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With a Ph.D. in American literature, Marc D. Baldwin has been writing, editing and teaching for 37 years. He’s published a scholarly study of Ernest Hemingway and numerous articles in various literary journals, and is president of Edit911, Inc.

3 Great Tips for APA Editing


To borrow a trite analogy, learning to use APA [or any documentation style, for that matter] is like learning to ride a bicycle. Once you understand the mechanics, including how to shift, balance, and stop, the rest is easy. The first step is to purchase, and actually read, an APA manual, either APA5 or APA6, depending on your university’s requirements. Granted, it is not a riveting work but essential. If the thought of reading a reference book causes chills to dance down your spine, it is likely time to seek professional dissertation editing help … not for your phobia but for editing your work.

Based on many years of editing dissertations, I can offer a few essential points that candidates frequently overlook. The top fifteen below may be helpful:


  • All references in the text must have a comparable listing on the reference pages and vice versa. Each mention of an author’s name must have an identical spelling for each use.
  • Et al. is Latin for ‘and others’; thus, it applies only to three or more authors of the same work. All authors [unless a number in excess of six] should be listed for the first in text citation; if the citation is for two or three authors, all names should appear in each citation.
  • All direct quotes in text must have a page number (p.). Page numbers are not required on paraphrased material.
  • If referring to the same author in closely connected sentences, it is not necessary to use the author’s date in subsequent citations.
  • If websites have no author, begin the reference with the title of the material you retrieved and use that information as the in text citation.
  • Listing databases [Ebsco, LexusNexus, etc.] as a source of retrieval is not required on the reference page. The website address is required.
  • If you are using APA6, it is not necessary to use a retrieval date on websites.[Retrieved from http://xxxxxx]
  • If you are using APA6, locate the doi number, if available, on periodicals. Add it at the end of the citation without a period. [doi: xxxxx]

Writing Style

  • Eschew passive language but tread lightly. It is not enough to employ an active verb if the subject of the sentence is incapable of the implied action [anthropomorphism].
  • If you are creating a proposal, refer to your work in future tense; if you are writing a completed dissertation, refer to your work in past tense.
  • Normally, all references to previous studies are in past tense.
  • In qualitative dissertations, you should avoid personal pronouns. Although it is sometimes necessary, to employ the rather stilted phrase, ‘the researcher,’ it is preferable to using I. Qualitative dissertations offer more leeway on author referents but ‘playing’ with sentence construction can help you avoid using either I or ‘the researcher’.


  • Double check your Table of Contents not only to check correct page numbers but also to confirm identical wording as your text headings.
  • Tables have labels at the top; figures have labels at the bottom.
  • Let the computer work for you. If you are using Word, you can go to file and page setup to indicate consistent margins throughout your document. The paragraph tab under format can produce clean margin indentations and create a hanging indent for those pesky references. Under the insert tab, you can indicate page breaks, which rid your work of widowed headings and subheadings.

To keep your bicycle and your dissertation editing running smoothly may require additional maintenance. In the case of your dissertation, this means discovering whether your university committee or graduate school has exceptions to APA and tweaking your work accordingly. Normally, the exceptions relate to spacing and specific required headings within each chapter but, occasionally, there are exceptions to tense selection or other peculiarities. If need be, seek the help of a dissertation editing service.

This should provide a starting checklist for your work. But it’s no substitute for the manual. So if you’re a grad student or scholar, pick one up and enjoy it! Joke. It can be pretty dense reading, but that’s the name of the academic game.


How to Write a Dissertation Proposal

It’s your third year in the doctoral program. You’ve taught like a god. You’ve written seminar papers that have made your teachers weep (in a good way). And you’ve logged more time on airplanes and in hotels than in seminar rooms. The world is starting to know you and your ideas.

You’ve passed comps or prelims.

What do you do now?

Pat yourself on the back. You’ve taken your warm up laps, and now it’s time to get ready for the marathon that’s ahead of you. It’s no secret. But nobody seems to know it. Unlike law school or med school, academic grad school is really two programs.

