A dissertation is a long piece of academic writing based on original research submitted as part of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. It is a primary requirement to pass graduate and undergraduate programs throughout the world. It is also the form of writing in which in-depth research takes place to study the chosen topic. In this academic assignment, the writing skills of a writer are thoroughly tested.
Writing a dissertation requires working on an original piece by offering an analysis of a topic and collecting data from extensive research.
Dissertation vs. Thesis
In some cases, a dissertation is often confused with a thesis assignment. Both a thesis and a dissertation are based on research and interpretation, but there are certain similarities and differences between them.
A thesis is similar to case studies as it is a shorter work that marks your master’s or semester’s end. It states a compilation of research to prove you have enough knowledge about the information learned in the course.
A dissertation is a paper you write to earn your doctorate degree. It helps others in the same field by giving them ideas and new ways to do things. Here you spark a new concept, establish it, and defend its existence.
There are differences between the two terms. For instance, one might have a degree requirement while another does not. One might use different research methods to collect data, and one might be longer than the other.
No matter which assignment you are given to write, write them correctly as your grade and degree depend on it.
Choosing a topic
While some students come to their research project with a clear research question to address, others arrive at this point with several ideas, but without a specific research question. In view of the pressure to get started fairly quickly, this can cause anxiety and even panic. It is, however, a common situation to be in. There are several steps that can help when it comes to choosing a research topic. Have a look at the following:
- Talk to other students about the topics they are considering? Does this spark an interest? Don’t wait until you have a fully formed research question before discussing your ideas with others, as their comments and questions may help you to refine your focus.
- Look at other writing. Set aside some time to spend in the library, skimming through the titles of research papers in your field over the past five years, and reading the abstracts of those you find most interesting.
- Look through the dissertations of previous students in your department. Their work may give you inspiration, and they may have useful suggestions for further research.
- Think about your own interests. Which topic have you found most interesting, and is there an element that could be developed into a research project?
- Is there a related topic of interest to you that has not been covered in the syllabus, but would fit with the theory or methodology you have been working with?
- Be extra critical. Is there something in your course so far that you have been skeptical about or that you think needs further study?
- Read about an interesting topic and keep asking the question ‘Why?’ this may identify a research question you could address.
Remember that a research study can:
- Replicate an existing study in a different setting.
- Explore an under-researched area.
- Extend a previous study.
- Review the knowledge thus far in a specific field.
- Develop or test out a methodology or method.
- Address a research question in isolation, or within a wider program of work.
- Apply a theoretical idea to a real-world problem.
This list is not exhaustive, and you need to check whether your department has a preference for any particular kind of research study.
You can discuss your proposed topic with a member of the academic staff. The one you think might be appropriate to supervise the project. As long as they feel they have enough knowledge about the subject to supervise it and provided they can be interpreted as falling within the broad fields of your degree subject, academic staffs are generally open to suggestions.
You should think realistically about the practical implications of your choice, in terms of:
- The time requirement.
- Necessary traveling.
- Access to equipment or room space.
- Access to the population of interest.
- Possible costs.
Are you prepared and able to take field research on the topic? If the practical considerations associated with your research ideas are unrealistic, you need to consider whether you are willing to modify or reconsider your project.
What is a Dissertation Structure?
The structure of a dissertation depends on your field, but it is usually divided into at least four or five chapters (including an introduction and conclusion chapter).
The most common dissertation structure in the sciences and social sciences includes:
- An introduction to your topic
- A literature review that surveys relevant sources
- An explanation of your methodology
- An overview of the results of your research
- A discussion of the results and their implications
- A conclusion that shows what your research has contributed
Dissertations in the humanities are often structured like a long essay, building an argument by analyzing primary and secondary sources. Instead of the standard structure outlined here, you might organize your chapters around different themes or case studies.
Other important elements of the dissertation include the title page, abstract, and reference list. If in doubt about how your dissertation should be structured, always check your department’s guidelines and consult with your supervisor.
The dissertation structure differs according to the field and discipline you are writing your paper for. For a humanities project, the structure is like a long essay. You will need to prove your topic using evidence from other sources.
While writing a dissertation for sciences, the structure can be complex and lengthy.
The following are the basic elements involved in writing a dissertation
Before you start working on your assignment, you are expected to come up with a proposal for your dissertation. This is a part of the dissertation in which the research question and the hypothesized results are presented. The instructor will decide whether the research should be done or not depending on the strength of the research question.
