How to use the new IPA terminology

Whether you are new to Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) or have been using it for a while, you may have noticed some differences in the language associated with this qualitative approach to research.

This might seem confusing at first but don’t worry; help is at hand!

Confused? PGPR are here to help

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The guidance and steps suggested to conduct your analysis remain the same. So do the underlying principles. All that’s changed is some of the terminology.

Terms like emergent theme or superordinate theme, which you will see in most IPA papers published pre-2022 and in the first edition of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis: Theory, Method and Research by Jonathan Smith, Paul Flowers and Michael Larkin (2009), have been updated, as explained in the table below.

Old term New term
Emergent Theme Experiential Statement
Superordinate Theme Personal Experiential Theme (PET)
Master Theme Group Experiential Theme (GET)

Emergent Themes are now known as experiential statements, superordinate themes are now called personal experiential themes, and master themes are now referred to as group experiential themes.

This change in terminology can actually make things clearer as you work through your analysis. Experiential statements are just that, statements about the experiences captured in your data in terms of their meaning for the participant.

Let the new IPA terminology light your pathway through analysis

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In the new book Essentials of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (Smith & Nizza, 2021), the authors provide an example analysis of a participant’s holiday experience.

The example transcript includes the lines “so I really had to put in the effort and judge people quite quickly as well. So, yeah, I just had to put stuff out there quite a lot”. One of the experiential statements to arise from this analysis is ‘Selectively and purposively bonding with strangers’ (p. 41).

This statement is both concise and rich. It captures the participant’s description of forging relationships with other travellers and their sense of this being a deliberate, active process. A statement such as ‘Meeting new people’ or ‘Social aspects of travel’, although still reflective of the data, would not provide the same experiential detail.

The new IPA terminology is nearly as much fun as meeting new friends whilst travelling. Honest!

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Thinking in terms of experiential statements – rather than emergent themes – can help you orient yourself during the earlier analytic stages. An experiential statement involves summarising the meaning in a short portion of the text – perhaps just a few lines. At this stage, being too concerned with the bigger picture of ‘themes’ can distract you from looking carefully at each section of the transcript in a close, fine-grained fashion.

Personal experiential themes or PETs, are themes developed through an analysis of a single case, meaning they are personal to that individual.

Group experiential themes or GETs are developed by looking across individual cases for patterns of convergence and divergence. They are themes which represent the group.

As you can see, the revised terminology makes finding your way through the analysis easier.

Doing IPA can feel like tackling a maze. The new terminology can help you find your way.

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This new terminology, and guidance for each stage of the analysis, are included in the two new books mentioned. These are the 2nd edition of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis: Theory, Method and Research by Jonathan Smith, Paul Flowers, and Michael Larkin (2022), and the new APA Essentials Book Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis by Jonathan Smith and Isabella Nizza (2021).

The new terminology is also used in the recent paper I wrote with Jonathan Smith: ‘Making sense of an artwork: An interpretative phenomenological analysis of participants’ accounts of viewing a well-known painting’ (Starr & Smith, 2022).

This blog was written by Rachel Starr, one of PGPR’s IPA experts. To book a video consultation with Rachel, contact us via the box below.

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. Just get in touch via the form below.

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 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?

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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

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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

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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…

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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.

Six steps to the perfect discussion section

You’ve passed ethics, recruited participants, collected your data, analysed and written up your findings – phew! What a marathon. The hard work is basically over, right?

Well, sadly 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 discussion.

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.

Immerse yourself in the relevant reading

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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.

Think carefully about your format before you start writing
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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.


How similar does your work look to existing work?

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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.

Perhaps 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.


Don’t let your brilliant new ideas sink without trace  

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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.

Convince Any Stats-Lover with Your Qualitative Method Section

You have done a cutting-edge piece of qualitative research that is ripe for publishing… but your subject matter means that targeting traditional, quant-based journals makes more sense for your beloved paper. Do you know how to get your paper ready to submit to a potentially stats-favouring audience?


Sending your paper to someone who does this all day? Don’t quake in your boots… we’ve got you covered!
 
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Lots of publications have quantitative researchers reviewing qualitative work and you want to make sure that your reviewer has no doubts about the value of your fabulous paper.

Fear not – here are some top tips on how to get your methodology section looking ravishingly rigorous and ready for submission.

1. Check the journal’s conventions for qualitative research.

Many journals that accept qualitative papers have specific conventions or guidelines for qualitative submissions.

There are also journals that do not accept qualitative papers (sad but true!), although they don’t always let you know this. If you can’t find any specific conventions for qualitative papers in the publication in question, have a look to see if they have any lovely qual papers in their archives. If they don’t, it’s probably a waste of your time to send your paper to this journal, so cut your losses and move on to the next journal on your list.   

