Dissertation Writing Tips

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To this point, being a graduate student has been, more or less, an extension of your earlier life as a student.

Many people, in fact, go to graduate school because they have always been “good at school,” and want to continue with something that brings them success and self-confidence.

You may also feel like your dissertation will begin to define your professional identity.

You may feel like your research interests, your theoretical influences, and your skill as a writer may all be evaluated by this first piece of serious scholarship.

Send partial drafts to anyone willing to read them.

This will not only prevent feelings of isolation as you write, as it will keep you connected to your committee and other writers, but it will also help prevent situations where you have to rewrite entire chapters. There may be times when you don’t need actual criticism, and instead just need to write, or to have someone say something encouraging. The Writing Center can’t advise you about technical questions (for example, how to force Microsoft Word to set up tables correctly or format page numbers the way you want), but we know people who may be able to! Why don’t doctoral candidates manage to get rolling on the dissertation any sooner, or KEEP rolling once they get started?Partly because the dissertation is a completely new experience that is much larger and more independent than your previous academic work.It is the academic project that marks your transition from student to scholar.Writing a dissertation is a lot like writing a book. There are usually no weekly deadlines from professors, no regular discussions with classmates, no reading assignments, no one telling you what to do—you are on your own, writing something longer than you’ve ever written, and doing it without a net.The reading assignments, labs, papers, and tests you have been assigned as a graduate student may not have been so different from your undergraduate course work.The dissertation, on the other hand, is a new kind of academic project, unlike anything else you’ve done.If you’ve set early deadlines, you should be able to move things around without throwing off your schedule. The sooner you can be communicating with your committee about your writing, the smoother your editing stages will go.Sit with your advisor with just a rough outline of the chapter and find out if it works.After all, the dissertation is the beginning of the end of a graduate career.When you finish your dissertation, you have to change your life pretty dramatically —you may go on the job market, begin work as an independent scholar, develop classes, move out of a community that you have grown to love, and so on.

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