In this Booklet
The dissertation is the hardest obstacle on the academic path, and also the most important for graduate students. This piece of work often leaves students not being able to complete the work, and this is backed up statistically with numbers of over 50% cited as being what is called an ABD student (completed All the requirements of their course But the Dissertation). This handout will answer why this is the case and also offer some advice on how to plan, construct, and complete a dissertation.
Part 1: What Makes the Dissertation Such a Fearful Thing?
A dissertation is a huge undertaking and is certainly a daunting task for students. However there seems to be a deeper reason as to why many graduate students fail to complete their dissertations. This has a lot to do with transitions in academic life and the dissertations difference in both form and size to a normal course work assignment, while it also offers a totally new experience to the student.
Of course the size of the project must be taken into account when discussing why so many students can be classed as ABD, but it is not just laziness in many cases. New structures of working come into play such as different deadlines, no help from lecturers of fellow students, and no set reading list. Many students become indoctrinated with a particular way of working, and the biggest problem with dissertations is that the student is left to his or her own devices, and is not told what to do at regular intervals.
Most degree course works or exams offer a bridge to something the student has always known. They are not totally abstract from what they would have done in school, but a dissertation is a new venture in the academic world for every graduate student, and it is meant to be the point where you progress from learner to scholar. As such being left alone to complete the dissertation leaves many fearful of the outcome, and those typically fail to complete the work.
There are also deeper psychological factors to think of when assessing why some pupils become ABD students. The dissertation signals the end of the graduate life, and is a new stepping stone to a future career Ph.D. There is a correlation between students failing to complete dissertations and fear of leaving behind something they have become used to.
One also has to factor in sheer laziness, which is as valid a reason as others even if it is less common. However this cannot be assessed or changed and is independent to the student, and in many cases a lazy student is found waiting long before the dissertation stage of their academic career.
All of these reasons could affect any student, and it often results in a lack of commitment towards their dissertation.
Part 2: Why the Dissertation is Important
If you have decided to go ahead and complete your dissertation and pursue an academic career, then the work you do now could be of great importance. The dissertation can become a tool to use on your academic life, and here are the reasons why.
It could give your career a launch pad
A high quality dissertation could put your academic career on to the right path. It can be made into a series of articles in journals or even extrapolated into a book. Many graduate students who have produced stellar dissertations have seen them taken on board in their respective fields and have launched their career from it. The document may also become your life's work, something you return to as the years draw on, adding new knowledge and studies to it. A dissertation can be a real tool that can define an academic career in the right circumstances.
It builds academic skills and helps to build your future
Throughout a students post graduate life the course work or exams they are presented with are very often just throw away pieces that are designed to merely test the student's capabilities in a subject. A dissertation is a much more stringent assessment of your academic criteria, and it can help you to nurture valuable research and analytical skills for your career. Although the whole academic process throughout life helps to build for the next stage, the dissertation is building for your life, and the tools you develop in its construction will stay with you in the coming decades.
Part 3: How can you get Motivated and Find Commitment?
There will be times when you doubt yourself as both a student and academically, you may end up losing commitment to the cause. If you find yourself in this position there are some things you can attempt.
Get some advice
There is a network built in all universities for students who may be struggling with the academic life. Sometimes it helps to take a step back from the situation and allow others to advise you in your actions. Other students can be a good tool because they are in the same situation and can offer advice on how they deal with aspects of the pressure of writing their dissertation. It is normal for a university to have a counselling network built up where a student can seek professional advice and talk about their fears.
Make important decisions
If you reach a point in your academic path that writing a dissertation is too overwhelming, it may be time to reassess your goals, or even to remind yourself of what you are aiming for and why.
Why did you begin an academic life as a graduate student? Are your goals still the same now as they were then? Do you want to move on to a PhD? These are just some of the questions you will need to ask yourself before you decide if you can continue with your dissertation. Some soul searching can go a long way in you making the right decision for you, and can leave you ready to face the challenge ahead.
