Five Tips for Tackling the Dissertation -->

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Five Tips for Tackling the Dissertation

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Tobias Ball
By Tobias Ball, Dissertation Editor

I live in Minnesota. Minnesota winters are typically a time when residents are tightly bundled in layers of wool and goose down, a time when they must endure icy roads and strange street parking restrictions unless they want their 2005 Jeep Wrangler to be towed to the city impound lot (narrowly avoided this last year), and a time when recreational activities are limited to watching mediocre sports teams perform at a mediocre level.

It can, however, be a good time to write.

Recently, my writers’ group met and shared some of the best ways to keep the writing process moving forward. Although we were discussing fiction, the strategies for making progress also apply to those researching and writing a dissertation.
At all universities, there are more students who start the dissertation process than complete it. If you are taking the time to read this, perhaps you are one of those who have the perseverance and stamina to finish. Here are some of the tips that came up.
  1. When you get stuck, go back and reread earlier sections as a warm-up. Although this is a regular part of the revision process, by reading the last couple of pages, writers can remind themselves of their last point of thought, possibly do a quick rewrite, and then continue moving forward. Get some more words on that page.
  2. Write the manuscript that you want to read. Too often, topics, lectures, and journal articles can be boring. Sometimes, one comes across an article that is well written and interesting. Find that article and use it as a template, creating the dissertation that you would find compelling and meaningful. 
  3. Sit in the same place when you write. It might be a desk at a home office, the kitchen table, or like some of my favorite writers, tucked away in a closet. Find your special place and sit there every time you write. When that stops working, employ the antithesis, that is, sit someplace else.
  4. Talk about your topic. Talk about it all of the time. Talk about it with friends, family, coworkers, or the dog. I cannot tell you how many times some stranger has started an absurd conversation with me while I am on the bus. Rather than nod politely, I respond with details about what I am writing. The more writers talk about their work, the better able they are to conceptualize it and share it with efficiency and precision.
  5. Remember that you are a writer. When you are finished with your dissertation, you will have filled more than 100 pages with interesting, academic prose that will foster growth in your field. Enjoy this time. Keep writing. When necessary, use your writing as an excuse. As a writer you can justify backing out of uncomfortable social obligations, take trips to the bookstore for “research,” drink too much coffee, and adopt particular habits that help you cope with the stress of writing. Before you know it, you will be done.

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