Writing a paper is a lot of perspective.
It is fair to say that you are somewhere in the path of adding a body of original information to your academic area if you are reading this. This is what writing a dissertation is, after all. Further, it is fair to say that you have already learned the foundations of undergraduate work if you are at this stage of an academic career. You’re a note-taking god, a library explorer and finder, you exhaust indexes, and you own Google. To produce intelligent, breath-taking papers of sparkling creativity, you can pour over the old and new of your field and string paragraphs together. They all say so!
It is extremely doubtful that, at this stage, you will not read, write, and do research. Yet it is a struggle to write a dissertation. It’s a game a lot longer than you probably have ever played before.
All the feedback you have ever got is undoubtedly sound advice. Even most importantly, whatever you’ve been doing that has taken you this far, you can keep doing it. All the common-sense stuff like:
Keep it easy!
Hard to work!
Get enough sleep!
Find a rhythm for you!
Only eat right!
Don’t make any big lifestyle changes!
We would not be regurgitating the well-meaning suggestions in this article that you have no doubt heard before.
Instead, we will discuss the fundamental mindsets and experiences that lead to a dissertation or thesis being successfully completed. One of those famous pieces of advice is that 10 percent creativity and 90 percent transpiration is original work. But we have some realistic advice before we head through the internal mind frames that make for a good (and finished) dissertation.
There is one slim and easy book to read that should be read by any person doing a dissertation at every academic level. ‘How To Write a Thesis’ by Umberto Eco (MIT Press, 2015). Some people claim that some of the guidance from Eco is dated (because he talks of index cards and typewriters).
It is still, however, very much worth reading, especially for anyone working in the humanities. Though in his book, Eco provides a realistic how-to approach, you can bear in mind that each field has some standard reference work on how to do work in that field. You can get acquainted with them as soon as possible. Think of a thesis as a marathon,
This would most than certainly be the first extended piece of writing you have completed.
For the 42k marathon that you are about to do, it helps to think of the research articles published up to this stage as 5k or 10k coaches.
One of the universal principles of running a marathon is this: on race day, don’t do something different.
Whatever tactics you have learned to be most powerful, whatever has worked for you to get you to this stage, keep using it. Consider the following folly: maybe hundreds of different writing programs are available.
MS Term is used by an interested young student, but then a friend raves about this wonderful software named Mellel, which is fantastic for long paper handling. But then they’re going to move on to Scrivner (which really is the best for first drafts). But first they have the Latex curiosity. They continue to travel about from one program to the next, finding the greater productivity experience. Will all of this sound like a massive waste of time?
Wouldn’t it have been more productive to have selected and used one programme? Yes, that would have been it. The point is this: you have a very short period of time to finish your study and you should not waste all of it. Be loyal to a strategy and do not give in to the various temptations and devices. For starters, on race day, no smart marathon runners try out new shoes.
Keep it easy and finish; then, play about.
In other aspects, writing a dissertation is like completing a marathon, too.
For example, emotional and physical health matters. With a full and total disregard for their mental and physical wellbeing, several students begin writing a dissertation. They find like it is not so relevant that they live the life of the mind and the vehicle that holds their brain around them. They do not exercise, they eat poorly, they drink excessively, they smoke nervously, etc. One of the best chess players of all time, Bobby Fischer, was all about the brain. Yet he was keen on sport as well: tennis, cycling, running, etc. And, as science goes, he claimed that fitness complemented mental function and gradually made him a stronger athlete. And you should get in and keep in shape with your mental faculties to work at their best. Writing the best possible dissertation will start with easy exercises in your pyjamas, such as long walks or yoga. Ultimately, however, it is the process that most resembles a marathon.
The hard, long stretch of reading, teaching, and writing. Cohesion is one of the key challenges you will have to solve. How do you write about a single subject in five to ten chapters? This is a challenge, especially if you have just a vague understanding of how different facets of your position can work together. The hardest thing, really, is to believe that you know how something works together and then set out to write the dissertation only to figure out that you didn’t see it well at all. It is not unusual for people to go around the course before race day, either physically or with a map, talking to team members, advisers, trustworthy friends.
Over all, it is nice to know what could lie ahead. This is an efficient solution that can be quickly merged into the dissertation marathon. Next, your own lawyer is there.
Students writing a thesis are now usually expected to apply some form of proposal. This can be casual or formal, which may outline how they want their time to be spent. Of course, this will be useful and can be coordinated with the assistance of your advisor(s) or team. However, not uncommonly, in the first few months, these preparations go out the window. This is presumably because without really looking at the course-the landscape to be covered-the strategy was made. Discuss the likelihood of a very intense reading and study intensive first three months with your therapist before doing this.
