Tips for Graduate Students

50 Great Dissertation Resources

Here is a terrific resource for graduate students and doctoral candidates: http://www.onlinephdprograms.com/50-places-to-find-dissertation-support-online/

Write a Great Dissertation

What would make a good dissertation topic?

In a perfect scholarly world where all research and writing is done by intelligent, diligent, inspired and inspiring people, a dissertation would be a) a great read about b) a very important topic that c) has been rigorously and thoroughly researched and d) thoughtfully and brilliantly developed to e) instruct, edify and inspire a wide-ranging audience into f) action that thereby solves or, at least, moves in a positive direction toward solving a major problem or issue in the world or field about which the doctoral candidate has studied and with which he/she has engaged.

That’s a perfect world dissertation, anyway.

Sadly, it’s been my (vast) experience that few dissertations achieve those admittedly lofty goals. Most of the 4000+ dissertations I’ve seen are good, but not great. Adequate but not outstanding. Worthy but not noteworthy. Good enough but not enough to do any good.

Pick an important topic, if you’re a serious doctoral student that is.

This is very serious, folks. No less than the future of higher education rests–in a very large sense–on the seriousness, scope, and importance of the research, arguments, and conclusions of this generation’s doctoral students. I say to this current legion of doctoral students: don’t settle for writing tripe. Pick a big and crucial subject. Do your dissertation diligence as if your life and the future of humanity, the world or at least your field depends on it.

Write a great dissertation, I challenge you.

As a PhD and owner of one of the world’s most experienced dissertation editing services (having edited over 4000 of them since 1999), I am an authority on this subject. I hereby challenge all universities and all doctoral candidates to raise the bar far higher than it is now. Raise it to Olympian heights. Demand of students and of yourselves to tackle the world’s problems with your research and writing. Make your dissertation make a difference. Don’t settle for merely obtaining your PhD with it. Make it so good it can be turned into a book that everyone should read.

Now that’s a worthy goal. You can do it, you doctoral candidates. You can make a difference. You can write a great dissertation that might even change the world. All that’s stopping you is yourself.

7 Tips on Writing Concisely

concise writing editing service

Working on magazines for several years now, the most common complaint I hear from new writers is how short magazine articles are. Some actually complain at the word count, as if we might suddenly double it just for them. The truth is that it is much harder to write more concisely and takes skill to do so.  If you don’t have a good editing service to help out, here are a few tips you can use for writing concisely. They’ll help no matter if you are working on a magazine article or dissertation.

Identify the major components of your work. 

Too often people just start writing without taking stock of what direction to take. For magazine articles, this is usually not only the main body of the article but also sidebars and pull quotes. Other types of writing have similar extras. Your dissertation has footnotes, bibliography, and appendices. Pay attention to details such as source materials along the way. If you focus on these things from the beginning, you will better be able to handle your task without having to go back later.

Outline your project. 

Your outline is the skeleton of your writing. It holds it together and supports all the details.  For a magazine, it is your title, deck, subheads, and sidebar titles. For your dissertation, subheadings are not that different from the subheads in a magazine article, just multiplied in length, number, and level of complexity.

Cut out unnecessary details. 

For magazine articles you may have to cut extra illustrations beyond what is necessary to communicate your point. For any writing, there are extra idioms and phrases that become colloquial habits but are not necessary. Any illustrations that are perceived as extra will be cut first by an editor, so you might as well edit them out early in your writing process.

Limit the scope.

When you write for a magazine, you certainly can’t expect the article to be an exhaustive coverage of a topic. The same is true even for a dissertation. For dissertations, there will be extra research that is good but might be outside the scope of your current project. Knowing how to bracket writing scope and even save extras for later is a skill any writer can use.

Keep the main thing the main thing. 

Establish your thesis statement and filter every detail, every argument, and every illustration through the thesis of your paper.  It will help you stay on track, keeping a check and balance on the things of lesser importance. If need be, post your thesis statement somewhere prominent so that it is a visual reminder to you to write accordingly.

Focus on the audience. 

What you write is largely dependent upon for whom you are writing. Don’t miss this important detail to help your illustrations and explanation hit right on target.

Watch the grammar. 

Sometimes writers are too wordy because they use words that don’t really matter. Watch words that repeat and trim out the unnecessary ones.  Some common problems are words like that and very. Read your work aloud and you will find extra verbiage you can cut and make your writing more concise. That’s our job here. So if you feel you do need help, consider using our editing service to give your writing that extra assist.

5 Keys to Loving Your Dissertation

I really didn’t have a topic for my dissertation as I finished my coursework. I knew that teaching was one of my strengths, but research was not. I had earned my teaching certification as an undergraduate. Then during seminary I found myself gravitating to topics relate to education, human development, and spiritual development, but I just wasn’t sure the direction I should go for my research.

Then it happened—fatherhood! When I found out that we were expecting I began that 9-month process of reading everything my hands could find related to parenting. My life started to take shape as a parent-to-be. Suddenly it clicked. I would research Christian parenting theories and how they impact faith and childhood development. This was perfect for me, bringing together my past studies and experience along with my current life situation. Becoming a parent was the thing that brought focus to my life and to my research.

