler words.

Photo by Kyle Smith on Unsplash

7. Employ PGPR

If all this sounds like far too much hard work, just get in touch with PGPR via the form below. We’ll be happy to help your writing be the best it can be.

Using anthropomorphism in academic writing

It’s not uncommon to read “this study concludes…” or “these findings suggest…” in academic writing. I would hazard a guess that nearly every researcher has used similar phrases at some point in their career. You may well have used them yourself and thought nothing of it. However, these ubiquitous and seemingly innocuous phrases cause quite a stir in certain circles.

They are just two examples of anthropomorphism: incidences where the author attributes human characteristics to inanimate or nonhuman objects or concepts. Under APA 6 guidelines, academics would be chided for implying that their data had the power of speech – how can data say anything? Anthropomorphism was to be avoided at all costs.


It can be tempting to give human qualities to anything and everything!

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

And logically, rationally, this makes sense. Data, findings, “the study” – all these things lack agency. Research doesn’t think, explore, or conclude; researchers do! Active verbs belong with people, not abstract concepts or inanimate objects.

If you are only now learning of these particular guidelines, you may be groaning, rolling your eyes, and wondering if you have to go back through your entire dissertation to awkwardly juggle clauses and remove agency from “the study”. If you’re writing in the first-person, this is fairly straightforward. What was “this chapter describes…” becomes “in this chapter, I describe…”.

However, whilst first-person writing is an increasingly popular choice for qualitative researchers, not all supervisors, examiners and journal editors will accept this format…a topic for a whole other blog. De-anthropomorphising sentences in the third person is possible, but it can lead to some verbose and awkward phrasing. For example:

This research explores the impact of dog ownership on people’s happiness.

Could become the slightly wordier:

In this study, the researchers explored the impact of dog ownership on people’s happiness.

Or the clumsy, back-ended passive-voice version:

          In this research, the impact of dog ownership on people’s happiness was explored.


Every dog has its data
Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Perhaps you’re wondering what all the fuss is about. Surely this is pedantic in the extreme; we know that it’s the researchers, not the research, who are doing the exploring, describing and suggesting! Anthropomorphism is a useful and engaging stylistic shorthand which can facilitate clarity and conciseness, rather than create confusion. It’s unlikely that we will read “the study suggests…” and go away thinking “gosh, that study has acquired the power of speech! And isn’t it remarkably articulate?”

And to an extent, it seems the APA style guide finally agrees (or should that be “the authors of the APA style guide agree” …?)… to an extent. Under APA 7 guidelines, the rules around anthropomorphism have been relaxed, meaning your study can now be allowed to speak. Only a little, though, and only under strict circumstances. There are limits to the active verbs which can be ascribed to non-human entities. For example, it’s now fine to state:

The data suggests…

The findings indicate…

The table presents…

Some phrases which might be acceptable (but use with caution):

This chapter describes…

The questionnaire assessed…

But definitely steer clear of:

The study concluded… (this suggests that there is one objective conclusion to be drawn from the data).

The literature claims… (this suggests that from a whole body of literature on a given topic, one unified view can be drawn).

Whilst there is arguably room for clarification around these new guidelines, I wouldn’t hold out hope for a comprehensive list of suitable verb-subject pairings. A good rule of thumb may be to question why you’re employing anthropomorphism – does it clarify your writing (perhaps by avoiding long, awkward sentence structuring), or does it muddy your intended meaning? If you spot anthropomorphism in your writing, is there another way this could be phrased? While there is no longer a blanket ban on anthropomorphism in APA, it’s generally good practice to reflect on your writing, and what you may be implying by employing this device.

You can read more about the changes to the rules here.


Sometimes it’s a case of moving the pieces around.
Photo by Olav Ahrens Røtne on Unsplash

If this all feels overwhelming, or confusing, or you’re not sure where to start, then there’s always help available. Get in touch with us about your writing concerns! Whether it’s specifically about anthropomorphism or more broadly about APA style, we’re happy to provide expert guidance and friendly support. Just fill in the box below to contact us, and we’ll get back to you ASAP.

How transcription works with PGPR

If you’re a qualitative researcher, the chances are you will be conducting interviews. This means that at some point, all that lovely data will have to be transformed from audio files into documents that you can annotate and analyse.

Of course, in an ideal world, we would all transcribe our own interviews as it does get us that step closer to the data. In the real world, however, researchers often don’t have time for this laborious job. If you’re trying to recruit participants and work on your analysis whilst also looking after a family and working in a part-time job, the thought of sitting hunched over Word and VLC for days at a time trying to work out whether a participant said ‘pathology’ or ‘potatoes’ might be enough to make you weep.

Is transcription making you want to tear your hair out?

Photo by ahmad gunnaivi on Unsplash

Well, fear not, because PGPR now offers transcription alongside proof-reading and feedback. In this blog, we’ll explain exactly what happens if you decide to use PGPR to transcribe your precious data.

Step one… send us your audio file

We use the secure service Tresorit to transfer files. Tresorit is based in Switzerland and is one of the most secure services of its kind. All files are encrypted at source and the company has no way of accessing documents you upload or send through their service. They take security and GDPR compliance seriously, meaning your precious data is safe. You can send files of up to 5GB in this way.

You upload your file to Tresorit and send it to us. We will ensure that the link gets to the team member who is transcribing your audio. They will then download the file.

We guard your data carefully

Photo by Liam Tucker on Unsplash

Step two… we transcribe the data

Since our team members are either qualitative researchers themselves or are editors who specialise in working on qualitative pieces, we understand how important it is to get every word and line of your interview exactly right. If you want, we can include hesitations, repetitions, ums and ahs, laughter and sighs. We can also anonymise all identifying data, such as names or locations, as we work.

