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Do Not Leave Graduate School Before You Get Your Degree | FinishLine, Tips Tools Techniques for Completing a Thesis or Dissertation from Dr Wendy Carter

July, 2008 spacerVolume 4, Issue 7

In This Issue:

Dispelling the Myths About Writing a Thesis or Dissertation

Congratulations to those of you who took advantage of our offer. Last week, I was facilitating the TADA On-line Summer Break Challenge along with the activities in Dissertation House at the University of Maryland. It’s still not too late to join in.

What is it you want to cross off your to-do list this summer instead of rolling over to the new academic year? Perhaps you are looking forward to making significant progress on your thesis or dissertation before the end of the summer. Be specific. How many pages/chapters would you have to finish for you to feel like you have made significant progress? At TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished™ we believe that a good thesis or dissertation is a DONE thesis or dissertation. TA-DA!™ provides you with the tools to make that happen.

How many excuses have you come up to explain why you can’t begin to work on your thesis or dissertation today? Most of these excuses are simply “myths.” Following are “mythbusters” to common writing “cop outs.”

Myth #1: "I know it's time for me to start writing, but I just haven't done enough research yet. I'll spend one more night at the library or on the internet, and then I'll start writing my paper."

Reality: Let’s face it: there’s no end to the information you could ultimately collect for your thesis or dissertation. At some point, you’ve got to stop researching and start writing. A good measure is to begin writing when you start seeing the same information over and over again. It’s always a good idea to just free write your ideas onto to paper first, without worrying about style or grammar, just to see where the holes are in your argument. Another good strategy is to create an outline for each section or paragraph that includes all author citations. As an expert in your field, your advisor may be able to glance at the outline and determine right away if you are missing a major piece of research.

Myth #2: "I can’t move on to my next chapter until I get back previous chapter from my advisor."

Reality: Your advisor always assumes that you are and adult and able to manage your time and your writing project. As a graduate student your task is to make daily progress; revising the same chapter over and over again does not move you forward in any substantive way. You should not wait until each chapter is fully polished before you move on. You should be giving your advisor a new chapter to read while you revise the one s/he gives back to you.

Your job as a graduate student is to keep your advisor apprised of what you are doing. If you are constantly just giving him or her the same three chapters this does not convince him that you are making progress. As always, you should provide your advisor with an outline and cover sheet with instructions on how to read the document you have submitted for review. Thus you should write another chapter while you are waiting to hear back from your advisor or committee members.

Myth #3: "I do my best work under pressure."

Reality: This isn’t undergraduate school, where you could get away with pulling an all-nighter to cram for a test the next day. Your thesis or dissertation is a months-long process, and you’ll need every bit of that time. If pressure truly is a motivator for you, there are many more productive ways to create it: for example, by challenging yourself to finish a paragraph within a half hour or pretending that the section you are writing is a timed essay or qualifying or preliminary exam. Setting monthly, weekly, daily deadlines for each chapter, outline, and paragraph is a healthy way to create pressure and continue moving your project forward.

Myth #3: "In order to work on my paper, I must have four uninterrupted hours."

Reality: You can -- and should -- work on your thesis or dissertation in 12- to 15-minute task modules. This will help you break down the laborious writing process into smaller pieces, making it far more manageable. In our busy lives, finding four-hour chunks of time is very difficult to do; but you have small chunks of 12- to 15-minutes of time throughout the day. Furthermore, if you know you’re only going to have to dedicate a small amount of time when you sit down, the task won’t seem so daunting, and you’ll be less likely to procrastinate. Keep a detailed checklist of all of the items you have to complete, and refer to it often. On days when you’ve got a little bit more time, choose a larger task. But on most days, when you only have a little bit of time, work down your list until you reach one (or more!) of your tasks that can be completed in 12 minutes or less. No task is too small, and no item is too insignificant. Every action you take will move you closer to getting accomplishing your goal.

Myth #4: "I can’t write anything until I have the perfect thesis statement/introduction” AND/OR “I can’t write any more until what I’ve already done is perfect.”

Reality: To finish a thesis or dissertation you don’t have to begin with chapter one followed by chapter two, etc. Begin with the chapter you know best and build from there. Most people write their introduction last.

Your thesis or dissertation doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be done! If you’re a perfectionist who worries about everything being just right, hire an editor, or find a family friend who is a retired English teacher. Hand off what you’ve written to an editor and move on to the next chapter. Then you can go about the task of getting your ideas down on paper and worry about making sure everything is perfect later. When it comes back from the editor you know it won’t be perfect but you can not look at it again from fresh new perspective.

Myth #5: “I can't function in a messy environment. I can't possibly write until I have cleaned my apartment, my office, my house. And there’s simply no time to clean!”

Reality: In order to write, you don’t need your entire office, house or apartment to be clean … just your little writing space! If you really hate to clean, clean while listening to your favorite music and or program your pick ups around your favorite television show. Indulge in watching the stars, and then force yourself to pick up items during the commercials. Start in one area of the space and clean clockwise. By the end of the program, you’ll be surprised how much you’ve accomplished! Voila! You’re ready to write.

