How's it going, everyone?
I have discovered another powerful article on dissertating for you…
Lessons learned from the dissertation….
An author with a new doctorate shares lessons learned about writing a dissertation. Lessons include (1) there are few sources to guide one on how to write a dissertation; (2) it is easier to critique research than to create research; (3) dissertation writing is an evolutionary communication process; (4) criticism is good; (5) dissertation writing produces a product; (6) hypotheses rule and methods matter most; and (7) less is more. Additionally, the author asserts that (8) writing for dissertation is an apprenticeship experience that prepares one for writing for publication.
FOR THE LAST 2 1/2 YEARS, I have been writing my dissertation; it is just recently completed. During this experience, I learned a few things about dissertation writing. From an "insider" perspective, this is a summary of those lessons.
This article is for doctoral students who are sweating over another draft of a rising pile of discarded dissertation drafts while considering if it would be more fun to wash walls and clean closets. My own personal draft discard pile rose to 31/2 feet. The walls and closets should have gotten cleaned, but I forced myself to write instead. Within the prolonged writing effort, I have learned that there are few sources that guide one on how to write a dissertation; that it is easier to critique than create; that dissertation writing is an evolutionary communication process; that criticism is good; that dissertation writing produces a product; that hypotheses rule and methods matter most; that less is more; and that the dissertation writing experience is an apprenticeship.
Lesson 1: There are few sources to guide one on how to write a dissertation.
There are written guides for what to put in a dissertation, and there are guides for surviving the dissertation process (Newman, Benz, Weis, & McNeil, 1997; Rudestam & Newton, 1992). There also are guides for reference and bibliography formats (American Psychological Association, 2001). Every university provides a detailed list of overall dissertation formatting requirements which one must meticulously follow. Additionally, the informal network of former doctoral students gives ongoing advice that is sometimes paranoid, and sometimes practical, for example, to have "lions" for committee chairs (versus more timid animals), to expect to be "beaten up" verbally in a defense hearing, to have a writing schedule, to set specific dissertation goals, to expect to give the committee members anything they want, etc. While I found that each of these sources was a contribution to my dissertation development, none of them told me how to write a dissertation. When I sat in front of a blank computer screen- they did not tell me how to construct the sentences, what to include or exclude in a paragraph, how to write the hypotheses, or what to emphasize in the draft.
Further, my own innate love of writing was not at all helpful in the dissertation writing process. In my experience, the dissertation writing process was often tedious, and the statistical analysis was often magically exciting-the opposite of my early predictions. I grew up writing stories at the age of 6, for example "Ollie the Otter," and poetry in my teen years, such as, "At night, by candlelight, the lioness and I have ruled the world ... alas, time has depleted what the sun has obscured." Even today, I feel elation at reading about the creative process of writing described as "my job-my itch, urge, dream, hobby, entertainment, prayer-is to tell stories on paper ... that inform and move their readers, and that is what I do to shoulder the universe forward two inches" (Doyle, 2000, p. 44).
When I was writing the dissertation, I was frequently bored with the terse style of dissertation writing. Subject-verb-object-period. Subject-verb-object-period. Subject-verb-object-period. My creative flair had failed to prepare me for this writing style. Nonetheless, subject-- verb-object sentences-terse, dense, and rapid-were the style required to relay the "what" of the content, to survive the stages of the dissertation, to serve as the text within the required document formats, and to negotiate the paranoia and practicality of the process. In other words, subject-verb-object sentences got the job done.
Lesson 2: It is easier to critique research than to create research.
The doctoral course work prepared me well to critique research journal articles. I could quickly find disagreement between statistical outcomes and discussion/recommendations. Low sample number and nonexperimental designs were easy fodder for criticism. I was suspicious of one-tailed t-scores, low statistical power, missing theory, statistical procedure assumption testing, new standardized tests, and sampling procedures. "So what?" I would say aloud, to articles that offered no practical social work implications. These research method critique skills were most
helpful in writing the limitations of my dissertation, a section which spanned three of the 227 pages.
The research critique skills were often a barrier to writing the dissertation, especially during the formative stages of document development, i.e., the prospectus and early dissertation drafts. Generation of ideas for research led quickly to cognitive leaps of research limitations. Acknowledgment of the limitations made me fearful to proceed. It held me up in the writing process for a good 6 months. Especially fear-invoking were those pages of checklist questions for analyzing a research study that were so helpful for the qualifying examination. I would apply the checklist questions to my sketchy ideas of a research study and feel bombarded by deficit and doubt. I strongly suspect that newfound capacity to critique research is a barrier completion factor for people who never leave the All-But-Dissertation state.
Only after I was forced to create research and to accept the necessity of research limitations, was I able to understand the long pauses and discouraged looks of my research methods professors, when my doctoral colleagues and I voraciously attacked a piece of research. My message for doctoral students: Be prepared to live with research limitations. Put the research checklists away for a while. Be kind to yourself; it is hard work to create research.
Lesson 3: Dissertation writing is an evolutionary communication process.
While some doctoral dissertation guides touched upon the fact that dissertation writing is a process, they did not explore this concept in enough depth. In writing my dissertation, I learned that the dissertation production is a long series of communication behaviors; it is an ongoing, dynamically changing evolution of explanations, negotiation, compromise, and sometimes, capitulations. It is necessary to work and rework the writing to make things clearer. There is much questioning and defending of one's conceptual assumptions to support the infrastructure of the research. Committee members don't always agree or understand things the same way. They may advise one to proceed in ways that are incongruent. It is a delicate maneuver to relay the input of one member to another in such a way that all are reasonably satisfied.
One piece of advice from the informal network that did help me was this, "Remember, this is not just your work. It is the work of the committee." This saying made even more sense when the dissertation document began to turn in unanticipated directions or new, puzzling (to me) requirements were added. They helped me deal with a natural tension within the writing process-independence versus dependence. While the dissertation process requires much independence and self-directed behaviors (see wall and closet cleaning versus writing), one is operating within the confines of a sometimes remote group of directors/editors. At times, it is necessary to yield to the wishes of those who mentor sporadically, and from far distances. Communication helps one negotiate this wieldy process.
Lesson 4: Criticism is good.
An important lesson of my dissertation writing process was that committee members who provided more feedback, including more negative feedback, often helped me the most. It was not easy to hear that the latest draft had many weak areas, inconsistencies, and repetitions. While these exchanges were certainly a communication process phenomenon, I think it was a sufficiently important lesson as to stand alone.
Some valuable information here. Hope you found it useful.
Writing a dissertation: Lessons learned Families in Society,
Nov/Dec 2001 by Riebschleger, Joanne
WRITERS AT WORK