Many graduate students worry about what impact failure at this stage will have on their lives, and this anxious tension can have an adverse effect when attempting to write their dissertation. There is no shame in dropping out at this juncture, as long as it is for the right reason; there are millions of people around the world who live happy and fulfilling lives without seeking an academic career. As long as the motives for such a choice are correct it can be the best thing for a student.
Part 4: When Life Gets in the Way
Attempting to complete a dissertation can be a daunting task just on a purely academic level, and the strains on research and knowledge can be tough. However there is also the factor of day to day problems that we all encounter in our life, like money, finding time, and tiredness. All these can effect the finished dissertation or in extreme circumstance result in non completion.
If the gas bill is due, you work two jobs, or the neighbours were up all night singing, it is little you can do to change these circumstances. You can however change the way in which you deal with them, and while they may not disappear, management of these issues can result in a better dissertation. Below are the three main life issues that effect graduate students.
- Monetary issues
Grants, scholarships and other external sources of funding can help ease the blow of financial burden, but more often than not they still fall short of meeting a graduate students needs. Often students have families to support and rent to pay and will often need to work to support their studies. Having a job is not a devastating scenario, as it can promote a healthy routine, whereas grant funded students could well slip into indulgent laziness. However, having a job means that fitting research, work, and meetings around the schedule can be taxing. A problem can arise if outside commitments mean that a student needs to work two jobs, or take care of family; these are external to study and cannot be avoided, and often it requires great discipline to navigate the process in these times. There is no guide to solving issues with funding other than to stick it out and remember the end goal.
Those same issues that can effect funding can also have an adverse effect on fatigue. Personal and professional commitments as well as the hours needed for a dissertation can take their toll both physically and mentally. Stress relief is key when trying to juggle so many commitments, so even though it may be hard to find the time, effort should be made for personal pursuits. Exercise such as sports, swimming and yoga can also help. As much as the physical load can be a detriment, it is the mental fatigue that can cause the most problem, so graduate students preparing their dissertation should try to find the time to relax their mind, whether this is through meditation, religion, or even a hot bath! Finding time for all these activities may be daunting, and it leads to perhaps the biggest issue facing students working on their dissertations.
- Time management
Finding the time to fit all the commitments of life around the planning, writing and finishing of a dissertation can be an overwhelming task. There are many time management ideas that can help graduate students juggle these many things and make the most of their time.
Schedules are your friend
If you are left juggling the demands of a job, home, and your dissertation then having a workable schedule is important. Be strict in your time keeping and try to keep a complete log of your day; with sections of the day being split into time blocks. These can vary in length, but it is important to know what your task is for each block and to adhere to it as best as you can. In terms of your dissertation this could be certain hours to research, and certain hours to solve problems.
A calendar can be an important resource in scheduling ahead of time, and while there are great electronic options nothing beats an old fashioned yearly calendar posted to a wall. From here you can chart any events such as advisor meetings, or experiments you have planned, while you can also keep track of your social commitments.
The most important thing to remember in preparing and completing a schedule is that each thing should be adhered to. Flexibility is good, but what is the need of a schedule if you are not going to use it? Stick to plans, appointments, and meetings and this can help you to become disciplined in time management.
Be specific in how you manage your time and schedule. Avoid putting down a set working goal over a whole week or a few days; instead be exact in the date you pick. This will help to promote discipline in keeping to the schedule.
Know your priorities
An important factor of getting your dissertation time management right is to know how to rank things upon on how important they are. The dissertation should always be first, so if you have a more pressing engagement try not to make this a priority and instead stick to the working on and completing your dissertation. To achieve success in this form of time management an efficient schedule (see above) is needed.
When preparing a time management schedule, put down any known appointments, work deadlines, or time conflicts that you already know about. Avoid adding to it as you go because you could end up missing something important. Instead complete the schedule well in advance and then categorise tasks in order of importance and/or urgency, this will allow you to always be one step ahead of the schedule.
