April 21, 2011

Writing a Dissertation

new janisBy Janis Prince Inniss

I got some great advice when I was writing my dissertation. The first: The only good dissertation is a complete dissertation! The point here is that you do not have to spend forever in trying to write the world’s best dissertation; just get it finished. After all, you might spend decades conducting research and writing on the same topic, so you’ll have many other opportunities to write the definitive work on your clip_image002topic. Do that masterpiece as a Ph.D.! (And don’t take this literally; your committee is unlikely to reward you for being sloppy.)

How should you choose your dissertation topic? Be pragmatic: you’re going to spend a lot of time working on this topic, becoming an expert on it, so make it something that really holds your interest. Sure, your plan is to crank out your dissertation in two months. And maybe you will do just that, but just in case you’re mortal like the rest of us and need a few more months (or years) to do so, you’ll want to make sure you can stand to think about your topic during that whole time.

A good dissertation topic is one that excites you, is doable, and has not been already done. Your dissertation committee members should be helpful in letting you know how feasible your proposed dissertation topic is and whether it is one you can get your hands around. Remember, you can add to this area of research as a Ph.D.; you will not answer every question in this one study.

If early on in your graduate schooling, you have a dissertation topic, you can use assignments in some of your classes to begin work on the topic. Methods courses are great for this, but you can address you topic in many other classes well. In many graduate methods courses, you have to conduct independent research. If you are learning the methodology that you think you will use for your dissertation research—but not only if this is the case—you can do what may become a pilot study for your dissertation.

Or maybe you will simply conduct additional interviews for your dissertation, to add to those you completed in your methods course. Of course, this only works if you already know enough about the topic to ask the kinds of research questions in your methods or other courses so that data you collect can fit seamlessly into the dissertation. Regardless, you have many opportunities in your classes to begin putting together bits of the entire dissertation puzzle.

Another example: a literature review on your topic of interest for a class should at least provide foundation material for your dissertation. Warning: this can be tricky in terms of timing. For example, in my qualitative methods course, I worked really hard on an area of interest regarding race/ethnicity construction and produced a solid piece of research in an area that had not been studied. This is exactly what I am recommending. But I did not do this myself because by the time I was finished producing the paper for that class, I was fed-up with the topic and could not bear further study of it. Race/ethnicity construction remained—and still remains—an interest of mine, and although my dissertation explored this subject, I changed the specific example because I was tired of the initial one. So don’t peak too early!

Another bit of great advice I got regarding my dissertation was to write every day! I tried to write for at least an hour every day. What’s an hour, right? If you are in dissertation writing mode, an hour is peanuts! But at times, even writing for that one hour was a challenge and I did not do it. This advice is important because writing a dissertation or any other large work requires you to be focused. And if you are not actively engaged in the work, then you lose focus. If a few days go by—I found even one—when you open the document, it is easy to feel lost. I would found myself spending valuable time trying to figure out  where I left offclip_image002[5]. (You can bookmark the place of your cursor in your word processing program, but finding that mental place is another matter.)

That daily writing time can be spent doing anything that moves the process forward so that you remain connected to the work. I kept a list of things to do when I really did not want to do the most complex tasks, such as analyzing data and writing. On this list of “they’re simple chores, but they must get done anyway” were tasks like these: create a table of contents and automate it, work on bibliography, and write acknowledgements.

With a project as big as a dissertation, it is important to celebrate milestones. They help to keep you going. Celebrate the completion of any one chapter, for example—or a hard to write paragraph. That celebration does not have to be elaborate; once I celebrated by buying a pretty—but inexpensive—journal in which I chronicled some of the dissertation experience. Last, but perhaps most important, having people who can cheer you on and help you through any dissertation jitters is priceless!

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Comments

I agree with you that the good dissertation is a complete dissertation.And this two video clip is very good and education for all..

Nice stuff but what i really am wondering is...how are you balancing your life with your dissertation? i realize that what others might call a life may be only a dream to you, but the life you have...how do you do it? what about all of the life things that come up?

Finally, the author writing about dishonesty on papers is dead-on. Most professors use turnitin.com, which makes it impossible to plagiarize any information, even if one does it consciously or unconsciously.

Yes, writing everyday can help big time in following a schedule in your dissertation writing.

You are correct with the thought that a dissertation is only good when it is finished. Remember to finish what you have started.

At some level it is true that daily writing time can be spent doing anything that moves the process forward so that you remain connected to the work.

Janis! Your article is very informative. I really enjoyed reading it. Obviously the best tip of writing is to write every day.

I’m gaining a sense of control over my writing.

Thank you for the great post. Every PhD scholar should read this information before agonizing in their dissertations

It would really help with the planing. The skill of critical reflection is paramount in academic writing.

I agree that writing daily is the way to go.

While reading this, I really felt sorry that I didn't choose chemistry as my speciality. But, maybe, that was a destiny. Now I get, probably, much more, than I could get, if I had another life, another choice, another speciality. But now I can enjoy my favourite site that I just share with you and worry about nothing.

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This is the best post that shares guidelines to write a perfect dissertation to submit in my university. Thanks for sharing.

I fully agree with you. Congratulations on sharing such a detailed post. Many thanks for sharing this. Have a super nice day.

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Author has given very amazing facts and information on this interesting topic.

A good dissertation topic is one that excites you, is doable, and has not been already done.

The blog is very nicely written specially after second paragraph it becomes more interesting the curiosity maintains till the end.
really hat off to you. I also tried something new may be it was not as good as yours but you really like my blog.

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Author has given very amazing facts and information on this interesting topic.

Wow, now I can easily Write my Dissertation. I had to face many problems while Writing a Dissertation. I appreciate it for sharing helpful article related to Dissertation Writing.

Informative article about Dissertation Writing, I think most of the student face difficulties while Writing a Dissertation but this article is going to help them a lot. I appreciate it

This is a really helpful an informative article. Daily
Dissertation Writing can improve your writing skills.

You made Dissertation Writing easier for me. Thanks for sharing Janis.

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