How do I approach and complete the dissertation?

by | April 29, 2012

Podcast Description: The doctoral journey has been compared to a roller coaster ride. Find out how you can manage the ups and downs of this journey.

Transcript: The following presentation is a production of Capella University and is not intended for commercial use.

Welcome to another topic in a series of podcasts regarding aspects of the comprehensive exam and dissertation process. On average, it takes doctoral learners one to three years to complete the dissertation. Many of the nineteen strategies shared in this podcast reflect one Capella doctoral learner’s approach to completing the dissertation in two years. During that time, she worked four days a week and taught one weekly night class.

Here are the strategies that she used while writing her dissertation:

ONE: To see your dissertation to completion, you need to have pit-bull determination. Self-discipline and tenacity are essential. Make the dissertation a priority. Do not be deflected from your course.

TWO: Reduce life stressors as much as possible. Rethink relocating or taking a new job while writing your dissertation. Know and accept that writing a dissertation is a sacrifice; hobbies and some spare time activities may have to be curtailed. That being said, make sure to schedule time for rest and relaxation. Remember, it’s also important to celebrate after you complete a milestone!

THREE: Know that dissertation topic selection may be the toughest part of the process. Make sure your research question and problem statement are doable. Make “narrow narrow narrow” your dissertation question mantra. Try to identify a research question that you have great interest in, one that has “legs,” and is relevant to your field. Believe that your research project is important. Work with your mentor on topic selection. Know, too, that your topic, problem statement, and research questions are likely to evolve.

FOUR: Be present and engaged with your mentor. Don’t be invisible and disappear for months at a time.

FIVE: Know the importance of having supportive friends and family. Stay in touch with people–share even the smallest achievements with them. Form a “D Squad” composed of people who have completed their dissertations. They can offer additional perspectives, wisdom of experience, and practical strategies.

SIX: Organize your writing materials by dissertation chapter.

For example, when preparing to write Chapter 1, put relevant journal articles and other resources in specific stacks or electronic folders to organize the content for future writing. Mark up materials and use post-it notes that direct you to insertion points in your document. This is one way to use your resources efficiently.

Use the same technique for Chapter 2: create multiple stacks or folders, each containing the literature relevant to a topic or theme in the chapter. To write a thorough and efficiently orchestrated review of the literature, you need to set up a system, a process, and procedure for your examination of the literature and how to present in it the chapter.

Chapter 3 could have its own system as well. Place research design articles in one stack or folder and articles that relate to your topic and methodology in another.

SEVEN: Use post-it notes or some other means to tab your book and article pages so you can quickly find and efficiently access the content of the page. Title the post-its so you know what they are referring to.

EIGHT: Write on printed journal article pages where pertinent paragraphs or sections apply to specific areas in your dissertation chapters. Written notes on pages that direct you to insertion points in your document are helpful and save time when writing. When the content is easy to retrieve, the writing process goes a lot smoother.

NINE: Keep the APA Manual close at hand and use post-it note tabs to readily access its content. Write on the tabs, so that they’re a meaningful reference.

TEN: Get a proofreader and editor. It is essential to have another set of eyes look at your work. Also, read your paper out loud to catch typos and grammatical and sentence structure errors. You might be surprised at what you find!

ELEVEN: Choose the best methodology that suits your research question. Remember the research question or problem statement drives your methodology and the research design used. If you can find an existing instrument and use it for your study, it will expedite proposal writing.

TWELVE: Read a lot of dissertations—especially ones that focus on your research interest. You may find good examples and literature that can guide the development of your proposal. Pay attention to how the dissertations are structured. Investigate the citations on the reference page as they may be helpful for your proposal. You can use this same technique for journal articles.

THIRTEEN: Back up your dissertation files daily. Save documents on a flash drive or an external hard drive or both. E-mail dissertation drafts to yourself after each time you write so the document will be saved on an external server. Use the “saved as” feature and include the date in the document title. By using this technique, you will know which iteration is the most current.

FOURTEEN: Know that the dissertation process is iterative; there will be revisions. You will go back to parts of the dissertation many times. That is simply part of the dissertation process. And remember to breathe–you’ll get through this.

FIFTEEN: Avoid getting into power struggles with your mentor. Follow your mentor and committee members’ advice, even if it feels frustrating. Know that your mentor and committee members want you to succeed. Out of respect, address your mentor and committee members as “Doctor.”

SIXTEEN: Remember your dissertation is designed to contribute to the literature on the topic. It is not your magnum opus. Write your great book after you earn your doctorate.

SEVENTEEN: Keep your focus on the milestone at hand and post the milestone list near your work area. After all, it’s a great feeling to see what you’ve accomplished and to note how your “to complete list” is shrinking!

EIGHTEEN: Know that the dissertation is not about you. It is about your contribution to the literature in your field. It is about the reader and the benefit that individuals will derive after reading your research.

Finally, it is really important not to plagiarize.

Make your work and your degree honorable. Pursue your doctorate with integrity. And when you write those initials after your last name, or write Dr. in front of your first name, you will bask in knowing that you have accomplished something very few people have done. You will be able to feel great joy knowing that you did it, that you have the doctoral degree, and that you earned it with integrity and can carry on with a clear conscience.

Remember, you bring unique circumstances to your doctoral journey. Follow-up with your doctoral advisor for clarification and additional information about the dissertation process.

This presentation has been brought to you by Capella University and may not be re-transmitted or used for any commercial purpose without the expressed written consent of Capella University.

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