How to Write a Dissertation?
Coming up with a great dissertation is not a walk in the park as you are expected to follow a structured plan and writing process to draft an impactful dissertation. The process of planning a dissertation is also very time-consuming. It involves the following steps:
- Choosing a topic or subject for the research
- Creating a hypothesis/deciding on a thesis statement
- Developing an outline
- Select a research methodology to gather information
- Conduct research
Once you have all the required information for the paper, the actual writing process begins in the following order.
- Dissertation Title Page
The first page of a dissertation is the title page. On it, you can write the title of your research, your name, your school, and what degree program you are in. You will also include the date on which it was submitted.
The title page is like the back of a book. You can put information on it about who you are and where your work came from.
It is an optional section where acknowledgments and appreciations are given to the people who helped write the dissertation. This includes your instructor, supervisor, friends, colleagues, researchers, etc.
An abstract is the shortest section of the dissertation, yet the most important one. It contains a summary of the paper. Although this section comes in the beginning, it can be written after completing the whole paper.
The abstract of the paper answers the following questions:
- What did the writer do with the paper?
- What is the purpose of the paper?
- What were the results and implications?
- Table of Contents Page(s)
The table of content in the dissertation presents all the individual chapters, headings, and subheadings, along with their page numbers. It provides an overview of the paper’s structure and makes it easier for the readers to navigate the work.
The introduction is the section where the writer sets up the topic of the paper. Here, the paper’s purpose, along with the relevance, and the thesis statement, is presented. The introduction section is written, providing the following information:
- Present the dissertation topic by providing relevant background information.
- Scope of your research.
- The relevance of your topic to the bigger problem or issue.
- Thesis statement and objectives of your dissertation
- Overview of the structure of the dissertation
- Literature Review
When writing the literature review of a dissertation, the following information is included:
- Highlighting the current state of research in the defined area.
- Locating any closely related areas to which you should refer.
- Looking out for gaps where you think future research is necessary.
- Evaluating the plan you’ll follow to address that research gap.
The literature review offers you the leverage to include additional sections that include:
- Methodological context
- Theoretical context
- Practice context
The research methodology section reveals how the research was conducted. The section includes:
- Whether the research was qualitative, quantitative, experimental, or ethnographic
- How the data was collected. For example, interviews, questionnaires, surveys, etc.
- Methods of analyzing the data
- Tools used
- Evaluation and interpretation of the methods.
- Sources or Results
In this section, the writer reports the results obtained from the research. This part can be written using hypotheses, sub-questions, and topics. Depending on the field, the result section is either separated or combined with the discussion section.
In the result section, first, the writer has to check the style of reporting used in the field:
- Scientific dissertations involve a clear separation between results and their discussion.
- A social sciences paper may involve a separate chapter named findings to bring both the discussion and results together.
The results of the research can be given in the following way:
- Beginning with the initial overview of the findings followed by details.
- Moving immediately to the results section details
- What will be the order of presenting the results?
- What will be the balance of word space kept across the spread of findings in the paper?
The result section can include tables and charts. Think of the best ways in which the result of the data gathered can be presented.
In this part, the writer reviews the research in comparison to the expanded context. To complete this part, refer back to the rationale described in the literature review. Add the contribution of the research you conducted.
An appropriate practice acknowledges the limitations of the study and its impact on the validity or effectiveness of the results.
The concluding paragraphs sum up all the points made in the research. Here the writer briefly answers the research question leaving the audience with a clear understanding of the thesis statement.
Moreover, the writer highlights the limitations of the research and provides recommendations for future research on the same topic. To make your conclusion strong, state how the research findings contribute to the field and its importance.
- Bibliography or Reference List
Providing all the references used in the research is an integral part of a dissertation. Gather all the sources and write them down in the bibliography or reference section. All the work cited in the dissertation needs an explanation to do the research and writing authentic.
The composition of this section depends on the format chosen for the dissertation. Whether you are writing the dissertation in MLA or APA format, cite and provide a reference list accordingly.
How do you do citations and bibliography?
Both require special skills and techniques. Citations are acknowledgments of references that you have used in the course of writing your dissertation. A bibliography is a tabular list of the names of the authors and the books you have used. Both are necessary for your research.
Citations: There are many ways to cite your sources which are dictated by the various educational institutions. The main citation styles are APA, MLA, Harvard, and Chicago.
