Tips on Completing Your Dissertation

Jon Julius
Jon Julius
K-12 Superintendent of Schools; Ph.D. in Education Administration
‘Dissertation’ typed on paper still in a typewriter.

Writing a dissertation is the biggest academic challenge most higher education students face, and finishing it is not easy. That’s why taking the necessary steps to prepare and throughout your dissertation will ensure you reach your goal. Explore our tips on completing your dissertation below!

What is a Dissertation? 

A dissertation is a final project for most doctoral degree programs. It consists of writing a lengthy manuscript on a topic of your choice that is relative to your field of study. Research conducted on the topic contributes to possible solutions to problems and effectively makes you an expert in that area of research. It typically consists of an extensive review of the literature on the topic, a statistical analysis or extensive interviews of subjects, and your findings. Many dissertations can be lengthy, surpassing 100 or even 200 pages in length. The writing is also not easy, considering that most paragraphs will need multiple citations from research-based information.

When Should You Start Thinking about Your Doctoral Dissertation? 

If you are considering a doctoral degree, determine if you can complete the dissertation. It is the most intense part of the degree and should be planned for accordingly. At the start of your first doctoral class, you should already have a topic in mind. If you don’t, you need to get one fast. You can even start researching the topic and saving snippets of information that you will piece into your dissertation. Doing this will be extremely beneficial to you when you begin heavily researching your topic later. Things will fall into place much faster if you start early and save this information for later use.

Ideally, if you start writing at the beginning of your program, you won’t have to do as much when you are done with your coursework. It’s likely that you can do some projects throughout your coursework that can be tailored for use in your dissertation as well. The sooner you start thinking about it, the better prepared you will be when it comes time to start writing. Starting soon and staying motivated will drastically increase your chances of completion.

Choosing a Topic

The topic of your dissertation is the most important part so choose wisely. The topic will direct what you are researching, and you will be very familiar with it at the end. It will become a part of your life since you will be spending an abundance of time with it.

Think of it as choosing a major. It needs to be something you are very interested in learning about and something that you are passionate about. It might even be something that you have an interest in pursuing professionally at some point. Choosing something you are interested in will make it easier for you to be motivated to continue working and seeing your project through to the end.

Try your best to get a topic narrowed down at the beginning of your program. It’s not uncommon for many students to change their topic. Starting early will prevent you from extending the completion date too long. Many universities require you to continue paying for dissertation hours every semester until completed. This means the longer you wait to complete it, the more money it could cost.

Set Attainable Goals with Deadlines 

The university will likely have deadlines for submission. If you are interested in graduating by a certain date, you will need to look at these soon and adhere to them. Much of the dissertation process is looking at the end goal and working backwards. During the process, setting smaller goals in order to get to the big goals will be a big part of your success. It’s a big project so celebrating smaller milestones will be motivational for completion.

One tip that could help you find success throughout the process is asking a classmate with similar goals to be your accountability partner. As you motivate them to complete each phase, they will be a resource for you as well. It’s nice to have someone that is going through something similar to help you relate and adapt to unique situations. Coaching each other can be good for your sanity throughout the process and will likely result in a faster completion. Not to mention, you will have a unique, lifelong friendship at the end.

Most doctoral level students take their studies seriously and want to make sure their work is quality. However, writing a dissertation may not be your best writing. Doctoral students really learn how to write during their dissertation process. Trying to make things perfect is not beneficial. Rather, finishing the project should be the primary focus.

The committee will request revisions. Expect to revise your manuscript multiple times, no matter how perfect you think you have it. Striving for perfection will only delay your completion and may cause enough frustration for you to give up altogether. Refrain from this mindset and think of yourself as a student instead of a polished author. That will give you perspective to continue putting words on the paper and get to the finish line. After all, perfection is not expected of students, but completion is.

Ask for Feedback Early and Often 

Finding a dissertation committee chair that is easy to work with is vital for your success. This may be the most important part of your research. Who wants to work with someone that will make your journey more difficult? Your chair should be someone who expects quality work, but also assists you in giving meaningful and practical advice for completion. They should also do so in a timely manner. Be sure to find someone who cares about your work and will be committed to seeing you through to the end.

Your chair should be your main advisor throughout the dissertation process so be sure to periodically check in to ensure you are on the right track. You can also benefit from having a classmate take a look at your work and offer suggestions. It doesn’t hurt to read another person’s dissertation to get an idea of how to put your ideas together. Finding one on a similar topic would be particularly beneficial.

Take Breaks When Needed 

It’s important to pace yourself and not get too overwhelmed. On the flip side, don’t let yourself be removed from the project for too long because you may lose your motivation for completion. Sticking to a schedule is important. If you have a busy week planned, obviously you won’t be writing as much and that is a good time for a break. However, if you have some spare time, this is when you need to get focused and knock out some pages. Time management, ambition, and grit are all requirements for a successful completion. There will be times you may want to give up. Seek out your accountability partner for encouragement and don’t let all the time and money you already invested go to waste.

 

*Updated September, 2020
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