Doctoral Dissertation and Thesis Help: Writing dos and don'ts


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Academic writing can be tough - and the standard for PhD or other types of doctoral theses is even more rigorous. This presentation looks into what the student might consider during each phase of the process: while designing, writing the proposal or prospectus, or finishing.

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Doctoral Dissertation and Thesis Help: Writing dos and don'ts

  1. 1. We will start in just a moment Slides for today on: Academic Writing: Dos and Don’ts for each phase of the dissertation or thesis process
  2. 2. Agenda: 1. General Do’s and Don’ts – always best to keep in mind. 2. What can set you up for success as you design. 3. What will keep it flowing as you write your proposal or prospectus. 4. What will give you the edge for success as you finish.
  3. 3. General Do’s and Don’ts – always best to keep in mind Don’ts 1. Get into the habit of quoting others – watch as you read how citations are used. 2. Justify your ideas, write like “a student.” 3. Think that any writing in any stage is “it” or done – everything changes all the time through to final publication. Do’s 1. Keep an eye on organization – headings, use of models, know what is needed as you begin to write 2. Read dissertations and thesis – get the language “in your head” 3. Write in a group whenever possible – even if done asynchronously group input moves things along faster.
  4. 4. Phase 1: What can set you up for success as you design Don’ts 1. Start to write too soon – get your lit behind you first. 2. Forget that a design is created by interlocking parts - each has to be set up with consistency to the rest 3. Forget to analyze if your topic is an idea or a problem – is it tangible? Can its effect be measured? Is it theoretical? How is it discussed? Do’s 1. Read/Read and more reading – all authors read a lot. 2. If academic writing is new to you read it out loud to yourself = sets your ears up to hear the use of language. 3. Appraise what you read – does it put you to sleep? Does it create interest? Snip and keep a file of the good stuff.
  5. 5. Writing Habits that Support You: 1. Prepare for publication – know your end game – know the style – write to that style from the beginning… see also bibliographic software, etc. 2. Set up your docs in Word with Headings/Sub headings and create a Document Map or Navigation Pane right from the beginning. (pg 99) 3. Write, read it out loud, revise, set it aside, read and revise again. 4. Write the next parts – then go through the steps for the whole – you cannot revise too much. 5. Follow your headings – watch out always for redundancy. 6. Are you rambling? If you don’t know how to say what you want make those sections in a different color – then go find examples of who said something similar and mimic how it was done. 7. Also watch for consistency – even small changes in purpose, design, methodology, etc will cause trouble.
  6. 6. Phase 2: What will keep it flowing as you write your proposal or prospectus Don’ts 1. Procrastinate on the hard parts – that is why we recommend writing methodology first. 2. Just cut and paste source material – sets you up for plagiarism issues later. 3. Fall into negative self talk – Don’t tell yourself: this is hard, I am not sure of this, etc. Do’s 1. Rely only on peer reviewed sources for your writing. 2. Share your work with peers and groups before turning it in to your supervisor. 3. Attribute every strong statement to the outside source which you used as you developed the idea. 4. Set up color codes for yourself and your editors.
  7. 7. Writing Your Review of Literature 1. Set it up with a 1:1 topical correspondence with methodology 2. Read other dissertations and establish a logic – for instance: history of topic leads to research in the pertinent areas, leads to methodological literature, etc. 3. Understand whether/when you are writing: 1. An analysis, where you differentiate ideas one by one 2. A synthesis, where you cluster ideas to bring out the main salient points 3. An interpretation, where you are distinguishing between types of data, research, etc. 4. Critical analysis where you discuss the pros and cons of what has gone before – this could lead to your section on gaps (which could be filled by your work).
  8. 8. Writing Your Introductory Chapter 1. Because this is an overview many students find it most helpful to write it last – it reduces redundancy and allows you to summarize. 2. Capture notes for the various headings as you write – helps you make sure you have all the parts you need. 3. Read and have models for this chapter from other dissertations or thesis which you found engaging, even if not your topic or methodology. 4. Remember this is the chapter that establishes the golden thread of internal consistency – what is important to your study (theoretically, topically and methodologically) must be introduced here.
  9. 9. Phase 3: What will give you the edge for success as you finish a qualitative study Don’ts 1. Do a “data dump” where you just string out everything everyone said. 2. Focus too much on the people, unless it is required by your methodology or unless a role seems to determine a position. Do’s 1. Be clear on what is a result and what is a finding and which are personal to the speaker and which are general to the topic. 2. Draw clear pictures of how you discovered your themes. 3. Superimpose a routine on how you write each them. Set up a rhythm with your writing. 4. Use graphic organizers. 5. Report data that varies or disagrees with the obvious conclusions.
  10. 10. Phase 3: What will give you the edge for success as you finish and quantitative study Don’ts 1. Spend a lot of writing on written descriptions – use charts/tables and then summarize. 2. Forget to consider the internal consistency of your findings. Do’s 1. Use charts whenever possible to clarify your findings. 2. Tell your reader how the results and findings will be presented. 3. Superimpose a routine on each section to increase the flow of the logic for your reader. 4. Discuss your statistics in terms that are easy for readers to follow. 5. Conclude with a summary through which your reader can follow the course of your logic.
  11. 11. Phase 3: What will give you the edge for success going into final defense or Viva Don’ts 1. Go in without preparation to discuss your ideas – find a mock defense and practice. Remember you have it written – now you need verbal skills to back it up. 2. Give into negative self talk – in your head be strong and confident. Do’s 1. Have your document edited. 2. Double and triple check that your literature is up to date and that your study follows the prescribed guidelines. 3. Finish writing it all, then send it to the editor and let it sit – when it comes back review it again with an eye to “golden threads” – do you tie all the parts together throughout? Can you track all the ideas throughout ? Do they build a solid argument? 4. Be 100% authentic.
  12. 12. Q and A 1. What is on your mind – about writing or any topic of shared interest?
  13. 13. Upcoming News/Events 1. March Starts 2 months of our focus on academic writing – sign into the site for free resources + three conferences at end of month on #acwri 2. Are you registered with the site? Have you signed in yet and looked up the free resources for the month? 3. Starting later this week we will have free design automations© so watch facebook and twitter @DoctoralNet for news. 4. Taking names of interested parties for possible writing group with professorial help starting soon– cost $40 month if we get 5 or more signed up. One of conferences is a trial writing group for those who want to see if it would be a helpful strategy. Email