Inside This Issue
Writing a thesis or dissertation takes a significant amount of time and effort. It is not something that can be accomplished easily or quickly. As such, if you are to complete the project in a timely manner, it’s critical to keep the momentum going and to make some incremental progress each and every day.
Effectively doing this is actually quite simple. Just make a commitment to work on your project for at least 12 minutes every day. On some days, your commitment might be as little as that; on other days, you may log hours working on your project. The point is that every day you need to take some time and take some action.
Each morning, ask yourself, “What action can I take today to move my thesis or dissertation forward?” Make a comprehensive checklist of all every task – large and small – that must be addressed or completed for each section/chapter, and refer to it often. Resolve yourself to work on one of those items each and every day. No task is too small, and no item – such as “creating the cover page” – is too insignificant. Keep in mind that every action will move you closer to your goal.
Making this type of commitment means that there’s no need to procrastinate any longer. Come on, you can work for just 12 minutes! Simply set your watch, cell phone, microwave or timer and see what you can accomplish in that timeframe.
Things You Can Write When You Don’t Want to Write
At least for the moment, you’ve managed your external stresses and done your best to conquer those procrastination demons and the feeling that you’re not worthy. You’ve got your workspace set up and your 12 minutes (or longer!) scheduled, but when you sit down to write … nothing. Not a word is coming to you; your mind is as blank as the screen in front of you.
When writer’s block strikes, the most important thing is just to do something. Turn to your list when you don’t feel like tackling something big, such as relating a key point in your argument to the relevant literature. Instead, you can complete another – smaller – task, like photocopying an article you want to consult or checking your citations. You don’t have to complete every item on your list … but DO commit yourself to working at least 12 minutes, and completing at least one item on the list. You’ll be surprised that the habit of getting something (no matter how small) done on the thesis/dissertation every day can be addicting.
Following are examples of tasks you can complete when you don’t feel like writing:
- Transfer your important semester deadlines onto your palm pilot or daily calendar. You are responsible for knowing and meeting deadlines for degree completion. Missing one of these deadlines can cost you time and money. These are usually published a year or two ahead of time, and you may be surprised at how early – relative to the graduation date – that you will need to submit items such as your defense application forms and a bound thesis/dissertation.
- Pick up or download the format manual or template required by your college/department for a thesis or dissertation. If you’re still inspired to do additional work, go ahead and set up a formatting template for your document. Following the rules for margins, fonts, table formats, and other requirements in early drafts of your proposal will be much easier and less time-consuming than having to go back and reformat all of your different files later. You can generally find formatting requirements on your university’s website. If you prefer, the graduate school/graduate department secretary can typically provide you with a hard copy.
- Investigate graduation requirements early and plan a meeting with your department’s graduate secretary or Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) to ensure you are making appropriate progress toward your degree.
- Visit the library and study other theses or dissertations from your field. Make note of how many chapters they contain and be on the lookout for those whose committee included your advisor. Pay particular attention to those who had your advisor as chair.
- Create your Title Page. Use a working title if you’re not yet sure of the exact title.
- Create your Signature Page. This is a page for the signatures of the thesis or dissertation committee members. The format manual will tell you how this page should look.
- Buy the specialty paper for your thesis or dissertation. If you are not required to submit your thesis or dissertation electronically you will need to submit in on high-quality, white 8 1/2 x 11 inches, acid-free or acid-neutral paper.
- Create your Abstract Page. Your department may require an abstract to be part of the dissertation. Please follow your department’s style requirements. Even if you only have the energy to write the single word “Abstract” on the paper, do it.! By completing this small task, you have created a page holder for the abstract that must eventually be written.
- Complete your Acknowledgement Page. Completing this page – which is a forum through which you thank your family and friends for supporting you – is an emotional process that may inspire and re-energize you. You may very well feel more like working after it is completed.
