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Achieving closure

When can I stop writing? How will I know when the thesis is ready for examination?

How do I know when the thesis is finished?

The length of time devoted to the thesis, the reading, researching, developing argument and the process of writing, refining, re-writing, adding, subtracting, contracting, becomes apparently endless. Because you focus on one small section at a time - a chapter, a page or two, or even just a paragraph, you see that small part improve and take shape and meaning, but it is easy to lose sight of the whole or even to feel overwhelmed by it all. It becomes difficult to identify when each section is complete (or at least adequate), and when the parts can be put together to form a completed thesis.

Creating a thesis is like doing a giant, complex jigsaw puzzle. While the thesis is in progress, the total picture is being created but looks vague, ill defined. Slowly, it starts to take form, but has noticeable gaps. As the thesis moves towards completion a sense of wholeness emerges, a picture can be discerned that takes on a distinct form and shape. Finally, you will be able to take an objective stand and see the work as a whole, feeling that the pieces of the puzzle have all fitted neatly together. There is a complete picture!

While you may acknowledge that the 'puzzle' - your thesis - could be larger, more complex, or even totally different, you will have a strong sense of wholeness, of a picture that is represented, of a story that has been told in the pages of the thesis. And then you can acknowledge the possibility for closure. Although there will always be more that you can read, additional references that could be added, further theoretical connections that could be made, when you can view the total picture and have a sense of its completeness and clarity, you can accept closure. Now you can start to separate from the work that has been absorbing your thinking and filling your time for so long.

Bear in mind, it is a thesis and not your life's work!

or, as Mullins and Kiley (2002) will remind you:

It's a PhD, not a Nobel Prize

While you need to get closure (and by this final stage in the process you will undoubtedly want to complete speedily), it is also important to ensure that the finishing off is meticulous, and that you don't leave untidy threads dangling.

Therefore, before ultimately separating from this work, it is important to be practical and technical. Edit and proofread carefully. Ensure that the literature search is complete and no important or relevant references have been ignored. Once again, check, check, check, to ensure correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, referencing, annotation, graphics, numbering, typing, and formatting. Check your table of contents again to be certain that everything appears in its optimal place. A number of small errors can give an impression of careless work, and may colour the examiners' attitude.

Go back and review your introductory chapter. Now that you have a sound perspective on the whole work, you can ensure that your introductory chapter adequately reflects the purpose of the research, the main findings, its place in the discipline and the essential contribution of this work.

With a critical and contextualised literature review and an appropriate theoretical framework, research results that are carefully analysed and interpreted, and a discussion that is well developed, carefully argued and logical, you can have a sense of closure.

Finally, know that you have developed a significant and substantial piece of work. Now you can optimistically, confidently yet humbly: Let go.

When you submit your Thesis

You will have spent a lot of time looking forward to completing your thesis, to feeling that the burden has been lifted from your shoulders, and that your time is your own again. You may well anticipate a sense of elation and relief after completion. However, students frequently report not jubilation, but a serious sense of loss and emptiness once they complete.

For several years the thesis occupies a central place in your life; it occupies most of your time and and your thought. Towards completion the intensity of the process is heightened. Suddenly separating yourself from this constant obligation and directed focus after the submission of your thesis does not feel natural or easy.

Appreciating this in advance will enable you to prepare for a sense of anticlimax, and give you some fortitude in coping with it.

When you submit your thesis it is sent to two external examiners for examination. Often these examiners are overseas, and because of distance and their personal commitments they may take several months to complete the assessment. This can be quite an anxious time as you await the result.

Typically, the examiners will request some alterations or additions to the thesis to ensure that it is of an acceptable standard. The extent to which you will need to engage in this refinement process will depend upon the demands of the examiners and also the university faculty. In general your supervisor and the faculty will support you through this final phase.

Remember - it is hard work and persistence that will help you successfully reach the thesis summit.

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