5 must-reads for doctoral students

January 11, 2016

The decision to pursue a doctoral degree can be exciting and scary at the same time.

Good preparation will ease the path to writing a great dissertation. Reading some expert guide books will expand your knowledge and pave the way for the rigorous work ahead.

Capella University faculty, doctoral students, and alumni recommend these five books for doctoral students in any discipline.

1. How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler

“One book fundamental to my doctoral education that my mentor had my entire cohort read, and which I still recommend to this day, is How To Read a Book, which discusses different reading practices and different strategies for processing and retaining information from a variety of texts.” – Michael Franklin, PhD, Senior Dissertation Advisor, Capella School of Public Service and Education.

Originally published in 1940, and with half a million copies in print, How to Read a Book is the most successful guide to reading comprehension and a Capella favorite. The book introduces the various levels of reading and how to achieve them—including elementary reading, systematic skimming, inspectional reading, and speed-reading.

Adler also includes instructions on different techniques that work best for reading particular genres, such as practical books, imaginative literature, plays, poetry, history, science and mathematics, philosophy, and social science works.

2. Dissertations and Theses from Start to Finish by John D. Cone, PhD and Sharon L. Foster, PhD

This book discusses the practical, logistical, and emotional stages of research and writing. The authors encourage students to dive deeper into defining topics, selecting faculty advisers, scheduling time to accommodate the project, and conducting research.

In clear language, the authors offer their advice, answer questions, and break down the overwhelming task of long-form writing into a series of steps.

3. Writing Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day by Joan Balker

This book is recommended for its tips on compartmentalizing a large project into actionable items, which can be helpful when working on a project as mammoth as a dissertation. Balker connects with the failure and frustration of writing (as she failed her first attempt at her doctorate), and gives encouragement to students who encounter the fear of a blank page.

She reminds dissertation writers that there are many people who face the same writing struggles and offers strong, practical advice to every graduate student. Writing Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day can be applied to any stage of the writing process.

4. From Topic to Defense: Writing a Quality Social Science Dissertation in 18 Months or Less by Ayn Embar-Seddon O’Reilly, Michael K Golebiewski, and Ellen Peterson Mink

As the authors of this book state, “Earning a doctorate degree requires commitment, perseverance, and personal sacrifice—placing some things in our lives on hold. It is, by no means, easy—and there really is nothing that can make it ‘easy.’”

This book provides support for the most common stumbling blocks students encounter on their road to finishing a dissertation. With a focus on a quick turnaround time for dissertations, this book also outlines the importance of preparation and is a good fit for any graduate student looking for support and guidance during his or her dissertation process.

From Topic to Defense can be used to prepare for the challenges of starting a doctoral program with helpful tools for time management, structure, and diagnostics.

5. What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Mornings—and Life by Laura Vanderkam

According to author and time management expert Laura Vanderkam, mornings are key to taking control of schedules, and if used wisely, can be the foundation for habits that allow for happier, more productive lives.

This practical guide will inspire doctoral students to rethink morning routines and jump-start the day before it’s even begun. Vanderkam draws on real-life anecdotes and research to show how the early hours of the day are so important.

Pursuing a doctoral degree is a big decision and long journey, but it also can be an exciting and positive experience. Learn more about Capella’s online doctoral programs.

What's it like to be a doctoral student?

Learn more about the experience, explore each step of the journey, and read stories from students who have successfully earned their doctorate. 

Explore The Doctoral Journey >>

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