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5 Guidelines for a Successful Doctoral Dissertation

Tips for Writing a Great Doctoral Dissertation

  • Learn Time Management
  • Find A Work/Life Balance
  • Get Organized
  • Plan the Structure
  • Be Flexible With Structure

While the specifics of getting a PhD may vary among disciplines, certain guidelines for a successful doctoral dissertation are true no matter what the field is. Getting a doctorate can be the most stressful stage in a person’s academic career, but the guidelines below can help.

Related resource: 20 Best Online Schools for Doctorate Degrees

1. Learn Time Management

Good time management skills are particularly important for writing a successful doctoral dissertation for a number of reasons. One reason is that a graduate student’s time at this stage is largely unstructured, so it is necessary to impose a sense of structure in order to get the work done. Another reason is the length of the project. Tackling a doctoral dissertation can be overwhelming, and breaking it down into chunks of time can make it seem more manageable. Time management for a doctoral dissertation should involve planning how the student will spend each day and a larger overview of the program. Without this larger plan, students could find themselves stretching out dissertation writing over additional months or even years.

2. Find a Work/Life Balance

When working on a dissertation, it may seem as though nothing else in the world is as important. However, this is all the more reason that finding a work/life balance is crucial for a successful doctoral dissertation. This is advice published in the journal Nature from doctoral students at the demanding University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Working nonstop will only lead to burnout, which will delay the Stcompletion of the dissertation. The students also recommend taking time out to celebrate successes along the way.

3. Get Organized

Staying organized is critical for a project of this scope. Without a strict plan for organization, a student can quickly become overwhelmed, particularly with the bibliography. There are databases that can be invaluable in helping students manage their sources from the very beginning. Not everyone needs a perfectly tidy workspace, but there should be a system that allows the student to find any needed information quickly. As part of this organization, it is also important to back up the work regularly. Some programs will automate this.

4. Plan the Structure

An important guideline for a successful doctoral dissertation is to sit down with the advisor and plan the structure. This can help prevent the student from going off on tangents and give focus to the research ahead. Having a structure can also help with time management since the student can set specific times at which each section will be complete.

5. Be Flexible With Structure

This may sound like it contradicts the previous advice, but in fact, it complements it. The structure is there to help and not to hinder. It is not necessary to work on the dissertation in chronological order. Instead, the student can work on sections of the dissertation that are relevant to the current research the student is doing. Flexibility is also important because good writing is largely a matter of good editing. As the student proceeds, the structure might need to be redrafted.

Writing a doctoral dissertation requires such intense focus that students may start to feel as though they have lost some perspective along the way. By following these guidelines for a successful doctoral dissertation, students can work with confidence, whatever program they are in.