A dissertation is a serious undertaking and your final project before gaining a Ph.D. degree. It differs from your previous experiences of writing essays and academic assignments and is more similar to writing a book since there are no specific deadlines. No one is controlling your time and telling you what to do – you are all alone on this journey. It may be an essential step in your career. In this guide, you will find out how to write a dissertation and how to succeed in this lengthy project.
What is a Dissertation - The Key to Successful Writing
For this guide, we have interviewed various dissertation coaches to collect valuable tips and create this writing guide. It is a roadmap that helps go through the daunting task and complete your project.
First of all, it is essential to establish what defines a successful dissertation:
‘The best dissertation is a well-written piece that avoids leaving questions in the minds of the reader.’Dr. Cheryl Lentz, professional editor, university professor and the academic entrepreneur.
We couldn’t say better! However, there is one point to add. Most dissertations involve an oral defense where students have to answer a volley of questions in front of committees.
‘The best dissertation is “Done and Defended.” A lot of people say “done.” But I argue that it has to be defended to be the best!’, who specializes in career coaching and dissertation writing.
We wish your dissertation to be the one that’s been filed and never thought about again except turning it into a book later.
How Long Should a Dissertation Be - Length and Structure Standards
One of the most common among student questions is - "How many pages is a dissertation?" Well, the dissertation as a substantial work of original scholarship usually ranging in length from 200 to 450 double-spaced pages. Pages, no more than half of the length should be dedicated to introduction and background materials.
It is very important to learn about the structure if you want to know how to write good-quality dissertations. This section will provide the primary dissertation points. It’s a general structure that you can use as a skeleton for your project and start editing if needed. However, keep in mind that dissertation requirements vary based on the university, discipline, course, faculty, etc. Ph.D. candidates work on different projects with a high degree of flexibility. Typically, a dissertation consists of the following sections.
Put the key information: your name, the department, the degree program, the date of submission and dissertation topic.
It is an optional page that gives the opportunity to mention people involved in your project and thank them for their contribution.
It’s a summary where you squeeze your ideas to 300 words.
How to Write a Dissertation Abstract
Make it clear and concise. The abstract is an important component of your dissertation (as well as of a thesis or an essay). Presented at the beginning of the paper, it is likely the first substantive description of your work read by an external examiner. You should view it as an opportunity to set accurate expectations. Present here all the major elements of your work in a highly condensed form.
It’s a reader's guide where you put all the chapters and page numbers and present them correctly.
It is the first chapter and a preview of the project. Here you make a statement of the dissertation (thesis) and provide the reader with general information. Explain the importance of the issue and demonstrate how your project will help to solve it. The section usually ends with research purpose and research questions:
- Why is the study necessary?
- What is the significance of the project?
- How to write a dissertation introduction? Start writing your introduction when you prepare a proposal. Update this part after you conduct the data and return to it when you finish the entire project. The understanding of the study would most likely change when you conceptualize it.
It is a substantial chapter where you provide an extensive review of substantive literature in your area. Usually, it runs about 40 to 50 double-spaced pages when you're trying to create a dissertation proposal. As always, it starts with an introduction which serves as a “roadmap.” Then you discuss the relevant historical background of your issue and start an ongoing conversation in your area. Describe the substance of framework, empirical studies in your area and make an argument. The critical questions to put are:
- What has already been researched?
- What are the gaps?
- How does the research contribute to your study?
Identify a gap in the literature. Discuss what exists (also - provide examples here) and what is still in need of further exploration. Create your argument in this chapter. Start a summary paragraph at the end of the sections.
- Once you complete your study, you might also want to come back to this chapter and see if you need to add any extra information to complete each section.
It is the blueprint where a PhD candidate shows how he or she conducts the research. It gives the reader a roadmap to recreate your study. Give the audience evaluation of the chosen method. The section is aimed to report what you did and convince your readers that the chosen method is the most appropriate in your case. The section gives answers to the following questions:
- What general approach is better to choose in your case and why?
- What research method better to choose?
- How are you going to collect and analyze data? Which tools to select for the study?
This chapter contains everything you will be doing in your project. If you're doing a quantitative study, this chapter should be about 6-11 pages. If you are doing a qualitative study, the chapter can be 40-50 pages long.