In your field, four or five months of intense and industrious reading will give you the best understanding of the land to be covered. You’re going to get a better description of what was said and what was ignored. This way, frankly, you can read like you have no thoughts, no place of your own. Just drink it up. Also, consider assembling an annotated bibliography as a first step.
If performed well, this can be something that you always relate to over the years as your thesis is made. Enviably, in the years before they launch their study, certain persons with a long term in mind compile annotated bibliographies. Surely, they are ahead of the curve! How many dumb stories you learn over time is incredible.
Remember this one: One night, a PhD candidate in a major city came home from partying with his friends. And he was immediately robbed at gun point. When the robber pointed a pistol at the young man, “Don’t shoot me!” he pleaded. I’m preparing my thesis! ” Is it a reaction caused by panic?
If his role hadn’t went too far, he would have asked for the contrary.
But in any event, people who have heard it have always been fascinated by this story. In a way, this young man thought that becoming a research candidate writing a thesis made his life more significant than if he was doing anything else. While a respectable and honourable pursuit, reading and writing a report is essentially always a task.
It will describe your life and your identity, in good ways and bad. But that’s always a job. It is the way by which you have agreed to eat and pay the rent for yourself. You need to try to excel at your job without doubt, which is what the marathon metaphor is for. But do not let yourself be deluded into feeling that it is a calling, or that it has a greater meaning, or that it puts you above all. You should be prepared to regard it as work, just like that.
You have to bring in 6-8 hours a day. To make up for the potentially lost time that comes with sickness and unpredictable life events, you should expect to work every day. (Shared carrels are awful!) You should have a place to work that is completely your own. This should be somewhere you turn up to work most days of the week.
You should also bear in mind that certain persons are not going to understand or respect what you are doing. Maybe they would also hate you for it. They would conclude that your job may not be a priority because you don’t have to be anywhere to work. Or they might believe that you should prioritize your time with them, and your time is your own to handle as you decide. This will cause a great deal of conflict. Especially if a partner or a friend is the one making such assumptions who assumes you should work because it is more fitting for them than you.
Then there would be individuals who just think that paying others to read books that no one else is interested in is a waste of perfectly good money. And to write one that would really think for just five people around the country. And there will be individuals who really don’t appreciate how long you can concentrate on a single line, or how much it takes to read it and write it.
A Physics PhD student who had written an extremely ambitious paper, a blueprint of its kind, was there. One of his examiners asked him how long it took to write a thesis, assuming that the subject had taken a long time and a great deal of work to write his thesis. The applicant grinned and said, “Three years and then four months.” By this, he meant that it took three years to get to the point that in a job that took only a few months to finish, he could describe his subject very well. The point is that even if it doesn’t seem like practice, you can always work. Currently, you do not have something written. For some, this can be hard to understand and can change how you view your own productivity.
You should aim to set small manageable targets for yourself and achieve them reliably by the same ‘thesis is job’ token.
Also, everybody knows that writing a dissertation is hard work that can be exhausting and depressing, given your position within a department. But you should never whine, except in your own head, maybe. You don’t want someone in your department to even know that what you’re doing makes you sad. And it’s very fantastic to get paid all day, except on the toughest day, to read books and write.
But consider your dissertation as a game, too,
For as long as you can retain in your mind the process of writing a dissertation as a marathon and job, you can often also think of it as a game.
Now, to say that it’s like a game isn’t to say that it shouldn’t be taken seriously. To the reverse! If, with his Homo Ludens (1938), the great Dutch historian, Johan Huizinga, taught us something, it is that games and playing them is a very serious business.
First up, the players are there. You are definitely a player, and you might also be grappling with a sort of identity dilemma, learning how to behave and act as a thriving scholar. But is it your personality, who you are as a player, being an academic?
It’s contentious here. Some people say it can be dangerous to be too near and too obsessed with your job. To a degree, this is undoubtedly accurate. Nonetheless, you are bound to find that you can take your dissertation along with you no matter what you do or where you go or who you are with. It’s still going to be there, like a heavy load you can’t get used to wearing or just tossing aside.
There are definitely people today who seem to keep their ventures and their life isolated. All of them have families, spouses and kids, and family seems to take precedence. The argument is that it is actually easiest to accept that it is both who you are and what you do to be a researcher. Instead of breaking the realms of identity, just be ‘on’ all the time, so to speak. When you commute, take with you an article or book. For all times, keep a little notebook with you. In your toilet, read. In bed, write. Only encourage yourself to be fascinated with your job, at least to a healthy degree. Just the way teenagers, like Star Wars, for example, have a single and obsessed focus:
That is the kind of healthy concentration that you want to continue to hold.
