I just submitted a first draft of my upgrade report, which means I finally have some time to write other things than just that report (i.e. this post).

First off, for PhDs who don’t know what an upgrade report is, I believe this is a UCL scheme. It is something like a mini-thesis and mini-viva at around the mid-point of your PhD to report what you did up to that point and also talk about what you plan to do for the rest of your PhD. You are also (officially) considered a PhD candidate after you successfully pass the upgrade viva.

After a month of non-stop writing here are a few tips related to upgrade report writing and to any type of report or thesis writing for that matter.

  1. Start writing early. Don’t leave it up until the last couple of months before you start writing. By writing early you will realise more things about your project early on. If you leave it until the last minute you run the risk of realising late that you have a problematic project that would be already too late to do anything about.
  2. Agree on an outline with supervisor. Spend enough time making an outline early on with your supervisor. It is important that you run this through your supervisor and discuss it with them. An outline which is agreed upon by both of you translates to no nasty surprises later on. The best way to do this is send a draft outline of the table of contents with the various chapters and sections, and underneath each chapter and section write what you are planning to talk about. A couple of sentences for each section should suffice. In this way the supervisor will not just see some standard chapter names or some one-word section names that tell them nothing about what is going to be included in that section. You will get a much more helpful feedback that way.
  3. Create a critical appraisal matrix. For the Literature Review section the best way to critically appraise articles is through a matrix. This can be easily done with a simple Excel/ Word table. Here are the columns I use for my critical appraisal matrix:

Study type


Variables (Ind/Dep)

Subjects Study design/

Method of analysis

Results Notes/



The most important part is the ‘notes/ comments’ column, where you will write in points the limitations of each study. In that way when you start writing your literature review you can easily consult the matrix, see the different studies organised in one document and compare and contrast without getting lost in lengthy papers and dozens of pdfs flooding your monitor.

  1. Be critical. This is linked to point number 3. If you don’t know how to be critical take a critical appraisal course or read about how to be critical. Every article you read should be ran through a critical filter. The other related point here is to find the right way to mix together the different studies you’ve read about. You should not just report findings and limitations of each study (just like you did in the matrix). You have to compare and contrast the various studies.
  2. Build you graphing skills early on. After you’ve analysed your data you have to find a way to present them in a smart way in your report. Tables and graphs are a very important part of any piece of study. They can convey immediate messages, given they are done the right way. It is not unusual to find graphs which confuse the reader rather than helping them understand findings easier. So take a graphing course, find online tutorials or practice on your own with any data you have. In that way, when you have to compile the graphs in your report you’ll have already practiced and will now be able to overcome difficulties more easily and more efficiently.

I’ll stop at 5, as lists of 5s look better. But of course this list is not exhaustive.

And a couple of things about the photo. I took it when I was about to clean my keyboard. In this way I would know where each key would have to go when I had to re-assemble the whole thing. So tip no.6:

  1. Always take a photo of your keyboard before you start taking off the keys.

There, I broke the 5-number list!