Transcription is serious business

Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

Step three… we check that our work is accurate

We always listen to your interview twice over to ensure that our transcription is both accurate and thorough.

Step four… we send the interview back to you

Once the transcript is ready, we will password protect it and email the document back to you. You will then receive a text message from Layla or Johanna telling you what the password for your interview is. In this way, we are ensuring security. We can send your work back within 24 hours, 48 hours or five working days from the time you sent it to us.

That feeling you get when you don’t have to worry about transcribing your interviews…

Photo by Fernando Brasil on Unsplash

Step five… we delete your audio file

Again, this ensures that your confidential data doesn’t make it into the wrong hands.

If you’d like to use our transcription service, just get in touch via the form below, we’ll be happy to help.

How to sail through your postgrad viva

It seems like only five minutes ago that you were a trembling new student, going along to your first supervisory meeting with your knees knocking. But somehow, through a flurry of ethics reviews, recruitment and analysis, plus some blood, sweat and sobs… here you are. Your thesis is submitted, you’ve selected your examiners and the final hurdle is in sight.

The postgrad viva voce is truly a rite of passage. For those who don’t know, this is the final exam for a postgrad project. It takes different forms in different countries. For example, in the US doctoral defense, the supervisory committee also grill the student. In the European system, students have to defend their work in front of a public audience. Here in the UK, the viva involves sitting in a room with two examiners (one from the candidate’s university and one from another institution) for two, three, four or more hours, answering questions about your thesis.


It’s normal to feel nervous before your viva
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Most students feel nervous about their vivas. However, if handled correctly, they can be a fulfilling, rather than frightening, experience.

1. Take a break from the thesis

This is an important first step. Once you’ve had that thesis bound and put the obligatory smiling selfies on Instagram, put it down and don’t look at it for a few weeks. For a start, you deserve a break. But just as importantly, giving yourself space from your masterpiece will allow you to look at it with fresh eyes, so that you can spot areas to be discussed more easily. I’d also suggest using this downtime to buy yourself a lovely notebook that you can use for your prep. After all, stationery that makes your heart sing is never a bad thing.

2. Start by thinking about your strengths

…And why not? After all, you’ve written an entire thesis. This is amazing! If you start this process by remembering what you love about your research, that will set you up for a happier viva. What are the strongest findings of your thesis? Which aspects make you feel proud? Can you summarise the thesis in 300 words or so? Write all these points down in your notebook and get ready to shout them to the rooftops.


You wrote a thesis? That’s worth celebrating
Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

3. And then think about the challenges

The next step is to use those newly objective eyes to look for any weaknesses in the thesis. There almost certainly will be some, and that’s just fine. The point of a viva is not to prove that you’ve conducted a perfect series of studies; if such a thing were possible, we wouldn’t need peer-review. You’ll be better off demonstrating that you’re aware of things you might do differently next time, or which you might be able to address in your amendments. Write your ideas down in your notebook, along with some thoughts about challenges you overcame during the research. Additionally, if there are any theoretical areas you’re shaky on, re-read the literature and try explaining those concepts to other people.

4. Think about your examiners

You should already know your examiners and their work by this point. It’s important to remember that, while those examiners will (hopefully!) be as fair as they can be, vivas are run by humans and are therefore a subjective experience. Try to get inside the heads of your examiners by reading their publications. How does their work interact with yours? Can you think of what these particular people might want to ask you about your research?


Your examiners will have their own take on your thesis. Can you try to predict what that might be?
Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

5. Think about questions you might be asked

In addition to the list of questions the examiners might ask, re-read your thesis and think about the questions anyone would ask. Make lists of those questions. Write down your answers. If there’s anything you’re unsure about, make another list (who doesn’t love a good list?) and book in a time to talk those areas through with your supervisor, who is there to support you. If you’ve had any papers published from your thesis, think about the points your reviewers made. Might those points come up again?  

6. Keep reading

Yep, there’s a lot of reading involved in viva prep. Once you’ve finished re-reading the thesis, you might also want to re-read the papers you cite most often. Plus, when did you write your lit review? It might have been a couple of years ago now. Have a look on Google Scholar and see if there are any papers which have come out since then that you need to know about for the big day.


As a postgrad, the reading never stops
Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

7. Practice, practice, practice

One of the things many postgrad students feel most nervous about – especially here in the socially awkward UK – is having to say their ideas out loud, rather than being able to hide behind the safety of a keyboard. The best way to beat those nerves is to practice. You might feel a bit silly, but ask your supervisor, friends, mum, partner, even your pet parrot to quiz you. Try explaining your ideas to people who don’t know anything about your subject. If they understand you, anyone will. The more you do this, the more confident you will feel, and the higher the chance that you might actually enjoy the viva. Trust me, unbelievable as that might feel from this side of the event, many people report genuinely enjoying this experience. After all, you’re getting to talk about your passion, the thing you know more about than anyone else in the world, to two experts you’ve hand-picked. This could be the stuff dreams are made of! 


What do Dr Beaky and her colleagues think about your epistemology?
Photo by Sid Balachandran on Unsplash

8. Book a Skype session with PGPR

We offer hour-long video chat sessions which are perfect for students who are about to take their viva. While we obviously can’t read your entire thesis and quiz you on it, we will spend an hour looking at your notes and ideas beforehand. We can then talk through any concerns and worries you have, ask you some practice questions, and give you some friendly support. Get in touch via the form below to book your session.