There’s what you have to do, and there’s what you like you need to do. There are only two things you need to do every day if you strip the dissertation process down to the most simple level: read and write. You would finally have all the documentation and all the pages needed to say ‘done’ if you read enough and write enough each day. But in order to claim that we have written a dissertation, all of us have a perception, call it an ideal, that feels like it needs to be fulfilled.
This takes the form of perfectionism often. You know, the perfect picture of such a complex dissertation that the heart of your boss skips a beat when reading the introduction. Or maybe in the context of workload, the ideal ‘can’ arrives.
There’s a rumor about dissertation time that always makes the circuit. A young graduate student, who believed that without first becoming an expert, they could not write a good dissertation, set themselves difficult assignments. Finally, they had a psychotic breakdown and never had their dissertation published. Perhaps it is just one of those terrifying stories. But this gives a nice caution. Know what you’re going to do to do it. You need to let those things go and concentrate on your project: the perfectionism, the idealism, the picture of yourself as the great scholar.
It’s easier to cultivate a picture of yourself as someone who works hard, in our view. In someone who sets a personal target to read and write and strive on that goal every day. “After his degree was conferred, a recent PhD graduate was told, “You definitely were not my brightest student, but damn you were the hardest worker. That is extremely reputable. You can see the route lined with smart people to the dissertation. Some would have brilliant thoughts that have actually never been delivered. All because they weren’t putting in the effort.
Finding the new players. The odds are high that you have met someone influential in your profession while looking for a director or boss for your project. Someone well-known and regarded. Someone who is potentially the author of different books and articles (most of which you should have read before asking them to supervise your project). But here’s the thing: in a few years, most of the old lions and lionesses who oversee dissertations have not written one by themselves. Or decades, also. Fields alter, big books that go unread or ignored come out.
It is definitely smart to take as your lawyer the biggest because bossiest, and what they claim will eventually go. But we urge you to also work out and establish a collegial relationship with individuals in the department or in a similar department. Admittedly, scholars are not usually the most socially adept individuals. But in our experience, they can be extremely open and receptive when confronted with a valid question. Sending an email is the best way to cultivate such collegiality. You heard that they ended not so long ago, and if they have any useful ideas or suggestions to get through the process as easily and painlessly as possible, you’d love to sit down for a short lunch. Clarify that you’re just beginning your task. They would also be happy to acknowledge that they will potentially be looking at student monitoring, too.
Now, you might consider getting together with other graduate students who are writing a dissertation as well. This is better kept to a minimum, though. You want to appear social and collegial, of course. Go to every class and every lecture, particularly if anyone in your department offers it. And if the issue is of no concern to you at all, consider it a sacred day of service and get your butt to the chat. If you want to be seen, do not skip it. You want people to think of you as someone in the department that is interested. But outside of this, we’re discouraging your cohort from hanging. People are chatting, gossiping, whining, and crying. You don’t need to be part of that, because you don’t want your motivation to be cut off by anyone else’s negativity. Of course, if you are a social individual who need that camaraderie, then, only with some caution, befriend someone at your academic ranking.
There are guidelines for writing a dissertation, even in line with being like a marathon and so much ‘work’. Some of them are formal and in your student handbook you will find them. But the informal rules, too, are there. Expectations that put it inside that kind of writing in a dissertation (a dissertation genre is quite real). But there are not standards of a student handbook that are bulleted. By reading and interacting with people in your profession, you have to find them and figure them out.
And yeah, there are winners and losers, much as in games.
There is an extreme stigma associated with a dissertation not being done. And with academia not advancing further. There are persons who have rather good excuses not to finish their thesis without doubt. The bad fate of a friend of ours was to see a counselor pass away midway through his dissertation. Within the agency, the friend did not bother to establish good ties. But when it was time to bring together a contingency plan, nobody was particularly interested in taking him on. For another year, he floundered and eventually retired. However, after having endured chemo for testicular cancer and a few associated procedures, another friend concluded his thesis in a timely manner. His CV is remarkable, in large part because the year of his illness was the only year that was blank and unproductive.
Finishing and not finishing is easy to think of as the distinction between winning and losing. But there is no particular excuse not to finish because the conditions are against you. And you want to finish if you’ve read this far.
Choose to be hard at work, and you will choose to finish.
