Writing and presenting your thesis or dissertation
This article is published with the permission of the
author, Prof. S. Joseph Levine from Michigan State University in
Michigan, USA and remains the property of Prof. Chinneck all rights
reserved. It has been reproduced word for word from the original article
which you can find here. You can download translations of this article in Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic. We would like to thank Prof. Levine for allowing his resource to be published on BetterEdit.com.
S. Joseph Levine, Ph.D.
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan USA
This guide has been created to assist my graduate students in thinking
through the many aspects of crafting, implementing and defending a thesis
or dissertation. It is my attempt to share some of the many ideas that
have surfaced over the past few years that definitely make the task of
finishing a graduate degree so much easier. (This Guide is a companion to the Guide for Writing a Funding Proposal.)
Usually a guide of this nature focuses on the actual implementation
of the research. This is not the focus of this guide. Instead of examining
such aspects as identifying appropriate sample size, field testing the
instrument and selecting appropriate statistical tests, this guide looks
at many of the quasi-political aspects of the process. Such topics as how
to select a supportive committee, making a compelling presentation of your
research outcomes and strategies for actually getting the paper written
Of course, many of the ideas that are presented can be used successfully
by other graduate students studying under the guidance of other advisers
and from many different disciplines. However, the use of this guide carries
no guarantee - implied or otherwise.
When in doubt check with your adviser.
Probably the best advice to start with is the idea of not trying to do
your research entirely by yourself. Do it in conjunction with your adviser.
Seek out his/her input and assistance. Stay in touch with your adviser
so that both of you know what's happening. There's a much better chance
of getting to the end of your project and with a smile on your face.
With this in mind, enjoy the guide. I hope it will help you finish your graduate
degree in good shape. Good luck and good researching! (NOTE: Periodically I receive requests for information on how to
prepare a "thesis statement" rather than actually writing a
thesis/dissertation. How To Write a Thesis Statement is an excellent website that clearly sets forth what a "thesis statement" is and how to actually prepare one.)Summary of Key Ideas in this GuideThe Thinking About It Stage
Preparing The Proposal
- 1. Be inclusive with your thinking.
- 2. Write down your ideas.
- 3. Don't be overly influenced by others-it's your research.
- 4. Try and set a realistic goal.
- 5. Set appropriate time lines.
- 6. Take a leave of absence when it will do the most good.
- 7. Try a preliminary study to help clarify your research.
16. Use your advisory committee well.
- 8. Read other proposals.
- 9. Prepare a comprehensive review of the literature.
- 10. Photocopy relevant articles.
- 11. Proposal should be first 3 chapters of dissertation.
- 12. Focus your research.
- 13. Include a title on your proposal.
- 14. Organize around a set of questions.
- 15. Some considerations for designing your research:
- a. Design your research so the subjects benefit.
- b. Choose your methodology wisely.
- c. Consider combining methodologies.
- d. Carefully select location for your research.
- e. Avoid conducting research in conjunction with another agency.
a. Select faculty who will support you.
b. Your major professor is your ally.
c. Provide committee with well written proposal.
d. Plan the proposal meeting well.
Writing The Thesis Or Dissertation
The Thesis/Dissertation Defense
- 17. Begin writing with sections you know the best.
- 18. Rewrite your proposal into dissertation sections.
- 19. Use real names/places in early drafts of dissertation.
- 20. Print each draft on a different color paper.
- 21. Use hand drawings of graphics/tables for early drafts.
- 22. Make your writing clear and unambiguous.
- 23. Review other dissertations before you begin to write.
- 24. Introduce tables in the text, present the table and then describe it.
- 25. Use similar or parallel wording whenever possible.
- 26. Let your Table of Contents help you improve your manuscript.
- 27. Write real conclusions and implications - don't restate your findings.
- 28. Make your Suggestions for Further Research meaningful.
- 29. Chapter One should be written last.
THE "THINKING ABOUT IT" STAGE
- 30. Attend some defenses before it's your turn.
- 31. Discuss your research with others.
- 32. Don't circulate chapters to committee.
- 33. The defense should be team effort - you and adviser.
- 34. Don't be defensive at your defense.
- 35. Organize your defense as an educational presentation.
- 36. Consider tape recording your defense.
- 37. Prepare an article on the outcomes of your research.