- Harvard follows in-text citation which is parenthetical in nature. So the name of the author and year of publication should come in the text within parentheses. Here is an example
John Williams: Finance Accounting, New York, 2001
According to Harvard style, it should be written like this:
John Williams, 2001.
- The Chicago style follows end text citations. They are either written as footnotes or as endnotes. Here is an example
Porter Stephen, Principles of Advanced Accounting, Minnesota, 1989.
- APA referencing is the style followed by American Psychological Association. It is followed in science subjects and is more or less the same as other in-text citation styles.
- Finally, MLA referencing is followed in all humanities-based subjects. It simply states the author’s name along with the page number. So if the reference is the following:
John Hamilton, Introduction to Literary Theory, London 1996
Then simply write,
(Hamilton, p. 26)
Bibliography. It lists all the references you have used in alphabetical order. To make it neat and clean, you can further divide them into books, journals, and internet resources.
The appendices contain all the documents such as survey questions, interview transcripts, figures, or tables used in the dissertation. It is important to check whether or not appendices count for the word limit or not.
Getting a great topic is very important when it comes to any kind of writing. When it comes to dissertation writing, a topic is one of the most important elements. Coming up with the right topic for your dissertation is not an easy task as you have to come up with a topic that has not been explored previously.
Besides, it is essential to choose a topic that interests you as only an interesting topic will push you to conduct extensive research.
If you haven’t decided on a topic, here is a list of dissertation topics you can choose from.
- A comparative study on In-House Audit and External Audit
- Management strategies for employee performance and happiness
- Comprehensiveness in the advertisement
- Disadvantages of the modern nursing system
- Occupational therapy for criminals
- Taking emotional support from animals to treat depression
- The influence of listening to music on sports performance
- How advancement in technology has influenced different art forms
- Lexical borrowing and globalization
- Can we expect more discoveries of new species?
If you need more topic ideas and writing assistance for your dissertation, ask professional writers at Assignment Essays. Our expert dissertation writers will provide you with all sorts of material and guidance on dissertation writing.
Dissertation Writing Tips
Most students face challenges when it comes to dissertation writing for many reasons. The main reason behind a poorly constructed dissertation is the writer’s problem with time management. A dissertation is a time taking task that can not be done in a few hours and thus dedicating a huge chunk of your time to this assignment is essential.
To speed up the writing process, and write a professional dissertation, follow the tips below:
- Start your dissertation early.
- Set deadlines for each day and work accordingly
- Get feedback frequently
- Understand the dissertation prompt and the requirements
- Make sure that the topic chosen is interesting.
- Give a good start to your dissertation by explicitly stating the thesis statement and purpose in the introduction section.
- Gather information from credible sources such as journals, research papers, and books.
- Choose a citation style earlier (if not instructed) and do in-text citations accordingly.
- The word count is important to follow whenever you are writing a dissertation or thesis.
- Proofread your work at least thrice before submitting it.
Following these tips will make your research project effective and impressive.
A dissertation is a type of academic writing on which the student’s degree and career depend. The importance of writing this assignment perfectly cannot be underestimated. So make sure that your dissertation is structured correctly, and that each part is written carefully
If you are still confused about writing a dissertation, contact us for the best dissertation writing services and assistance. Assignment Essays is a writing company that provides original control and satisfies all the writing needs of its clients. Whether you need help writing your dissertation proposal or the dissertation itself, feel free to contact Assignment Essays for world-class dissertation writing help.
Common Challenges Faced By Students When Writing A Dissertation
Every doctoral student hopes to have a successful academic life and a successful dissertation defense on the first attempt. For some students, this dream always comes true, but for others, the dreadful phrase “All-but-Dissertation” becomes a catchphrase for years. After all, dissertation writing is not easy.
Luckily, you can make the process more seamless by avoiding or preparing for some of the potential hurdles along the way. If you want your dissertation to impress the committee and sail through with minimal fuss, you should endeavor to sidestep the following mistakes:
As the saying goes, “failing to plan is planning to fail”. This is true when it comes to dissertation writing. Like every piece of writing, a dissertation requires a meticulously created structure, augmented by timely, actionable milestones. Before you make any move, create an elaborate plan, outlining all the things that you need to achieve, when, and how to smoothly see out the process.