As a graduate student, when I came back from the area, I was sure that I could write my dissertation in no time. Yet I had trouble getting started when it came to really writing on the dissertation. Right before I sat down to post, I remember reading an article linked to my study and how I instantly froze up. What terrified me was that I felt I wanted to compose my dissertation in a way like the essay I was reading. The procedure of writing a thesis then became very daunting to me.
Finally, as I was doing my dissertation, I found out what worked for me, and I give you the following tips here. They may or may not work for you or appeal to you, but at least as you move down the road of writing your dissertation, you may learn about them—and eventually step across the stage as your doctorate is awarded.
Think “Bird by Bird” or “small bites.” One of my dear friends who was part of my anthropology cohort sent me a wonderful book about writing by Anne Lamont called Bird by Bird while I was stuck trying to find out what to do with all the data I collected when I was in the field in 2005 conducting dissertation research. It gave amusing anecdotes about the writing process and writing techniques that I still use today—one of which is to split work into smaller bits so that the enormity of it doesn’t feel defeated. In public places, I recall reading passages from this book and laughing out loud. Outside of the dissertation, it is necessary to read, for it will help produce suggestions and methods that will help accomplish the ultimate goal of getting it finished.
When I was overwhelmed with a challenge set before me, I still remember the advice my father would send me. As a reminder of how to handle a large assignment, he will just say, “Small bites.” “Small bites” to finish your dissertation could include writing your acknowledgments, adding a part of your chapter to your bibliography or writing and revising it.
When an individual is overwhelmed by writing, a significant argument that gets obfuscated is that the well-written posts, novel chapters and books we respect require many drafts and revisions to get to a completed level. Your job, too, will. Don’t let the final product of someone else or the enormity of the undertaking stop you from making and completing your own.
Find an impetus for publishing. I had a career talk in an African studies department at a highly ranking liberal arts college in the Northeast going into the second year of dissertation writing. Although it was clear that the department had a chosen candidate in mind, during the campus tour, I soldiered, controlling what I might do (my answers to their questions, my job talk, my pitch for proposed courses). Not too long after moving home, I got a rejection note.
I told myself at the time that I was not recruited by the interviewers because my work was not done. At that point, I only had about the equivalent of two chapters. I managed to write seven more chapters between November 2007 and April 2008, and I defended my dissertation in May 2008. That June, I worked on updates, and I was offered a full-time lecturer position in the African Studies Program at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville the next month. I submitted my revisions in August 2008 and started teaching four classes a semester.
The point of this story is that to get the dissertation completed, you actually need inspiration sometimes. Having a full-time job and being more marketable on the job market for the next year indirectly allowed me to land a tenure-track position at my first university, as well as create valuable social capital.
Write a plot. For those of you who do ethnographic fieldwork, writing about a story from the field is a nice way to start (or restart) the writing process. I cite this example because I found that writing my dissertation was one of the least daunting aspects, and it helps you to ease up. Since the stories are rooted in a wider socio-cultural context, writing a story would also allow you to raise bigger problems that can then be related to specific literature and discussions such as race, ethnicity, class and other aspects of social injustice.
Acknowledge that writing is writing. “Keep in mind that you are an academic, and you are sensitive about your [stuff],” to paraphrase the sagacious Erykah Badu. Be sweet and patient with yourself instead of beating yourself up about your job so that you can get in front of a machine and compose.
Do not place any limits on yourself. Don’t get concerned about spelling. Don’t think about incorrect punctuation or mispelled words. At this level, don’t care about the content of your prose. In a later point, everything that can be refined. Write only.
And don’t minimize what you wrote. If what you’ve written is bibliographic acknowledgments or entries, that’s all right. This counts as writing! In the dissertation, it has to go regardless.
It might be time to go back to reading because you’ve written all the stories you can and you have trouble thinking about what new to publish. Your own thought about your work is influenced by reading related literature, reading fiction and reading poetry. The idea will assist you to produce more writing.
Only take breaks. The stress of writing and waiting for long periods of time in front of a screen may have harmful effects on your health. When writing, one of the breaks I like to take includes exercise. I took walks and rode my mountain bike when I wrote my dissertation. All the time, you can’t write. Plus, the act of practicing has allowed me to think on ideas for my dissertation, my book and numerous articles I have written since 2008 and now, either during or after it.
Since we have selected self-flagellating vocations, it is perfectly safe to remind yourself that in order to create strong written work, you do not need to be bound to your desk. “Repeat after me: “To take a break is OK.” “To take a break is OK.
Hopefully these tips can help. If you find some of them beneficial, in the middle of writing their dissertations, please share this article with other academics in hopes that more of them will complete the work they began.