The "thinking about it stage" is when you are finally
faced with the reality of completing your degree. Usually the early phases
of a graduate program proceed in clear and very structured ways. The beginning
phases of a graduate program proceed in much the same manner as an undergraduate
degree program. There are clear requirements and expectations, and the graduate
student moves along, step by step, getting ever closer to the completion
of the program. One day, however, the clear structure begins to diminish
and now you're approaching the thesis/dissertation stage. This is a new
and different time. These next steps are more and more defined by you
and not your adviser, the program, or the department.
1. Be inclusive with your thinking.
Don't try to eliminate
ideas too quickly. Build on your ideas and see how many different research
projects you can identify. Give yourself the luxury of being expansive
in your thinking at this stage -- you won't be able to do this later on.
Try and be creative.
2. Write down your ideas.
This will allow you to revisit an
idea later on. Or, you can modify and change an idea. If you don't write
your ideas they tend to be in a continual state of change and you will probably
have the feeling that you're not going anywhere. What a great feeling it
is to be able to sit down and scan the many ideas you have been thinking
about, if they're written down.
3. Try not to be overly influenced at this time by
what you feel others expect from you
(your colleagues, your profession,
your academic department, etc.). You have a much better chance of selecting
a topic that will be really of interest to you if it is your topic. This
will be one of the few opportunities you may have in your professional
life to focus in on a research topic that is really of your own choosing.
4. Don't begin your thinking by assuming that your
research will draw international attention to you!!
realistic in setting your goal. Make sure your expectations are tempered
... the realization that you are fulfilling an academic requirement,
... the fact that the process of conducting the research may be just
as important (or more important) than the outcomes of the research, and
... the idea that first and foremost the whole research project should
be a learning experience for you.
If you can keep these ideas in mind while you're thinking through your
research you stand an excellent chance of having your research project
turn out well.
5. Be realistic about the time that you're willing to commit
to your research project.
If it's a 10 year project that you're thinking
about admit it at the beginning and then decide whether or not you have
10 years to give to it. If the project you'd like to do is going to demand
more time than you're willing to commit then you have a problem.
I know it's still early in your thinking but it's never too early
to create a draft of a timeline. Try using the 6 Stages (see the next
item) and put a start and a finish time for each. Post your timeline in a
conspicuous place (above your computer monitor?) so that it continually
reminds you how you're doing. Periodically update your timeline with
new dates as needed. (Thanks to a website visitor from Philadelphia for sharing this idea.
6. If you're going to ask for a leave of absence from your job while
you're working on your research this isn't a good time to do it. Chances
are you can do the "thinking about it" stage without a leave
of absence. Assuming that there are six major phases that you will have
during your research project, probably the best time to get
the most from a leave of absence is during the fourth
stage* - the writing stage.
This is the time when you really need to
be thinking well. To be able to work at your writing in large blocks of
time without interruptions is something really important. A leave of absence
from your job can allow this to happen. A leave of absence from your job
prior to this stage may not be a very efficient use of the valuable time
away from your work.
Stage 1 - Thinking About It
Stage 2 - Preparing the Proposal
Stage 3- Conducting the Research
Stage 4- Writing the Research Paper*
Stage 5- Sharing the Research Outcomes with Others
Stage 6- Revising the Research Paper
7. It can be most helpful at this early stage to try a very small preliminary
to test out some of your ideas to help you gain further
confidence in what you'd like to do. The study can be as simple as conducting
half a dozen informal interviews with no attempt to document what is said.
The key is that it will give you a chance to get closer to your research
and to test out whether or not you really are interested in the topic.
And, you can do it before you have committed yourself to doing something
you may not like. Take your time and try it first. PREPARING THE PROPOSAL
Assuming you've done a good job of "thinking about" your research
project, you're ready to actually prepare the proposal. A word of caution
- those students who tend to have a problem in coming up with a viable
proposal often are the ones that have tried to rush through the "thinking
about it" part and move too quickly to trying to write the proposal.
Here's a final check. Do each of these statements describe you? If they
do you're ready to prepare your research proposal.
I am familiar with other research that has been conducted in
areas related to my research project.
(___Yes, it's me)
( ___No, not me)
I have a clear understanding of the steps that I will use in
conducting my research.
(___Yes, it's me)
( ___No, not me)
I feel that I have the ability to get through each of the steps
necessary to complete my research project.
(___Yes, it's me)
( ___No, not me)
I know that I am motivated and have the drive to get
through all of the steps in the research project.