Myth #6: “I can’t write unless I have someone with whom I can talk through my ideas.”

Reality: Being able to verbalize your ideas to a friend is a good start but, in reality, that’s not all you want; it’s the comfort of company. Get a writing buddy or buddies or get online.

Find a friend who would be willing to work alongside you during specific, planned work times. Your friends don’t have to be writing; they can be reading or playing games on the internet, for all you care. The important thing is that you have someone there. Arrange to meet your buddy at the coffee shop (or whatever work space in which you write) at a specific time and stay there for the entire designated amount of time. This creates a sense of accountability, and also gives your friend the rewarding sense that he or she helping you to accomplish this major undertaking.

Another alternative is to try our TADA online challenges. By participating in a challenge you are connecting to other graduate students who are working on their qualifying exams, proposals, thesis or dissertation. These types of forums focus on getting words on the page and provide a safe place for you to exchange ideas and strategies with people from across the globe. You are not alone!

Myth #7: “I don’t need to practice for my defense, I am a good public speaker. I never practice my presentations.”

Reality: Your thesis or dissertation defense is not a simple presentation; it is an oral examination. Some refer to it as a “hazing process.” As you would prepare for any other exam you should prepare for your defense. You won’t become a good public speaker overnight. So, if you are not a good public speaker you should consider joining a local Toastmasters club in your area; find out if there is club on your campus.

A good public speaker gives a presentation that is clear and concise. In sum, a speech or presentation can be broken into three parts; 1. Tell them what you are going to tell them (Beginning), 2. Tell them (Middle) and 3. Summarize what you just told them (End). 

The beginning should address the implications of your research question in the real world. Be sure to separate your contribution from what has already been done. The middle should be quite technical for the experts on your committee and you should end by brining it back to your general audience.

Myth #7: “I’m too busy to write a thesis or dissertation.”

Reality: The biggest misconception about finishing a thesis or dissertation is the belief that writing is the key component to completion. The real key to finishing is effective time management. This is particularly true given the fact that, for most students, writing the document must be completed in tandem with numerous other important tasks, such as preparing for the job market; moving to or starting a new job; preparing for graduation; or working a full-time job. If time-management is not your forte, let the TA-DA!™ CD help you manage, structure, and organize your time to maximize your efforts.

Email Question of the Month:


Good afternoon Dr Carter

I am considering pursuing a PhD but I am reluctant to start as I cannot see the real benefit it will have on my life . I have tried in vain to progress up the corporate ladder but to no avail . However, I do have a burning desire to complete a PhD for my own personal achievement. Furthermore the fact of having a Dr looks important.. Equally I believe completing a PhD will improve my writing abilities which is mediocre.

I already possess a BA Hons and a Master in housing . Do you have any advice on this matter . I'm sure a person with two Masters and a PhD can surely advise me on this matter .

Oh, I will be purchasing TA DA cd later today.

Kind regards



Hello Andrew,

Thank you for contacting me at TADA!Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. You pose an interesting question. I wanted a PhD because I wanted a career in Academia. I liked the flexibility in academia. It surely wasn't because of the money because other professors had already warned me about the low salaries in academia. Now, even teaching is not enough to satisfy my passion. I still like it, but I now prefer to help graduate students fulfill their goals even more. Getting a PhD can be so time consuming, and so overwhelming at times, that without a clear reason of why you are pursing this degree and a plan on how to get there will lead you into an abyss.

I knew after the first Master's that I wanted a PhD but the truth be told I didn't know what I was getting into. I did have a plan...I had planned on taking 4 years min 5 years max. It took me 6. When I look back I realized that without a structured plan, a supportive environment, and funding I might have taken even longer. I failed my first qualifying exams and that costs me an additional year.

The PhD is a research degree first and foremost. Even if you are thinking about just pursuing the degree for personal reasons you have to think about what area of research you would like to pursue. You will have to find something that would would like to work on for quite a while and be able to convince the admissions committee that pursuing your PhD at their university with their faculty is the only thing that you want to do.

I hope that this answer gets you to move forward.

Dr. Carter

TA-DA!™ Graduates —
Congratulations on Your Success

Congrats to Adia at UMBC who defended her dissertation.


Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D.

About the Author: As a single mother, professor Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D., completed three masters' degrees and a PhD. Her motto is a Good Thesis/Dissertation is a Done Thesis/Dissertation. She is the creator of a new innovative interactive resource tool on CD—TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. To learn more and sign up for her FREE tips and teleclasses, contact us at Privacy is our policy. TADA™ Finishline does not give out or sell our subscribers' names or e-mail addresses.

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Inside This Issue:

Dispelling the Myths About Writing a Thesis or Dissertation

Email Q & A of the Month

Next FinishLine Features:

Scientific Writing: The Six Burner Stove

Need to Choose a Topic?

Practical Steps to Selecting a Viable Masters Thesis or Dissertation Topic
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