Tips for Working on Your Dissertation or Thesis


1.     Since you could spend 1 or 2 years on your project, you need to ensure that your research topic and research problem excite you. How do you measure the excitement? Ideally, the scholarship gap or “scholarly injustice” done to your topic would drive you a bit crazy. In other words, you are compelled to contribute to your field.

2.     It saves you time and energy if your committee members get along with your chair and each other. If acceptable, you can ask your chair to recommend you some member candidates.

3.     Have reasonable expectations for your chair, committee, and yourself. If possible, negotiate a plan that will help you the most. However, keep in mind that professors are busy. Remain self-motivated even when you feel that you are receiving less-than-ideal support.  

4.     LIFE SAVING: Do not rely on your memory! Take notes for all of your readings! Write 2-3 sentences to document the purpose, method, and main argument of the source. Then write another 1-2 sentences on whether and how this source can help you with your own research. Only create elaborate notes on the most important sources. Brief annotations will save you a plethora of time. They are also the key to an organized literature review.

5.     Trust your own evaluation of the scholarly quality of others’ research. Do not accept an argument solely because of the prestige of the author or the publisher.

6.     Produce concrete research and writing plans. Instead of “begin working on Chapter 2” or “write 400 words today,” list specific tasks that can help you accomplish those goals. For instance, “summarize 3 research articles.” Or, “compare the sample selection process in 5 articles to figure out whether I should adopt a similar process.”   

7.     Be flexible and take a break! Some days are better for reading. Some are better for writing. Still, others are better for resting.

8.     If your “better-for-resting” days just seem excessive, it’s time to re-evaluate and locate the potential cause of the lack of progress. Is your research topic still exciting? Is the project plausible for your current knowledge base, time limit, and other resources? Do you need to change or revise your research methodology? Do other commitments or responsibilities interfere with your research time?

9.     Be proud of your accomplishments.