Note! Once a student has these chapters in place, it's time for a formal proposal for conducting research. Most likely, you will work with your dissertation supervisor and methodologist to get these chapters completed. Once your supervisor agrees that your work is ready to be presented in front of the committee members, submit the material two weeks in advance and schedule a meeting. You’ll get feedback. When you have your proposal approved, it’s time to collect data.
It is the part where you present the findings and discuss the meaning of what you’ve found. Sometimes, it is required to separate the conclusions of the discussion. In some cases, these parts are combined. As a rule, in qualitative research, you organize and discuss the relevant graphs and tables. If you choose in-depth interview, discussion and analysis of relevant data come together.
For qualitative or experimental research, there is a quite flexible space for creativity in data representation and discussion. You present the results before giving readers the meaning and your interpretation.
- Mostly, this section includes tables and graphs that help to present the data. You need it for beautiful visualization of the section which brings additional value to the project. Avoid repeats of the text from the chapter in your tables. These visual elements have to provide additional information or structure the data.
In the final part of the project, you show the significance of the findings. Here you have to state how your findings correspond to the research purpose and questions. In other words, this is a mirror of the introduction paragraph. Talk about how the research contributes to the field. Explain why the study is important. Finally, you have to address research prospects as a result of the findings in your study. The conclusion can be divided into two parts.
- The discussion. You interpret your findings. Put here your suggestions for future research and practical value.
- The conclusion. The part where a candidate makes a statement on what he/she gained during the project and what contributions this research made. Tell whether you prove or disprove the idea you have been working on.
It includes all the sources you have used for the study. After the reference list, you may add appendices if needed. They provide supplementary information. It is a dumping ground for material that you cannot fit into your dissertation.
- Make sure your project follows the required citation style. Depending on the discipline, you have to choose among APA, MLA or Chicago style.
- Begin each chapter by creating a roadmap. In the opening sentences put what you are going to talk about. This way, the readers will know how you have structured the chapter and get a sense of clarity.
- How long should the dissertation be? There are no specific rules. In some cases, the project is no longer than 60 pages while others reach a book length. Sometimes, students are allowed to break one massive dissertation into several smaller pieces, manageable essays.
How to Cite a Dissertation
MLA Style - To cite a dissertation in MLA format, include in the entry the author, title, and date of publication as core elements. As an optional element, list the institution granting the degree and a description of the work. If you accessed the dissertation through an online repository, include this fact as the title of the second container.
APA citation style:
- For unpublished / print dissertation: For papers written in United States list City and State. For countries outside the United States list City and Country. Format: Author, A. A. (Year). Title of dissertation/thesis (Unpublished doctoral dissertation [OR] Unpublished master's thesis). Academic Institution, City, State [OR] Country.
- For a published dissertation: Author. (year). Title in italics (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (Accession Order No. [number]) Crowe, B. D. (2010). I ain't fattening frogs for snakes: An inquiry into the application of creativity research to teaching practice (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (Accession Order No. AAT 3411606).
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How to Organize Your Work?
Writing a dissertation is a complex project, and it is common for students to feel overwhelmed by this process. In order to not get lost in the flow it is essential to have a step-by-step plan to save your time, to track your deadlines and progress. Here are the main milestones that you should consider when creating and developing your plan.
- Topic selection. Find a relevant and appropriate topic that maintains your interest in the upcoming years.
- Choosing an advisor. You need a supervisor to guide through the dissertation journey and make it interesting and easy.
- Committee selection is non-advisor faculty members. You submit them for review.
- ‘When your committee requests a revision, start back at the beginning. Go line by line. At what point do you lose your own line of logic? Fix those things that the committee brought up. If you don’t understand it, they definitely will not understand it,’ Guy E White, the founder of The Dissertation Mentor, advises
- Writing a thesis.
- Submitting your dissertation.
- Defending. Your viva is a final chord of your project when you must demonstrate your oral skills and defend your thesis to the best.
‘Set a deadline with a mm/dd/yyyy cause next spring, year, summer, semester doesn't really work. If you're headed home for the holidays get your answer together to the dreaded question When will you be finished?’Dr. Leanne C. Powner
Read graduate requirements early and make sure you meet the criteria. Ph.D. candidates must be aware of departmental policies and requirements to meet graduate school standards.