One of the most logical things to do is to break the entire dissertation into “bite-sized” tasks. This could mean dividing the chapters into multiple sections, then assigning a timeframe for each. Besides, consistent evaluation of the plan can be a strategy to determine the progress made, where you are falling off-pace, and what needs to be done to beat the deadlines.
There should be underpinning flexibility to the plan. This is because a dissertation requires constant tinkering, and when something urgent comes up you should get to grips with it immediately without jeopardizing the overall progress.
Poor Time Management
Time is a scarce resource and as a university student, you are not likely to have enough of it. This fact is not usually in the sight of many students. For instance, if you begin to think about your dissertation in August and it is due the following August, there is a lot of time and this can lead to procrastination. In this case, you can end up pushing the dissertation down the list of important tasks, giving it little to no attention and time.
What you should know is that when it comes to dissertation writing, wasting time or using it improperly is the main recipe for failure. Always keep in mind that writing a dissertation is an intricate and time-consuming process. You are already on a tight schedule, and cannot afford to sit comfortably and expect to whip up the project at the eleventh hour.
Time management goes hand in hand with planning. As you create your plan, ensure every task is given a sufficient amount of time. Also, be realistic, include breaks to the plan, and most importantly, stick to the plan and work consistently to complete the project in a good time.
Selecting a Broad Topic
Your research topic is the foundation of your study, and it can dictate the success or failure of your project. In one way or the other, doctoral students are inspired by the work of professional researchers, when researching a topic. As a result, they end up picking a broad topic with an aim to emulate or even outwit the work of other scholars.
Such students fail to recognize that professional researchers are funded by deep-pocketed organizations and learning institutions. For this reason, they have considerable budgets and can afford to splash the cash on advanced research equipment and large cooperative teams that doctoral students can only dream of.
Picking a broad research topic is biting more than you can chew, for new-arriving students. Without the huge budget of renowned researchers, a wide topic will only get you so far. In the end, you will be forced to start all over again and pick a narrower research topic. This will ultimately erode your time and trim down the chances of a successful defense. If you decide to go all the way, you will end up delivering sub-par work, which will definitely be rejected by the committee.
To be on the safe side, narrow down your topic to make your subsequent milestones vastly easier to achieve. If you find it difficult to achieve this goal on your own, get help from your advisor or a dissertation professional.
Doing Shallow Research
Dissertations, whether empirical or non-empirical, require extensive research. Without extensive research, it is not feasible to write a comprehensive dissertation at all. To nail it and produce an appropriate quality of work, you have to hit the library and conduct comprehensive Google research. In addition, you have to read tons of scholarly articles to gather relevant and authentic materials for your dissertation.
Lack of Solid Writing Skills
Getting relevant quality materials for a dissertation is a giant leap in the right direction. But having the current information at the fingertips is not a hedge against failure. You have to put the information down on paper with brevity and accuracy. This means you need to possess solid writing skills to synthesize and string together the materials, without straying away from the topic.
For example, the literature review, which is regarded as the most difficult part to write, should not be a list or series of citations and references. You should use impeccable grammar and vocabulary to deliver succinct and measured interpretation and writing of the literature review.
Beyond writing, you should take time to thoroughly edit and proofread your dissertation. In doing so, you will get rid of spelling and grammar errors, irregular fonts and spacing, and any other errors that you may expect in the dissertation. If your document is well-researched, free of errors, and has a flow, it will stand a good chance of impressing the dissertation committee.
In addition, poor referencing can scupper your efforts to deliver a winning dissertation. Always ensure that you adhere to the specified referencing guidelines as outlined in the dissertation guidelines. You should get a hang of different referencing styles such as MLA, APA, or Chicago to avoid losing easy-to-gain marks.
Lack of Adequate Technical Skills
Similarly, the use of software and other technology tools can be a perennial problem for doctoral students. While many students are familiar with word processing software such as Microsoft Word, a surprising number do not know some of the arcane formatting rules.
For example, many doctoral students have problems inserting section breaks or page numbers that differ from section to section. Besides, some cannot align tables and figures to appear on the exact page in correspondence with the text or discussed results.
Looking at these issues individually may not be a cause for alarm, but taken together they can be a big problem. The last-minute dash to learn dozens of new commands can put you in a tight corner, especially with the pressure that comes with other dissertation tasks. To be on the safe side, learn all relevant commands early on.
Tips on Preparing for Your Dissertation
Research has shown that one in two doctoral students will not complete their degree on time. The failure to complete a doctoral-level dissertation is regarded as one of the main reasons why this number is high.