There’s the coursework, which you’ve aced.  Right? That’s all great stuff, but it’s over and you’re on your own now. You’re doing your own stuff. This is the FUN part of graduate school. You’re basically a baby professor at this point.

Now, what most of the dissertation editing books don’t tell you about this part of graduate school, the dissertation stage, is one little word:


What, you may ask, if you’re in the sciences or, god help you, the humanities, does dissertation writing and scholarship have to do with MBA stuff. That’s the stuff you didn’t want to do.

The short answer:  Everything. From here on out (and you’ve already been doing it in coursework, teaching, and conference presentations) everything is about pitching and selling ideas.


Does the thought of selling really make you queasy? Get over yourself! Ideas mean nothing if no one wants to read them.

The dissertation phase is about pitching your ideas to your advisor, your committee, and, if you get lucky, fellowship committees.

So, get ready to sell!

It’s time to write the dissertation proposal: the truly condensed version of your dissertation. It’s short and sweet. Usually, it’s about five to ten pages. So, how do you write the proposal?

First off, this is one of those chicken or egg kind of questions. You have to enough to write the proposal. But you won’t know enough to write the whole dissertation. Generally, what you want to do in the dissertation proposal is to  frame a question.

You need to be very bold here. Make arguments and assertions, the bolder the better. You also want to present a pretty clear outline of what you intend to do in the dissertation itself. Obviously, you’re in a weird situation here. You don’t know a lot. But you know some things. It’s best to err on the side of audacity. Make your arguments as bold as possible and as clear as possible.

You need to know the current state of your discipline quite well. That’s a given. And you have to announce to the world what you want to do. How are you going to be making a new intervention in the world of scholarship that you know well? That’s what people are going to want to know. What’s new and or exciting about what you want to write?

Start off with a one paragraph argument.

This first paragraph should state what your argument is and probably what you’re basing this argument on. Who are the major players in the field, and how is what you’re writing addressing gaps or problems in their work?

Then write your sub-arguments and conclusion.

Each paragraph that follows (and these can be huge, whopping big paragraphs) can list your sub-arguments. Then, after that, you have to propose a conclusion to what you’re writing.

The secret about a proposal

Would you like to know a little secret about the proposal?

It’s generally pure fiction.  What you really write about in your dissertation may or may not conform to what you’re writing about here. That’s just the way things are in this world. But you absolutely do have to write this proposal.

You’ll submit it to your advisor and your committee members and everyone will sign off on it. And then you can get started. Now, you may or may not get full buy in from your committee. Generally what I found is that most of your committee members really won’t care one way or another about what you write. They’re too busy writing their own stuff. So, you can generally sneak your own writing in under their radar.

Score a Fellowship

Do a very good job on the proposal because it can serve as the basis of fellowship proposals. And, baby, you want a fellowship.

Why?  Because if you get one of those puppies—anywhere between about twenty thousand dollars and fifty thousand dollars, you can have a very nice year. You can go wherever you want to write the dissertation. Imagine writing on a beach somewhere down in Mexico.

Fellowships are your friend. And they also mean that you don’t have to take time out to teach those pesky undergraduates unless you really want to.  They can also set you up for being published, and they make you look like a good candidate for a job. So, do everything that you can to win yourself a dissertation fellowship.

OK, let’s say you’ve written a killer proposal. Your committee says, “My god, this is the next big thing.”  And of course I knew you could do it.  You edit the proposal slightly and win yourself a fellowship. You’re in like Flynn.

What do you do next? It’s not a bad idea to find a good dissertation editing service to be sure your proposal is well-edited before submitting it.

Then, you have to write the dissertation, of course—which we’ll start tackling the next  installment.


Plagiarism & How to Avoid It

It is plagiarism when you take something out of a book and use it as your own.  If you take it out of several books then it is research. — Ralph Foss quoting Wilson Mizner

One moon shows in every pool, in every pool the one moon. – Zen Proverb

As a concept, plagiarism is easy to grasp: you take someone else’s work and pass it off as your own.  In practice, plagiarism can be a slippery little sucker, eeling away to hide amongst quotations, fair use, common knowledge, and figures of speech.

Even worse, there is a distinct difference between academic plagiarism and the kind that happens off-campus.

