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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
With that in mind, here are some of PGPR’s top tips for
creating words which stand out.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
we check that our work is accurate
We always listen
to your interview twice over to ensure that our transcription is both accurate
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.
we delete your audio file
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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!
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.
ethics, recruited participants, collected your data, analysed and written up your
findings – phew! What a marathon. The hard work is basically over, right?
not, because there is one more hurdle to jump; the dreaded discussion section.
This is where
you compare your work to the existing literature. Sounds simple, but this can
be the hardest chapter to write. I have a theory (entirely untested, I should
point out) that these chapters are especially hard for women, who have
generally been socialised not to brag about their achievements, something you
definitely need to do here.
Read on for
six tips on how to leap over this final hurdle and write a devastating
1. Read around your findings
You will already have done plenty of reading for your lit review, but before you start writing, do some more, especially if you are doing qualitative work. In quantitative research, you shouldn’t discuss any papers you haven’t already bought up in your intro, but this is not the case for qualitative explorations, where the researcher will have been expecting the unexpected. Now that you have your unexpected findings, search for similar papers and make notes on the relevant points.
I find it helpful to start a new document listing each of my key findings, and to make notes of any existing findings which confirm, contradict or add to my own, along with a note of which paper the new findings have come from. Include the key findings from the key papers from your intro or lit review on this list as well. You might want to highlight findings which back yours up in one colour and those which don’t in another. This list document comes in really handy once you start to write.
Look for work from the same or similar methodologies to you, as well as work from other areas. Find and read papers that are cited in useful studies.
Top tip: if your university doesn’t have access to a paper you need, email the author, or look for them on ResearchGate or Twitter. They will probably be happy to share their work with you. (I am always happy to share my papers, just get in touch via the form below to ask.)
2. Think about format
The format of your discussion section should mirror that of your findings. This helps your reader to logically follow your train of thought; especially vital if your reader is a PhD examiner, for whom you want to make life as easy as possible.
Start with your first finding. Briefly recap it. A common problem I see with PGPR clients is that they spend too much time reminding the reader of findings. The findings chapter is the one before the discussion; try to trust that your work is interesting enough that the reader won’t have forgotten it already.
Here is an
example of a recap from a discussion section in my PhD, which was about the
experience of living with and being treated for renal failure:
Seven of the participants talked about the impact that
ill health made on their lives. Some found that ill health was a wearing
intrusion, dragging them down and restricting them. Others had found ways to
come to terms with living with their chronic conditions.
Following this, you might want write a brief summary of the existing literature, after which you can start comparing your work to what’s out there already.
3. Look for areas where your research confirms other findings
The next step is to demonstrate how your findings concur with existing work (if they do). This is where the list document you made earlier will come in useful. Look for findings that are similar to yours and tell the reader about those similarities. If you don’t have anything on your document which backs up your findings, have another look, just to be sure. However, don’t force similarities if they’re not there.
4. Look for areas where your research builds on existing work
This step is similar to the previous one but can be trickier. Your work might appear to contradict existing work. Novice researchers may panic that this means their findings are ‘wrong’. However, is there a reason your findings are different from Professor Big-Brain’s? Did you speak to different participants? Has the political climate shifted? Perhaps participants reacted differently to you – an Asian female – than to Professor Big-Brain – a white male. If further research would be beneficial, point that out.
your findings add a new dimension to a model or set of guidelines. If so,
clearly demonstrate this and give yourself a gold star.
You might have an entirely novel finding – something no-one has found before. Again, check the literature carefully so that you can be confident you’ve not missed anything, but if so, use clear language to tell your reader that you have found something new and important. Don’t be shy about this! These are the kinds of findings you might include in bullet points about ‘what this adds to existing research’ when you’re submitting papers for publication.
5. Think carefully about what your reader needs to know
PGPR clients’ discussion sections are often overly long. We don’t need every detail of the papers you’re comparing your work to. Consider your examiners or the reviewers of your paper as you write. These people tend to be overworked as it is – and reviewing/thesis examination is extra work which they have to fit into their busy day. Do they really need to know exactly how many people Dr Finickity interviewed, or do they just need to know what those participants experienced?
Here is another example from my PhD, demonstrating a succinct comparison:
Several participants talked about a loss of freedom via the restrictions placed on them by their illness, either in terms of being too fatigued to live life to the full, or in terms of more practical concerns such as diet restrictions. Authors of previous qualitative work on ill-health have found similar themes. The restricting impact of ill health in terms of both social life and diet spoken about by Charlotte is reflected in findings by King et al. (2002), in which dietary restrictions and ill health were both found to have a major impact on the diabetic renal patients.
6. Ask PGPR for feedback
Discussion sections are difficult – but the PGPR team has plenty of experience writing, marking and examining these chapters. We are happy to offer feedback on how to get your discussion chapter just right, so fill in the form below if you would like some extra support.
Postgraduate work is rewarding and can advance your career. But it can also be hard, lonely and scary. When your brain is full of ethics forms, analysis and recruitment, it can be hard to take care of yourself. Looking after your mental health is always essential but is especially important when you’re so busy you feel you don’t have the time. As the Zen proverb says:
‘You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour’.
Here are five
tips for maintaining your sanity while completing your master’s or PhD.