- Find out the turn-around time and format for Binding. If you must submit a bound copy of thesis or dissertation as part of your requirement for graduation don’t wait until the last minute. At some universities, binding the dissertation is the student’s responsibility and must be completed at the student’s expense. Note that binding requires anywhere from one day to two weeks. Prices and time required vary. Some binderies charge a premium for rush jobs.
- Create a Dedication Page. I dedicated my dissertation to my daughter who had been patient and understanding throughout the entire process.
- Create your Reference/Bibliography Page. The bibliography should meet your major department’s style requirements, which often conform to the leading journals or book series of the field. This page is used to document the sources of information you have cited in your document; a bibliography must be included at the end of the thesis or dissertation and it includes all of the bibliographic details your readers need in order to seek out your sources on their own (i.e., to replicate your research). References may be numbered or listed alphabetically. Within any bibliographic section there should be consistency and adherence to an acceptable journal style for a bibliography. Each reference in the bibliography must contain the name of the author, title of the paper, name of publication, volume, date, and page.
- Create a Copyright Page. If you choose to retain and register copyright of the dissertation, prepare a copyright page conforming to required format. Do not number the copyright page. There maybe additional fees for copyrighting your dissertation.
- Take 12 minutes to prepare for tomorrow. Get the maximum benefit out of your efforts by incorporating the rituals and routines that result in your most effective writing. For example, if you are more productive in a clean workspace, be sure to dedicate the last 12-30 minutes of your daily schedule to straightening up. If you work better after you’ve indulged in a good cup of coffee from your favorite mug or in your favorite T-shirt, by all means keep these items handy. This is not the time to start a new routine!!!
If you’re determined to complete some writing, but continue to be “stuck,” following are some tips that might break you out of that block:
- Try writing the section that’s muddling you as a letter (or email) to a good friend. Sometimes setting aside the academic prose and just writing informally to a buddy can be liberating and help you get the ideas “on paper.” You can make it sound smart later.
- Free-write an analysis of why you’re stuck perhaps even about how sick and tired you are of your dissertation advisor, committee, etc. Venting can sometimes get you past the emotions of writer’s block and move you toward creative solutions. Give yourself 12 minutes to make yourself write or type without lifting your pen from paper or fingers from keyboard (whatever comes to your mind, related to your research or not.)
- Moving On From the Free-Write: Read what you have written during your free-write stage, find a sentence that’s interesting or useful and expand on it. Don’t be self-critical–even if you haven’t written anything related to your work, try to draw a parallel between something you’ve written and the task at hand, even if it’s only a word of encouragement. Johanna a fellow graduate student suggests that if you wrote, “I’m so broke,” —-take time to reflect—- “Finishing this ______ is one closer step to graduating and getting a job that pays the bills.” Motivation and inspiration is the key. Enjoy!
Rewards and Punishments as Motivators
Another strategy to keep you moving and working through the dissertation process is to use rewards, and punishments as motivation. Following are some steps that you might take:
- Celebrate major accomplishments. When you meet a deadline or complete a significant accomplishment, reward yourself by doing something you enjoy such as shopping with a friend, reading a non-academic book, scheduling coffee with a friend, renting a movie, buying yourself an ice cream, emailing a friend, or something else. Having a tangible reward, however small, can provide some added motivation to get work done.
- Schedule daily motivational rewards. Tell yourself that you won’t allow yourself to enjoy that luxury until you’ve completed your allotted time of dissertation work. I wrote my dissertation during the NBA finals. I wouldn’t watch the game unless I had accomplished my daily goals. This method allowed me write with purpose and watch the game without a sense of guilt.
How come TADA doesn’t provide a Thesis or Dissertation Template?
Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D.
About the Author: As a single mother, professor Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D., completed three masters’ degrees and a PhD. Her motto is a Good Thesis/Dissertation is a Done Thesis/Dissertation. She is the creator of a new innovative interactive resource tool on CD—TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. To learn more and sign up for her FREE tips and teleclasses, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Privacy is our policy. TADA™ Finishline does not give out or sell our subscribers’ names or e-mail addresses.