Fortunately, the complexities of plagiarism can be navigated with confidence as long as we remember that the crime is a combination of theft and fraud.  The value of the stolen object comes from the originality of its idea and/or the quality of its prose.  The level of fraud depends on what is extorted from the victim.

In school, plagiarism occurs when the student tries to defraud the teacher of a grade by convincing the teacher they created something actually written by someone else.  It does not matter if the actual author – such as a friend or a Website – agrees to this fraud.  That only makes them an accomplice.

Professional plagiarism, however, requires that the original author does not give permission for the use of their work.  For instance, an unknown song writer gets their tune stolen by a popular band.  Even if the ditty turns out to be a dud, the song writer is the victim of theft, regardless of whether the song were copyrighted.

However, people who take from the author with permission are not plagiarists. Speech writers, ghost writers, and the like may give or sell their work if they want to.  While the public may feel defrauded when they learn some actor’s “autobiography” was actually written by someone else, well, cry me a river.

But, you may ask, what about when the original author is dead?  The moral answer is that passing off any dead guy’s work as your own is definitely plagiarism.  The real answer is to get a lawyer to check if the estate holds a copyright.

So by understanding just what plagiarism is, we can tell when and how plagiarism occurs.

Scenario 1:

John gets an assignment in his history class to write a five-page paper on Thomas
Edison.  He goes to Wikipedia and copies and pastes five pages of stuff.  The only thing he actually writes is his name.  Then he puts the whole paper inside quotation marks and lists Wikipedia on his Works Cited page.

Has plagiarism occurred?

No.  John indicated exactly what he took and where he got it from.  He still gets an F for being a lazy twit, but he hasn’t violated the honor code.

Scenario 2:

Jane writes an article for the local newspaper on pollution in the drinking water.  Stressing to meet her deadline, she goes into the paper’s “morgue” and finds an article written twenty years ago by some guy.  She takes a few lines about the responsibilities of the government to keep the public safe.

Has plagiarism occurred?

Yes.  She’s stolen from the author and defrauded the newspaper.

Scenario 2 -a:

Jane writes an article for the local newspaper on pollution in the drinking water.  Stressing to meet her deadline, she worries her last paragraph is really dull and livens up her prose with a famous but unaccredited phrase from Shakespeare: “to thine own self be true.”

Has plagiarism occurred?

No.  Jane assumes that the reader will recognize the quote and that no one will think it’s her original phrase.  The credit to Shakespeare is left out because she deems it unnecessary, not because she’s being deceptive.

Scenario 3:

Jose get an assignment in his third grade class to give a presentation on choo-choo trains.  He goes home and asks his parents about it, then he watches a couple of shows on TV about trains.  His friend has a father who works on trains, and he shows him some drawings of the inside of a locomotive.  Jose eventually draws his own picture of a train and shows it to the class while telling them about the things he’s learned.  He gives no credit to anyone but himself.

Has plagiarism occurred?

No.  Though the information was new to Jose, he gathered up common knowledge and presented it in his own words.  No one in the class thinks he’s pretending he invented trains or is the first person to talk about them.

Scenario 4:

Josie is writing a dissertation on President Bill Clinton.  She’s fortunate enough to get a personal interview with him.  It lasts for hours.  She puts sections of the interview in her book, taking care to attribute them all correctly.  She particularly likes his discussion of regulation and its effects on the economy.  Worried that the dissertation is getting “quote heavy,” she takes several of his sentences explaining the basics, substitutes a few words, and leaves off the quotation marks.

Has plagiarism occurred?

Yes.  Changing a few words still makes Clinton the co-author of the sentences, and removing the quotation marks means the reader will assume the passages are wholly original to her.

Scenario 5:

You are writing a seven-page research paper on the history of origami.  You want to include information you found on the specific qualities of good origami paper.  While this information is new to you, it may well be common knowledge in Japan.  You decide to put in the information without citing a source.

Has plagiarism occurred?

