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Learning how to write a good dissertation

While an entire academic career has been geared towards writing a great dissertation, it comes as something of an unpleasant shock to many students that they are still not quite prepared to do so. That’s because while they have worked toward this goal, they have yet to actually experience writing a dissertation of their own. Here are some helpful tips for those who are striving to learn to write a great dissertation themselves.

  • Read dissertations on similar topics.
  • This is probably the single most helpful thing a student can do to prepare themselves for writing their own dissertation. Go to your university library, or approach members of the faculty in your department, and find examples of successful dissertations in topics similar to your own. They need not be exactly like yours—they should just be similar in one or two ways. This can mean they used a similar style of research, a similar subject, or a type of thesis statement that is much like your own thesis statement.

  • Make notes as you read.
  • Make notes about thesis statements that struck you as particularly well-crafted, about things you should avoid, about research strategies that seem well suited to your topic, and so on. Also, take note of how different dissertations are organized, and consider keeping a notebook with tips for yourself that you’ve gathered from reading these dissertations.

  • Create a timeline.
  • One of the major challenges students face in writing their first dissertation is time management. It’s usually the largest academic undertaking a student has yet faced, and it’s also one of the most complex independent projects they’ll ever do. That means planning ahead is paramount to writing a successful dissertation. Your initial timeline need not be overly detailed, and it will go through several incarnations, but you should have important goals marked down with relatively firm deadlines to keep yourself on track.

  • Create weekly goals.
  • Using your overall timeline, sit down each week on a designated day and schedule very specific goals and milestones you want to achieve in that week. Remember that you’re not trying to accomplish one huge goal (creating a dissertation out of thin air), but rather, you want to succeed at many small goals—crafting a good thesis statement, creating an outline, making a research plan, gathering sources, and so forth. Doing this will not only keep you on schedule, but will keep your organized and motivated.