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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

October, 2008spacerVolume 4, Issue 10


Welcome to all our new subscribers!

In this month's FinishLine, I feature my latest article of tips for completing a thesis or dissertation. It's entitled, How to Complete a Dissertation With the Help of Family and Friends. And as always we have an interesting question in our Email of the Month section.

To your success,

Dr. Wendy Carter

How to Complete a Dissertation With the Help of Family and Friends

No man is an island … and no one writes a thesis or dissertation alone, regardless of how isolated and alone some of us may feel while completing this laborious project. Even if it’s just listening to you talk or complain about your thesis or dissertation month after month – or, in some cases, year after year! – your friends and family are definitely involved in the process. So why not let them play a more productive role?

There are myriad ways in which others can pitch in to help. For example, during a particularly demanding portion of my dissertation, an old Stanford colleague flew into town to offer support. He provided much-needed stress relief by packing up my house so that I could continue to work on my dissertation AND still be prepared to move out of my apartment when my lease was due to expire in a few days. He also provided on-point advice when I needed help resizing my table graphs to fit the required document format. As a result, both of us were happy. I met all of my required deadlines, and he got to feel the satisfaction that comes from knowing that he was truly able to help out a good friend.

Be aware, however, that unless your loved ones have written a thesis or dissertation themselves, they most likely don’t know how to help you, or even the right questions to ask or actions to offer. But rest assured, most of them definitely DO want to help. So put them to work! It’s your responsibility to be specific about how they can best help you, relating EXACTLY what you would like them to do, and WHEN.

Following are just a few of the many ways in which your friends and loved ones can help.


Mark, a Harvard colleague of mine, had been struggling with his dissertation for quite some time. One evening when he was close to finishing, he Goggled me to say hello and share how overwhelmed he was feeling. I offered to read through his document and make sure that all of his citations were noted in the bibliography. Three hours later, he knew what references matched, which were missing, and which ones needed corrections. It was just the jumpstart he needed to launch him enthusiastically into the home stretch. If you are lucky enough to have Endnotes or another type of software that will do this task for you, great! If not, ask a detail-oriented friend or family member to complete this simple, but important, task.


You don’t necessarily require an expert to edit your thesis or dissertation. If you have a friend who is well read or good at grammar, or a family member who is an English teacher, this is the job for them! Give them a hard copy of your document -- even if it’s only two or three chapters at a time – and ask them to mark all punctuation, grammatical and spelling errors. Ask them, as well, to check whether you have varied your transitional words throughout the document, and whether there is too much repetition of any particular words (e.g., do you overuse the word “specifically”?). With long documents, it’s always a good idea to have more than one pair of eyes serve as editor, so call on all of those liberal arts allies to help review your work!

List of Figures/Tables

Ask someone to review all of your tables and figures to make sure that they are in the proper sequential order and that the formatting – including titles – is consistent throughout your document. Have them also cross-reference the titles with your “Lists of Figures” and “List of Tables” pages to make sure that all of them are listed and matched. They can also confirm that all tables are cited in the text; there should never be a table in the document that isn’t also referenced in the text.


Before turning in the final copy of your document, print out a hard copy for review, even if you are filing it electronically. Have a family member meticulously check the document against all format requirements. For example, if the format manual requires the first page to be blank, make sure that blank page is actually there! If the first pages are to be numbered using lower case Greek lettering, be sure that your numbering follows this correct format. This is a time-intensive task, but one that someone other than you can definitely attend to, leaving you with more time to spend on more productive endeavors.

Help You Navigate and Keep You On Track

A speaker I once heard said that she had a “board of directors” that she relied upon to help get her through graduate school: friends, mentors and trusted staff members who always told her what was really going on. Their role was vastly different from her advisor in that they were always brutally honest with her, even when she didn’t want to hear it. For example, when she wanted to go home for every holiday, they advised her that she should stay, instead, and put in some “face time” to show that she was a serious student who was willing to sacrifice leisure time. It’s important to create your own “board of directors” to help you navigate through the “unwritten” rules and understand the subtleties of graduate school. Call on these unofficial advisors to help you interpret the signs that your advisor, mentors, and committee members are giving you, and to help you stay on the right track.