To be on the right side of statistics, you should endeavor to breeze through your dissertation. To do that, you must demonstrate the right dissertation skills and assume total accountability and responsibility for the management of the entire dissertation process. Beyond that, to better prepare for the dissertation, you should put the following tips to practice.
Start Your Dissertation Early
One of the biggest mistakes that doctoral students make is leaving the writing process of the dissertation in the final year of their degree. Writing should be done in parallel with the research as this allows you to jot down important analyses and insights while the information is still fresh in your mind. It lets you capture and present the data more accurately. By building your paper bit by bit over the course of your research and continually seeking feedback from your advisor as you go, you can catch any inconsistencies early on and revise accordingly.
Examine Online Samples
Your institution’s library may contain a limited number of materials. In such a case, you can resort to the internet which offers an incredible collection of myriad materials that can help you improve the quality of your dissertation. Your university most probably has an online library of previous dissertations. Before you begin your work, check the web for sample dissertations to understand what is expected of you. Exploit all the available resources and learn as much as you can from previous work in your discipline.
Attend Dissertation Defense of Other Students
Attending another student’s dissertation defense before you start writing your dissertation is not an idea that crosses many students’ minds. Doing it, however, can help you visualize the end goal and give you a monumental reference point for the journey ahead. This way, as you begin the writing process you will have in mind what needs to be done to make the dissertation sail through.
Keep Close Tabs with Your Supervisor
The supervisor plays a significant role in the success of the dissertation. There is no doubt, as a doctoral student you are on course to become an independent researcher. As such, you may be tempted to want to solve all your problems on your own. It happens, but those who try it end up complicating their process.
Always speak openly with your supervisor and let him/her know whenever you run into trouble. For example, if you realize that you do not have the resources or expertise, consult your supervisor at the earliest. The supervisors are there to guide you, correct you when you make mistakes, and it is in their interest to see you succeed.
Surround Yourself with Supportive People
The writing process will not be easy as it is demanding, time-consuming, and sometimes stressful. You will hit obstacles in the dissertation process, some of which will make you want to throw in the towel. You should have supportive people around you to give you that extra nudge when you are on the brink of giving up.
The support could also come in other ways. For example, requesting your husband to tend to other duties such as taking a child to school, taking the trash out, or doing all the dishes. Moreover, if you are employed, try to get your manager on board with you and request days off to complete the dissertation. This will give you the extra hours you need to get the dissertation done on time.
Time Management Tips for Dissertation Writing
Time. How easy it is to waste time, procrastinate, and be inefficient. Yet, one could say we make the most of life by how we use our time. This is very important when it comes to dissertation writing, it is important to manage time effectively and not let it travel away. By reaching the ABD stage, you already have been successful in this regard. These time management tips are intended to help you make the most of your time as you write your dissertation. Although the tips are focused on dissertation writing, some are applicable more generally to academia. Remember that only you can decide the best way to manage your time, but it is our hope that at least a couple of these tips may be useful or point you in the right direction as you set out to conquer time and your dissertation.
- Set a goal for completing your Ph.D. program and figure out your game plan accordingly. Typing up your game plan and/or noting your goals on a calendar–such as when you want drafts of chapters done–will help keep you on track, and you can modify your calendar if necessary. Consult your advisor and others as you develop your plan. Ask yourself, do you have enough funding to finish without applying to outside grants or securing employment opportunities? Of course, applying for grants and being employed is time-consuming so keep that in mind as you develop your game plan.
- Start writing as early as possible. Some people prefer to begin writing after they have completed their research whereas others decide to write and research at the same time. Both approaches have their pros and cons but research can be never-ending and at some point, you must stop. A good point to stop maybe when you are not uncovering any new information that will change your interpretations. Yet, be aware that you most assuredly will discover additional research that you need to do once you begin the writing process. So, leave time for doing more research when you reach the writing stage. Keep in mind that it usually takes at least a year to write your dissertation; in fact, one year is considered a short amount of time.
- Allot enough time to submit drafts to your advisor and other readers, get feedback from them, and incorporate their feedback. The most important person for you to work with is your advisor, and you should prioritize getting feedback from him or her above others. You may want to set up regular meetings with your advisor where you talk through ideas or discuss drafts in person. Be aware that it is not unusual to have to wait a month or longer to get feedback on a draft. Talk with your advisor about what is realistic for him or her, and you also may want to talk to his or her other advisees to see what their experiences have been like. Consult your advisor about what sort of shape he or she wants the drafts to be in.
