The Top 5 Tips for Writing a Dissertation

Writing a dissertation can be an overwhelming thought for doctoral students.  For those students that are considering writing a dissertation, it may be helpful to consider the following tips:

Think in terms of baby steps

Many students can be intimidated by the thought of writing 100-200 pages of information. The key for the student to be successful is to work one step at a time and try not to let the overall project overwhelm them. Universities usually provide checklists with guidelines indicating what should be included within each chapter or section.  Some schools have templates that many use to help with formatting. Check out sites like to obtain these templates. The template can help by having the table of contents and all tabs and page breaks set up.  They can also guide the students with suggestions about how much content should be in each section.

Pick a topic

For some, just picking a topic can be a challenge as many things may interest them.  When considering the five chapters that are required, sometimes beginning with Chapter 2 can help students narrow down their topic of interest.  Chapter 2 contains a review of the current research that is available.  While researching for content for Chapter 2, students learn what others have written about their area of interest.  It is helpful for students to read as many peer-reviewed articles about their topic as they can find.  It is also helpful to read previously published dissertations on similar topics.  The student should be looking for gaps in the literature, where more research is needed.

Pick a population

Many students are interested in doing quantitative studies.  The problem many students run into is that they want to study a very large group. Although this is an admirable goal, it can be very difficult to do.  Students should try to get results that are meaningful.  By narrowing down the population to a very specific group, it is much easier to obtain the data and it can dramatically reduce time and financial requirements.  For example: Instead of thinking about the relationship between emotional intelligence and women, students could narrow down the topic to study the relationship between emotional intelligence in women in a specific company or industry or town.

Have a good editor

One of the biggest problems students run into when submitting their papers is that they have not done enough editing. Perhaps you should consider employing a dissertation editing service.  The review board will be extremely picky about what they will accept.  Currently APA 6th edition is required by many universities.  When picking an editor, it is crucial that the editor has a strong understanding of APA 6th edition.  There have been many changes to the latest edition such as having two spaces after a period, heading changes and other important updates.  A good editor will know how to check the student’s paper for these issues. Doctoral students are expected to write in a scholarly tone.  There should not be any first person references; fluff words like however and therefore should be avoided.  When Chapters 1, 2 and 3 are written, they must be written in future tense.  Every time the student’s study is mentioned, it should be referred to as the proposed study and never just the study. Later, after Chapters 4 and 5 are written, the student will need to go back and change all chapters to past tense.

Have a good statistician

Not all students are statistically gifted.  Many schools suggest that students hire a good statistician to help with Chapters 3 and 4.  It is extremely important to have a good understanding of SPSS software; a good statistician can help with this.  If students do not know of a good statistician, their mentor may be able to suggest one.

About the Author:  Dr. Diane Hamilton’s formal education includes a Bachelor of Science, a Master of Arts and a Doctorate degree in Business Management. She is a doctoral mentor and currently teaches business-related subjects for six online universities. She is the author of The Online Student’s User Manual, How to Reinvent Your Career and It’s Not You It’s Your Personality.  She can be reached through her blog at or her website at

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