How can I approach structuring my dissertation or thesis?

Before beginning your project, it can be helpful to think through these questions:

  • What will you ultimately try to accomplish as a scholar?
  • What questions will you explore?
  • In what ways will you engage in scholarly conversations in your field?

The idea is that these questions will guide your research and writing.  In addition, you should familiarize yourself with the conventions you will need to follow in composing your dissertation or thesis.  We have a handout that covers some basic features commonly found in dissertations and theses.  You should also review completed dissertations/theses, some of which can be accessed in the ProQuest database.  Also, you should seek regular feedback from engaged readers.

Undertaking a project as large as a dissertation or thesis can be daunting.  Here are some useful approaches to starting and finishing large projects:

  • Make writing a habit: keep a writing schedule, and keep yourself accountable.
  • Trick yourself to keep writing by meeting word counts or using timers.
  • Write “off the grid” – turn off your phone, internet, etc.
  • Write what you know, in chunks if necessary, and put it together later.
  • Don’t try to make your drafts perfect, and be flexible about what you change.
  • Write out of sequence (e.g., write the chapter introduction last).
  • Visit the University Writing Center to discuss your progress.
  • Finally, remember that you’re not writing one large project – you are writing several smaller projects.

What can the Writing Center do to help?

We can help you at any stage of your project whether it be planning and organizing your project or drafting chapters or responding to the feedback your committee gives you.  Basically, we are here to offer you support and feedback.  Since your project is long, we recommend that you dedicate yourself to working with us over the course of multiple appointments.  Also, we offer annual Dissertation Writing Retreats to support doctoral students in the writing stage of their dissertations.