- It’s your responsibility to check the calendar and know pertinent procedures. Make sure you are an eligible candidate and respond to all general faculty requirements for graduate students. Check the set of rules on your university website to get all the necessary information regarding the graduation process.
- You can ask for the manual in the department office or at the library. It provides you with detailed information on a student’s responsibility, program committees, examination procedures and preparation of the dissertation proposal.
- Plan a meeting with the members of the committee to clarify the steps you need to make towards a doctoral degree.
- Consider checking the department’s calendar. Your schedule depends on their deadlines.
Choosing a topic is a primary step to answering a complex question about the details of writing a dissertation. Find the issue that matches your interest. Ensure that you've chosen the topic that will maintain your interest and enthusiasm over the next four years.
- It must be something you're passionate about. Think about your life in the future. If you think the topic will be exciting in 5, 10 or 20 years, write about it in your dissertation.
- Select a relevant topic. Ensure that you create a qualitatively good dissertation.
- Explore the crucial points in your field. Find gaps in previous researches or studies. Correct some errors and show new findings related to the specific topic.
- Make sure that in your research field there are sufficient scientific sources. It prevents you from getting stuck in the middle of your project.
- Remember, if you're not sure about the theme, you can change it! If you do not know how to write a dissertation, you cannot change the task. But you can discuss the possibility of changing the topic with your mentor.
Doctoral students can choose various sources, but all of them must meet the following two requirements. First of all, you have to select reputable sources. Secondly, check the relevance and validity of the article or book you are going to mention. Turn to the scholarly journal articles, books, interviews, video from legit sources and audio records.
- Primary sources. It is a piece of direct evidence or like a historical audio record of the American president’s speech, empirical scholarly works or a document.
- Secondary sources. They are related to the analysis of the primary source (the president speech reaction or media publication covered the topic).
- You may find lots of valuable and relevant information on the Internet. But don’t forget about the university and/or a community library. It will give you access to the trusted periodicals and reliable literature you can reference in your study.
- Pay attention to the year of the publication. It is often required that the source was published within the last 5 years.
- Sites ending with .edu or .gov are considered reliable sources.
- Reputable articles always have a list of references. Check the integrity of an article or study by going through its reference list.
- If you are not sure about a specific source, you can always consult with your mentor.
How Long Does It Take to Write a Dissertation - Time Management Tips
You don’t have to spend many years on this paper. In general, the answer to "how long people write dissertations" is 12 to 18 months including planning, proofreading and all the needed details but everything depends on how fast you work and receive responses.
The success of your dissertation highly depends on your ability to set and meet your deadlines. When you get in, you will be provided with general guidelines and a timeline to plan your work. However, no one will watch over your shoulder and control your workflow. Take a look at the following tips from dissertation coaches.
- Break the project into smaller manageable pieces. You need a timeline by semester, by month, and by week. ‘A weekly goal of "write lit review section 1" is something you can break up into daily goals and reasonably hope to complete,’ says Leanne C. Powner, dissertation, and academic coach.
- Take a project management approach. ‘You must organize the time and tasks according to SMART goals to ensure that they can clearly demonstrate progress according to the university guidelines,’ advises Dr. Cheryl Lentz.
- Plan your work each day. Don't procrastinate. A student chooses to avoid the process out of fear. When those life events happen, they become excuses for avoiding professors and processes.
- Elaborate an appropriate strategy. Choose hours when your brain is more effective. Make your schedule and stick to it.
Some coaches have a different point of view. You may learn various opinions and pick the most appropriate for you.
‘You might think dissertation work is about getting things organized. You think it’s about logic, sorting, and aligning. At one of the highest levels, yes, it’s about those things. However, at the fundamental level, dissertation work is about getting in. Get in!’Guy E White, the founder of The Dissertation Mentor.
What to Keep in Mind before Starting Your Dissertation?
Here you’ll find tips from dissertation coaches and services with key points you need to know before opening your project.
- Make sure you know what a Ph.D. thesis is. Some writers embark on the project without understanding what they are trying to achieve.
- Use methodical thinking. This is necessary to save your time as well as for writing, synthesis, especially in creating a Literature review.
- Write from an outline, especially if you create your project in a tight timeline. Outlines tell us what goes in a chapter, but they also show us what we can leave out. ‘They keep us from going on tangents, and that saves valuable time and words,’ Leanne C. Powner says.
- Complete the basics of the research before you start writing.
