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  • Writer's pictureLeah J. Reinert, PhD

Tips for the Dissertation Process

Overall Tips

  1. Review completed dissertations from former students in your same program and, if possible, who had your same advisor. This will help you immensely in knowing the recommended organization and required elements of writing a dissertation in your program. You can typically access these via ProQuest but do not hesitate to ask your advisor or program faculty for recommended dissertations to review.

  2. The dissertation is written in stages, which can make it a less daunting task sometimes. What is most important to remember in each stage is that everything must be able to track back to your research questions. I recommend posting your research questions somewhere that you will see them regularly as you work. And ask yourself often if what you are writing or the story you are telling connects back to your research questions.

  3. Establish relationships with fellow doctoral students whom can be a participant and supporter along your journey. This can be done on your campus or online (Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom, or Facetime are good options). Wherever you can find community. If it suites you, establish a writing group or an accountability group so that you can help each other keep forward momentum.

  4. Attend a few dissertation defenses in your department before you have your own. This will help in becoming comfortable with the format, supporting your colleagues, and being more comfortable and confident when it is your turn.

  5. While citation managers might seem like an ideal way to merge your citations into your document, the citations they put out are always full of errors so you will need to edit your references if you use a citation manager. Also, to keep track of your references used, I recommend always writing down or typing out the full citation at the top of your notes for that reference. That way you have it and can simply add it to your document when it has been used.

  6. The doctoral degree and the dissertation are a journey. Write down early on your ideal timeline so that you have a path in mind but know that life might interrupt that timeline and that is okay.

  7. The best dissertation is a done dissertation. The perfect dissertation does not exist. And remember that you can always do more with your data, it does not all have to be in your dissertation. Focus on answering your research questions and finishing the dissertation.

Writing Tips

  1. Set your Word spelling and grammar to catch things like passive voice, extra spaces, contractions, the Oxford comma, etc. This can help you catch these common errors as you write.

  2. If you have words or names that Word does not have in its dictionary and thereby thinks are spelled incorrectly, add them to your dictionary. To do this, click on the word and right click then select the “add to dictionary” option. This will both get rid of those annoying red squiggles and help you catch if you actually do spell the word incorrectly.

  3. Do not use tab to indent. Always use the ruler at the top of the page. If you use tab, the indentation is temporary and can be altered easily. If you use the ruler, the indentation is set as a rule and will stay that way even if formatting changes.

  4. When creating tables, use the table feature in word rather than creating it on your own with tab. This provides a cleaner table and makes it easier to edit.

  5. Reading your writing out loud can help you with clarity and organization. If you are struggling with a sentence or editing your writing, try reading it out loud so your ears can catch what might be the issue. Editing your own work is sometimes the most challenging task and this trick can help a bit.

  6. Avoid the universal “we.” Be more specific about who you are talking about. You should not only keep your immediate readers (your committee) in mind, but also those who might read your work later.

  7. When writing about published research, remember that you are writing in past tense. So, X (YEAR) said, not X (YEAR) says.

  8. Remember that “data” is plural. My trick is to replace “data” with “snowballs” when I am reading so that I make sure the tense is correct.

  9. When citing your references in-text, remember that you must cite said reference at the end of the first sentence in which you use it. A good rule to follow is to cite early and often. Citing references not only supports your arguments and how you learned the information, but also directs your readers on where they might learn more about the topic.

  10. Avoid “as cited in” as much as possible. With technology today, it is very difficult to not be able to find the original source. So, when possible, find the original source. This is recommended by APA.

  11. Know that all published material out there has at least one typo or error. Humans just cannot catch everything. If you want it to be clean as possible or you are struggling with your writing, consider hiring an editor. Find an editor you trust, whether that is me or someone else. A good editor works to develop a relationship with you and your work. I charge $35 an hour for student work, have a keen eye for detail, and average 15 pages an hour. You can learn more about my services at

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