(___Yes, it's me)
( ___No, not me)
Okay, you're ready to write your research proposal. Here are some ideas
to help with the task:
8. Read through someone else's research proposal.
a real stumbling block is that we don't have an image in our mind of what
the finished research proposal should look like. How has the other proposal
been organized? What are the headings that have been used? Does the other
proposal seem clear? Does it seem to suggest that the writer knows the
subject area? Can I model my proposal after one of the
I've seen? If you can't readily find a proposal or two to look at, ask
your adviser to see some. Chances are your adviser has a file drawer filled with
9. Make sure your proposal has a comprehensive review of the literature
included. Now this idea, at first thought, may not seem to make sense.
I have heard many students tell me that "This is only the proposal.
I'll do a complete literature search for the dissertation. I don't want
to waste the time now." But, this is the time to do it. The rationale
behind the literature review consists of an argument with two lines of
analysis: 1) this research is needed, and 2) the methodology I have
chosen is most appropriate for the question that is being asked. Now,
why would you want to wait? Now is the time to get informed and to learn
from others who have
preceded you! If you wait until you are writing the dissertation it is
late. You've got to do it some time so you might as well get on with it
and do it now. Plus, you will probably want to add to the literature
when you're writing the final dissertation. (Thanks to a website visitor from Mobile, Alabama who helped to clarify this point.)
10. With the ready availability of photocopy machines you should be
able to bypass many of the hardships that previous dissertation researchers
had to deal with in developing their literature review. When you read something
that is important to your study, photocopy the relevant article
Keep your photocopies organized according to categories and
sections. And, most importantly, photocopy the bibliographic citation so
that you can easily reference the material in your bibliography. Then, when
you decide to sit down and actually write the literature review, bring out your
photocopied sections, put them into logical and sequential order, and then
begin your writing.
11. What is a proposal anyway? A good proposal should consist of the
first three chapters of the dissertation.
It should begin with a statement
of the problem/background information (typically Chapter I of the dissertation),
then move on to a review of the literature (Chapter 2), and conclude with
a defining of the research methodology (Chapter 3). Of course, it should
be written in a future tense since it is a proposal. To turn a good proposal
into the first three chapters of the dissertation consists of changing
the tense from future tense to past tense (from "This is what I would
like to do" to "This is what I did") and making any changes
based on the way you actually carried out the research when compared to
how you proposed to do it. Often the intentions we state in our proposal
turn out different in reality and we then have to make appropriate editorial
changes to move it from proposal to dissertation.
12. Focus your research very specifically.
Don't try to have
your research cover too broad an area. Now you may think that this will
distort what you want to do. This may be the case, but you will be able
to do the project if it is narrowly defined. Usually a broadly defined
project is not do-able. By defining too broadly it may sound better to
you, but there is a great chance that it will be unmanageable as a research
project. When you complete your research project it is important that you
have something specific and definitive to say. This can be accommodated
and enhanced by narrowly defining your project. Otherwise you may have
only broadly based things to say about large areas that really provide
little guidance to others that may follow you. Often the researcher finds
that what he/she originally thought to be a good research project turns
out to really be a group
of research projects. Do one project for your
dissertation and save the other projects for later in your career. Don't
try to solve all of the problems in this one research project.
13. Include a title on your proposal.
amazed at how often the title is left for the end of the student's
writing and then somehow forgotten when the proposal is prepared for the
committee. A good proposal has a good title and it is the first thing
to help the reader begin to understand the nature of your work. Use it
wisely! Work on your title early in the process and revisit it often.
It's easy for a reader to identify those proposals where the title has
been focused upon by the student. Preparing a good title means:
...having the most important words appear toward the beginning of your title,
...limiting the use of ambiguous or confusing words,
..breaking your title up into a title and subtitle when you have too many words, and
...including key words that will help researchers in the future find your work.
14. It's important that your research proposal be organized around a
set of questions
that will guide your research. When selecting these guiding
questions try to write them so that they frame your research and put it
into perspective with other research. These questions must serve to establish
the link between your research and other research that has preceded you.
Your research questions should clearly show the relationship of your research
to your field of study. Don't be carried away at this point and make your
questions too narrow. You must start with broad relational questions.
A good question:
Do adult learners in a rural adult education setting have characteristicsA poor question:
that are similar to adult learners in general ?