I’d say no, but other teachers might say yes.  Why take a chance?  When you’re unsure, ask your teacher. Consult with a dissertation editor. Ask your dissertation editing service to run a report and/or flag any suspicious passages.  If you’re finishing the paper the night before and can’t ask, cite your source.  Nobody ever got sent to the principal for  being too careful with their quotes.

Publish Your Dissertation

Publishing Your Dissertation: Begin with the End in Mind

In Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey advises folks to begin with the end in mind when undertaking any project.  Covey’s advice is especially relevant for dissertators. Often people say that you should write your dissertation and then revise for publication, either as a book or a series of journal articles.  I completely disagree with the standard wisdom given by well-meaning folks.  Instead, I argue that one should not write a dissertation unless one first has either a specific publisher for the dissertation as a whole or several journals for each chapter in mind before one writes. Furthermore, be sure it’s the best it can be by seeking the help of  dissertation editor easily found at a good dissertation editing service.

What is a dissertation?

A dissertation is an entry-level professional intervention in a scholarly body of knowledge or research. Writing a dissertation is a major investment of time, money (lost opportunity costs and perhaps hiring a dissertation editor), care, and, often, worry. So, if you’re going to make this investment, ensure that it will pay off by doing your due diligence before you write.

Do your due diligence

Do your research to ensure that the general subject of your dissertation is drawing scholarly interest and publication. You may have someone on your committee who knows your field very well and is a published ‘name.’ If you have such a person on your committee, you’re very lucky because he or she will know immediately if you have a “hot” topic. However, the reality is that you might not have such a person in your academic life. If you don’t, the onus is on you to see if the topic will be publishable.

Through your coursework, you should have been developing an awareness of your subfield. Ideally, you have already been reading heavily in it and know the relevant and major books and journals.  Ideally, as well, you’ve been attending conferences and have met the senior scholars in your field.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

One thing that you should keep in mind is to never try to re-invent the wheel for your specific topic. If it’s already been said by someone in the field, don’t say it again. While doing so might be an interesting exercise, it won’t get you very far in terms of publication.

A dissertation is NOT just a long seminar paper

If you are writing for publication from the get go, you have to be aware that, unlike your seminar papers, which were written to show a specific professor that you knew enough to get an A, your dissertation should be making a fresh intervention in a field.  Yes, you have to know the field well, but the primary purpose of the dissertation should be to say something new and interesting, not to demonstrate an understanding of the field.

Your dissertation proposal should amount to one of two things: either a book proposal or a proposal for a series of articles to be published in specific journals. If by the time you write the proposal, you can’t name a prospective publisher or journals that would be interested, then you might have a clue that you need to do some more research or change your topic.

Your committee is NOT your primary audience

When you’re actually producing the dissertation, always be thinking that you’re not writing as a student any longer (even though, of course, you are). Rather, you’re writing as a professional developing a voice and making an impact in a field. And, while of course you will have to deal with objections and concerns (and, sometimes, melodrama) raised by specific committee members, remember that you’re not writing primarily to please them. Rather, you’re writing for potential journal editors, peer reviewers, and publishers.

Keeping it real: Submit to your committee AND for publication simultaneously

One thing I found helpful when I was dissertating was to actually submit each chapter to a journal at the exact same time that I was submitting to the committee.  Thinking publication spurred me to write better and more quickly. And, yes, I actually had the experience of receiving an acceptance letter from a journal even before the committee returned the chapter.  While the acceptance letter was personally gratifying, it also helped to keep the committee members from going too far afield in terms of what they were going to have me revise.

Some parting suggestions:

In terms of the actual writing of the dissertation, here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Your dissertation is not primarily a document designed to show off your exhaustive knowledge of a subject or your ability to use every jargon word you know.  Rather, to be publishable, your dissertation should make an argument or series of arguments and support those contentions with enough background information, but not too much.
  • By all means, use specialized language when it’s appropriate to do so, but don’t go overboard, and, for goodness’ sake, be careful. Nothing blows your credibility more quickly than using those jargon words incorrectly. If need be, find a good dissertation editing service to polish it for you.
  • If you’re working towards publication, also be careful to avoid those “grand gestures” or generalizations about your topic or civilization itself. Somehow, many of us, maybe by reading bad scholarship written in the 1940s and 1950s, got it into our heads that scholars should make grandiose statements about entire disciplines or even nation states.  Remember that the only people who can make these kinds of statements are very senior scholars, who really do know everything and everybody in a particular field.  Newbie professionals can’t get away with the grand gestures. Save them for the end of your career.
  • Check our service that will transform your dissertation into a book:


In conclusion, writing a dissertation can be a very fun and rewarding experience. This experience can be even more rewarding if, following the advice of Stephen Covey, you begin with the end in mind and map out a publication plan for your work.