Remember that completing the dissertation will be your number one goal, to achieve this you may need to sacrifice certain things, including good will gestures. Do you baby sit your sisters child on the weekends? Do you have a guest lecture to give in your graduate school? Start saying no to these small commitments and give yourself the time to complete any outstanding works.
Procrastination is a problem for most people, but for graduate students it can be lethal to their hopes of achieving success in their dissertation. There are links between procrastination and anxiety, so if you find that you are replacing high priority work with less important offerings then you may want to consult the vast literature on the problem to see if you can ease your worrying. If this fails there are counsellors on campus who can aid you in stopping procrastination
Work when you can
Even if you set aside blocks of time to work on your dissertation you may find that the demands of life will still catch up in the end. If this proves to be the case then using any spare time to work on your dissertation is an "if all else fails" scenario. If you have twenty minutes free between classes then use it. This does not mean necessarily writing something, but it can be hypothesising your theories in your mind, planning, or researching. While these stolen minutes may not seem much they can be vital in forming a great discipline for working on the dissertation. You will become used to getting your head down and doing work, and then you can use this to not be distracted when you have more time on your hands.
If you commit to these few minutes daily then firstly it is important to stick to it. If you tell yourself these are the times you will work then you must be strict and use this time to your advantage.
Part 5: Inside Pressure
There are numerous outside variables that can affect the quality and/or completion of a dissertation and we have already looked at those things. However, very often a student's pressure and anxiety can be brought on by internal pressures, where the student is suffering from negative things in their mind and not from external sources.
Competition is a part of young life, and it is also a part of academic life, where each person is vying to be the best in their field. Most of the times competition in graduate school is unnecessary or at the very least misplaced. Classrooms can be places where there are numerous students each wanting to gain the professors attention with their superior knowledge or intellect, while the whole scholarship process is about picking those that are deemed the most knowledgeable or the best. This can have huge effects on students, and is a major cause as to why many become ABD students.
On the face of it, competition in a department is wholly unwarranted. After all the people who make up your department are in fact people who will be there to help you for years to come and who you will build lasting relationships with.
It is argued that there is viable competition, but it comes in the guise of people from other graduate schools and not your own department. After all, it is these people who will be applying for the same jobs and competing in the same field. However, this is also a fallacy, and while it could be deemed the case lower down the education ladder, it does not hold true at an academic level. Most academically qualified people will find jobs within their chosen field, and then will become peers, colleagues who will share theories and ideas, and the growth of any academic comes from sharing knowledge with like minds.
This collaborative path is one that is commonplace once you have graduated, so if you feel there is an over emphasis on competition in your department; then why not try changing the view? Offer and share ideas and open dialogue in an uncompetitive manner to alleviate some of the competitive tension.
Many students feel inadequacy at some time or another throughout the dissertation process, and this typically falls under two categories. Those feel inadequate because of the competitive angst in the department, or those who feel a general inadequacy towards their own workings. The former follows on from the competition topic, and happens if a student thinks that another appears better than them in their field or elsewhere. The latter is the result of feelings that are part of the personality of a particular student.
Talk to fellow students and find out how they feel, you will certainly not be alone in your feelings. Try to garner advice from a cross section of your peers, someone further along in their academic career than you may be able to recall similar feelings and offer advice on how to emerge from them unscathed. While someone currently in the same situation may be able to sympathise and share in the experience.
There are also numerous professional set ups that allow students to discuss their anxieties and inner pressures. The best thing for any student who feels inadequate is to discuss it and be open about the situation, only then can it be sorted out.
Part 6: Planning your Dissertation
The planning stage of your dissertation is perhaps the most important part of your academic career, and what you choose and do from now on will have ramifications throughout your life. To get the most from your dissertation planning, follow these hints.
Do not be selective in the thinking process
This is the time to be free, to let your mind wander your entire chosen field and come up with ideas. Do not throw an idea out unless you have considered it in depth, you could lose something special in the trash. Expand on even the smallest spark of an idea and see if it ignites into something more substantial, because this is the time to be creative, not later on.
