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Posted on 21 Mar '24

Tips For Writing Your First-year Review Report

A common checkpoint in your PhD journey is the first-year review. This written report is often accompanied with a mini viva to check your understanding of your work. If you pass this milestone, it means that your PhD plan is feasible, your work is novel, and you have the potential to successfully complete your PhD within the time limit for your degree. Writing your first-year report can be challenging especially if your last long piece of written work was during your Masters. Here are my top tips for writing your report.

#1 Understand what is required of you

To begin with, it is essential you research what is required for your first-year review. You may be asked to submit a report on your work so far. If this is true, find out what the word count is and the layout of your document. This will vary depending on your discipline and each university or department will have their own rules. If there is a guidance document, save it or print it out and use it as your checklist.

#2 Set a fake deadline for yourself

When you receive an official deadline for your report, create a fake deadline which is a few weeks earlier. This fake deadline will give you motivation to finish you work earlier. It will also help save you if you don’t reach the fake deadline as you still have an extra few weeks’ worth of wiggle room to finish your report before the real deadline.

#3 Organise your figures and data

We are all advised to process our data and create our figures as we go along with our research. Sometimes data or experiments slip through the cracks. I recommend spending an afternoon or a day sitting down and getting to grips with all your data. Plotting and making figures presentable takes time but by doing this you will be able to see what data you have and start creating the story you want to tell within your report. Also take some time to start drafting the perfect figure legend. At this point in your PhD, you may not have much data due to setbacks or optimisation (finding the best way to make your experiment as effective and functional as possible). In this case, chat to your university about what they advise but showing optimisation data is key and will give you something to talk about while showing how your protocol has developed over time.

#4 Write a rough plan and share with your supervisor

Using the guidance from your university or department, start to put together a plan of your report. Utilise subheadings and think about what you need to include in each section. It can be useful to list out what topics or research papers would be key for your introduction or how you are going to introduce your research question to the reader. The important part is getting down points which you can easily work on and give you guidance on each section. When you are happy with your draft, arrange a meeting with your supervisors to chat through your plan and ask if they have any suggestions on what else you could improve.

#5 Begin writing your report

After chatting with your supervisors and confirming your report plan comes the most challenging part; actually writing your report. A lot of us struggle when it comes to writing and a blank word document can make anyone feel nervous to start. To combat this, use the plan report you created. This will have the layout of your report and areas to research and include within each section. Also, as the page is no longer blank you will feel better about actually starting to write! Your first draft will not be perfect so just start typing and getting your thoughts down on paper.

Work on your report section by section. This way when you have finished one section you can pass it onto your supervisors for them to review as you are working on the next section. This is ultra efficient writing! It is also good to get feedback as you go along.

#6 Getting feedback from supervisors

Everyone struggles with receiving criticism. Your supervisors may only pick out the ‘bad’ parts of your report to comment on and receiving the first round of corrections can be overwhelming. It is best to take a step back and realise that this criticism is not personal. Your supervisors have a lot of experience in their field, and they only want to help you produce the best report possible. If some of the feedback you receive is unclear or confusing you could ask your supervisors to go through the suggestions in person, this way they can show you exactly what they mean.

#7 Implementing feedback and knowing when to stop editing your report

Making the changes and corrections to your report can be time consuming but they will be worth it. The important part is knowing when to stop editing and adjusting your report – especially if the official deadline is coming up! After a few drafts of your report, and when you are happy with it, send your supervisors an email specifying that this is the final report you will be submitting as the deadline is approaching. Ask them to have a final read over and that you will only be changing any mistakes which may be in your report.

#8 Submitting your report

The final thing to do is to submit your report. Make sure you do this correctly following your university or department guidelines. If you have a mini viva or have to submit any additional work alongside your first-year review, ask when this is due and plan accordingly.

I was surprised by how much I learned while writing my first-year review. Although it was a long process, it allowed me to develop my writing and data presentation skills while compiling all of my first-year experiments together. This will give me a good basis for when I start writing my thesis in the future. Good luck with writing your first-year review!




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Last Updated: 21 March 2024