4 Crucial Tips in Writing Your Dissertation


Cover as much ground as possible up front with your proposal.
• Build a detailed outline for every chapter.
• Get approval from your committee on sources you will review for your literature review.
• Talk through your hypotheses with your professors.
• Find out where to bracket the conversation so that your topic does not get too broad.
• Gain all institutional approvals needed for research studies.
• Don’t assume anything!

Lay the foundation correctly up front and your dissertation writing will go much more smoothly, with greater focus, and with an understanding of where the problem spots are.

Always cover your back: ensure that you can back up everything you say with documentary or experimental evidence, and ensure that your evidence supports your thesis and does not undermine it. You should also make sure that everything is properly documented, namely that every quotation is referenced, and that every citation in the text matches an entry in the Bibliography (this very rarely happens in practice). Look for possible alternative readings of what you write, and ensure you have answers to obvious objections to your positions. In short, be ready to answer almost any foreseeable challenge to your case.

Remember that your examiners will not have read all your sources or performed your experiments, so you will know your material better than they will. Your job is to lead them through the material and to show them how it supports your thesis. The more clearly and precisely you write, the less likely it is that they will misunderstand you.

Provided you can bring this off, and anticipate the major objections your examiners may raise, you should be well prepared for a successful defence of your dissertation.


Recognize that the dissertation is there to get you your degree.
This is probably not the tip that your dissertation committee will want you to pay attention to. Very often dissertation advisors see dissertations as vanity projects or even as proxy research projects, so they try to push their grad students into directions of research that apply to their interests, not to the study.
This, by the way, is often the cause behind the Miltonic Satan vs. Death grudge match that advisory committees can degenerate into. Faculty can often sense how the dissertation begins to reflect one prof’s influence and this can cause others to react. Again, they may want to see you as their proxy, so keep a low profile.
While your research may be ground-breaking and change the future of Horace Walpole studies forevermore, causing all the other scholars to immediately close up their laptops and leave the field to you, it’s more likely that it won’t. And that’s fine.
In other words, accept that the dissertation is a small first step in your academic career. Mine it for articles later, find a small press looking for quality texts from up-and-coming scholars, or be content that it will be indexed and available for scholars coming after you.

You may have heard the frequent refrain when opening a business: location, location, location. Just like your business wouldn’t exist in a void, neither does your dissertation. The #1 tip for writing a good dissertation is simple: audience, audience, audience. Audience is to writing what location is to commerce. How can you best reach the people you want to interest in your project?

The first thing NOT to do is assume the only people interested in your work are your department chair and dissertation committee. Such an assumption almost guarantees your dissertation will be dry, and more importantly, difficult to write. When you are able to imagine a curious and compassionate reader, who may not be the expert that you now are after years of graduate school, you can make writing decisions that will enhance your work.

Even within the constraints of the typical dissertation framework – introduction, literature review, study design, results, conclusions – your work can still be unique and compelling at the prose level. Think of yourself as someone teaching the material, which in many cases, you will be soon. How do you keep the students from nodding off? How do you keep your colleagues’ attention? The same things that interested you initially about the research will most likely interest your audience. What were they?

Audience consideration can solve many common writing issues. If you are consistently aware of your reader, you will not repeat information with no elaboration or contextualization because you will know the reader already has that information. If you consider your reader as someone who is not as knowledgeable as you are, you will take the time to explain concepts and provide illuminating examples. If you think of your project as a narrative that you are walking your reader through, you will be able ensure you keep her attention and organize your ideas in the most logical way possible.

–by the Staff of Edit911,Inc. & Baldwin Book Publishing

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