Writing Description: The John Updike Way

Show, don’t tell

Perhaps the most important piece of advice a book editor or book editing service can give is “show, don’t tell.” Often, as writers, we have a very clear idea in mind of who is saying what where when something is happening. However, creating that same image in our reader’s mind is the challenge we face. For best effect, don’t tell your reader that the sunrise was “beautiful” or even “spectacular”; instead, show that the sunrise “streaked the still gray sky with rosy pillars, illuminating the tops of the heavy clouds.” Allow your reader to see it and come to his or her own conclusion that it is beautiful. For example, John Updike, in his A&P, carefully describes the girls, but in Sammy’s words:

She had on a kind of dirty-pink – – beige maybe, I don’t know — bathing suit with a little nubble all over it and, what got me, the straps were down. They were off her shoulders looped loose around the cool tops of her arms, and I guess as a result the suit had slipped a little on her, so all around the top of the cloth there was this shining rim. If it hadn’t been there you wouldn’t have known there could have been anything whiter than those shoulders. With the straps pushed off, there was nothing between the top of the suit and the top of her head except just her, this clean bare plane of the top of her chest down from the shoulder bones like a dented sheet of metal tilted in the light. I mean, it was more than pretty.

Updike (or Sammy) could have told us that “Queenie” was pretty, but he chooses to focus on the details of her clothing.

Make a scene

We’ll talk more about scenes in regards to plot, but, like what’s onstage in a drama, what surrounds your characters will only add to their development and the reality of what’s happening. In this, appeal to all the senses, not just sight:

  • What kind of light is there? Natural? Fluorescent? Are there colors?
  • Describe a scent. Perfume/cologne? Flowers? New paint? Has someone just popped a breath mint?
  • Besides the characters’ speech, is there a sound? Background conversation? Crickets? The creak of a rocking chair?
  • Is there something notable about how it feels? Is there a draft? Has it become uncomfortably warm right when all eyes have turned to our hero?

Of course, not all of this needs to be included at all times. But the right kind of description can heighten the effect of a scene. For example, note how Updike brings in Sammy’s surroundings to emphasize the sudden discomfort:

All this while, the customers had been showing up with their carts but, you know, sheep, seeing a scene, they had all bunched up on Stokesie, who shook open a paper bag as gently as peeling a peach, not wanting to miss a word. I could feel in the silence everybody getting nervous, most of all Lengel, who asks me, “Sammy, have you rung up this purchase?”

Visualize your characters as actors

Shaping a good character should take care of this issue, but it’s worth a second look. While good description can help us to visualize the character as a figure (i.e., looks, clothing etc.), good description can also help us to visualize the character as a person. For example, what does the character look like when angry? Does he or she have a nervous habit that might come out in an uncomfortable situation?

Queenie’s blush is no sunburn now, and the plump one in plaid, that I liked better from the back — a really sweet can — pipes up, “We weren’t doing any shopping. We just came in for the one thing.”

“That makes no difference,” Lengel tells her, and I could see from the way his eyes went that he hadn’t noticed she was wearing a two-piece before. “We want you decently dressed when you come in here.”

Here, we can see Updike drawing our attention to how people look—Queenie’s blush and Lengel’s eyes—to suggest emotion rather than attempting to tell us directly. Besides being a great writer, Updike was one of the greatest book editors of all time.


The Dissertation Writing Blues

You’re on the home stretch.  Your committee has given you the clearance to begin writing your dissertation.  That light at the end of the tunnel is a bit brighter.  Now, the only thing that stands between you and your defense is a document that may seem to have a mass that is equivalent to that of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary or that requires more paper than can be produced from an Amazonian rainforest.

