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Do Not Leave Graduate School Before You Get Your Degree | FinishLine, Tips Tools Techniques for Completing a Thesis or Dissertation from Dr Wendy Carter

March, 2008 spacerVolume 4, Issue 3

In This Issue:

Finish Your Thesis or Dissertation by Working Your Way Backwards

Mouse FinishedTo accomplish any long-term goal, you must have desire and faith in the process and you must be able to visualize yourself accomplishing the goal. In other words, you must believe it, affirm it, and visualize it before you can actually achieve it.

The TA-DA! CD resource tools help you do exactly that. This incredible toolkit leads you step-by-step through the process of writing your thesis and dissertation, providing direction and strategies every step of the way. As a result, you can clearly visualize exactly what needs to happen, how you can accomplish it, and by when. Now that’s a process you can believe in!

To tackle a big writing project, the TA-DA! method uses a strategy of clearly defining the goal and then working your way backward, step by step, until you arrive at a step (or several!) that you can complete right now. For example, if your goal is to submit an article to an academic journal for publication, your “backwards” journey might break down like this:

Clearly Defined Goal:
Submit my article to an academic journal

Before that:Complete final edits

Before that: Format the article according to the journal’s requirements

Before that: Decide which journal would be appropriate for my article, and find out their average turnaround time from submission to publication

Before that: Write the paper

Before that: Write the introduction, literature review, methods, results/discussion and conclusion

Before that: Conduct research

Before that: Determine what I need to know and what I am going to write about

In reality, your “backward” list would have many more details, as every one of these steps would have to be further broken down into several small, easily manageable tasks. Don’t be fooled into thinking that easy tasks don’t need to be included on your list! Everything should be taken into account and mapped out, including something as simple as creating a title for the article.

Regardless of whether you’re looking at a process backwards or forward, you don’t have to complete the tasks in order. In fact, if you’re in a bit of a slump and the next “to do” item on your list is one you just don’t feel up to accomplishing today, simply choose one of the other tasks on your list.

The most important thing is to JUST DO SOMETHING!

The single most important TA-DA strategy is to make a commitment to work on your project every single day. And the minimum amount you should dedicate each day is 12 -15 minutes. That’s where your detailed task list will come in handy. Many of these items are what we call “12-minute tasks,” such as creating the cover page, dedication, acknowledgement pages or table of contents, or sequencing figure numbers, table and appendices, formatting your document, or checking your bibliography against the citations in your document.

On those days when you’re feeling a little less ambitious, work down your list until you reach one (or more!) of your tasks that can be completed in 12 minutes or less. No task is too small, and no item is too insignificant. Every action you take will move you closer to getting accomplishing your goal. What can you cross of your list today?

Following is a good example of a series of questions you might ask yourself to start creating a list of “to-do” tasks:

Q: What needs to happen before I can finish my thesis/dissertation?
A: I need to write chapters X, Y and Z.

Q: Can I get those chapters finished by tomorrow?
A: No. First I have to clearly define what information and conclusions will be included in those chapters.

Q: Can I come up with a clearly defined list of what will be included in those chapters by tomorrow?
A: Of course. I already wrote and defended a proposal, so the information is right under my nose!

Q: Can I finish writing all of the chapters tomorrow?
A: No, but I can get a good start on the chapter I know the most about, and most certainly finish a section within that chapter that contains the information with which I am most familiar.

Q: Do I really think I can finish a section by tomorrow?
A: Yes, because I can write based on the outline I already created a few days ago.

Q: Can I finish the chapter outline by tomorrow?
A: Yes, because I have already created the Table of Contents.

Q: Do I have an outline for my thesis/dissertation?
A: Yes, because I completed that step when I was preparing my proposal … and now it can serve as my first step towards completing my thesis/dissertation! So my real first step is finding my proposal and starting with that.

Continue “working backward” in this manner until you have a long list of “first steps” you can take … so many that you won’t possibly be able to complete them all in one day. Then schedule all of those steps in your TA-DA! calendar. You will find it truly inspirational and invigorating to see your dream broken down into easily accomplishable tasks and written down in black and white. This process will help you to clearly visualize achieving your dream and, even more importantly, to actually begin tackling the tasks necessary to doing so.

So what are you waiting for? Start “working your way backward” today … and you’ll soon find yourself back at the Finish Line!!!

Email Question of the Month:


Dr Carter,

Your article entitled "Tick Tock, Tick Tock: Keeping Up With Your Cohort" is so true. I have been reading your newsletter for two years, when I stumbled on to it during research for literature related to my dissertation topic. You have informed me of the happenings that would occur during my dissertation journey, up to the end:

– My committee chair was disengaged for eight months
– The university changed dissertation format style three times
– My department chair has changed four times
– Three University presidents have come and gone
– I lost interest in my dissertation topic because of the number of revisions required to the dissertation document because of the previous items
– I had to petition the university to re-take the course a third time
– Cost has soared with three repeats (2 IP's) of the final dissertation course — related to format changes and my burnout and frustration with the process, and editors costs

I am back on track now to complete the course. The dissertation has been revised by me and sent to the editor for a final review (more cost). My hope is to complete the dissertation defense in April, barring more unforeseen university changes.

I wish your newsletter had come to my attention before I was too far into writing the dissertation. My colleagues who are about to start the dissertation journey will definitely know about it.

Will finish the dissertation or else,



Thank you Nathaniel for your feedback and your willingness to share the newsletter with others who are starting down a similar path. It's good to know that someone out there reads the newsletter and it is making a difference if not just confirming your trials and tribulations.  Sometimes it's good to know that you are not alone and you are not "imagining these things."

I wish you the best on completing your dissertation. Please let me know when you are finish.

Dr. Carter

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Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D.

About the Author: As a single mother, professor Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D., completed three masters' degrees and a PhD. Her motto is a Good Thesis/Dissertation is a Done Thesis/Dissertation. She is the creator of a new innovative interactive resource tool on CD—TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. To learn more and sign up for her FREE tips and teleclasses, contact us at Privacy is our policy. TADA™ Finishline does not give out or sell our subscribers' names or e-mail addresses.

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Inside This Issue:

Finish Your Thesis or Dissertation by Working Your Way Backwards

Email Q & A of the Month

Be The First to Know

Next FinishLine Features:

Dismissed From Graduate School: Do You Know When You Are Being Pushed Out the Door?


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