What are the characteristics of rural adult learners in an adult educationA poor question:
program? (too narrow)
How can the XYZ Agency better serve rural adult learners? (not generalizable)
15. Now here are a few more ideas regarding the defining of your research
project through your proposal.
a. Make sure that you will be benefitting those whoare
participating in the research. Don't only see the subjects as sources of
data for you to analyze. Make sure you treat them as participants in the
research. They have the right to understand what you are doing and you
have a responsibility to share the findings with them for their reaction.
Your research should not only empower you with new understandings but it
should also empower those who are participating with you.
b. Choose your methodology wisely. Don't be too quick in running away
from using a quantitative methodology because you fear the use of statistics.
A qualitative approach to research can yield new and exciting understandings,
but it should not be undertaken because of a fear of quantitative research.
A well designed quantitative research study can often be accomplished in
very clear and direct ways. A similar study of a qualitative nature usually
requires considerably more time and a tremendous burden to create new paths
for analysis where previously no path had existed. Choose your methodology
c. Sometimes a combined methodology makes the most sense. You can combine
a qualitative preliminary study (to define your population more clearly,
to develop your instrumentation more specifically or to establish hypotheses
for investigation) with a quantitative main study to yield a research project
that works well.
d. Deciding on where you will conduct the research is
a major decision. If you are from another area of the country or a different
country there is often an expectation that you will return to your "home"
to conduct the research. This may yield more meaningful results, but it
will also most likely create a situation whereby you are expected to fulfill
other obligations while you are home. For many students the opportunity
to conduct a research project away from home is an important one since
they are able to better control many of the intervening variables that
they can not control at home. Think carefully regarding your own situation
before you make your decision.
e. What if you have the opportunity for conducting your research
in conjunction with another agency or project that is working
in related areas. Should you do it? Sometimes this works well, but most
often the dissertation researcher gives up valuable freedom to conduct
the research project in conjunction with something else. Make sure thetrade-offs are in yourfavor. It can be very disastrous to have
the other project suddenly get off schedule and to find your own research project
temporarily delayed. Or, you had tripled the size of your sample since
the agency was willing to pay the cost of postage. They paid for the postage
for the pre-questionnaire. Now they are unable to assist with postage for
the post-questionnaire. What happens to your research? I usually find
that the cost of conducting dissertation research is not prohibitive and
the trade-offs to work in conjunction with another agency are not in favor
of the researcher. Think twice before altering your project to accommodate
someone else. Enjoy the power and the freedom to make your own decisions
(and mistakes!) -- this is the way we learn!
16. Selecting and preparing your advisory committee to respond to your
proposal should not be taken lightly. If you do your "homework"
well your advisory committee can be most helpful to you.
Try these ideas:
a. If you are given the opportunity to select your dissertation committeeWRITING THE THESIS OR DISSERTATION
do it wisely. Don't only focus on content experts. Make sure you have selected
faculty for your committee who are supportive of youand are willing
to assist you in successfully completing your research. You want a committee
that you can ask for help and know that they will provide it for you. Don't
forget, you can always access content experts who are not on your committee
at any time during your research project.
b. Your major professor/adviser/chairperson is your ally. When
you go to the committee for reactions to your proposal make sure your major
professor is fully supportive of you. Spend time with him/her before the
meeting so that your plans are clear and you know you have full support.
The proposal meeting should be seen as an opportunity for you and your
major professor to seek the advice of the committee. Don't ever go into
the proposal meeting with the feeling that it is you against them!
c. Provide the committee members with a well-written proposal well in
advance of the meeting. Make sure they have ample time to read the proposal.
d. Plan the proposal meeting well.If graphic presentations are
necessary to help the committee with understandings make sure you prepare
them so they look good. A well planned meeting will help your committee
understand that you are prepared to move forward with well planned research.
Your presentation style at the meeting should not belittle your committee
members (make it sound like you know they have read your proposal) but
you should not assume too much (go through each of the details with an
assumption that maybe one of the members skipped over that section).
Now this is the part we've been waiting for. I must assume that you
have come up with a good idea for research, had your proposal approved,
collected the data, conducted your analyses and now you're about to start
writing the dissertation. If you've done the first steps well this part
shouldn't be too bad. In fact it might even be enjoyable!
17. The major myth in writing a dissertation is that you start writing
at Chapter One and then finish your writing at Chapter Five. This is seldom
the case. The most productive approach in writing the dissertation is tobegin writing those parts of the dissertation that you are
most comfortable with.