Provide a “Buddy System”

Over time, many of the peers with whom you started your program have graduated, given up or changed their goals. It’s important to stay connected with those who remain. Maintain relationships with at least a few other individuals who are serious about completing their degree and who share the same timelines and goals as you. The collective momentum that your connection with these people provides will help keep you motivated when your energy starts to diminish.

For example, when my friend, Jane, announced that she had finished her first chapter and was moving on to the next, I and another friend, Debbie, hitched our cabooses to her train and decided that we were going to finish, as well. We began methodically working together to do so …. not by editing each other’s work, but by offering support in a variety of other ways. We informally coordinated our work schedules, working separately in our respective offices, asked and answered quick methodological questions, offered rides home in the wee hours of the morning, and kept one another abreast of our weekly accomplishments. All of these activities helped us fuel one another to work and finish our projects.

Jane also encouraged us to participate in the graduation ceremonies to help visualize what it would feel like when we were finished. (While many universities have strict guidelines about when a grad student can participate in the cap and gown ceremony, Wisconsin-Madison allows those who are “All but Done/Dissertation (ABD) ” to participate in the graduation ceremony and finish the dissertation afterward.) Taking steps like these can be quite emotionally charging, and helpful in keeping yourself motivated.

You can also use the “buddy system” with friends who aren’t currently pursuing a degree. Many times, all you want and need is the ability to verbalize your ideas to a friend, or enjoy the comfort of company as you complete your tasks. Find a friend or two who would be willing to work alongside you during specific, planned work times. They don’t have to be doing the same task as you (such as writing); they can be reading, learning a new language, or playing games on the Internet, for all you care. The important thing is that you have someone there. Arrange to meet your buddy at the coffee shop (or whatever work space in which you write) at a specific time and stay there for the entire designated amount of time. This creates a sense of accountability, and also gives your friend the rewarding sense that he or she helping you to accomplish this major undertaking.

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Email Question of the Month:


Good day! Please help me formulate questionnaires regarding the effects of nonpharmacologic pain management in postoperative patients as regards to physical, psychospiritual, social and environmental being of patients. Thanks a lot.


Thank you for contacting us at TADA!Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. Generally most graduate students do not create a questionnaire from scratch. You should look to the literature i.e (journal articles on the topic) to see if others (authors/researchers) have used a questionnaire in their study. You can employ another person's questions or questionnaire to get the information you are trying to get. You just have to give them credit for the survey. Moreover, you might not need to do a survey... see if the data (on the information you are interested in) has already been collected by another institution or agency. You can always use secondary data as well. Sometimes researchers might only use some parts (not all of) of a larger survey because of interest and time.

If you are going to write a survey you have to think first about the information that you are trying to get. What type of answers are you looking for or expecting? That might help you in thinking of the questions you might ask? Is this going to be a face to face interview? Mail out Mail back survey? Over the phone interview, On-line survey? What type of Sampling are you going to employ? You have a lot of questions to think about before you begin writing survey questions. Pull out your notes and text from your Research Methods course. Work with a Statistician on the Faculty to find out how many people you have to survey? What type of questions do you want to ask? Open ended? Likert scale?

I gave you a long answer but check with your advisor first and see if a survey is the best way to go? He/she is an expert in your field and I assume quite knowledgeable on what's possible and available. I wish you all the best Dr. Carter

TA-DA!(TM) Graduates --
Congratulations on Your Success

Dr. Carter,

Thank you for your timely and helpful articles. I successfully defended my dissertation and graduated this past June. I continue to appreciate your newsletter as I prepare to write journal articles and other scholarly works.

Many blessings to you,
Diann Rogers


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, contact us. 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:

How to Complete a Dissertation With the Help of Family and Friends

Email Q & A of the Month

Next FinishLine Features:

I Have An Academic Advisor but.....Should I get an academic coach or therapist/counselor?

Need to Choose a Topic?

Practical Steps to Selecting a Viable Masters Thesis or Dissertation Topic
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