Dissertations: They Are NOT The Bane of Your Existence You Think They Are

Dissertations are not as hard as most students think they are. For one thing, headers and chapters help you to break up the content into doable portions. Plus, inner case studies, bars, graphs, and charts – all of these take up space as well. Plus, when you reformat your dissertation for binding, and add those two inch left margins, you’ll really see how much more content you have than your thought you did. But the best lessons you’ll learn about how to write a dissertation, are gained, I think, through looking at other students’ dissertations. This means you have to learn to embrace a few basic tools: Interlibrary Loan, the library dissertation stacks, and dissertation abstracts international.

First, Never Pick a Topic that Doesn’t Have a Significant Body of Research on It Already

Most students go into their dissertations thinking “I’ve got to come up with a topic so unique, so ultimately my own, that it hasn’t been tackled by anyone else.” Do you know why? Well, because you won’t be able to find any research if you come up with a “unique idea” that is that unique.

Second, Get a Good Model – or Lots of Models

One of the first things I did when I was working on my dissertation was to find another dissertation to look at that was in my same major area—American literature. This helped me in so many ways. For one thing, I immediately noted the formatting issues—there are all kinds of parts to a dissertation. There is a table of contents, acknowledgement page, a dedication page, the title page, all kinds of prefatory materials –before the dissertation starts even. Plus, dissertations use an end note system that is quite different than any citation system you have used before. Endnotes are scholarly notations that help you
“discuss” things with your reader beyond the narrative of your study.

Find a Model or Two (or Four) on Your Topic as Well

You want to find all the dissertations on your same topic as well. These will help you to ferret out research that is not immediately found on a Google or library database search. And other students, with the aid of their committee members, will find all kinds of things you haven’t and you can profit from their research too!

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