Also make sure that you write all of your ideas down. Compile an individual folder comprising just your ideas, this will allow you to revisit ideas at a later time and see if they can be expanded on, or modified.
Do not cave to expectations
Many students at this stage become blinded by what they think the department or other influences want or are expecting from them. Choose your own ideas and topics, because they will come from you and will be your creation and it will be you who has to see them to fruition.
Be fair in your topic, and not too ambitious
Ambition is fine, and taking on a grand project can be fulfilling and worthwhile. However, you do not want to choose a topic and then find later that the proposal was too large and unattainable. Remember you will be unlikely to change the world with your dissertation, and its primary objective is to help you graduate.
Finding a topic that you have a passion for can make the dissertation process an easier experience, but be careful not to be biased towards something you favour. The ability to be objective is paramount when preparing a dissertation, if you feel that you are too close to one side of an argument beyond rationality then it is best to drop the idea for something else.
Part 7: Topics, Advisors, and Committees; Friends or Foes?
As well as the internal pressures of completing a dissertation there are also many external ones that can come to the forefront. Choosing your topic and advisor, and working with a committee are all tools that can be extremely useful to a graduate student, but they also come with their own stresses.
Finding and handling your topic
Once a student has a chosen dissertation topic in mind they have to defend their proposal before beginning the work. However, it is not necessary to stick strictly to the proposal that was originally mooted, and it is possible to change throughout the course of the dissertation, in fact it is quite normal.
Although you can change a topic you should still head into the dissertation planning process with a good idea of the finished project, but never be afraid to edit and change. There may be some parts that are too long winded and not containing enough relative information; these would need to be trimmed. Remember that quantity does not mean quality, and often it is wise to omit a batch of weaker research elements in favour of a more in depth analysis of a strong one. To get an idea of what makes a quality dissertation look at past works from your faculty and study if what you have in mind is either relevant or adding anything new to a debate or theory.
Getting the most from the advisor
The relationship between student and advisor can be very important in deciding the quality of a finished dissertation. The duo does not always have to be harmonious, but there are things that can be done to make the most of this working relationship. Firstly take the time to sit down with your advisor and iron out the finer details of what is expected and how the relationship will work. Will meetings be held regularly? Does the work need to be scrutinised to high quality or just a selection of ideas? These kinds of questions will help to determine how your advisor likes to work, because after all everybody is different.
As well as finding out what your advisor likes, it is important that you tell him or her what you expect from them. Be detailed in what you want and need, what you are looking for in terms of feedback and what advice you are seeking in certain circumstances. The advisor will not be exclusive to you and will also be working with other students in your department, so ask around to see if they have any good strategies for working with your chosen advisor.
The relationship between student and advisor should become more and more equal the deeper into the dissertation you delve. You will be the one doing all the research and reading, so sooner or later you could well become a greater authority on your chosen subject than your advisor. Eventually the relationship between student and advisor should become akin to colleges. Although if for some reason an advisor is not meeting your needs, you can change to another.
How to make your committee work for you
The committee can be used much like the advisor and as such you should seek to do the same things in finding out how best to work with them. It is possible to only see your committee twice throughout the whole dissertation process, firstly at your proposal defence and secondly at the final dissertation defence.
However some committees will be more involved throughout, so again it is best to find out how often they wish to see drafts and have meetings. The committee can be a good source of advice both positively and negatively and their comments could prove invaluable. A major mistake made by graduate students while constructing their dissertation is that they think that only a professor or advisor can offer any real insight, and sometimes committees are ignored. Use your committee as a tool of knowledge and information, and go to them with issues or for feedback. If you have decided upon a more distant relationship with the committee you can still call upon them if needed.
However do not be afraid to ignore them if you are sure about your goals, and are clear minded about the outcome of your dissertation.