1. Fight isolation
is often groundbreaking. This is exciting, of course. But the problem with
breaking new ground is that there might not be anyone else breaking that ground
with you. This means you can end up feeling isolated.
Is there anyone else at your university doing similar research to you? If so, drop them an email, see if they fancy lunch. If not, have a look online for groups of people doing similar work to you. Lots of PGPR clients are conducting qualitative research using interpretative phenomenological analysis; if you’re one of those people, check out the IPA groups.io gang, which is a supportive place to ask questions and make contacts. Despite its reputation for being toxic, Twitter can also be a friendly space for academics. You might want to start out by following @AcademicChatter, @PhDVoiceand PGPR’s account @DrJohannaSpiers for some interesting online conversations.
2. Take breaks
drowning in deadlines, it can feel tempting to keep working on into the night, only
stopping to cram crisps into your mouth every now and then. But we all know
this is a bad idea, right?
Make sure you work regular breaks into your days. Does your uni have a gym? Go for a yoga class or a game of squash. Are you working from home? Go outside, sit in the sun, read a chapter of a novel. Is it Sunday and you’ve been working for 15 days straight? Stop it! Watch some Ozark and put your feet up. You’ll feel much better, and you’ll be more productive when you do get back to your desk.
3. Ask for support if you need it
There’s no escaping it; doing a master’s or a PhD is tough. You’re leading your own research, which is unpredictable and has many elements outside of your control. You’re probably skint. You’re watching your friends and family fill their evenings with fun while you’re conducting analysis and writing discussion sections. And you might be juggling family responsibilities while doing all this. If you need help, ask for it. Many universities have free counselling services which are quick to access. Your personal tutor is there for you to talk to. Asking for help is a sign of strength, so don’t be scared to reach out.
4. Celebrate the wins
If you’ve read this far, you might be forgiven for thinking postgrad work is nothing but doom and gloom. However, there are many triumphs along the way: getting accepted onto the course, passing your status upgrade, getting ethics approval, recruiting your first participants, writing your first paper, presenting at your first conference. These are all amazing achievements – remember to enjoy them!
PGPR for extra help
If you’re feeling stuck with spelling, tense about tenses or grouchy over grammar as you’re writing up your findings, get in touch for proof-reading help. We can also offer written and video-based feedback for qualitative social science work or help with your interview schedules and conference presentations. Just fill in the form below to find out more.
reading this blog, you’re either a PGPR client or you’re thinking about
becoming one. Either way – welcome! We hope we’ll get the chance to read some of
your research soon.
We offer four
levels of service here at PGPR. This is a blog to explain what you’ll get when
you book each of those services.
1. Basic proof-reading
First and foremost, proof-reading is about ensuring that your spelling and grammar are correct. You probably realised that, but PGPR proof-readers also look out for and help you with more than just those factors. Those extra areas include:
Tightening your writing by cutting down overly long sentences
Clarifying confusing text
Ensuring consistency of formatting, terminology, punctuation and so on
Checking your in-text references and, for a small extra charge, your reference list
We’ll amend your piece using Word’s track changes feature and send you back two copies: one with the changes still marked and one clean copy. It might be that we also include some comments to ensure we haven’t changed your meaning or that you agree with any suggested re-formatting.
should use our basic proof-reading service? Clients who are happy with the structure and
meaning of their work, but who struggle with English or academic writing.
Read more about why you should work with a proof-reader here.
2. Feedback only
The PGPR team includes a wealth of qualitative experts. As such, we can offer feedback on your structure, methodology, findings and discussion sections. We might ask whether you could dig a bit deeper with a certain interpretation, or if you can find links between certain themes. We may also suggest papers which would be useful to read, point out methodological errors or highlight sections of your thesis which your examiners might question you about.
We can also
offer feedback on earlier stages of analysis, such as tables of themes or
transcripts. It might be helpful for you to consider a Skype session with one
of our experts if you’re at this earlier stage – more on those below.
If you book feedback only, you’ll get a single copy of your work back, marked up with helpful comments from one of our team. Read more about our brilliant team here.
Who should use our feedback only service? If you are confident that your writing is strong, but you feel less sure about whether your analysis or methodology are as robust as they can be, this is the service for you.
3. Proof-reading plus feedback
This is our deluxe service and is fairly self-explanatory! If you book this service, we’ll combine all the elements of basic proof-reading and feedback. This means you’ll get two copies of your work back: one with the tracked changes still there for you to look at and one clean copy. Both copies will include the feedback comments.
Who should book proof-reading plus feedback? If you’re feeling unsure about your English or academic writing skills and need some extra assistance with your analysis, book this service.
4. Video consultations
The PGPR team now offers video consultations for its qualitative clients. These are an ideal opportunity to talk through difficulties you’re having at any stage of your research project with one of our team of experts.
Once you’ve booked a session and been paired with a team member, you can send some examples of your work for your expert to look over. They will then spend up to an hour discussing the work with you via a video chat. Note it’s fine to turn the video function off if you feel shy – you’ll still be able to hear our advice and questions.
You can read more about the benefits of our video consultations here.
Who should book a video consultation? Anyone who is feeling stuck with any stage of their qualitative research project.
If any of these services sound like they might be helpful for you, get in touch via the form below and have a chat with us about what we can offer.