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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

September, 2009spacerVolume 5, Issue9

Welcome to all our new subscribers!

Thesis and Dissertation Help:
Tips, Tools and Resources

This issue of FinishLine was written for those of you who are struggling with completing your Master’s thesis or dissertation. Many advisors think that the struggle to complete your thesis or dissertation is based on your inability to write and or conduct research but at TA-DA we recognize that completing your degree is about much more.

Three of the most helpful resources by far for graduate students are TA-DA FinishLine, TA-DA! Online and the TA-DA! CD. These tools are designed to guide you step-by-step through the entire process of finishing your thesis or dissertation, and to help keep you motivated along the way. The tips and guidelines included will make the process much, much easier … including the writing phase. TA-DA! also provides tools to help you overcome procrastination, frustration and any other obstacles you may face. Most importantly, TA-DA! will show you how to organize and plan your time and actions so that you complete at least one task every day … and that’s what it will take to make sure you finally get finished. Our motto is “A Good Dissertation is a Done Dissertation.” Remember: it doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be done!

Below are some common questions posed by some readers of FinishLine:

Dealing with my committee feedback question:

I keep getting feedback from my committee that my proposal sounds more like a “project rather than a dissertation” or the other comment is that “your topic is too broad”. Can you explain what they mean by that?

TADA Answers:

Your committee is saying that your topic either can be solved in one month (project) or it will take you over 2 years to complete the project (too broad). When your committee thinks you are doing a project it means that the solution to your research question generally has one answer with not much of a future. Your dissertation topic is supposed to be a beginning of your research career not the culmination. To that end if your research does not produce new questions or new opportunities to do future research then it’s more like a project with one answer; once you get that answer your career has no where to go.

When selecting a topic, it’s important to select a problem that is narrow enough that you can address it or solve it in a reasonable period of time. You should select a topic that can be completed within a two-year time frame.

A longer time frame could allow many unexpected and competing events to occur. If you find yourself spending an exorbitant amount of time pursuing and identifying a research problem, it is possible that the problem is not solvable. With a longer time frame, you also run the risk of someone else identifying and solving the problem before you do. Hence, the concept of “original” contribution to the field is lost and you might have to start over. Moreover, you run the risk of your enthusiasm diminishing.

Dealing with selecting a topic question:

Thanks a lot for your assistance in the thesis guidelines. I have already chosen a topic on Legalization of Marijuana, I would kindly request you to send me or share with me some of the materials you already have.

TADA Answers:

Thank you for contacting us at TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. You said that you have chosen your topic, however a thesis or dissertation topic often comes in the form of a research question based on a particular academic perspective. Hence all you have given me is a broad topic which seems like it needs to be narrowed down still even further.

Are you looking at legalization of Marijuana as a social, political, criminal justice, family, medical or business issue? What perspective will you be using to analyze the issue?

Here is an example of possible research questions:

How does the legalization of marijuana compare with criminalization of marijuana?

How does the legalization of marijuana affect other effective pain management strategies?

How does the legalization of marijuana reduce crime in society?

How does the legalization of marijuana affect the War on Drugs in the United States?

How does the legalization of marijuana affect the use of other illegal drugs?

What are the political implications for legalizing marijuana?

Dealing with writing a proposal question:

I have not finished my Dissertation. I need to have a finished product so I can model after it. I have passed the qualifying exam. The school is waiting on a proposal. It seems that I have trouble getting started. I don't usually have trouble writing but the school is requiring dissertations to be written in the APA format, which is throwing me off. I really would like to finish this program by next summer. Thanks for the inquiry.

TADA Answers:

Thank you for purchasing TA-DA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished™. I suggest that you begin by using the ingredients listed in the March, 2005 FinishLine newsletter i.e. begin with a blank screen and copy the 13 ingredients on to the screen. Start writing whatever section you know well and build from there. In addition, the TA-DA™ CD and TADA Online has more detailed information for each section of the proposal.

You should also go on-line to APA to purchase the APA Style guide for more information. Or you can look up the University of Wisconsin’s website for FREE.

Dealing with writing a literature review question:

At present I am writing my PhD at the University of West Indies Trinidad and Tobago. I am pursuing a Doctoral Degree in the area of Health Economics. The topic I have chosen for my research is: “The implementation of National Health Insurance in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago: The choice method of physician’s reimbursement services”. I am trying to find information on "literature review". I want to view a sample of a literature review using the Chicago style. Also, how long must a literature review be??????