Part 8: Getting the Most from your Work Schedule
So you have your schedule ready and planned, and you are ready to start your dissertation; but how can you get the most from the time you set aside to work on your piece? Finding the best locations, times, and methods can make the difference in producing a high quality dissertation.
People are different and are proactive at different times of the day. To get the most out of your scheduled times to work on your dissertation you will need to find out when best you work. Some are more adept late at night, while others can get more done early in the morning, and so on. Remember that your dissertation is academic writing and even though you may work better at certain tasks at a certain point of the day, this may not be the case for something that requires all your intellect and thought process.
You may already know when you are at your peak for academic writing, but if not a little experimentation will be required to find the best time for you. Once you know when you will be the most proactive, set your schedule around these times allotted for working on your dissertation. Leave other tasks and commitments to other times of the day if at all possible, and be committed to this time whenever you come to work on your dissertation.
Finding the best place to work on your dissertation can be something that drives you on to your best work. Poor working environments can slow progress and muddle thinking, so be sure to locate the destinations where you are at your most proactive. Maybe you will find one place that you become inseparable from, or maybe there are several locations that offer certain criteria for different occasions or states of mind.
Working at home can have its good points and its bad points. Some people find being in a comfortable and relaxing place can help them work to a higher standard, while others think the creature comforts can affect output. At home there are many distractions, so there is little point planning to work from home if all you will really do is play video games, or watch TV. This can be the major flaw of students who work at home, however some find that the whole experience is more cathartic and some even prefer the distractions.
Research has shown that those who work in their bedrooms often have irregular sleep patterns. This is because the bed and workplace becomes intertwined in association, and any anxieties about work can affect the comfort of being in what is usually a haven. If you opt to work from home, try to have a dedicated work space outside of the sleeping areas.
Graduate school or public libraries can be a perfect place for those looking to work intently on their dissertations. The pros are there for all to see, a wealth of research material and little distractions. However some students find the quiet of libraries to actually be a distraction, and university carrels can be places that can leave the student isolated.
Being healthy in where you work should be a priority but is so often overlooked. Being comfortable and physically sound during the construction of a dissertation can make the whole experience vastly better than if the opposite was the case. Posture when working is very important and so a good chair that supports your back is essential. As is a well lit environment and quality writing platform. Campuses and Graduate schools have exhaustive information on how to look after your body through long bouts of working.
Finding little nuances that make you more productive can result in you producing a better final dissertation. Things that relax (but not too relaxed) you, or things that help you to concentrate should be sought to make your experience an easier one. Some like to have their favourite TV show on or music playing in the background and find that this can help them to work more productively. However be aware that these do not become unwelcome distractions.
When you sit down to start working on your dissertation for a few hours you may find that it takes some time for your brain to get warmed up. There are certain things that can be done to prepare your mind and let it know that it is time to work. Rituals can play an important part in conditioning the mind into becoming active the moment you sit down to work. Certain drinks, lighting moods, or clothes can be simple yet effective ways to prepare you for some academic work.
Once you have found your favoured environment you may want to hone it over several sessions in order to make it a more personal space, or to make your working time more enjoyable. Photos of loved ones can give that extra spur although it can also be an unwanted distraction; decide which is best for you. Also setting a mood is important, you are unlikely to want a cold dark room to work in, so make sure the space is well heated, ventilated, and lit.
None of these things should be taken as sure ways to improve the working experience, and flexibility is the key to success when preparing a dissertation. You may find that several locations work best for you, or you may find that none have any real effect. Likewise, if you find that the evenings are when you are at your peak of productivity; this does not mean you should avoid working in the mornings at all costs. Instead be willing to break from the things that make it easier, it will make going back to them all the better. Some students can start to use their comforts as excuses for not working elsewhere or at another time, "I couldn't do it because I was not at home", however try no to fall into the trap of over relying on your personal work preferences.
A main function of a dissertation is to create a bridge from graduate to scholar, and although the experience can bring this out of you, trying to feel like it can also help.
