Graduate dissertation writing 101: Tips for success

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	Effective time management is key to success.
    Effective time management is key to success.

    Graduate dissertation writing 101: Tips for success

    Most advanced degree programs — whether master's or PhD — require students to complete a thesis or dissertation project. Such an undertaking is designed to enable you to demonstrate not only the application of the crucial knowledge you have accrued throughout the duration of your studies, but also your writing and communication skills and your ability to synthesize nuanced arguments and develop an academic voice of your own. Indeed, in many ways a dissertation project will mark your debut as a professional scholar, and the work will be treated with the same respect afforded to professors and other academics. You may even find that your institution of study will store a published copy of the work in its library.

    Consequently, when it comes to dissertation writing, it is clear that the stakes are much higher when compared with any writing project that you may have completed during your undergraduate career. While a dissertation project will likely inspire feelings of stress and anxiety, it needn't be such a frightening and arduous undertaking. There are a number of simple, universal tips that can help you to excel. If you're looking ahead to your graduate dissertation project and want to get started on the road to success, review the list of stellar tips below:

    1. Put things in perspective
    As outlined above, when it comes to dissertation writing, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task ahead. While completing a dissertation is indeed crucial, it is important to put things in perspective, so that you don't let fear or anxiety stop you from keeping a clear and focused head. As the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision explained, it's important to dispel the notion early on that your thesis needs to be absolutely perfect. 

    "Dispel the notion early on that your thesis needs to be perfect."

    While maximum effort is integral to success, it is unlikely that your project will be as comprehensive or polished as you may have hoped. There will be tangents of inquiry that you will have to neglect and/or omit, and there will likely be areas of your argument that need improvement. The source explained that a more useful way to view your dissertation project is as a beginning – more of a debut to your professional career and consequently, imperfection should be accepted and even cherished. After all, many scholars have gone on to expand their master's or PhD dissertations into book projects later on in their careers. With a clearer understanding of what a dissertation is, you will likely find yourself less worried and more eager to start writing. 

    2. Find a topic
    A successful dissertation project begins with extensive research on a topic that interests you greatly. As Psychology Today noted, your research must be both in-depth and wide in scope. And while conducting the preliminary research stage, keep an open mind. While you may have an idea of the argument you wish to put forth, your comprehensive research may reveal interesting new avenues or tangents that you could pursue instead. 

    3. Develop a strong thesis statement
    Devising your thesis statement is one of the most crucial components of writing your dissertation, as the quality and strength of your statement can either make or break your project. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign stated that a strong thesis statement will be concise, clear and detailed. A vague or generalized statement is ineffective at allowing you to make a strong argument, Ideally your statement will be able to be condensed into two or three sentences and certainly no longer than a paragraph. It's also important to discern the difference between an announcement and argument. A announcement will merely relay a fact and fail to convey your unique insight into a problem. An argument, on the other hand, will offer something more, by providing an angle on the situation that you intend to prove throughout the course of the paper. For example, "Ralph Ellison's 'Invisible Man' is a protest novel about racism' is an announcement, whereas "In 'Invisible Man,' Ellison asserts that race-biased discursive frameworks preclude white empathy and compassion" is an argument. One statement offers an announcement of the issue at hand, while the other articulates a more nuanced viewpoint that can be supported with evidence. 

    4. Write and then write some more
    While you may have a strong argument in mind, if you are unable to convey that argument clearly on the page, you will struggle to succeed. Consequently, you will likely need to write multiple drafts of your dissertation until you reach an acceptable format. Your drafts will be written alongside the guidance of a trusted dissertation advisor — usually a professor with detailed knowledge of your subject area – who can provide you with feedback and crucial edits. If extended writing is something that you really struggle with, also consider seeking help or advice from a writing center. Most universities will provide writing services on campus.

    5. Manage your time effectively
    As with any major project, good timing is key to dissertation success. Leaving the bulk of the work until the last minute is a surefire way to ensure a disappointing outcome. The University of Maryland, College Park, advised that you treat the project as a full-time commitment and spend as many days a week as possible working on it. While many people have different strategies for time management, the source explained that an effective strategy involves creating a rough guideline of how long the project will take and then setting personal deadlines. For example, you may give yourself a week to complete a draft of a chapter, and so on. The Guardian elaborated that there are now even smartphone apps and other digital platforms that you can use to help you mange your time.

    6. Take breaks
    Try not to become a reclusive hermit throughout the duration of the project. Take routine breaks and make time for other activities that can help you relax, whether that's a hobby such as running or simply spending time with family and friends. The downtime will help clear your mind and allow you to return to the project with renewed vigor.

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