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What’s in a thesis?

It’s a common question asked by many people starting out on the postgraduate journey…What does a thesis consist of? The answer to which is often…It depends on your research.  Now that I’ve got to the end of the PhD process, I thought it was worth revisiting this question. What is actually in a PhD thesis? However, rather than focus on the structure and organisation of a 75000 word document (which will be unique to each thesis) , I’ve taken rather a different approach and looked at what words formed the majority of my work.

The idea came from a former colleague, Ian Pattison (@GoWithTheF1ow), who has done something similar with Wordle. Wordle analyses a block of text and identifies the most commonly used words. When I put my thesis into it, the colourful diagram below is the outcome.


Wordle diagram of the most commonly used words in my PhD thesis.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the title of my PhD thesis is “Modelling the effects of climate change and sea level rise on the evolution of incised coastal gullies”, the most frequently used words were

  • Model
  • Coastal
  • Erosion
  • Climate, and
  • Gully

However, perhaps the interesting part of this is the less common which words which make it onto the list. They give you some clues as to writing style, for example it becomes obvious that I am over reliant on the words

  • Therefore,
  • However, and
  • Furthermore

It is also easy to see your top references, with Darby, Leyland and Tucker all making onto the Wordle diagram.

Somewhat surprisingly is the inclusion of Mao (just to the right of Et on the diagram). I’m not sure how this has managed to get in there, I’ve checked the document and I definitely don’t mention Mao at all throughout the work. Maybe Wordle has underlying political ideals? Who knows? At least I’ve got a quick reference to Key Words for any future publications.

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