In your academic career you will no longer be a student and subject to the student life, instead you will be a working member of society. As such it may be a good practice to consider the dissertation as part of your working life, as part of a job. By doing this you can feel in command of the work and feel like a professional scholar who is merely writing a paper in a subject he is an expert in.
Become a book worm and a geek. If you have chosen this subject and field then the chances are you love what you write about. If this is the case become a devotee of the subject, read, read, and read about the field and become and feel like an expert.
Surround yourself with likeminded people, even those more advanced in their academic careers. Not only will you learn a lot, you will also feel a part of something that you are striving for.
Part 9: Managing the Graduate School
As a graduate student you can expect to have to deal with the requirements of the graduate school department. These can often get in the way of producing a high quality dissertation, with many saying it is hard to keep on top of all the regulations. However, it is possible to make your time with the department much easier by following some simple rules.
Like almost everything in this handout some prior research will be required to get the best from your hopes. So why not do a little background knowledge on the department so that you are well versed in what requirements are needed as you move towards graduation.
Keep abreast of the rules and regulations from the department and graduate school by keeping a small notepad or diary that tells you what they are. As you pass each milestone remove it from the list and move on to the next. This way you will never become lost in the maze of different requirements expected of you.
Graduate schools are extremely strict when it comes to such things as fonts and formatting, and failure to adhere to these rules can make or break a dissertation. Instead of just formatting the finished piece in the correct manner, it is best to do all hard drafts in the correct format also; this will enable you to always be producing work in the correct manner.
There will be times throughout your career in graduate school where you will receive letters, documents, or news. In order to ensure your safety and to keep on top of all administrative things, keep all of these letters and papers so that you can make proof if something goes wrong.
Graduate schools will offer committed and extensive advice to students about their requirements, so be careful to read them all and to learn them. If you have any queries then ask and resolve any issues.
Part 10: The Writing Process
It is now time to get down to business armed with the knowledge and tools to produce your dissertation. You have chosen your topic, advisor, and committee. You have found the perfect place to work, and the prefect time, and you have sorted out all the demands of life with your new schedule. So now you can begin.
How to keep writing
When you begin to write you will have a plan for your dissertation as a readable piece of academic writing, not a collection of ideas thrown together, no matter how good those ideas may be. So how do you keep your consistency the same?
Organization is a key element when you begin to write your dissertation. As well as being well prepared, making sure you have a clear mind and a clear work space is paramount. Make sure to keep a clean environment because this means you will not be wasting minutes or possibly hours looking for that paragraph of research you needed but have misplaced in the clutter.
However, do not be obsessively clean because it is important to leave your work out in the open. If there is an important paper that you need to analyse then you will be more likely to do so if it is on your desk than if it is in a draw.
Drafts are your friend so learn to love them. A common mistake dissertation students make is to attempt to produce simply the best document on their first try. You will not change the world in one draft, and in terms of building confidence and quality getting something down quickly can be both liberating and hugely important. Do no fret about writing a very low quality first draft of your dissertation, it matters little and in fact can become an invaluable resource. It is much easier to edit and build upon something that exists than to simply fabricate it at first attempt.
Your writing plan and research organization can be important tools, but do not be afraid to stray away from them, especially the writing plan you have drawn up. Throughout our educational life we are taught to write from front to back, first chapter to last. Many people work this way and remain productive, but there is nothing wrong with veering off course occasionally, and if you already have a prepared and coherent section in mind but it occurs in the middle, then do it, do not stunt your own progress.
Know your limits and be realistic with your expectations. You are unlikely to write a definitive piece on your chosen subject, and nor are you expected to, so do not pursue an impossible dream if it is unattainable, and do not become down hearted or feel inadequate at this notion. Also do not presume that you can write constantly for days to complete the work. Even if you have it planned to precise detail you will not be able to function in a productive manner for a whole day. So pick your times and work to them.