Then move about in your writing by completing various
sections as you think of them. At some point you will be able to spread
out in front of you all of the sections that you have written. You will
be able to sequence them in the best order and then see what is missing
and should be added to the dissertation. This way seems to make sense and
builds on those aspects of your study that are of most interest to you at any particular
time. Go with what interests you, start your writing there, and then keep building! (David
Kraenzel - North Dakota State University - wrote in describing the "A
to Z Method". Look at the first section of your paper. When you are
ready go ahead and write it. If you are not ready, move
section-by-section through your paper until you find a section where you
have some input to make. Make your input and continue moving through
the entire paper - from A to Z - writing and adding to those sections
for which you have some input. Each time you work on your paper follow
the same A to Z process. This will help you visualize the end product of
your efforts from very early in your writing and each time you work on
your paper you will be building the entire paper - from A to Z. Thanks David!)
18. If you prepared a comprehensive proposal you will now be rewarded!
Pull out the proposal and begin by checking your proposed research methodology.
Change the tense from future tense to past tense and then make any additions
or changes so that the methodology section truly reflects what you did.
You have now been able to change sections from the proposal to sections
for the dissertation.
Move on to the Statement of the Problem and the Literature
Review in the same manner.
19. I must assume you're using some form of word processing on a computer
to write your dissertation. (if you aren't, you've missed a major part
of your doctoral preparation!) If your study has specific names of people,
institutions and places that must be changed to provide anonymity don't
do it too soon. Go ahead and write your dissertation using the real names.
Then at the end of the writing stage you can easily have the computer make
all of the appropriate name substitutions. If you make these substitutions
too early it can really confuse your writing.
20. As you get involved in the actual writing of
your dissertation you will find that conservation of paper will begin to
fade away as a concern. Just as soon as you print a draft of a chapter
there will appear a variety of needed changes and before you know it
another draft will be printed. And, it seems almost impossible to throw
away any of the drafts! After awhile it will become extremely difficult
to remember which draft of your chapter you may be looking at. Print each draft of your dissertation on a different color paper
With the different colors of paper it will be easy to see which is the
latest draft and you can quickly see which draft a committee member
might be reading. (Thanks to Michelle O'Malley at University of Florida for sharing this idea.)
21. The one area where I would caution you
about using a word processor
is in the initial creation of elaborate graphs or tables. I've seen too
spend too many hours in trying to use their word processor to create an
elaborate graph that could have been done by hand in 15 minutes. So, the
is to use hand drawing for elaborate tables and graphs for the early draft of
Make sure your data are presented accurately so
your advisor can clearly understand your
graph/table, but don't waste the time trying to make it look word
processor perfect at this time. Once you and your advisor agree upon how
the data should be graphically represented it is time to prepare
graphs and tables.
22. Dissertation-style writing is not designed to be entertaining. Dissertation
writing should be clear and unambiguous.
To do this well you should prepare
a list of key words that are important to your research and then your writing
should use this set of key words throughout. There is nothing so frustrating
to a reader as a manuscript that keeps using alternate words to mean the
same thing. If you've decided that a key phrase for your research is "educational
workshop", then do not
try substituting other phrases like "in-service
program", "learning workshop", "educational institute",
or "educational program." Always stay with the same phrase -
"educational workshop." It will be very clear to the reader exactly
what you are referring to.
23. Review two or three well organized and presented dissertations.
Examine their use of headings, overall style, typeface and organization.
Use them as a model for the preparation of your own dissertation. In this
way you will have an idea at the beginning of your writing what your finished
dissertation will look like. A most helpful perspective!
24. A simple rule - if you are presenting information in the form of
a table or graph make sure you introduce the table or graph in your text.
And then, following the insertion of the table/graph, make sure you discuss
it. If there is nothing to discuss then you may want to question even inserting
25. Another simple rule - if you have a whole series of very similar
tables try to use similar words indescribing each.
Don't try and
be creative and entertaining with your writing. If each introduction and
discussion of the similar tables uses very similar wording then the reader
can easily spot the differences in each table.
26. We are all familiar with how helpful the Table
of Contents is to the reader. What we sometimes don't realize is that it
is also invaluable to the writer. Use the Table of Contents to help you improve your manuscript.