Writing Dissertation: How to Start and Complete It?
So, how to complete your paper strong and interesting? The writing process requires some skills, techniques, and tools that help to complete the dissertation faster. Look at various recommendations from different coaches and services, learn the list of specific tools and apply some techniques that improve writing.
Read tips and recommendations from Rebecca Shuman, academic writer, and contributor, Ph.D. from the University of Missouri-St.
1Start with a carefully annotated bibliography with a maximum of forty sources. You will return to reading and triple or quadruple that number later. This annotated bibliography should include both: the discipline-correct citation of the work with several representative quotes (several dozen, if it’s a primary source), and each extracted quote properly cited with page number should preface a response from the writer that attempts to answer the following questions.
- Why is it essential to read?
- What are the most important things it says?
- What is its thesis?
- Do you agree or disagree and why?
2This semi-unstructured interaction with sources will be the primary meat-and-bones of what later becomes the dissertation. It is the most important stage, but it’s just as important that the writer stops after 40 sources and begin structuring the rest of the list after that.
3Create a rough outline of the chapter. Copy and paste from your annotated bibliography without transitions. You’ll continue doing it after.
4Make a skeleton. Write the first draft. Don’t worry about the smoothness of sections and grammar. It's not a problem if anything is missing. Anytime you get stuck, just write a note in brackets and move on.
5Give your brain a rest for a little and re-read. Complete the gaps in your first draft, check the logic and chronology. Make sure your key points are understandable.
6Revise your draft and send to your advisor if he is a draft-reader. Wait for his feedback.
7Write an introduction and conclusion. If you and your advisor both are happy about the project, go to the final chords. Put down the introduction paragraph when everything else is already in place. After that write your conclusion and make it short.
8Sent your work to the department committee for the initial revisions.
9Defend the project when your advisor is happy with the work you’ve done.
Look at some writing techniques from other coaches you might find useful:
1Try the time hacking Pomodoro technique. It boils down to working against the clock and also keep a record of how much time you spend on research activities.
‘When starting out with new students who are confused by their professors’ preferences for bogging them down in the literature review phase, I follow a different organizational structure. I tell my students that we will write their purpose, research questions, then we will backtrack to what the problem they are interested in solving it. After those important pieces, we work on their methods. The literature is the last piece of the puzzle and still bogs them down, but by then, they have their study designed and they can see the end of the proposal as the light at the end of the tunnel.’Cody Arvidson
1Use apps for analysis. Dedoose or NVivo is for qualitative work and SPSS, and G*Power is for quantitative work. You might find Rev.com useful for recording thoughts and interviews or focus group meetings. The app is better than Google talk to text and saves the student time as you can type into the document any thoughts that fill in the blanks.
2Use online life-hackers. It helps you achieve the “no zero days” approach and involves striving to do at least some difficult scholastic work every day. It is similar to the “Seinfeld strategy’’ when you create an unbroken chain of consecutive days so that some form of writing is completed. It does not help you to become more productive.
3Check YouTube.com/DrCherylLentz and www.dissertationpublishing.com. Here you’ll find more than 100 Videos and more than 400 blogs about common writing issues created by Dr. Cheryl Lentz.
What Can Make You “Fail” Your Dissertation?
Unfortunately, not all of the doctoral students graduate. There are internal and external difficulties that you’ll face on your way. Learn the challenges you might have.
It is a common issue for many students. They don’t start working on the dissertation because they are afraid of something. They don’t communicate with a mentor or professor and delay the writing process until it’s too late.
Be sure that your knowledge and skills are excellent. However, don’t go overboard. Never try to be too ambitious or do too much. Listen for pieces of advice, especially from your supervisor.
There is never a convenient time for death, childbirth and health issues. All things are falling apart because of your family circumstances. Sometimes you are sure that everything will be completed by a certain date, but obstacles overturn the schedule.
Students delay their work due to many reasons. Don't let a procrastination demon ruin your future career. How to make yourself working on a project?
- Make reasonable goals. If you work consistently on your dissertation, you should never work on it more than 3 hours a day. If you know that it will be over in a few hours, it’s a lot easier just to get it done.
- Have an accountability partner. It can be another dissertation student. Share with him your thoughts, cheer each other up and work together.
- Don’t wait for motivation to start writing. Motivation often follows the action.
