Buy some books

This is a list of books and software I use in my work with PhD students and my own academic life. I only recommend what I genuinely think is awesome.

If you buy books I recommend, Amazon gives me gift vouchers, which I use to buy books to review on the blog. It’s the academic gift that keeps on giving! Scroll down to see my list and reviews.

Too many books to read already? I get it. Thesis Whisperer runs on a “not for loss” basis. I raise money to pay for operating costs, side projects and upgrades. There are a number of ways you can directly support my work, which I have outlined here.

New books and products will appear as I discover them. If you have a book or product you think I should explore, you can contact me via my About page.


Scrivener (not a paid endorsement)

Oh Scrivener. What would I do without you? Designed by a PhD student, this software is purpose built for the busy writer. Unlike MS Word, or other conventional word processing software, Scrivener treats your writing as a series of ‘chunks’ which can be moved around at will. Scrivener gave me a writing speed boost that made me at least four times faster. You can read my glowing review here.

Omnifocus2 (not a paid endorsement)

The mother, father and parent of no specific gender of all project management software. I have a saying: “If it’s in Omni, it happens”. If it’s not captured in Omni, it doesn’t – it’s that simple. Omnifocus is only available on Mac. I still believe there is nothing comparable on PC – sorry. Buy a Mac? You can read my review of Omnifocus here.

Timing (not a paid endorsement)

Another product only available on the Mac. Timing learns how you work, watches you and shows a real time dashboard your various activities. Why? So you can better estimate your  time on projects going forward and meet your deadlines with ease. If you want a fitbit for your work-life, this is it people!


“Helping Doctoral Students Write” by Barbara Kamler and Pat Thomson

Hands down the best thesis writing book I know, but it’s not for everyone. Pat and Barbara know the problems and pain points in writing a thesis in social science, education, cultural studies and other, similar disciplines. While scientists can get value from the approaches they advocate, not all the advice will translate easily.

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“The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research” by Marian Petre and Graham Rugg

An excellent introduction for the ‘academic game’, Petre and Rugg give you all the insider tips and tricks for succeeding in academia. While a lot of the advice revolves around managing your supervisor and networking, there is a surprisingly good chapter on publishing journal articles. This book is aimed at science students more than the humanities, although anyone with aspirations to succeeding in graduate school can get benefit out of it.

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“The Craft of Research” by Joseph Booth et al

I have suggested to management that we should get a copy of this for every new research student. Why? Because this basic primer helps you get the basic connective tissue of your research right, which helps the writing process enormously. If you are confused about what a good research question looks like, or where to put a warrant in a paragraph, this is the book for you. The first half of the book is at undergraduate level, which will be a good memory aide for those of us coming back to study. The second half tackles the more sophisticated conceptual issues in thinking and writing that are problemmatic even for seasoned professionals.

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“How to write a better thesis” David Evans and Paul Gruba

True story – this was the first book I ever picked up on thesis writing. I think it was about 2003, I was most of the way through a masters thesis and desperately confused about what my supervisors wanted from me. I didn’t know there were actually whole shelves of books on writing in the library when I picked it up from the campus bookstore, so this book was an introduction to a whole genre (I am now addicted). I absorbed everything this tiny, cheap and helpful book had to say and I’m convinced it’s the reason I survived my masters degree and put my hand up for a PhD. With time I have come to see some of its limitations, and, to be honest, I think the second edition is still the best if you can get hold of it, but this book was (and remains) the clearest explanation of what a dissertation should look like, which can create a sense of calm and control in a sea of uncertainty. 

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“Ms Mentor’s new and ever more impeccable advice for women and men in academia” by Emily Toth

Long before the Thesis Whisperer, there was Ms Mentor, who regularly publishes advice columns in The Chronicle aimed at academics in the USA. I didn’t discover her genius until I had been blogging for a couple of years, but I find this book indispensable now. While her advice is shaped with the US market in mind (and there are many differences to Australia and the UK, especially in relation to doctoral study), her general approach to difficult ‘people problems’ always have a touch of genius. If you have encountered sexual harrassment, bullying, poaching or other, academic asshole behaviour, you need some Ms Mentor in your life. Stat.

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“On Writing Well” William Zinsser

I just love this book. It’s hard to unpack precisely what I love about it other than Zinsser totally gets the struggles of being a writer and makes you feel brave. That’s worth the cover price in my view. I’ve used Zinsser’s advice throughout the blog, but the post that pays most direct homage is 5 ways to declutter your writing.

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“The Writer’s Diet” by Helen Sword

Helen Sword is one of the best writing teachers out there. What I like most is her advice is always backed up by a body of research, in this case research in what makes writing readable. In less sure hands, this book would be too technical, but as it stands it’s just deeply nerdy and useful. There’s a fun Writer’s Diet Test on the web where you can do a fitness test on your own writing. Don’t panic if you get a diagnosis between ‘flabby’ and ‘heart attack’: most ‘good’ academic writing falls into this territory – which is Sword’s real point. Academic writing is not reader friendly and Sword thinks that should change.

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“Stylish Academic Writing” by Helen Sword.

Another gem by Helen Sword. Some people take issue with this book as its chief call to action is that academic writing is boring, hard to read and exclusionary and that must change. If The Writer’s diet was a toolbox, this is the rousing speech to get you to use it. There is a lot of practical advice in here for any writer. Adopting even some of Sword’s advice will make you a better writer, even if you don’t go all the way with her more radical suggestions.

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“The coding manual for qualitative researchers” Johnny Saldana

For the humanities researchers out there, buy this book! If you want to see beyond grounded theory and open up the wide world of text and image coding, this book will open your mind. I do some work with machine learning in computer science and they love it too, so maybe this book has delightful cross over potential? If you are about to a big project in social science, cultural studies, anthropology, some areas or health, literature studies or even history, this book will repay the cover price many times over.

Help buy the Thesis Whisperer some more books: Kindle | Paperback