Use it to see if you've left something out, if you are presenting your
sections in the most logical order, or if you need to make your wording a
bit more clear. Thanks to the miracle of computer technology, you can
easily copy/paste each of your headings from throughout your writing
into the Table of Contents. Then sit back and see if the Table of
Contents is clear and will make good sense to the reader. You will be
amazed at how easy it will be to see areas that may need some more
attention. Don't wait until the end to do your Table of Contents. Do it
early enough so you can benefit from the information it will provide to
27. If you are including a Conclusions/Implications section in your
dissertation make sure you really presentconclusions and implications.
Often the writer uses the conclusions/implications section to merely restate
the research findings. Don't waste my time. I've already read the findings
and now, at the Conclusion/Implication section, I want you to help me understand
what it all means. This is a key section of the dissertation and is sometimes
best done after you've had a few days to step away from your research and
allow yourself to put your research into perspective. If you do this you
will no doubt be able to draw a variety of insights that help link your
research to other areas. I usually think of conclusions/implications as
the "So what" statements. In other words, what are the key ideas
that we can draw from your study to apply to my areas of concern.
28. Potentially the silliest part of the dissertation is the Suggestions
for FurtherResearch section. This section is usually written at
the very end of your writing project and little energy is left to make
it very meaningful. The biggest problem with this section is that the suggestions
are often ones that could have been made prior to you conducting your research.Read and reread this section until you are sure that you have made suggestions
that emanate from your experiences
in conducting the research and the findings
that you have evolved. Make sure that your suggestions for further research
serve to link your project with other projects in the future and provide
a further opportunity for the reader to better understand what you have
29. Now it's time to write the last chapter. But what chapter is the
last one? My perception is that the last chapter should be the first chapter.
Idon't really mean this in the literal sense. Certainly you
wrote Chapter One at the beginning of this whole process. Now, at the end,
it's time to "rewrite" Chapter One. After you've had a chance
to write your dissertation all the way to the end, the last thing you should
do is turn back to Chapter One. Reread Chapter One carefully with the insight
you now have from having completed Chapter Five. Does Chapter One clearly
help the reader move in the direction of Chapter Five? Are important concepts
that will be necessary for understanding Chapter Five presented in Chapter
One? THE THESIS/DISSERTATION DEFENSE
What a terrible name - a dissertation defense
. It seems to suggest some
sort of war that you're trying to win. And, of course, with four or five
of them and only one of you it sounds like they may have won the war before
the first battle is held. I wish they had called it a dissertation seminar
or professional symposium. I think the name would have brought forward
a much better picture of what should be expected at this meeting.
Regardless of what the meeting is called, try to remember that the purpose
of the meeting is for you to show everyone how well you have done in the
conducting of your research study and the preparation of your dissertation.
In addition there should be a seminar atmosphere where the exchange of
ideas is valued. You are clearly the most knowledgeable person at this
meeting when it comes to your subject. And, the members of your committee
are there to hear from you and to help you better understand the very research
that you have invested so much of yourself in for the past weeks. Their
purpose is to help you finish your degree requirements. Of course other
agenda often creep in. If that happens, try to stay on course and redirect
the meeting to your agenda.
The following ideas should help you keep the meeting on your agenda.
30. The most obvious suggestion is the one seldom followed. Try to attend
one or moredefenses prior to yours.
Find out which other students
are defending their research and sit in on their defense. In many departments
this is expected of all graduate students. If this is not the case for
check with your adviser to see that you can get an invitation
to attend some defenses.
At the defense try and keep your focus on the interactions that occur.
Does the student seem relaxed? What strategies does the student use to
keep relaxed? How does the student interact with the faculty? Does the
student seem to be able to answer questions well? What would make the situation
appear better? What things should you avoid? You can learn a lot from sitting
in on such a meeting.
31. Find opportunities to discuss your research with your friends and
Listen carefully to their questions. See if you are able to
present your research in a clear and coherent manner. Are there aspects
of your research that are particularly confusing and need further explanation?
Are there things that you forgot to say? Could you change the order of
the information presented and have it become more understandable?
32. I hope you don't try circulating chapters of your dissertation
to your committee members as you are writing them.
I find this practice
to be most annoying and one that creates considerable problems for the
student. You must work closely with your dissertation director. He/she
is the person you want to please. Develop a strategy with the dissertation
director regarding how and when your writing should be shared. Only after
your dissertation director approves of what you have done should you attempt
to share it with the rest of the committee. And by then it's time for the
defense. If you prematurely share sections of your writing with committee
members you will probably find yourself in a situation where one committee
member tells you to do one thing and another member says to do something
else. What should you do? The best answer is not to get yourself into such
a predicament. The committee meeting (the defense) allows the concerns
of committee members to surface in a dialogical atmosphere where opposing
views can be discussed and resolved.
