grad skool rulz #14 – sorry, you can’t write your dissertation in 15 minutes a day


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Dissertation writing and weight loss share one thing in common. People tell you that it’s easy to do in 15 minutes a day. Well, I’m here to tell you that dissertation writing and weight loss actually do share one thing in common. They both require a great deal of persistent and dedicated effort. It’s not to say that dissertation writing should be a ten year project. Rather, successful dissertation writing, like all writing, means that you sit down everyday for a while and just work. It’s just like any other job. Here’s some things to keep in mind to help you actually create the final product:

  1. Most dissertations are built from smaller chunks, which aren’t that hard to do. Therefore, you should write a fairly detailed outline of each chapter, and a sketch of how the chapters fit together. For example, most dissertations have a chapter, or section, that describes prior work on your topic. That’s a pretty easy thing to do that you can work on before you get to harder topics. Even the hard parts can be assembled from easier small chunks.
  2. Schedule. Once you have figured out the bits and pieces of your dissertation, establish firm but reasonable goals for each month. For example, a reasonable goal for a semester might be to write one or two good chapter drafts and prepare one for submission to a journal.
  3. Daily workout. Prepare a time and place where you can work everyday uninterrupted for many hours, at least 4-5 times a week. At Chicago, the computer lab in the basement of the policy school served this purpose for me. Make sure that you have all the tools you need to work – dictionaries, software, games for relaxation, etc.
  4. Breaks. Schedule off time. Most people work in a cycle of high and low intensity, where you recover your spent energy. Go to a movie, play games, hang out with your kids. Also, eat well and exercise. Sustained writing is often an isolating activity, take care of yourself.
  5. Learn that every good paper started out as a pretty bad paper. Therefore, don’t worry about how horrid the first draft is. Just do it. Once you have something, you can always revise it. If you haven’t written it, it can’t be improved, and if it can’t be improved and finished, it won’t ever help you graduate!
  6. Follow the basic rules of writing you learned in freshman comp. Avoid wordiness, have a clear thesis, avoid passive sentences, etc.
  7. Hang out with people who are progressing well on the dissertation. You need all the support you can get. Avoid people who discourage you or distract you. Your friends should be a help and inspiration, not a hindrance. Create a social environment of people who reinforce the right habits and attitudes.
  8. Minimize time spent on teaching, committees, etc. All your time at work should be spent working on your dissertation. Even if college teaching is your main goal, you still need to finish the dissertation, which means limiting paper grading, office hours, and the like.
  9. Learn that the only good dissertation is a complete dissertation. No matter how bad you feel, keep working and just get it done!

Now that you’ve relaxed by reading this post, I strongly suggest you get back to work! Chop, chop!


Written by fabiorojas

August 22, 2007 at 2:51 am

8 Responses

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  1. […] summer, grad school, ACADEMIC, writing, advice at 12:06 pm by lmw Fabio has bestowed upon us all a fourteenth rule: “grad skool rulz #14 – sorry, you can’t write your dissertation in 15 minutes a […]


  2. […] Grad skool rulz # 14 – sorry, you can’t write your disseration in fifteen minutes a day […]


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  4. […] bei Sozlog gelesen (weil es vor Orgtheory im Feedreader steht): Auf Orgtheory findet sich ein weiterer Beitrag der Reihe Grad Skool Rulz/a> (siehe dazu auch hier) zum Thema […]


  5. […] grad skool rulz #14 – sorry, you can’t write your dissertation in 15 minutes a day (tags: writing) […]


  6. Gotta stop reading those blogs and get down to work.



    August 25, 2007 at 2:37 am

  7. I have personally found there are sections that I hate writing and those that are not so bad. If I didn’t feel like writing I would start on something mechanistic or procedural in the METHODS section. Sometimes just the act of writing gets you in the frame of mind to handle more difficult sections like the discussion.



    April 25, 2008 at 10:04 pm

  8. […] #14: Sorry, you can’t write your dissertation in 15 minutes a day. […]


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