Also it is not possible to sustain a series of good ideas throughout 10 hours of writing. A key to dissertation success is to know when you are on to a good thing and call it a day. If you have had a productive day and feel good about what you have achieved, let that be and leave it for the rest of the day. Otherwise you may start a fresh idea and become bogged down in it, and then the day will end with no reward.
Find encouragement and goals in the smallest of things. A trick for boosting productivity and feeling good about the work you have already done is to every so often print a hard copy of your work so far. From this copy you will see how it actually looks and is presented, as well as being able to feel good about yourself because of the number of pages you have written.
What to do when you hit a wall
The writing process is the part that will deem whether you are successful or not, and your planning and research will have immeasurable importance. However, despite being wonderfully prepared, every writer at some point gets stuck, and cannot continue. So what do you do in these moments?
Become a note taker, and treat them as a cathartic friend akin to a diary. For example if you want to extrapolate an idea but cannot put it into words, why not try just writing from your mind with no research notes or books, just write your own knowledge of an idea and see where it takes you. The worst that will happen is that nothing comes of it, but maybe it will free up your mind to continue.
Pick up the phone and call someone who shares an interest in your subject matter and just talk about the subject. You have likely chosen your topic because you know about it and are fond of it, so simply talking about a subject you enjoy may give you the tools to move on in the project. No one to call? Then try an internet forum, however remember you are not searching for answers, but merely for inspiration.
When you hit a wall in the main body of your dissertation, why not try undertaking some menial tasks that you are required to do by the graduate school? This could include a bibliography, which most students hate doing, so get it out of the way while you are stuck elsewhere.
In the planning stage of your dissertation make sure to write down all the topic points you will discuss in the document, no matter how small or trivial. That way if you run into a dead end on a particular topic and need time to gather your thoughts you can simply transfer to something smaller or a different piece of the dissertation. This can continue any momentum in a productive manner.
There will be occasions when all the methods for getting past momentary writers block will fail. In these cases simply walk away and do something relaxing, forget about the dissertation and return to it at a later time. Play your guitar, watch a movie, or go out with friends because there is little use in forcing the point you are trying to make, is a sure fire way to producing substandard work.
Writing a dissertation is a long and time consuming process. It can eat away at your thoughts and make you stressed, while juggling outside pressures only adds to the overall difficulties. Many students find that given themselves rewards and proper judgment can be very helpful, and it is always worthwhile to understand and praise what you have achieved as you are writing your piece.
On the flip side to rewards there are punishments and feedback. If you are willing to reward yourself for the good things then try to remain disciplined enough to give yourself small punishments for the bad things. Also allow what you have already done to be judged; feedback is a valuable tool in the dissertation process.
Family members, advisors, and fellow students will all be able to give you feedback on your work. Do not be offended by criticism, and instead use it as a motivator. However, be sure to get feedback from people who are in a position to offer at least some authoritative advice.
If you are worried about negative feedback then make sure to outline important details to whoever is reviewing your work. If it is a first draft and it is rough around the edges, then say so, likewise if you have been lax with grammar or spelling be sure to be open. That way the reviewer can offer feedback that you really want to hear.
If you meet a target or complete something on time then be prepared to reward yourself. Do something you enjoy of give yourself a night to relax away from the stresses of your dissertation.
Willpower is everything
You can try to legislate for all eventualities, but sooner or later some of the already mentioned problems will happen. This is where sheer willpower is important, and seeking motivations to boost willpower is paramount.
If you are the type to give in at the first sign of trouble, you will likely end up as an ABD student. You will need to be extremely focused at times when you are tired, lost, or just plain lazy, and it is this will to succeed that will drive you on.
Try remembering some reasons why you chose the dissertation (See part 3).
Part 11: Humour
Finding times to unwind when producing a dissertation can be the make or break between success and failure, while the ability to take a humorous view at an obstacle can make the whole experience less stressful.
