Last Wednesday, we asserted that “dissertations are a trash genre.”
We stand by this statement
However, we’ve also received some great feedback from people who have written dissertations that we wish to add.
The most important thing to reiterate is that you absolutely have to write a dissertation. It is the only way to get your PhD.
And that means that you have to be a trash can and not a trash cannot.
With that in mind, here are some tips to help you be your best dissertating self.
- Read other dissertations.
Okay, okay, this doesn’t really count as a new tip since it was what last week’s post was about but it’s important and it bears repeating.
2. Read other dissertations from your department/program.
Do this if at all possible. Many departments still follow the tradition of keeping recently defended dissertation manuscripts in hardcopy form. Ask your departmental admin if you can check out one or two.
If your department no longer does this because they are all digitally deposited then ask for the names of people who have recently deposited and look up their dissertations in ProQuest.
Looking at dissertations from your own program will give you a guideline for what you are expected to do. If at all possible, skim a couple of dissertations from your program to get a sense of the average page length and chapter layout.
One caveat here is that this will not work for all programs/departments. The larger your department is the more likely this strategy will work for you. However, if you in a smaller program, especially if you are in a smaller, interdisciplinary program, there may not be a lot of recent dissertations or dissertations similar to yours. Which brings us to our next point . . .
3. Find a dissertation you like.
This may seem contrary to our previous post about dissertations being trash but it’s not. Finding a favorite dissertation is a bit like having a favorite reality TV show. We all know the genre is terrible, but we also all have our favorites. (Mine are “Say ‘Yes’ to the Dress” and “America’s Next Top Model.”) Find a dissertation, or two, you like better than others and use it as a general guideline for writing your own dissertation. This is especially helpful at the first-draft stage when you’re striving to figure out how writing a dissertation is different than writing several seminar papers.
Tomorrow, we’ll be talking about the difference between writing and editing and why it might be more important than you think.