In doing so I found my voice. I was living this search for the best parenting theory in my personal life and in my research. This topic was almost too personal at times, but it was definitely me, through and through. Life experience had led me to this place. But is this for everyone? If so, how can you express your voice and passion in finding the right topic for your dissertation?

Look at your experience.

You will probably find yourself working in your areas of interest long before graduate school. Think of what interests you and turn your attention and studies in that direction. Your experience and interests are part of your passion, who you truly are, and hopefully can become part of your dissertation.

Consider your strengths and weaknesses.

You do not want to work on a dissertation that requires skills you do not possess. You may find that you can do so for a small time, but this effort will wear on your passion as well as the rest of you. You can talk with your professors honestly about your strengths and weaknesses and trust their guidance.

Meet others with similar writing, work, and research.

Place yourself in similar situations with those who are writing and researching projects that interest you. Ask yourself if you would you be happy examining that topic for months or years. That is the reality of what you will do, so do not pick a topic or scope that is so difficult that you cannot stand to work on it every day.

It’s OK to switch directions.

If you are heading down the wrong path, it can be devastating. Putting work, time, and money into research that proves wrong for you and your project is frustrating. Taking stock of your research whether changing scope or completely changing plans is OK. You will not be the first to do it. Better to find your sweet spot early in the process than to do so later.

Find the happy medium between passion and obsession.

Be able to distance yourself from your research and disassociate criticisms of your project from your personal feelings. Not being able to do so is setting you up for many difficulties along the way. A healthy passion means that your work inspires you to action and motivates you, but that you can step back and examine your work when needed. Inability to stop and step away from your work will interfere with daily life and should serve as a warning sign to gain perspective.

6 Motivational Tactics for Writing Dissertations

The biggest lesson I learned while I was a doctoral student? Find out what motivates you. Here are 6 “motivators” I stuck on signs over my desk when I was in the throes of my doctoral dissertation:

Dissertation Advice photo credit: Flickr user alex:

#1: The best dissertation is a done dissertation

So many people in my graduate cohort spent endless hours and endless angst searching for the perfect research question, the perfect theory, the perfect sources for their lit review, and the perfect turn of phrase guaranteed to take their masterpiece to a level sure to earn them a place in academic history. That wasn’t me. I picked a topic I found interesting; came up with an appropriate research question, backed into a serviceable theory, got decent sources for the lit review, and finished in a reasonable amount of time. Did I set the bar too low? Is there a doctor in the house? By all means, get help from a good dissertation editor or dissertation editing service if you need it.

#2: Do something every day

Starting a dissertation is like starting an exercise program. The experts say that three to four times a week is fine. What these same experts don’t tell you is that the people who “stick with” an exercise program exercise every day. It may be just 10 or 15 minutes but if you do it every day it becomes a lifelong habit—one you’ll have long after the three-times-a week-folks are trying to offload their treadmill on Craig’s list or looking for another juice bar so they don’t run into their personal trainer who believes they have the slowest healing hamstring pull on record. Do the same with a dissertation—do something every day. Some days all you can do is read a short article; some days even that’s too much and you settle for an online search for articles on one of your sub-sub categories. The group in my cohort who did something every day finished their (our) dissertations first.

#3: Just say “no”

I remember asking a friend in the cohort before ours to have coffee. She said she was saying “no” to everything until she finished her dissertation. She was only doing what she absolutely had to do—everything else would have to wait. I was frankly a little miffed, that is until I began my own dissertation and realized I needed to do the same thing if I was ever going to finish what I started referring to as “that damn dissertation.” Forget multi-tasking, forget even uni-tasking if there is such a thing. A dissertation takes 24/7 focus—it’s that big a beast. Again, the people in my cohort who finished first, in fact finished at all, learned how to say “no.”

#4: Stay healthy

It doesn’t seem like a dissertation should be so physically demanding but it is. It sometimes seems to suck the very life out of you. The only way to stay sane is to take the very time you don’t have and make sure you exercise daily (or twice a day if you need a break), eat right, get enough sleep, and try not to rely on what one cohort member referred to as “better living through chemistry.”

#5: Cut yourself some slack

I had a dissertation schedule. I’m a schedule kind of gal. Unfortunately, dissertations aren’t always schedulable. (I think I spent so much time with words ending in ology and istic—ontology, epistemology, methodology, statistic, positivistic—that I’ve created a whole new vocabulary just to rebel.) Perhaps my most important motivator was “cut yourself some slack.” Some days, weeks even, it’s just too hard. Life gets away from you. The people and things you’ve been ignoring for so long need your attention. You can’t remember if you had lunch, made lunch, went out for lunch, or if you had lunch for breakfast because you can’t remember what day or time it is. Cut yourself some slack.

#6: Better dead than ABD

Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh but for me that’s what it came down to. I didn’t think I could live with myself (nor did I think anyone else could live with me!) if I put in all that time and money and anxiety and sacrifice only to stop short of the finish line. Equally important is that I felt I would be letting down the very people who supported and tolerated me if I didn’t finish. Besides, after a certain amount of time, ABD is worse than never starting. Show me someone ABD more than three or four years after comps and I’ll show you someone with a long-list of excuses targeted at whoever is asking—even when they’re not asking! That ABD should have found herself a dissertation editing company to help out.