‘Don’t complicate your dissertation life. You don’t need to be fancy. Get dirty and get back to basics: just read something today. Underline some main points. Write one sentence with a pen at the top of the first page of the article summarizing what it said. That’s it: Progress.’Guy E White
When you work on a long-term project, you’ll inevitably stop being productive, lose interest and will need to recharge. How to prevent burnout?
- Don't pursue perfectionism. Ph.D. candidates should be meticulous, but perfection in this type of project does not exist. Let yourself permission to make mistakes.
‘Perfectionism in writing is totally overrated. Just get it written – don’t worry about getting it right, to begin with’Dr. Michael Marinetto , senior lecturer in public management at Cardiff University Business School UK, Wales.
- Multitasking. Don't force your brain. There is nothing good in switching back and forth with different tasks. You won’t be getting any progress in the field. Start working on the task after completing the previous one.
- Don't work too much. The more you work, the more you progress. However, if you dedicate all your time to your dissertation project, you’ll be sick of it in a month. Leave time for friends and family.
‘There are going to be days where little about your dissertation work makes sense. You could feel so lost and confused that you don't even want to touch it. THAT MOMENT is the most important moment of your dissertation work to simply sit down and work for fifteen minutes.’Guy E White
Academia often fosters competition over collaboration, when it should be the other way around. As a rule, the only way to gauge how well you are doing is to compare yourself with others. Dissertation topics are not the same. Avoid comparing them.
The classic signs of imposter syndrome are that you look good on paper but passing the exam was a fluke. You think you don't have what it takes for writing a dissertation, for succeeding in academia, etc.
‘Every doctoral candidate faces Imposter Syndrome, the nagging feeling that one is a fake and does not belong. It's a lie. It's a syndrome. Don't believe a word of it. As long as you are working toward finishing, you belong. So, go and make some progress.’Guy E White
- You no longer have grades to tell you if you are doing a good job. TThe transition from this undergraduate mentality can be particularly tricky. Break down your research into small, manageable goals. During writing, create figures. It’s far easier to write about the figures meaning.
Yes, this does happen. Some coaches explain these situations, reasons, and can affect students.
‘Student fails due to politics between professors, or according to the dissertation chairs and committees, or the QRM/AQR/URR/GSR/AQM review level that outranks committee level. Professors use the students as scapegoats or tools for having petty arguments. When this happens, the students’ work becomes the fuel to the fodder. Unfortunately, the professors set the student up to feel like the failure in the mix by making the student’s work out to be inadequate, the result of their incompetence, and so on.’
Therefore, the students suffer until the professors give up on whatever they are fighting out.
How to avoid failing and reach your goals?
‘Self-motivation is needed. Time management is needed. Reflection on the why is needed. Motivation is personal,’, professor and speaker, the academic entrepreneur.
Dealing with Stress: How to Manage Mental Health?
There are warning signs you should look out for: if you or your peers increase in alcohol consumption, stop eating, working extremely long hours, joking about suicide, looking disheveled, it’s time to take measures.
- Take some time out. Taking a break can actually improve efficiency when you return to work. If you cannot justify taking a couple of weeks off, take a series of long weekends to get some time away.
- Focus on yourself. It’s a proven fact that the lack of sleep can add to feelings of stress. Exercise can also work to alleviate stress. You may feel like you don't have time, but going for a walk at lunchtime might be a positive change.
- Meet your peers. It’s highly likely that people around you experienced the stressful nature of a PSD. Remember, postdocs have survived their Ph.D. They may have some useful tips or coping strategies.
- Talk to your supervisor. It's not always possible, but if you feel you can approach your supervisor, you should discuss your mental health concerns with him. Other options include a discussion to reduce workload temporarily or take time out.
- Read the literature. There are many online resources that help to manage mental health and well-being. You’ll find some at the end of this article.
- Take at least a week off, preferably two.
- Try meditation. Find your inner peace. Quiet time is needed to decompress and process the journal.
Things to do When You Don’t Feel Like Writing
The cleaner your table, the brighter your mind. It will stop the train of thoughts that don’t leave you a chance to focus on the assignment.
After that, you don't feel like managing something big.
Variety in bibliography entries, update your citations and organize work for the next day.
If you're stuck at the specific point, just drop it. Switch to another chapter and return to the previous one later when you get inspired again.