This may seem insurmountable.  Believe me, it is not.  Aside from excellent time management skills, you can complete your thesis if you learn to strike a balance between writing and…well…not writing.  For the next few weeks, months, but hopefully not years, you’ll be living and breathing your dissertation.  You know your thesis better than any one, and writing may come easily at times; however, there will be times when your focus and clarity give way to the following:

  1. Self-doubt
  2. Dismay
  3. Anger
  4. Fatigue
  5. Sorrow
  6. Apathy

These aren’t in any particular order.  Actually, you may feel all of these at the same time.  This is why you feel like you’re going to go insane.  It’s OK.  Breathe.  Step away from the computer (hit ‘Save’ first).  It is at times like these when you need a serious distraction – something that completely removes you from your dissertation.  Or something that is completely mindless and removes you from reality.  I can only speak from experience, so here are a few distractions that were invaluable to me while I wrote my dissertation.


  • Internet games

They’re an easy and quick distraction.  You’re already in front of your computer, so why not?  Sit there, go blank, grow some crops, solve some puzzles, shoot some aliens.  Whatever floats your boat.

  • Exercise

Yes, this requires some motivation.  You may see this as more work, but the stress relief and clarity of mind that comes with regular exercise can do wonders during the dissertation writing process.  Make an exercise schedule and stick to it.  Running, resistance training, Wii Sports.  Again, whatever floats your boat.

  • Reading

Read for enjoyment, whether a new book or your favorite one.  If you’re sensitive to it, avoid the news.  It can be depressing.

  • Family

More than likely, your family knows absolutely nothing about what you’re studying.  Call or have dinner with your significant other, your parents, your siblings, or whomever, and take great comfort in the fact that, if you speak about your dissertation, no one will understand you.

  • Sleep

Need I say more?

Obviously, these are purely suggestions.  You’ll need to find what works best for you.  Writing your dissertation is just another of the flaming hoops through which you must jump in order to secure your Ph.D.  It certainly isn’t the last.  You still have to do the dissertation editing to comply with your institution’s formatting requirements, make revisions that appease your advisor and your committee, defend, and meet all the deadlines for graduation. You may even have to hire a dissertation editing service to help you finish up. But hey, at least the writing part is a flaming hoop that you can complete on your own terms

Top 12 Tips in Writing a Dissertation

Very often, when doctoral candidates complete their dissertations, they seek dissertation editors to give them guidance on the structure and organization of their writing. Such guidance can range from the document or chapter level to the individual clause level and includes proofreading for typographical and grammatical errors. However, no matter how capable your dissertation editor, the dissertation will be stronger if you consider the following tips early on during your doctoral studies.

Selecting a Dissertation Topic

1.     Find a topic that you love and care about. Choose a topic that you will be able to live with, think about constantly, and even dream about for a few years. When you complete the dissertation, you should be, for a brief time at least, the world’s foremost expert on your topic. In order to reach that goal, you must care about your topic enough to become deeply involved with it and want to know everything about it.

2.     Begin thinking about your dissertation topic from the beginning of your studies. Every course you take will require you to submit a paper or some sort of project. Try to make an original observation about the topic in every paper or project you submit. Doing so may result in a viable dissertation topic. Consider each topic available for you to write about in terms of whether you could live with that topic for an extended period of time, whether it fits with your long-range career goals, and whether you would really have anything original to say about the topic.

3.     When considering original research topics for your dissertation, don’t overlook the possibility of synthesizing subdisciplines. It isn’t unusual to find two different disciplines or subdisciplines that address the same problem on different domains or with different methodologies. Would using an entirely different methodology from another field reveal any new information about your area of interest? Can you build a bridge or make connections between findings from separate subdisciplines and view your topic from a new perspective?

Take Charge of Your Learning

4.     When taking classes and reading assignments, make a note of every term, concept, and reference to another work that you are not familiar with. Then, take the time to learn about unfamiliar ideas. Unfortunately, many people don’t learn how to be true lifelong learners during their undergraduate studies. If you haven’t learned how to facilitate your own learning and intellectual growth before now, then now is the time to learn this crucial skill. The ability to recognize gaps in your own knowledge and take steps to strengthen your areas of weakness is one mark of a person with a sound education.

