How to Begin Writing a Dissertation

So, you’ve passed your qualifying exams and submitted a dissertation proposal. That proposal’s been accepted (with a little help from a dissertation editor at your friendly dissertation editing service–wink, wink!). Hurray! Now all you have to do is sit down and write a full-length book of original and exquisite scholarship. From scratch. No problem, right?

One of the biggest problems grad students face when they begin the dissertation-writing process is that they just don’t know how to begin. For most of the first few years of grad school, you’ve been writing short and intriguing papers (maybe 25 pages tops), and accomplishing intense but finite tasks, like MA exams. As a grad, you’re used to working really hard for short bursts of time. You’re also used to creating work according to limits and structures set up by other people, like time frames and due dates. Now, when you start the dissertation you’re suddenly all on your own, facing what seems like an enormous and insurmountable task.

Face it, a dissertation is a huge project, so huge that it can be almost paralyzing. It sounds overpowering. The idea of even starting a dissertation give you the worst case of writer’s block you’ve ever had. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way: here are some suggestions to combat the paralyzing element of a giant project.

 

First, don’t get overwhelmed by the big picture. If you keep worrying about how you’re going to finish, you’ll never be able to start. Stop thinking about the dissertation as a cohesive whole all the time. Sure, all the parts have to fit together and continue an overall argument. But when you’re working, you can’t keep deferring to the finished product. So, break the dissertation into small, doable chunks that you can tackle one at a time. These chunks could be chapters or even sections of chapters. Find the unit of writing you’re most comfortable with, and work around that. Before you know it, the writing will start piling up, and you’ll be making progress.

Second, make your own due dates for these writing chunks. The dissertation usually has a single, unknown due date. The project’s not done until it’s all done. Without setting up some due dates along the way, it’s easy to fall behind or stop writing all together. Find a way to hold yourself responsible for a writing schedule, whether it’s by giving yourself periodic due dates or telling your advisors when you plan to turn chapters in. Then, stick to your schedule. Think of your own self-assigned due dates as every bit as important as the paper deadlines or exam requirements you fulfilled a few years ago.

Finally, know when to stop working. There’s always going to be more research you could do, more revising you could push through, and more changes you could incorporate. If you work too hard for too long, though, you’ll burn out and you might not have enough energy to come back the next time. Pace yourself. Limit the amount of writing you do each day, or take short breaks between big sections. Let your mind rest sometimes so that you can tackle this big project, and tackle it well. And be sure to seek the help of a great dissertation editing company–us!