10 Wise Steps in Writing a Dissertation

Step 1

    • Ask your department chair if you can skip the dissertation and get a Ph.D. solely on the strength of your winning personality.
    • Okay, so it’s never worked before. It’s still worth a shot, isn’t it? Think positive!
    • Or, if not your winning personality, some previous work, work experience, body of work—anything at all!
    • Okay, so that rarely works either—but it does and has worked for some people, depending on the strength of that previous work.


Step 2

  • Make a plan and stick to it!
  • Plan to spend more time finding a manageable dissertation topic than researching that topic, and more time researching it than actually writing the dissertation.
  • Plan to spend more time revising the dissertation than writing it, and more time writing it than researching it.
  • Spend more time researching it than finding out what your topic is.
  • To help with the organization of your thesis, consider hiring a logician. I did.

that's the plan dr. horrible neil patrick harris

Step 3

  • Make sure you and your thesis advisor are on the same page.
  • Make sure to tell your thesis advisor what page that is.

matt bomer always on same page

Step 4

  • Abandon all hope of reading everything that’s germane to your chosen topic. Eventually you’re bound to discover that somebody has already said everything you want to say, and in the very words you were going to use. Scary!
  • However, don’t be alarmed by this. Remember: “There is nothing new under the sun,” and “Of the making of books there is no end,” and “So, the heck with it, what’s one book more?”

silver linings playbook throwing book out window

Step 5

  • When you’re ready to write, strike while the iron is hot.
  • If the iron is not hot, heat it. By … any … means … necessary!
  • If you don’t know what the iron is, forget about a career in academia. Consider becoming a professional golf caddie, instead. (“Here’s your 5-iron, Tiger.”)

jim carrey bruce almighty typing


Step 6

  • Be sure to follow all of your department’s specifications for formatting your thesis, no matter how difficult they are.
  • When in doubt, hire a reputable editing service to do this for you.



Step 7

  • Prepare for your thesis defense as if your life depended on it. As a matter of fact, your career does.
  • Anticipate every possible question. Now is the time to do the research I told you not to do back in Step 4. Quickly, quickly.
  • However, on the day of the defense, relax. You’re as ready as you’ll ever be. There’s nothing more you can do.
  • Try to enjoy your defense. If you have some ability to make people laugh, make your committee members laugh. If they’re having a good time, the defense might be a breeze.

 i've got the power boom bruce almighty jim carrey

Step 8

  • Answer each and every one of their questions politely and thoroughly.
  • If, after 45 minutes of politely and thoroughly responding to each and every one of their questions, they still maintain that you’re talking gibberish, remember your Samuel Johnson. Say, as haughtily as possible: “Sirs,  I am required to furnish you with an explanation. I am not also required to furnish you with an understanding of it.” (This will sound twice as impressive if you happen to be wearing a powdered wig.)

samuel johnson book perplexed

Step 9

If at some point you find yourself at a complete loss for words, quote the lyrics of some Broadway or Hollywood musical. I have found that there are surprisingly few things in life, academic subjects included, that have not at some point been made the subject of a song. A comforting thought, no?

Step 10

Okay, here it is, my final word of advice, the fruit of my years of experience as a dissertation editor: take pride in writing your dissertation and do the very best you can do. It’s a reflection of you. So cherish, respect, and enjoy the entire process for it should be a labor of love. If it’s not, then you’re not doing what you should be doing with your life. Tough love words, I know, but the absolute truth of the matter.

big bang theory sheldon that's how its done