Sometimes academic writing makes us sleepy. Put the critical ideas as if you talk to your buddy. Edit the chapter later.
If you crammed the writing into a weekend for a class project or paper, that’s what we make sure you do.
How Much to Write Per Day?
There is no unified answer. According to the current research, our brain is good for the 4-5 hours of intense high-cognitive-demand thinking per day. It includes most of the work on your papers (from a simple essay to PhD dissertations), especially generating new words, planning and collecting data, analysis work and proofreading. But various writing techniques keep you empowered to work on your project.
Dissertation coaches have different opinions about this question, but they also give some similar recommendations such as not spending long hours in a row on writing and taking breaks.
‘30 minutes is a completely acceptable amount of time to write. It’s not a waste, a compensation prize, or a sign of poor time management.’Jane Jones , developmental editor and writing coach at Up In Consulting.
- Dr. Cheryl Lentz’s recommendation is to work on the dissertation no more than 1.5 hours at one time. More than 90 minutes at one sitting is ill-advised.
- Rebecca Shuman considers that the best option is 2-3 hours or 4-6 “Pomodoro”. However, everything is individual and depends on the student.
Helpful Tips on Easy Writing
- Write roughly. Don't be stuck at the spot trying to check grammar or syntax. Once you have your basic text which can be rough around the edges, then you can edit it.
- Follow your biorhythm. Don’t force yourself with writing in the early morning if you a night owl. You are too sleepy to be effective. Determine the most productive hours for you and follow this schedule.
- Learn APA format that mostly used for the Ph.D. dissertation.
- The key advice is to write. “You can always fix your prose later. You can’t fix a blank page. Just write it.” Rebecca Shuman says.
- And the last one. Just shut down Wi-Fi router for about two hours a day and write.
- Take breaks. Don't work too hard. You don't fight for a Nobel Prize. Make sure you have enough rest to keep your mind productive. Don't skip your lunch break. Go out and stroll the streets. Get some fresh air. Talk to your peers and grab a coffee with your friends.
- Do exercise. Move at least 20 minutes a day. Go to the gym 2-3 times per week.
- Research at strategic points in the morning as the mind is at its freshest. Sure, if you are a morning person. Keep a careful record of your notes – see the Niklas Luhmann slip box technique.
- Get your dissertation in shape. What to do if you write too much? To delete or not to delete? Coaches’ advice to avoid writing too much in the first place.
‘Sometimes we write too much and should be harsher editors of our writing. Having gone to the effort of putting things down on paper, we are sometimes unwilling to sue the delete key when we should.’
- If doubting what you’ve done, never delete! Just move to another document.
- Pay attention to studying during the courses. ‘A student who has been working on studying the literature about their topic during their courses needs less time to write a dissertation proposal than a student who hasn’t done that.’ Cody Arvidson explains.
Should Academic Writing Be Dry or Not?
It’s up to you to decide. The default style of most academic papers is dry and often impenetrable. But students can have their own style so long as it meets the rubric.
‘I have seen the writing be consistently dry in the sciences. I have seen students of history and politics have greater flexibility in using color adjectives and descriptors as long as the writing is Grade 16 level. The real answer I tell my students when they try to be good at writing and to use Shakespearean language is ‘it depends on your chair and your committee and what they want and will tolerate.’
However, not abuse with too theory-heavy. It is one that prioritizes the original research findings rather than being dominated by preliminary chapters: literature review, methods chapter, discussion.
What is the Role of an Advisor?
A dissertation is a self-directed project, and students are in charge of how quickly they move through the program. The advisor does not tell the student what to do or create the project management timeline. But he can be your assistant and play an essential role in dissertation writing. He reviews student’s work at the appropriate intervals. Moreover, an advisor may give you recommendations about the research, read and review your dissertation drafts. You will set up the core principles of your cooperation to make it comfortable and effective for both sides.
Working with a great advisor is a crucial element of dissertation writing. Pay attention to your communication with this person because it is the key to your success in the future. Moreover, consider some recommendations when you choose an advisor for your dissertation.
- Select thoughtfully. First, take classes from potential advisors and talk to them. Find out how many students have he or she graduated. Talk to students and ask to share their experience.
- Discuss some rules. Ask your advisor how often you should come to contact him about your progress. Find out whether he prefers to check your drafts in smaller or more significant pieces.
