Dissertation Writing Tips For Graduate Students
A Twelve Step Program For Writing A Dissertation
1. Pick the right, and the right kind of, dissertation program.
- a. Make sure that the program will support a topic that interests you.
- b. Traditional programs are for traditional students. Your chances of finishing a dissertation in a traditional program while working full time are slim at best.
- c. If you are working full time, make sure that the program is designed for working adults.
2. If you have a say in who your adviser is going to be, pick the right dissertation adviser.
- a. Make sure that your interests align.
- b. Talk to his or her advisees who are a year or two ahead of you.
- i. Are they getting timely and constructive feedback?
- ii. Is the adviser accessible?
3. Pick a topic that you care about and that will serve your interests after you finish the dissertation.
- a. You’re going to devote years to this topic; it’s important that you care about it.
- b. It is unlikely that you will develop a new theoretical framework as your dissertation, so consider focusing on the application of an existing framework to a unique context that interests you.
- c. Your dissertation should set you up with a research agenda and publications in the years after you complete it.
4. The introduction chapter should summarize the theoretical model, the context, and the expected outcome of the study.
5. Realistically evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and consider hiring a dissertation consultant, statistician, or dissertation editor before you write the proposal.
- a. Are you proficient in academic writing and formatting? If not, hire a dissertation editor and/or dissertation writing coach.
- b. If doing a qualitative study, are you confident in picking the right statistical analysis and completing it yourself? If not, hire a dissertation research statistician.
- c. If doing a qualitative study, are you confident in analyzing and categorizing content? If not, hire someone proficient in qualitative analysis.
6. Pick a theoretical framework and a context on which a reasonable number of publications exist. Too few and you will not be able to create a substantive literature review chapter; too many and you will be overwhelmed with the volume of references.
7. Start developing a reference database before you start writing the dissertation proposal.
- a. Using a Word add-on program such as Endnotes to organize your references will save you time and expense.
- b. Manually checking that you have cited everything in your reference list and referenced everything you cite in the body of the dissertation proposal is time consuming. Programs such as Endnotes do that automatically.
- c. The add-on program will also correctly format all your references (assuming that you have entered the correct information in the program.) Consider hiring a dissertation editor to check your citations and references.
8. Develop research questions that interest you and design your data collection procedure to answer those questions. Too many people find a database and then try to make their research questions fit the existing data. Keep an open mind and be prepared to deal with results that contradict your hypotheses. Most important research is the result of studies that resulted in conclusions contrary to the original hypotheses.
9. You methods chapter should be concise. Explain exactly why you are doing what you are doing in terms of data collection and analysis.
10. The results chapter should also be concise. You are simply stating what you have found. Interpretation comes later.
11. The discussion chapter should be the second longest chapter, after the literature review. Go back to your literature review to frame the discussion. Relate your results to the existing literature, highlighting where they support the literature, what they add to it, and whit, if anything they contradict in the literature.
12. A conclusion chapter should provide a brief evaluation of the meaning and significance of the study.
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