33. It's important that you have the feeling when entering your defense
that you aren't doing it alone.
As was mentioned earlier, your major professor
should be seen as an ally to you and "in your corner" at the
defense. Don't forget, if you embarrass yourself at the defense you will
also be embarrassing your dissertation director. So, give both of you a
chance to guarantee there is no embarrassment. Meet together ahead of time
and discuss the strategy you should use at the defense. Identify any possible
problems that may occur and discuss ways that they should be dealt with.Try and make the defense more of a teameffort.
34. Don'tbe defensive at your defense
(this sounds confusing!).
This is easy to say but sometimes hard to fulfill. You've just spent a
considerable amount of time on your research and there is a strong tendency
for YOU to want to defend everything you've done. However, the committee
members bring a new perspective and may have some very good thoughts to
share. Probably the easiest way to deal with new input is to say something
like "Thank you so much for your idea. I will be giving it a lot of
consideration." There, you've managed to diffuse a potentially explosive
situation and not backed yourself or the committee member into a corner. Plus,
you've not promised anything. Try and be politically astute at this time.
Don't forget that your ultimate goal is to successfully complete your degree.
35. Probably the most disorganized defense I've attended is the one
where the dissertation director began the meeting by saying, "You've
all read the dissertation. What questions do you have for the student?"
What a mess. Questions started to be asked that bounced the student around
from one part of the dissertation to another. There was no semblance of
order and the meeting almost lost control due to its lack of organization.
At that time I vowed to protect my students from falling into such a trap
by helping them organize the defense as an educational presentation.
Here's what we do:
I ask the student to prepare a 20-25 minute presentation that reviews
the entire study. This is done through the help of a series of 10-12 large
pieces of paper, wall charts, that have been posted sequentially around
the walls of the room. Each piece of paper contains key words regarding
each of the different aspects of the study. Some pieces of paper contain
information about the study setting, questions and methodology. Other pieces
of paper present findings and finally there are those pieces that present
the conclusions and implications. By preparing these wall charts ahead
of time the student is able to relax during the presentation and use the
pieces of paper as if they were a road map toward the goal. No matter how
nervous you are you can always let the wall charts guide YOU through
your presentation. Lettering is done with a dark marking pen and extra
notes are included in very small printing with a pencil (that no one can
really see). We've also tried it with overhead projected transparencies
but it doesn't work as well. With the transparencies they're gone from
view after a few seconds. The wall charts stay up for everyone to see and
to help focus attention.
Following this structured presentation the committee begins to ask questions,
but as can be expected the questions follow along with the wall charts
and the whole discussion proceeds in an orderly manner. If guests are present
at the defense, this form of presentation helps them also follow along
and understand exactly what was accomplished through the research.
36. Consider tape recording your defense.
Using a small portable recorder,
record your entire presentation and also the questions and comments of
the committee members. This helps in two ways. First, the student has documentation
to assist in making suggested changes and corrections in the dissertation.
Thestudent can relax more and listen to what is being said by the
committee members. The tape recorder is taking notes! Second, the student
has a permanent record of his/her presentation of the study. By keeping
the paper charts and the tape together, they can be most useful for reviewing
the research in future years when a request is made for a presentation.
(Bring out the tape and the pieces of paper the night before your presentation and you can
listen to you
make the presentation. What a good way to review.)
Well that about does it. By following the above suggestions and ideas
I hope it will be possible for you to finish your graduate degree program
in a most timely and enjoyable manner. By looking ahead to the different
aspects of this final part of your graduate study it becomes clear that
you can do a number of things to insure your success. Good luck!
37. Oh, I almost forgot. There's one last thing. Get busy and prepare
an article or paper that shares theoutcomes of your research.
will be no better time to do this than now. Directly after your defense
is when you know your study the best and you will be in the best position to
put your thinking on paper. If you put this writing task off it will probably
never get done. Capitalize on all of the investment you have made in your
research and reap some additional benefit - start writing.
Click here for electronic download or printed copy
Thinking About Buying a Book?