5.     Learn all you can about research methods in your discipline. While research methods are broadly divided into quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods, within those general areas are many specific submethods. Understand the methodology that is generally used in the subdiscipline you are focusing on and how it compares to other methodologies you could use. Learn to use the terminology correctly, making it part of your everyday vocabulary.

6.     When doing research on your selected topic, work on understanding and evaluating all sides of the issues, both in terms of research methods used and in terms of theories pertaining to your area of interest. Be open-minded when reading viewpoints that oppose your own, think clearly about why you don’t agree with an author’s stance, and build clear, specific arguments that directly address the points that you don’t agree with. Again, understand and learn to use terminology correctly.

7.     If you will be using statistics, consider auditing a stats course or, at the very least, invest in a good textbook on statistics. Learn to talk and write about statistics correctly and knowledgeably. Being able to input numbers into SAS or another software program and then run a function is not the equivalent of understanding statistics. For your use of statistics to be meaningful and professional, you must understand and be able to talk knowledgeably about population selection, the use of variables and forms of measurement, the appropriate equations to use for your analytical purposes, and what you have actually “found” or “revealed” as a result of the method or methods applied. You need to be able to explain why you are inputting certain numbers, where those numbers came from and what they represent, why a certain statistical function is being used, and what the results indicate about your topic. Practice applying your knowledge of statistics whenever you read about a study using quantitative data.

Organize, Organize, Organize!

8.     Set up a good organization system for your library of articles and books at the very beginning of your graduate studies. If you have hard copies of articles, invest in a small file cabinet and folders and file the articles according to topic, subdiscipline, or author name. Use a system that makes sense to you. If you can’t decide how to file a particular article, use a note system within your filing system to indicate the location of a file. For example, if you have an article about research conducted on the effectiveness of using live chat in online learning, but the article begins with an informative discussion about the methodology used, you may want to file the article with others addressing research on the effectiveness of using live chat, but, in folders that contain info on methodology and online learning in general, note the location of this file. (Make brief, clearly written notes on the inside covers of the folder or on sticky notes attached to the inside covers.)

9.     Learn and use good file management on your computer. Many articles today are available as PDFs. Such files can be searched for key terms, but you can’t search in an article if you can’t find it. Learn to create folders on your computer and nest them. For example, a folder on online learning could hold folders about specific theories addressing online learning as well as tools that can be used in facilitating online learning.

10.   As part of your file management, begin building a spreadsheet file (or a database if you have the software and know-how) of all the articles, books, webpages, and videos you have found. For books containing chapters written by different authors, create an entry for each chapter. Along with the authors’ names (ALL authors’ names) and titles, include the date, publication information, page spans for articles and chapters, original publication information (if applicable), main points about the source (thesis statement, research methods used), and the location of the item in your filing system. For example, “Paper-online learning-live chat” would indicate that the item is a hard copy in your file cabinet in the live-chat folder in the online-learning area or drawer, and “PDF-online learning-quantitative-transcript analysis” would indicate you have a file on your computer in the transcript-analysis folder that is within the quantitative-methods folder within the online-learning folder. If you accessed the item online, be sure to record the DOI (preferred by most documentation styles) or the URL for pages or PDFs at websites. You may also want a field that indicates the various subtopics that the source touches on. (For instance, an article on using live chat in online learning may be also be marked as having information on quantitative research methods and constructivist learning theory.)

Know Your Documentation Style

11.   Early on in your research process, determine the documentation style you will use. Your grad school or program may mandate a particular style, or you may be free to select your own. If you can select your own, learn the style that is used most often in your discipline. If the choice is still open, choose an author-date style (references at the end of the document and in-text parenthetical citations within the text) because it is the easiest and least time-consuming to use and is easily revised.