2. Recognise and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the qualitative approach.

One sure-fire way to put off reviewers is to ignore the weaknesses of your approach. Of course, you want to emphasise why your approach is fantastic and perfect for addressing your research question (as well as why quantitative research is not suitable for your study). However, discussing the disadvantages will give strength to your argument.

Talking about the strengths of your approach is obviously important, but don’t forget about its weaknesses!

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3. Discuss validity and reliability.

One concern of quantitative researchers is that qualitative research lacks validity and reliability. Emphasise the rigour of your approach, using examples.

4. Put all the right information in your methods section.

The structure of your methodology section will depend on your specific piece of research. Qualitative methods sections are not as cut and dried as quantitative methods sections. There are, however, some essential ingredients!

  • Research question: Be sure to clearly include this.
  • Design, methodology, approach and philosophy: Your theoretical assumptions need to be made explicit. Many researchers trained in quantitative methods are not aware of the philosophical underpinnings of qualitative research. Also, be mindful that approaches such as TA and IPA might need more explanation for quantitative researchers.
  • Researcher information: Also known as reflexivity – ensure you talk about your background, its relevance to the study both in terms of usefulness and potential bias
  • Sample, recruitment and drop-outs: Quantitative reviewers can sometimes be put off by small sample sizes. If you have spoken to a small sample, or if any participants have dropped out, explain why.
  • Procedure: Say what you did and why you did it. Make it relevant to your research question. What do the reviewers need to know about the research setting? How did you collect your data?
  • Ethics, including consent and confidentiality: Although ethical issues for quantitative and qualitative research can be similar, highlight any other issues, such as ongoing informed consent for case studies or additional means of protecting participant anonymity.

Just like the lovely cocktail you might celebrate with after your submission, your methodology section needs to have the right ingredients.
 
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5. Make sure it looks top-notch!

Don’t give the reviewer any chance to get off on the wrong foot. Your references should be perfect and your paper needs to be free from mistakes. Need an eagle eye to check over your paper? The Post-Graduate Proof-Reader can help!

Six Reasons You Should Work with a Proof-Reader

How to get your qualitative study ready for publication in five easy steps

Are you a postgrad student with a comprehensive, beautifully written qualitative thesis? You know your research deserves to be read by a wider audience, but after looking at journal word lengths, you’ve realised you’ll need to cut your gorgeous study in half (or maybe even quarters) to be eligible for publication.

How on earth can this be done?

Don’t panic! This blog will outline five easy steps to help you cut your study down into a bite-sized, publishable piece without losing any of the nuance you’ve put your blood, sweat and tears into.

1. Select a journal Think about audience, word-length and style

Before you even start thinking about making cuts to your precious study, the first thing to get straight is which journal you’re writing for. Who is your ideal audience? Do they have a key publication? If so, that could be the one for you. Run a quick search through your chosen journal’s archive to ensure they are open to qualitative publications; it will be a waste of your time and theirs to send your gorgeous IPA findings to a publication which only deals with stats.

Wow your audience with your awesome findings
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Once you’ve found your ideal journal, search their website for their instructions for authors, and note down their word length and style guidelines. Some journals might ask for a certain number of pages rather than a word length. Most will have requirements for font, point size and spacing, which you will do well to adopt from the outset so you don’t get a nasty shock when it turns out you have to double space the article you’ve spent hours getting down to 30 singlespaced pages.

2. Re-read your study What are the novel points? What will be of particular interest to your chosen journal’s audience?

Once you’ve selected your ideal journal, go back and re-read your study. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to fit all the findings from a master’s or PhD study into one paper, so think about which findings are the most novel, or which will appeal most to the audience of your chosen publication.

3. Choose two to three themes Which would work as an individual paper?

Feeling overwhelmed by words? The Post-Graduate Proof-Reader can help!
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You might have to make some big choices at this stage. Have you got five themes? Perhaps there will only be room in this paper to present two of those. Don’t worry – it could be that you could put the other three into a second paper for another audience. Maybe there’s just one theme that you feel is really hard-hitting. That’s fine too – you can pull that out of the study and present it alone.

4. Re-write your lit review and discussion Tailor these to your chosen themes

Once you’ve selected the theme/s you want to focus on for this paper, you’ll need to tailor the introduction, method and discussion sections to fit. Which papers from your lit review are relevant just for these fewer themes? Add a short section in your method explaining that you have (for example) selected two themes from a wider project, and explaining why you’ve chosen to do this. You might also want to include some recommendations and reflections towards the end of your discussion section.

5. Send your paper to the Post-Graduate Proof-Reader

Your study should be looking much more like a publishable paper now. It will be shorter and more tightly focused towards a specific audience. Congratulations! But… you may still be a little beyond that elusive word limit. Could you make your points more succinctly? Perhaps you don’t need all those limitations you’ve humbly included in your discussion section! Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes is needed at this stage. Visit http://postgradproofreader.co.uk/ and I’ll be happy to help you get your piece down to the correct word length and help you share your fabulous research with the wider world.