I have spent time identifying a
number of different books that are available to help in writing a
thesis/dissertation. The quality of the books, as can be expected,
varies greatly. View a listing of the books I have identified and my reactions to them
A Handful of Worthwhile Bookmarks -
If I only had time to visit a single website for help with my thesis I'd probably go directly to the Thesis Handbook (http://www.tele.sunyit.edu/ThesisHandbook.html)
maintained by the Telecommunications Program at SUNY Institute of
Technology. Especially helpful are the accompanying Thesis Workbook and
Frequently Asked Questions where you will find a wealth of clearly
written and helpful information. (Selecting a topic; Developing a search
strategy for going after relevant literature: Deciding which tense to
use in your writing; etc.)
An extensive set of hints and ideas on how to improve your dissertation/thesis writing. How To Write A Dissertation or Bedtime Reading For People Who Do Not Have Time To Sleep (http://www.cs.purdue.edu/homes/dec/essay.dissertation.html)
lays out suggestion after suggestion in direct and non-confusing form. A
great list to bring out after you've completed the first draft of your
writing, are rather tired of your topic, and you are not sure where to
begin your fine tuning.
An excellent website with lots of highly specific information
(especially if the focus of your work is in a scientific or technical
area) has been developed by Joe Wolfe at The University of New South
Wales (Australia). How to Write a PhD Thesis (http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/~jw/thesis.html)
provides a variety of very useful suggestions on how to get from the
beginning to the end of your thesis project - and survive the process!
Wouldn't it be great if there were a bunch of theses/dissertations
available for reading right on the web? Well, there are some resources
you should be aware of that will let you see what the finished product
could look like. First, there is an Experimental Digital Library of M.I.T. Theses (http://theses.mit.edu/)
which includes electronically-submitted theses. Next, you can always
purchase a copy of most US dissertations/theses. These are available
from UMI's website - UMI's Online Dissertation Services (http://www.umi.com/hp/Products/Dissertations.html)
. The University of Wisconsin has a site which lists Sites with Full Text Access to Dissertations (http://www.library.wisc.edu/libraries/Memorial/elecdiss.htm#fulltext)
You should also be aware of the various Electronic Dissertation/Thesis
(ETD) projects that are currently underway. A good access to this area
is via the library at the University of Virginia which has a page
dealing with Electronic Theses and Dissertations in the Humanities (http://etext.virginia.edu/ETD/)
Another website that's worth visiting is maintained by Computer
Science & Electrical Engineering at the University of Maryland
Baltimore County and also the Computer Science Department at Indiana
University-Bloomington. How to Be a Good Graduate Student/Advisor (http://www.cs.indiana.edu/how.2b/how.2b.html)
"attempts to raise some issues that are important for graduate students
to be successful and to get as much out of the process as possible, and
for advisors who wish to
help their students be successful."
Prof. John W. Chinneck at Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada) has
created a very practical and well written webpage on the preparation of
your thesis. How to Organize your Thesis (http://www.sce.carleton.ca/faculty/chinneck/thesis.html)
starts with a description of what graduate research/the graduate thesis
is all about and then moves point-by-point through a "generic thesis
If you are in need of some gentle prodding and a bit of humor to go along with it, check out the Dead Thesis Society (http://freewebhosting.hostdepartment.com/d/deadthesissociety/)
- a support group for graduate students. Lots of well organized
information that is moderated by Frank Elgar, a graduate student in
Psychology at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
Mike Hart, Professor of Business and Informatics at King Alfred's
College, has put together a very helpful website focused on successfully
completing the "final year project." Final Year Projects(http://final-year-projects.com/)
is loaded with numerous ideas and suggestions for helping the student
get started in the project and then to keep going until the project is
Not sure of all the administrative steps at your university that are
required to successfully complete a dissertation? Check out this well
thought through website from Pepperdine University's Graduate School (http://gsep.pepperdine.edu/studentservices/dissertation/education/).
Everything seems to be included from a definition of exactly what is a
dissertation all the way to exactly how many spaces between the title
and your name."
Feeling a bit lonesome in the process of writing your thesis or
dissertation? Take a minute to find out who else has visited this
website and read what others have said about this Guide(http://LearnerAssociates.net/dissthes/results.htm) and their own situation. It might just be reassuring!!
And finally, when all else fails, you might want to see what other sites have included a link to this Thesis/Dissertation website. These other sites will have a variety of additional resources to check out.
Your comments and suggestions for improving and extending this guide would be most welcome. Thank you!