It can be effective to submit drafts that are not completely polished to your advisor. In that way, you get feedback about your ideas as you are developing them and can make sure that you are going in the right direction. In contrast, submitting well-written, polished drafts can force you to further develop your points. You also may want to see if another faculty member, ideally someone on your committee, will be a second reader. Check with him/her to see whether you should submit individual chapters or a full draft.
- Be brave enough to resist feedback. You likely will not be able to use all the suggestions that you are offered. Some suggestions may not be feasible or could be off the mark. Remember that you know your work better than anyone else in the world and have to decide for yourself what is possible to achieve for the dissertation. Be open to challenges. Heeding some advice may result in your working harder than you thought possible but the end result could be worth it. In any case, develop a “tangent file” and “for the book file”: create Word documents where you type up ideas to pursue when you have time either for the dissertation or book. These ideas also may be useful for articles and conference papers.
- Save enough time for proofreading/copyediting, reading your work out loud, and formatting your dissertation according to your school’s guidelines. The process of finalizing your dissertation will take weeks or even months. This is because you are expected to make edits, insert them, and read your work out loud to catch typos, and awkward phrasings. In preparing the final version of your dissertation, you may discover inconsistencies that you need to fix. It is also important to get your footnotes in order as you go along so that you do not risk plagiarism. It will also save you from having to go digging later for the sources that you want to cite. Do not wait until the last day possible to submit your dissertation to your graduate school. Plan ahead so you get it done well before then; in that way, you have time to take care of any final details that take longer than you had anticipated.
Figuring out a weekly and daily schedule
- Work on your dissertation for a certain number of hours and cover a certain amount of ground per day. Some people plan to spend at least two hours on their dissertation each day; others make sure to write two pages each day. Figure out a plan that works for you. Although everyone has different peak times for writing, it is generally a good idea to work on your dissertation right away in the morning. Doing so helps you to prioritize it and fit other activities in around it instead of fitting it around other activities. You may discover that you work beyond the time that you have allotted or write more pages than you had anticipated whereas you would not have achieved these results if you had started the work later in the day.
- Create a worksheet for your week. Map out your weekly schedule on a piece of paper. Across the top, write the days of the week. Vertically, list the hours that you are awake during the day. Then, create a grid by drawing lines so that cells exist for each of these hours in each day. Mark when you will get your dissertation and non-dissertation tasks done. Be sure to allow time for leisure and social activities as well as rest time.
- Work on your dissertation for time periods as brief as thirty minutes or less. Do not discount how much you can accomplish during brief time periods: filing, inserting edits, and writing at shorter intervals is worth the effort. Always remember that dissertation work can be squeezed in at many times. On a related note, if you are planning to work until 5 p.m., stick to that time and do not end your work at 4:55 p.m. You likely will be amazed at how much work you can get done in those remaining five minutes.
- Stick to a disciplined schedule and get to know thyself. Sticking to a disciplined schedule helps ensure that you are productive. The beauty of your work is that you can tailor your schedule according to your needs and work style more than in most other work environments. Some academics choose to work 9 to 5 hours, five days per week. Most history professors and graduate students work many more hours. It most likely will take a process of trial and error to come up with a feasible work schedule but you will find that it provides an important structure for ensuring that you remain disciplined and productive.
- Prioritize the dissertation work that you need to do to meet your goals. Figure out what your most pressing dissertation tasks are and what other related work you could either eliminate or decrease. For example, you can decide to maintain a working bibliography of new works on your dissertation topic. You can flip through journals to find these works and note them in a Word document. You can do a quick library search for recent works and/or ask your advisor and other experts what new books they recommended reviewing.
- Complete a task if it takes less than five minutes. Although it is good to delay low-priority tasks, you do not want to spend so much time making notes to do the task that it would have been more efficient if you had gone ahead and done it in the first place. Similarly, sometimes it is most efficient to do a task when it is on your mind.
- Strike a balance between being overly organized and not organized enough. Being meticulously organized can be counter-productive. But, if your disorganization is costing you too much time and trouble, then you should concentrate on organizing. Be sure to maintain an organizational system for your paperwork and electronic files. For instance, you can organize your paper documents by topics by chapter in file cabinets and keep a file cabinet of biographical information that is organized alphabetically. You also may want to utilize one of the 4 computer programs available, such as Zotero (www.zotero.org), that help you manage your dissertation files.