TADA Answers:

Thank you for contacting me at TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. Writing a literature requires that you are able to tell a full story rather than worrying about the number of pages. See Part 2 of my newsletter on Writing a Literature Review.

I often suggest that students try to create a picture diagram of the debate in the literature. Afterwards add how your contribution fills the gap in the literature.

Also you should also create a spreadsheet listing each article separately. The headings of the columns should be: Author, Title, Year, Research Question, Methodology, Findings, Sample Size, Does this Research Support MY Research Question?

In the last column you can answer Yes, NO, Neither.

By creating this spreadsheet you can sort these articles accordingly to help you write a literature review...i.e. what studies have the same methodology but different findings, or the same findings but different methodology?

You can share this spreadsheet with your advisor to ask him or her if any major studies are missing.

A literature review using Chicago style would not be different a literature review using APA or IEE style. The format of your citations determines the style; hence, you can use Endnotes software to format your citations using Chicago style or any other style format you need. I am sure that if you looked in the top journal in your field all of the articles would use Chicago style.

Dealing with a funding questing question:

I have worked in two different labs because the funding ran out. I need some more funding to stay in school. Should I pretend that I am interested in a professor’s project, so that he would fund me?

TADA Answers:

I truly understand the basic need for funding. We all have to eat and pay the rent. You did not come to graduate school to find a job. Hopefully you came to pursue a graduate degree. I strongly suggest that if you want to finish graduate school with a degree you should focus on finding someone that you truly respect and a project that you can be enthusiastic about. You’ve already worked in two labs; take heed to the impression that you are making in the department. You should be confident in the skills that you have to offer a new professor. You should interview potential professors/employers. Don’t be shy about letting the professor know what your academic interests are and asking how long the project is funded for.

Graduate studies are highly focused, in order to succeed, you have to pinpoint your area of research and seek out who on the faculty are experts in this area. Having a difficult time aligning yourself with those faculty members may be a red flag for you. It’s important to do your research, and understand the preferences and expectations of the faculty with whom you wish to work. If all of their advisees stay and work in the lab over the holidays, for example, that’s a big clue that you should be doing the same. And, not only should you stay, but you should make sure to get some meaningful work done while you are there.

Always reinforce the impression that you are a hard worker. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the culture of your department, and take care to adopt accepted practices. Take note, and follow suit! It’s also important to keep in mind that faculty talk to one another, so be sure you make a good impression in all of your courses, not just the ones led by the professors with whom you wish to work.

Dealing with scheduling or time-management question:

I am falling behind schedule. We are now at the point of all nighters every other night. I have no reassurances of how things are going now since I’ve not heard from my advisors. I am tidying up the last two sections now but the process is taking longer than scheduled.

TADA Answers:

Don’t read anything into your advisor/committee’s silence. You’ve already made significant progress…Keep going--- your advisors are not going to “drop bread crumbs along the way” to entice you to get to the finish line. After pursuing your goal for 10 long years, you must realize that finishing your dissertation is up to you. The closer you get towards the end the more hectic it’s going to get.

 -  Use your TADA Methods Journal to keep track of the things still left to be done or resolved.
 -  Be sure to dedicate the last 30 minutes of your daily schedule to straightening up.
 -  End each day by writing a list of “to do” items for the following day.
 -  Ask friends and family to help on the small things that do not require your intellectual participation.

I know that you had not formatted the document earlier on, so what does tidying up the last 2 sections mean? Can it go as is? Are you talking about citations, grammar, or formatting? Remember it doesn't have to be perfect it just has to get DONE. Please keep that in mind as you tidy will have plenty of time to sleep once it’s DONE.

TA-DA!(TM) Graduates -- 
Congratulations on Your Success

Completing the PhD awaiting their defense:
Claudette G
Heather H.

Completing the Proposal:
Meredith H.


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—TA-DA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. To learn more, contact us. Privacy is our policy. TA-DA™ Finishline does not give out or sell our subscribers' names or e-mail addresses.

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Inside This Issue:

Thesis and Dissertation Help: Tips, Tools and Resources

Congratulations TA-DA!™ Graduates

Next FinishLine Features:

Making a Good Impression in My Graduate Department

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The TA-DA!™ Methods Journal is specifically designed to help you capture and manage all of your research notes, formulas, and references in one handy place

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