- Ensure that the process of getting feedback meets your needs. Let him know what kind of responses will be useful for you at different intervals of dissertation writing.
- Talk to students who have the same advisor. Maybe you can collaborate and develop strategies to communicate him an efficient way.
- Make sure that your advisor will be available via phone or email. It is essential because sometimes you may have difficulties with the dissertation or urgent questions.
- You can change your advisor if you feel not comfortable or don’t get much feedback and taking on occasionally. An option is to talk to another committee member who might be your secondary advisor and give you some tips and support.
‘A few years ago I started documenting advice I’ve learned over the years. One of the BEST tips I can offer is to diversify your mentors. They should not all look like you or have the same characteristics. As a result of this philosophy, I am surrounded by people who push me to new levels. On the days that I am discouraged and feel that my world is really small, I call on any of my mentors to encourage me, to challenge me, and to hold me accountable. True mentors are authentic, and I am grateful for.’
The question might seem strange for you, but problems caused by your advisor’s incompetency happen.
- Some mentors might assume that students know more than they really do. They think that Ph.D. candidates understood the application of the classes and took particular research methods. So make sure you completely understand the issue and feel free to turn for assistance when need to fill in the gaps.
- Don’t count on your mentor. Unfortunately, most of the mentors are very bad at managing time. “This is the reason why it’s quite difficult to find an actual good role model when it comes to completing a dissertation in a healthy and efficient manner,” Rebecca Shuman thinks.
- Practical issues. They are almost all terrible at helping with the real things that a dissertator needs.
- Limited thinking. It sounds weird, but not all professors can think outside of the box. The longer their education and teaching career is, the more they tend to follow specific patterns. A lot of professors do not think beyond what they see on the page.
‘Some professors don’t even have short term memory for the text from one page to the next, let alone one paragraph to the next; worse, some professors don’t even read, even if they claim to “read” the document. All they do is scan or skim, so we make these ridiculous 3 sentence paragraphs with repetition.’
- Keep an eye on your advisor. Sometimes they demand students to write the document in their style. It happens that professor screws the student and says to follow the graduate school rules. At some schools, this happens at the end of the proposal and the end of the defense. You can imagine what turmoil is waiting for you.
- Failure to know their department and school processes and deadlines. It is the worst that could happen to your dissertation project.
As you can see, an advisor is a crucial person in getting your Ph.D., but he has his own work and can’t devote himself to your dissertation. He may be limited in time because he communicates with other students. In this case, you may look into hiring a dissertation coach. He or she can make your way to Ph.D. more comfortable. A mentor doesn’t go through the dark forest of your Ph.D. graduation. But he helps you with the light so that you can see the road and stones on your way.
A dissertation coach will help you to determine short and long-term goals, increase motivation and productivity, overcome procrastination and organization issues, maintain good relations with the committee members. Moreover, he will explain your career opportunities and help to search for a good job.
‘I wish I had known that people like dissertation coaches existed. There are outside resources you can tap for support if it's not available internally and/or from your peers. You might have to do the dissertation yourself, but that doesn't mean you have to do it alone. Peer writing groups are invaluable, even just for meet-up writing sessions.’
‘Hiring coach or statistician is often welcomed, even encouraged by committee. They know work will all be yours.’Says Jan Swingle, a dissertation coach and statistic.
Should You Get a Part-Time Ph.D.?
Standard Ph.D. takes about four years to complete. However, if you are working and you are unable to dedicate all your time to the dissertation writing process – Ph.D.might be an option. It’s quite a common practice among universities worldwide. This way you get an opportunity to get your doctoral degree but there are some disadvantages to be considered.
- Part-time Ph.D is time-consuming. You are allowed to complete the dissertation in five or six years instead of three or four.
- The longer a Ph.D. candidate goes, the less likely that the Ph.D. candidate is to finish. Part-time enrollments are incredibly tough, but it is the only way to get a job and pay your mortgage.
- We want to remind you that you're going to demonstrate a much higher level of time optimization skills compared to a full-time student.
- Try to find a supervisor who also did part-time and roll on the way through that can help the process. If you demonstrate the commitment and perfect time scheduling skills, you’ll finish your project.
Things to Do After You Finish a Dissertation
Feedback.Students often get feedback on their separated chapters. But you need to get a review on the whole piece to ensure that all hands together beautifully. When should you get feedback?
