For many things in life, you need a plan. You can plan to take a holiday, or go shopping on a whim. When it comes to writing your dissertation, you really need a plan. Actually, if you have several plans that’s even better. You can’t just write your thesis statement or dissertation. Yes, the dissertation can be a nightmare, but it’s nothing more than a very complex writing plan. You’ll have a template to follow and it’s your job to fill in the blanks. It can be a scary feeling to sit there staring at a blank screen waiting for the ideas to flow. You are the only one who can do it – your dissertation won’t write itself. But is a writing plan enough? What other kind of plans do you need?
Wishing is Wasting Time
I found an article written by a dissertation advisor. The author described how students should understand and embrace the process. The author had a practical discussion about what students wish they knew and what they need to know.
But “wishing” is like mind reading. Nervous graduate students should get past wondering or hoping.
The author always tells student what they need to know to finish their dissertation. There are no mysteries involved.
Dr. Patti and I talked about things we wish we knew before we started our doctoral programs. We were right up there, nervous and mystified about how to finish our dissertation.
It didn’t feel so much like mind reading to us. It was just a vague feeling of trying to grab a balloon above your head, just out of reach. You can see it, almost touch it… but not quite.
It felt like trying to catch air with your hands wide open.
Tips To Get It Done
The goal of your dissertation is simple: get it done. That’s it. It is a lot of work, but not so mysterious once you have a plan.
Or maybe the mystery is that you have to create all the ideas, write all the content, and pull it all together so it makes sense. The dissertation is your ship to steer. You have grab the wheel and keep it going.
Here are some tips from the article (plus my tips in italics) to help you get to the finish line:
- Set boundaries/end points and due dates to finish. Put limits on your work and organize your projects to meet those due dates.
- Hard stop dates and a projected graduation date can help you set boundaries to finish projects.
- Perfection is a pipe dream – getting it done is good enough. Remember that you’re still using training wheels: The article recognized that you’re an apprentice researcher. You’re not expected to write a book-ready dissertation. Write it and let it go.
- There is no such thing as a perfect dissertation. Do your best, hand it in, and move on. Most dissertations won’t be turned into a book. It’s an option if you want to do more with your research. Your dissertation is your “baby” but you need to let it go and let it grow.
- Less is more. It means writing one sentence at a time. The paragraphs and chapters will flow. Think about simple steps and avoid making work for yourself. Each baby step is a step forward.
- Get feedback early and often. Send your draft to the advising team for feedback. You need to know if you’re going in the right direction. It’s smart to get feedback early to avoid rewriting entire chapters down the road. Find and correct problems early and keep your project moving.
- #6 is a hard one for most doctoral students. Why? No one wants to hear that their ideas, writing, and research is off base. Feedback means more revisions and editing, a slow and tedious process. But feedback will let you know if you’re moving in the right direction.
- Create down time in your schedule. This is time for fun, family events, exercise, sanity time.
- You will need to recharge and regroup after long periods of writing. The last thing you need is to feel guilty for making time to chillax and enjoy your life. Let your brain and your body de-stress. Appreciate the down time.
- You can find a million excuses to avoid writing your dissertation. It’s a waste of time. In the end, your dissertation won’t write itself. It is all on you, but you’re not alone. It’s easy to find a reason not to write. Remind yourself that each sentence you write is a step closer to the finish line.
- #10 is absolutely true. It’s up to you to do the work. Period. There is no discussion or explanation that can get you out of doing the hard work of writing. Try this: write a few sentences, even 750 words. Then reward yourself with a trip around the block, a cup of java at your favorite café, or a 15 minute nap. It works and you’ll feel good that you accomplished something.
- Celebrate often. Reward yourself. I’ve talked about celebrating milestones for a while. You need rewards and celebrations all along the way.
The article didn’t talk about other plans you need to succeed on your dissertation journey. One plan is to create an emotional support network. Your family, friends, faculty advisor, and writing group can give you support.
Another plan is an “up time” plan. This is time you set aside to actually write each day if possible. You should be very protective of your writing time, which makes you more productive.
During your up time, your only goal is to write.
A third plan is a “down time” plan. This is any time that you’re working on something related to your dissertation. Down time is time to read, revise your literature review, revise your conclusions, and format your document.
A fourth plan is the “finish already” plan. This is a key plan to keep you moving and avoid making excuses. It’s easy to make excuses for not writing. This plan works well with Tips #1 and #2 above.
But if you balance and consolidate this plan with our “up time” and “down time” plans, you’ll be more productive. And much closer to the finish line.
There are still days when I wonder how I finished my dissertation. Many days I couldn’t figure out what I was dong.
But underneath it all, I wanted to see how my ideas came together, what my data revealed, and draft my best recommendations.
It was a great big puzzle to me. But I’m lucky – I like puzzles!
You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.