You must be TOTALLY COMMITTED to writing this dissertation. Taking on a multi-year research and writing project requires a deep, personal desire to accomplish a task equivalent to writing a very detailed, lengthy book. You must be passionate about the discipline you are working in and have the intention of pursuing a career in this area as you complete the capstone of their doctoral studies – the dissertation. You may find that you will eat, sleep, and breathe all aspects of the dissertation process.
2. Family Considerations
You can write a dissertation and still maintain a family life. The key piece to this involves making a realistic assessment of family obligations, available time, and one’s personal ability to schedule and prioritize. Basically, family and/or spouse come first. Then with the remaining time, you create a schedule for research and writing that will have the ability to “cohabit” in a family environment. Yes, the dissertation will live with you – make room for it.
3. Personal Health
Get ready for a mental marathon. Writing is a creative process that is formulated in the brain. Keeping in good physical shape will certainly help to keep the brain functioning at its best. Eat right, get plenty of sleep, keep your spiritual life alive, and exercise regularly. Avoid snacking as you study and write or you will be considered “sedentary” before you realize it. Sign up for Tai Chi instruction. It is a “soft” martial art that will help you focus and keep flexible. Your brain is doing mental calisthenics as you research and write. Help it work up to its optimum level with healthy habits.
4. Make Time for Relaxation
Carve out time in your schedule for relaxation. Some find that just doing nothing in particular is relaxing. Maybe you need to get out into nature and walk on the beach or in the mountains. Watching ocean waves breaking on the shore and breathing in the briny air, a walk along a lake or through a quiet woods can help you unwind. Massage therapy is more direct and can be a lifesaver for the dissertation writer who has tense shoulders and neck. If you have children, they can show you how to really play again. Get down in the grass and roll around with them. Let go of the tension and you’ll find your creativity will be reinvigorated. Get a cat. Anyone who has ever contemplated a sleeping cat can attest to the fact that felines are the essence of relaxation. According to Aldous Huxley, “If you want to write, keep cats.”
5. Reward the Writer
Most family members and friends are not going to have any idea about the actually work and “brain-drain” that you will experience as you write this dissertation. Dividing up the writing process into a series of mini-goals with attached rewards will cheer you on while constantly reaffirming your resolve and commitment to this massive project. You have to believe in yourself and that you can do this. You be the formulator of the reward system along the way. Only you know what it took to finish the proposal, the literature review, the choice of a theoretical framework that fits your topic and research, transcriptions of the interviews, etc. Match the completion of these individual pillars of your writing project to comparable mini-rewards. Include your spouse, special someone, or family members in these rewards if you want to. It will help them become more aware of what the completion of the dissertation is going to mean to you.
6. Discover Your Best Time to Write
Do you personally know what the best time of the day is for you to write? Many people don’t discover the optimum time in which they are the most prolific and creative until they start writing a dissertation. The writing muse visits me the most often in the early morning hours when the coffee is brewing. Others find that afternoon or evening hours seem to be most productive for writing. If you can’t say what time of the day you are at your best for writing, do some experimenting and test yourself to find out what time of the day that the words just seem to flow from your mind and out your fingers onto your computer keyboard.
7. Keep Connected
The importance of being connected to others traveling the dissertation journey with you cannot be overemphasized. First and foremost, keep connected with your family, spouse, children, or significant others. They can provide the stability and grounding that you will need as you travel through the dissertation process. Next, you will need the support and knowledge of your mentor as guide and writing coach so it is best to visit and check in frequently. Don’t neglect to cultivate an ongoing collegial relationship with your other committee members. Stay in touch with them as you are writing. Don’t wait until you need to call upon them for their approvals of your chapters to start connecting with them. Keep connected with other doctoral students in your discipline who are going through the same experiences and writing challenges as you. If you are fortunate enough to connect with another writer who is just a little ahead of where you are in the process, you will have a “front door” as you progress with your dissertation.
8. Keep Organized Files
Keep organized files from the very beginning of your doctoral coursework. At first, you may want to organize your collected articles, assignments, and papers, etc. as hard copies by class. Using a clear plastic tub with a lid that can accommodate hanging files is an easy way to organize your materials. As you refine the search for your topic, you may choose to arrange your related materials and start separate files for each area. Keeping an annotated bibliography of collected sources will save you time as you sort through your files prioritizing articles and books. Having this annotated bibliography saved on a flash drive and on your main computer will assure a more secure repository for your treasure trove of collected references. You need to have an organized plan to place your sources available at your fingertips, otherwise you will waste precious time searching for and reviewing sources that you have previously read but can’t seem to locate or recall.
9. Back Up All Work and References
SAVE! SAVE! SAVE! Many nightmarish stories have circulated that tell of computers crashing with pages of chapters vanishing into cyber space. Laptops crash, get stolen or damaged. Houses burn down, flash floods occur, tornadoes bulldoze through towns, and the list goes on. Always back-up your work on an external hard drive and/or a flash drive. Another location to deposit and save writing for safe keeping is in Google docs. You might consider e-mailing your work to a trusted friend who will save it for you on their computer. Be paranoid about saving your writing. As you finish each page - click save. If you need to go and answer the phone - click save. If you are going to survive the writing of this dissertation, you must protect your work.
10. Read About Successful Dissertation Writing
Locate books and articles that are written by successful dissertation writers that tell you how to write a dissertation. These are a few of the sources I would recommend that you consider:
Bolker, J. (1998). Writing your dissertation in fifteen minutes a day. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.
Davis, G. & Parker, C. (1997). Writing the doctoral dissertation. Hauppauge, NY: Barrons Educational Series, Inc.
Glatthorn, A. & Joyner, R. (2005). Writing the winning thesis or dissertation. Thousaand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Krathwohl, D. & Smith, N. (2005). How to prepare a dissertation proposal: Suggestions for students in education & the social and behavioral sciences. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.