Do some things that make you see the lighter side of your subject matter, or of the whole process; make jokes with friends and family about the hardships of preparing a dissertation, but mostly, just remember to always approach everything with a smile. It may seem insignificant but a positive outlook can be very helpful.
Part 12: Being Strong, and Using Strengths
As you have progressed through your doctoral journey you have acquired many skills and strengths that can be applied to the making of your dissertation. These academic skill sets will give you the base of knowledge and tools to succeed, but what about the outside frustrations that comes with the dissertation process?
Each person has their own strengths and weaknesses, and finding what yours are could be a telling moment. If you can pin point what your strengths are then you can utilize them to enhance the dissertation experience. You will be learning nothing new, because it is all built into you from your life experience, and some of those things can be invaluable.
Maybe you are good at abstract thinking, and this could become a potent tool in moving you on from situations where you have become stuck. Likewise you may be a good researcher, which will come in handy if you are in need of a vital piece of information that is not readily available.
Whatever your strengths are, you do have them, so why not use them to make life a little easier.
Throughout the writing of this booklet many literary works on the subject of writing dissertations were consulted. The below list is all the books and internet sources that were revised before completion of the booklet. The list is in no way an exhaustive look at the subject and there are number other pieces with the relevant information on dissertations available. We advise further reading on the topic to get deeper insight into the subject matter.
Bolker, Joan. Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis. (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1998).
While Joan Bolker's book title may make you sit up and take notice, it is not actually pretending that you can write a doctoral dissertation by writing 15 minutes a day. In fact this book is perfect reading for those looking to expand on the subject matter covered here in parts 8 and 10. By starting off with 15 minutes on a daily basis you will be able to form the habit of working daily and will then be able to increase the amount of time spent working. Bolker uses a background in psychology to offer solutions to particular problems you may encounter.
Mauch James E., and Jack W. Birch. Guide to the Successful Thesis and Dissertation: Conception to Publication, (New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc., 1983).
If you are looking for what is essentially a solid strategic guide then this could be the book for you. James E and Birch's book is tailored towards the student who has meticulously planned and is already sure of their course. From this book with practical advice about planning, defending, and writing your dissertation it is a good resource. However if you are looking for an overall guide that details all the points raised in this booklet then this is unlikely to meet your needs.
Sternberg, David. How to Complete and Survive Your Doctoral Dissertation, (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1981).
How to Complete and Survive Your Doctoral Dissertation is a book focused on making ABD students into PhD ones. Author David Sternberg is an experienced advisor and proven sociologist. His book focuses on such things as defence and post defence, planning, and research. Some may find Sternbergs view is a little dated in the modern climate, but this is still a good resource for further reading.
Peters, Robert L. Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning a Master’s or Ph.D., (New York: The Noonday Press, 1997).
This is a valuable tool for any student looking to find their way through graduate school, and it is not solely for those seeking advice on dissertations. Despite its more broad appeal this book offers some good practical advice for those in need of help with dissertations. Peters has assembled his book by conducting interviews with experienced advisors, counsellors, and past and present graduate students, meaning what you get is a first hand account of graduate school and the dissertation process.
Burka, Jane M. and Lenora M. Yuen. Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It, (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1983).
In part 4 of this booklet we looked at procrastination and the effects it can have on students, and there is certainly a direct correlation between those prone to procrastination and ABD students. Burka and Yuen are two psychologists who take a two part look at this matter, with the first part dedicated to "Understanding Procrastination," and the second part "Overcoming Procrastination." It delves deep into the psychology and seeks answers for what causes this phenomenon, and offers such things as work commitments, and fear of separation as possible answers. Almost every student displays procrastination at one time or another, so this book is a valuable tool for getting to grips with the subject.
Fitzpatrick, Jacqueline, Jan Secrist, and Debra J. Wright. Secrets for a Successful Dissertation, (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998).
This is a very detailed look at how to successfully complete your dissertation. The writing style is both humorous and easy to read, while there are useful checklists and tips dotted sporadically throughout.