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
This might seem confusing at first but don’t worry; help is at hand!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Are you a postgrad student using qualitative methods to explore a social science topic?
Are you wrestling with your analysis, your themes, your write up? Or maybe you’re feeling nervous about your viva?
Qualitative research is an intense process that requires a lot of careful thinking. You need to hold many ideas in your mind as you consider connections between your themes and how your research fits into the wider picture. It’s no wonder analysis can cause a headache.
That’s why PGPR offers video consultations: hour-long sessions in which one of our team of qualitative experts talks you through the challenges you’re facing in your research project.
If you’re wondering whether a PGPR VC can help you, read the following examples to see how we’ve helped clients in the past…
Aimee was working on resubmitting a reflective assignment as part of her psychotherapy doctorate. She was finding it challenging to revise her previous submission to ensure she met the assessment criteria while expressing her lived experiences clearly in a formal academic style. Aimee sent us her original submission, along with the feedback from her assessors and the assessment criteria. Through a series of video consultations, we explored how Aimee could relate psychotherapeutic theory to both her personal and professional experiences. We identified specific areas where she could demonstrate her relevant understanding in relation to the required learning outcomes. By explaining her ideas verbally, Aimee felt more confident communicating her knowledge, and successfully reworked her assignment with a clearer narrative arc.
Bob had completed the write up of his interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) findings for his doctoral thesis. He had received feedback that his work was descriptive rather than interpretative and was unsure how to address this. Bob sent us his results chapter and we had a chat about how we could best support him. We agreed that a general discussion about how to be interpretative would be too abstract, so decided he would select some quotes from his findings which we could explore together. During the hour, we talked through a small selection of extracts in depth. This allowed Bob to get a sense of how to approach his data interpretatively, what to look for and the types of questions he could ask himself. He then felt more able to apply this to the rest of his findings chapter, which he continued to revise on his own.
Cathy had completed her PhD viva and was unsure how to approach her revisions. She sent us her viva report and thesis. In a series of video consultations, we focused on the different amendments required. In one session, we made a detailed plan for a chapter she had been asked to re-structure so that she could go away and organise her writing with clarity. In another, we discussed the examiners’ request that Cathy acknowledge the influence of her position on the research. We decided that writing a single reflexive statement would be appropriate and talked through what she might include in it. Cathy later sent some sections of her amended thesis for proofreading and written feedback to iron out the last details. Her revised thesis was accepted.
If you decide to book a VC with PGPR, we will spend an hour looking at your work before the session, and then an hour discussing the work once it’s done.
Previous PGPR VC client Andrea K said:
“I found my consultation meetings with Rachel incredibly helpful. When I felt stuck in my analysis, Rachel helped me to understand better what I am doing well (which motivated me to continue) as well as areas for further learning by discussing specific examples in my data. She definitely helped me to understand better how to put theory (IPA principles) into practice (analysis). Each consultation was used very efficiently thanks to Rachel’s clear focus, and she also made sure we had some time to discuss any questions/dilemmas that I had. I would recommend these consultations to anyone who feels stuck or wants to learn what they do well and what they can improve. Do not hesitate to contact the team if you have any other issues in your research study as they seem to consider individual needs and requests very well.”
Get in touch via the form below to book a session with one of our qualitative experts.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
In this research, the impact of dog ownership on people’s happiness was explored.
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
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.
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.
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.
Dyslexic students can struggle with things other students
may take for granted, such as understanding textbook materials, spelling and
grammar, note-taking, and organising and expressing their ideas on paper.
Undertaking a PhD is a big commitment and a lot of work. If
you’re a PhD student with dyslexia, this can make things all the more difficult.
However, with the right support in place, it can also be a rewarding experience that not only looks great on your CV but can enhance your future career prospects.
Here are three challenges that PhD students with dyslexia might face and ways that PGPR can help:
Spelling and grammar
The standard of writing expected from a PhD
is high. If you are a dyslexic student, you might find negative comments or
feedback in this area demotivating, especially when you have spent hours
diligently checking your finished paper. Text-to-speech software and grammar
checkers can be useful for common spelling and grammatical errors, but quite
often they miss details that can only be spotted by an eagle-eyed professional
Our basic proof-reading service is designed to spot those typos and punctuation errors, checking each line, suggesting alternative word choices and highlighting areas of text that are difficult to understand. You get two copies of your work back – one clean edit and one tracked, so you can easily and quickly spot what changes have been made.
Organising your ideas
Being able to manage your time
effectively whilst working on a PhD is essential. Many dyslexic students can
find it difficult to organise their thoughts on paper or find they need to
spend longer re-reading academic texts to ensure they fully understand what is
It is easy to become overwhelmed with the workload involved in a PhD even with additional support from your university. PGPR’s feedback service can help you to successfully organise your ideas so they are the best they can be.
One of the team will go through your work and provide expert advice and feedback to help improve your structure, methodology, findings and discussion sections. We also offer a service that combines basic proof-reading with feedback for students who feel their English or academic writing skills could use an extra boost.
Lack of visible support
Students with dyslexia often comment on how their experiences of studying at a post-grad level are vastly different from an undergraduate degree.
Universities often have a good support system in place for undergraduates, such as extra time for exams or a project deadline, trained on-site support staff and specialist equipment to help dyslexic students. Embarking on a PhD, however, means a lot of working on your own, and getting extra time to plan or write your thesis can be difficult.
If you feel that you need more support, consider discussing this with your supervisor. Many supervisors will be able to work with you on a plan to guide you through your PhD. Others may be dyslexic themselves or have previously worked with dyslexic students.
You may also benefit from PGPR’s popular one-to-one Skype sessions, which are designed to allow you to discuss your work with one of our experts. These one-off or regular sessions provide support, guidance and deeper insight into your work and can help assuage any worries or fears you may be experiencing.
Get in touch with The Post-Graduate
The team at PGPR offer a wide range of services designed to help you achieve your personal best. Whether you need your lecture notes transcribed into a clear and readable format in a dyslexia-friendly font, or a dry-run of your ground-breaking presentation via Skype to help you practise speaking in public, we are here to help.
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.