‘I have many writers tell me they can’t submit their writing for feedback because there’s this one thing in their draft they haven’t figured out. That is the PERFECT moment to ask for feedback.’Jane Jones, Ph.D., developmental editor and writing coach at Up In Consulting.
Turn your dissertation into a book.Turning a dissertation into a book is a choice that some students make. It gives additional career opportunities, helps to express yourself and develop other writing skills. But you should consider that writing a book is not similar to a dissertation. You have to grab the readers attention and excite them. Some coaches tell that it’s a new experience as the purposes of your dissertation and your book are different.
‘When clients come to me with a super fresh dissertation looking to convert into a book, I usually try to persuade them to let it sit a little longer! It’s really hard to know “what it all means” without the perspective of distance’Laura Portwood-Stacer, Ph.D.
Book-to-dissertation: a coherent, engaging reinterpretation of the original dissertation, designed to be read by those who do not have your subject expertise.
‘The goals of dissertation writing and book writing can be complimentary, but they are not the same. Dissertation: evidence that the writer has mastered the subject matter and research skills necessary to produce it’Kristin Purdy, editor in the humanities and social sciences and acquisitions editor
How to Be All Prepared for Dissertation Defence or How to Survive the Viva?
Viva is the last and challenging step in your way to a doctoral degree. But you may consider it not like an obstacle, but as a new opportunity to discuss your findings with other experts. Each university has some specific requirements, but usually, there are at least two examiners who may evaluate your work. This stage requires specific skills. Look at some tips that will help to succeed with Ph.D. viva.
Prepare your body and mind. It’s one of the most stressful things you ever do. Breath, shoulders back, head up and be ready to go into a new experience.
Make sure you've eaten well. Hydrate your body and your mind.
Write down the question that the examiners might ask. This way, you don't forget it. When you’re under a massive amount of stress, you might start answering the question and actually forget what the question is. The writing gives you precious moments to think about the answer.
Listen to the question. Obviously, you need to listen to what is being asked. If you are not sure what the examiners ask, put a follow-up question. Don't launch into an answer if you are not sure you get the question. Take an examination question, write it down, breath, take a pause, think and smile.
Take a pause. Having 20 or 30 seconds is normal. Take your time to answer the crucial question. Don't be afraid of the silences. Feel free to ask for a break if you're feeling unwell or you just need to go to the toilet.
Do not highlight your script. It must be clean. Don't think you're going to be allowed to move around that script too much to find out the answer.
Think about strong and weak points. Consider that you wouldn't defend and be prepared for the tricky questions.
Don't underline your weak points. Be self-confident and avoid saying that you failed to achieve some goals or have any doubts.
Do your best during first 15 opening minutes while you talk about your dissertation thesis.
Make a focus on your contribution to knowledge. Emphasize why your dissertation topic and findings are significant.
Take a printed copy to your defense. Mark the key points and tables so that find them quickly in a discussion and prove your point.
If anything weird happens to you like you face racism, sexism or any intolerance, state it to the chair. Don’t feel empowered in front of examinations. It’s your defense, and you have rights.
Be ready for the 2-3 hour viva. How long does it take depends on the discipline. Humanities and social science vivas typically take less than two hours. However, it varies from case to case.
Useful Books to Read
Boost your knowledge with the most valuable books and articles recommended by dissertation coaches.
- Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. “Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less.” Apple Books (writing techniques).
- Howard Becker Writing for Social Scientists (writing techniques).
- Joseph Williams Style (writing techniques).
- Helen Sword Stylish Academic Writing.
- Michael Billig’s Learn to Write Badly: how to succeed in the Social sciences (writing techniques).
- British journalist Oliver Burkeman article on the anti-procrastination tip:
- ‘I was a terrible Ph.D. supervisor. Don't make the same mistakes I did’ by UK academic Sian Townson (mistakes supervisors tend to make).
After all, many students put the question: “How to understand if I’m ready for a Ph.D.?” Well, there is no wrong or right time for a doctoral degree. If you have a passion for learning, compiling data, investigate, and summarizing, this is your way. On the other hand, consider your personal obstacles as a dissertation process is a demanding task that engrosses all your time and efforts.
We wish your dissertation to be the one that’s been filed and never thought about again except turning it into a book later.