- Limit activities other than dissertation writing and your most necessary obligations. Even seemingly small obligations can take up a significant amount of time and/or energy. Learn to say no even when it hurts or makes someone else unhappy. At the same time, be open to select opportunities that are manageable and do not interfere with finishing in a timely manner. Sometimes activities such as attending conferences and academic talks can help you with your dissertation in unexpected ways. These activities may provide new insights for your work, give you a nice break from writing so you come back to your dissertation work rejuvenated, or give you professional depth. It might be the only time in your life when you can pursue these opportunities.
- Keep “tangent” and “for the book” files. It is worth re-stating this point. You will likely find that, once you get immersed in a subject, it is easy and tempting to explore many different angles. However, at a certain point, you have to decide what your focus will be.
- Create lists to help you manage your tasks. You can keep a working “to do” list where you can separate priority items from non-priority ones. In addition, you can spread out non-dissertation projects over a number of weeks (like one per week) to avoid doing them all at once or too soon and thus having them take up dissertation time.
- Have “filler” tasks to do when you are feeling burned out or in need of an intellectual rest. You may want to create a list of these filler tasks to consult when these times come. For example, you could file materials, organize your files, work on developing that course you are learning next semester, or search your library’s catalog for recent works on your topic.
- Keep a dissertation journal. You may choose to write something in it daily, weekly, or when you feel like it. You may want to keep track of the work you have done and/or use it to write out your ideas and/or use it to vent during stressful times. Furthermore, it is a good place to write down your goals. Research has shown that you have a better chance of achieving your goals if you write them down.
- Pretend that you are working in a more structured work world. At times, it has been helpful for me to think about my work as if I was billing my hours for someone or as if I was still working for my boss at the 9 to 5 job that I had between my undergraduate and graduate years. There, my boss would press me to be efficient rather than overly perfectionist or detail-oriented, which is good advice for many dissertation writers.
- Limit your usage of email and personal electronic devices. In order to fully concentrate on your writing, shut off that cell phone and check your email less often. If you are teaching, you can make it clear to students that you will check your email only, say, once in the morning and once in the afternoon and not over the weekends. If you are on fellowship, you may want to check it once a day or less. Another efficient way to handle email is to limit how much time you allot for it when you check it.
- Utilize and build on your past work when you write your dissertation. Can you build on your conference papers? Can you use the reading notes that you took when studying for your comprehensive exams? Drawing on past work is not only efficient but also may help you understand your own intellectual trajectory.
- Break large tasks into small manageable ones. Break up your chapters into subsections, and write accordingly. Find other ways to break up your work. In this way, what can seem like the overwhelming task of writing a dissertation becomes more manageable. Set deadlines for even small-scale tasks to ensure that you are efficient.
- Seek advice from others, and do not be afraid to ask for help. Many books and articles deal with time management issues, and you may want to consult professionals such as a learning services counselor at your school or a dissertation writing coach.
- Dissertation work can be inherently slow and not have tangible results initially but that does not mean you are not accomplishing a lot. The “groundwork” before you actually start writing takes up a lot of time: thinking, conducting archival work, processing and synthesizing your archival work, creating outlines, etc. All this work serves to better prepare you for your writing.
- Take breaks. Taking breaks will aid your productivity. We are not machines, after all. By taking more breaks than you really need at times, you will likely come back to your work feeling energized. Another good way to stay energized and motivated is to leave your writing in such a shape that when you start next you will know what to say.
- Remember the finished product is what matters. As they say, the best dissertation is a done dissertation. You can have all the great ideas in the world but what counts is what you ultimately produce. Be confident that you will be able to congratulate yourself on a job well done.
Getting Your Dissertation Right on First Attempt
People assume that writing a dissertation is a difficult task to accomplish. The truth is, the process is time-consuming, but if you do things right, it is really not a hard nut to crack. The key to success is to understand the dissertation format, avoid common mistakes, and prepare adequately for the lengthy process.
In particular, emphasis should be placed on getting a narrow topic and conducting in-depth research to get all the materials needed to deliver a winning dissertation. Students should also read extensively on how to write the literature review, which is an area many students struggle to nail. Moreover, doctoral students ought to learn about the use of relevant technology tools, including analyzing software and word processing programs.