12.   Once you know which documentation style you will use for your dissertation, buy the appropriate manual and use it as often as possible for papers written in classes. Note that “documentation” styles include much more than simply how sources are cited. They often specify how numbers are to be treated in the text, how tables and figures are displayed, how sources are referred to (e.g., APA requires past tense when writing about a source while literary works cited in MLA are generally written about in present tense), and even which prefixes occur with hyphens and what types of phrases are hyphenated. Becoming familiar with the documentation style before you actually begin writing the dissertation will make your writing process much easier. Again, being thoroughly familiar with the documentation style for your discipline is one mark of having a sound education.

Taking the time to consider these tips early on in your graduate studies can make the process of writing your dissertation go more smoothly and strengthen the integrity of your work. Tips 4-12 can actually save you time when you move into that time-intensive period of writing parts of your dissertation and passing them to your committee for comments. These tips can also help you avoid embarrassment as a result of the types of comments your committee members could make.

The stronger your dissertation is before you send it to a dissertation editing service, the better your final product will be.

10 Steps to Writing a Research Paper in 5 Days

These steps do not need to be completed all at once (or even at all if you feel you’re all set in the rough draft department). Space them out over the next five days. If you sit down for about one hour a day between now and then, you will have ample time to write an engaging and effective rough draft.

Day 1

1. Write a tentative thesis statement that meets the following criteria:

Narrows your subject to an appropriate scope

Claims something specific and significant

Conveys your purpose

Offers a debatable point of view

2. Sit down for 30 minutes. Spend 10 minutes each on three of the following prewriting exercises:





Asking Questions

Journal Writing

Day 2

3. Spend 30 minutes searching through the online library to identify four more sources. Print them out. At this point, you should have at least 8-10 sources at your disposal.

4. Sit down for one hour. Read through your sources and for each, write a three-sentence summary and identify three quotes you could use.

Day 3

5. Sit down for 30 minutes. Write a 2-page informal letter to a friend, teacher, or other recipient (it won’t be sent), telling them what you know about your topic, what your position is, and why. Do not spend time on grammar or organization at this point – just write complete sentences. When done, put the letter aside.

6. Choose your four favorite sources. Develop a prompt for your topic similar to those used for in-class essays. For example:

In the near future, it is possible that robotics will replace many jobs that are currently held by humans. In his articles “Robots Prepare for the Battlefield by First Fighting City Traffic” and “Robot-Assisted Rescuers Seek Answer in Wake of Utah,” Larry Greenemeier describes how robots are being used to complete tasks that are too difficult or dangerous for humans. It is also feasible that robots will substitute for other humans in social relationships. In the article “Could Robots Become Your Toddler’s New Best Friend?” Nikhil Swaminathan relates the details of an experiment where toddlers befriended a robot and treated it like another child. Robert Epstein, in his article “My Date with a Robot,” shares his own experience of dating Repliee Q1expo, a humanlike robot.

Write an essay in which you compare the robot/human relationships each author describes, making sure to summarize each article briefly before quoting from it. Develop a thesis in which you put forth your views as to what extent you believe robots can replace humans in various facets of life, such as labor and social relationships. Support your argument with reference to all four essays, outside texts (books, films, television, news, etc.), and/or examples from your own experience.

Day 4

7. Sit down for one hour and respond to the prompt you have written, exactly as you would during an in-class essay. (Later, revise your response to submit as the synthesis essay assignment due on Tuesday.)

8. Read over the letter you wrote in step 5 and the prompt response you wrote in step 7. Imagine you have been asked to break down your topic into four smaller two-page sections. Create evocative titles for each section. For example:

Robots: Friend or Foe?

Crash Test Dummies Exist for a Reason

After Dinner, A Robot Does the Dishes

What Would I Be Able to Do Instead if a Robot Could Write This Essay?

Put the titles aside.

Day 5

9. Write an outline to determine the best way to organize your essay. Do not use the titled sections yet. Try to get by without them at first to see if you can.

10. Put your prewriting, the source summaries and quotes, the letter, and the synthesis essay into one document. Move the text around using cut and paste until all usable text has been organized following the outline. Fill in the blanks so that all outline points are addressed and the document reads like the rough draft of an essay. Edit for grammar and flair. Proofread and let go!


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