Writing a Dissertation is Easier Than You Think
So You’re Writing Your Dissertation –It can be Easier than You Think!
You’ve probably planned 12-18 months for the production of your dissertation, and that’s wise, because you don’t want to be rushing at the last minute (well, at least that’s what you are telling yourself now)! And you know it’s the most difficult academic task of your entire career, so you are bracing for lots of drudgeries ahead. There are a number of things you can do to make this next year or so easier, however, if you plan ahead and get help when you need it – I know because I have been there! By the time you are ready to begin the real work of your dissertation, you have already prepared your proposal, have run it by your advisor, probably re-written it multiple times to please everyone on your committee, but eventually, it will be approved. For some reason, they really have a need to make suggestions and ask for revisions. Humor them! Do what they ask, and just keep the goal in mind – getting to work on it!
Get an Exclusive Calendar
Having a calendar on your desktop is nice and certainly convenient if you are only looking at a week or a month at a time. However, because this is a long-term project, you will want to see the entire picture at once. I printed out the next 18 months, each on a separate page, and taped it on my wall. I set benchmark dates for every part of this project and marked them in red. It’s a glorious thing to be able to take down a month and/or to cross off those red deadlines as they are accomplished, and you can so easily see your progress!
The Literature Review
For your proposal, you have already reviewed some key literature related to your research question, so continue on that same vein. If your advisor is “worth his/her salt,” you will probably have suggestions of specific research to read; if not, then you will have to dig on your own. The biggest frustration here is to pull up what you think will be solid research only to find that it really does not fit your question as well as it might! When I became really frustrated, I called upon a writing service that gave me a Ph.D. in my topic field. He was willing to act as a consultant and do some of the digging for me, locating research that would be a great fit – this was a huge time-saver. I was willing to study and report on the research, but having someone point me in the right direction was huge!
Setting Up the Design and Instruments
Your proposal has already indicated exactly how you plan to research your question, but for this chapter you really have to now get specific with the design, the instruments and the time frame for the actual research. I had no problem coming up with a design and timeline, but I really wanted a second opinion on my instruments. So, I contacted my trusty consultant to take a look and make any suggestions. He had several, and incorporating those probably eliminated some nuisance factors that I had overlooked!
Implementing the Research
This was the easiest part – I was conducting my research in a school where I was working, so I had already set up my control and experimental groups. Anticipating that I would ultimately lose some of my matched-pairs (this was in a low-income area and families tended to move about a lot), I had many more pairs than I would need to make my study valid. Keeping the data was easy too – it came from surveys (which I had devised), and from other objective data such as attendance and grade reports. The study lasted 18 weeks, and I happily gathered all of my data for analysis.
Analysis Can Be a “Bear”
If you have any concerns at all about analyzing your data and getting it in academically-sound formats, get yourself a statistician to help! You cannot imagine how much time and agony you will save! I began by trying to do my own, and it was the most frustrating part of the entire project, especially since there were still a few nuisance factors for which I had to account. Using my consultant, and having him walk me through each step of what he was doing, was amazing! I could understand why he massaged the data the way he did and knew that I could then defend it well when the time came!
A dissertation is worthless unless some statistical significance can be shown – either reinforcing or adding something new to earlier research. This part I could easily handle.
Introduction and Conclusion
These are best saved for last, as I was correctly advised. Putting them together came so much easier once I had everything else committed to writing. But I was not finished yet.
Like the lawyer who has himself for a client (they call him a fool), the individual who reviews, edits and proofreads his own dissertation is kind of a fool too. Since I already had a consultant, he was the logical one to provide the review and edit, and his suggestions were solid.
When all was “said and done,” I had a work that was well-written, polished, clean, logical, and one that made a solid contribution to my field! What’s more, I had been preparing all along for the oral defence, and that was almost anti-climactic compared to everything else.
The final word is this: Do not let your dissertation consume you - you will make it harder than it has to be. And by all means get the help you need, and that help does not have to come solely from your advisor!