Career advice

10 Dissertation Writing Tips

4 min read · By Academic Positions

Your thesis is the culmination of several years of research and capstone of your PhD. Your best dissertation guides will be your supervisor, committee, and fellow graduate students, but here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Make a Schedule

Set yourself deadlines for when you want to complete each chapter or section and figure out how many pages you need to write each day to meet those deadlines. Then try to get yourself into a writing routine. Choose work hours that correspond to the times when you feel you work best. If you’re a morning person, start writing bright and early. Likewise, if you really hit your stride in the evening shift, your hours so you do most of your writing during your peak time.

2. Just Start Writing

Now that you’ve planned out your writing, it’s time to get typing. It’s not going to get any easier the longer you wait! While you can undoubtedly come up with a million reasons to delay (“I need to do more research/readings/experiments”) you won’t know if this is true or not until you begin to write. The best way to work on your argument is to actually work your argument out in writing.

3. The First Draft is Not the Final Draft

When taking on a project of this magnitude it’s important to remember that your first draft is not your final draft. The sentences don’t have to be perfect or the argument airtight on the first try. Rewriting and revising are crucial parts of the writing process. Just start writing and refine your work in the subsequent draft.

4. Be Flexible

Writer’s block happens to the best of us and might cause you to miss one of your deadlines. If you miss a deadline, just ajust your schedule accordingly and continue writing. Here’s another tip: if you set all your deadlines a little earlier than necessary, you will give yourself a bit of a buffer in case you have to push any of them back.

5. Write the Introductions Last

It’s easy to get stuck on the introduction, so skip it. Write the body of the chapter first. Once you’re finished, you’ll know what you are actually introducing and will be able to gather your thoughts. This advice applies to the introduction to the dissertation too, especially since it will likely evolve over the months you work on it.

6. Move Around

In a similar vein, if you find yourself stuck on a certain section in a chapter move on and come back to it later. As long as you have outlined your argument and approach for the chapter, you can easily skip a difficult part and use your time more efficiently to write a straightforward section. Having made progress on an “easy” section, you will be more confident when returning to the tricky paragraphs.

7. Get Feedback Early

This tip is somewhat dependant on your supervisor and their preferences. If possible, share your work with them early and often. They can alert you to problems sooner and help you work through any difficult sections. Plus doing smaller revisions along the way will save you from rewriting an entire chapter closer to the due date.

8. Take Care of Yourself

Just because you’re dissertating doesn’t mean you should let your health slide. It’s easier to write when you’re in good physical and mental health. Remember to eat well, get enough sleep, and stay active. Even a simple walk around the neighbourhood will get your heart rate up and can help clear your mind.  

9. Give Yourself Breaks

Writing will be your full-time job while you're working on your thesis, but that doesn’t mean you have to be writing all the time. If you continually work beyond your regular hours you will burn yourself out. Take breaks when you need a rest. At the same time, don’t be afraid to say no to social activities if you need to. Your friends will understand if you miss some social events--especially if you will be stressed to actually enjoy them.

10. Use a Reference Manager

Dissertations have hundreds of references and you don’t want to be scrambling at the end to track them all down. Using a reference manager like Endnote or Zotero will help you keep track of all the papers and books you might need to cite and makes adding citations in any style easy. 

By Academic Positions · Published 2019-10-01

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