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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, 2009spacerVolume 5, Issue 3

Welcome to all our new subscribers!

I am starting my Spring Break here in Maryland. Generally to a graduate student, Spring Break does not have the same meaning it once did. You still have to keep working. If you are writing your thesis or dissertation and or planning to graduate this May, you definitely cannot take a break.

This newsletter is dedicated those of you who are within 6 months of graduation.

Dr. Carter

Do You Really Want To Finish?
Here’s How!

Are you almost, but not quite, finished with your thesis or dissertation? This is a very critical time. Now that most of the work is done, it’s easy to begin slacking off … I’ve seen far too many students fail because of complacency at this point in the process. Now it’s more important than ever to buckle down, keep working hard, and finish strong.

Even during this final phase of your project, TA-DA! can help you stay motivated and on track. Following are some key ways in which you can keep from stalling the completion of your dissertation, and finally feel the excitement of finishing that degree!

#1. Don’t wait until your project is finished to print out your dissertation.

Waiting until all the work is done to print your dissertation is a big mistake. While editing online has been made easier with features like “track changes” and “cutting and pasting,” nothing is an adequate substitute for editing pages of hard copy. In addition, printing out your dissertation enables you to clearly define what tasks are left to complete. Do you have a cover page? Table of contents? Acknowledgement page? What sections are still left to write? Are all of the tables and figures throughout the document consistently formatted? Have you used the same word – such as “therefore” – over and over again? Have you used sufficient transition words and phrases between paragraphs and chapters?

Keep an updated table of contents for your dissertation at all times, which includes an outline of every part and chapter … even those you haven’t finished yet. Then, as you complete each individual part, print it out, and place it in a three-ring binder. (Be sure to include a clear separation between each chapter.) This will help you stay on top of everything that still needs to be completed.

#2. Don’t take a vacation.

If you plan on graduating with the next six months, now is the worst time to take a break! Doing so will not only cut into critical work time, it could also interfere with your flow and motivation. Writing requires a strong focus … and, while taking a vacation may very well clear your mind, it will also require some time when you return to get back up to speed. That’s a waste of precious time … and the closer you are to finishing your degree, the more every day counts.

Moreover, the myriad deadlines and activities necessary to prepare for graduation usually take more time than most students anticipate. You have to provide a clean copy of your dissertation for the readers on your committee to sign it off as “defensible”; many schools require a lead time of at least two to three weeks for this task. You still have to pass your defense. You must also complete all the necessary tasks and requirements for the graduation ceremony, such as ordering regalia and invitations. And, of course, there’s that little matter of looking for a job …

You can rest after your project is done. For now, put your nose to the grindstone and finish that dissertation!

#3. Expect to be tired.

Completing your degree is like running a marathon … and as with any marathon, you are likely to feel exhausted during the final leg of the race. You will most likely have to sacrifice a lot of time and sleep to complete this gigantic task, and will also experience some aches and pains. But after working so hard and coming so far, it’s important to keep going. I don’t know anyone who hasn't’t experienced exhaustion, sleep deprivation, anxiety and a handful of similar maladies when they were finishing up their degree; that’s all just part of the process. It will all be well worth it when you have that diploma in your hand and that dissertation under your belt!

#4. Stop complaining about your advisor’s revisions.

Every student receives revisions from their advisor. Embrace this process! It’s an important step that ensures your document is the best it can be. Don’t forget that yours is not the only reputation on the line: your work is also a reflection of your advisor’s ability to mentor and advise you. If she lets you move forward with work that is unacceptable, she could be viewed as failing to fulfill her responsibility to you.

That being said, numerous revisions from your advisor could be a signal that you’re not quite ready to defend. If you’re frustrated by a multitude of revisions from your advisor, it’s important to understand that the readers on your committee will most likely have revisions, too! Be prepared to make revisions after your defense, as well: students rarely pass a defense “as is.” You are much more likely to pass with “minor changes” or “major revisions.”

Keep in mind, however, that you can help keep revisions to a minimum by providing a clean, edited copy to your advisor and readers. All of them would prefer to read a clean copy of your work, rather than wade through a sea of grammatical mistakes and typos.

#5. Give up your extracurricular activities (for now).

If you really want to finish your dissertation, you may have to put all extracurricular activities on hold for the next six months. Although your loved ones may not understand the need for you to “hibernate” during this critical period, learning to say “no” to their offers may be the only way you can complete the final stage of this huge project. When you’re tempted with an invitation, ask yourself: “Will this stall the completion of my dissertation?” If the answer is “yes,” it’s most prudent to decline. If your friends and family really want to spend time with you, ask them to help you with simple tasks that will facilitate the completion of your project. Ask them to proofread a chapter, or check your citations against your bibliography. Sit together while you write and they check to see if your references are in the correct numerical order, or your bibliography is properly alphabetized. In this manner, you can meet all of your deadlines, and your loved ones can feel good about knowing they were a helpful part of the process.

#6. Stop using your writing skills as an excuse and hire an editor.

If you’re a good writer, completing your dissertation will be much easier than if you’re not. But if you do struggle with writing, stop complaining and hire an editor. One of the most common roadblocks to students finishing their thesis or dissertation is the frustration of trying to get everything written down perfectly. An editor can help bridge that frustration. You can focus on getting down the substance and merit of your dissertation, and the editor will deal with ensuring that your ideas are clear, concise and grammatically correct.

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!

So what are you waiting for? Stop reading and start writing! Get that thesis or dissertation done!!!

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Email Question of the Month:


Dear Dr. Carter, Greetings of New year 2009.

About a couple of years ago, I finished Masters in Library and Information Science (MLibSc) course. As per the requirement of degree course, submission of thesis is compulsory in order to get certificate of course completed. I chose the following topic of my thesis "Study on project works (thesis) of B.Lib.Sc students submitted to the department of LIS: a critical appraisal". I have finished compiling data on objectives, statement of problems, methodology, and recommendations made by researcher in the respective thesis. Major goal of my thesis is to find out how far the students are familiarize with research methods, what is the relevancy of topics chosen by them with the library field? what is the consistency of recommendations against the objectives and problem statements of research.

I am stuck now on how do I start with from the Intro chapter to Background study. It would be a great help for me if you would suggest me with appropriate sources of information I need to consult.

With best regards,

Macha N.


Good Morning Macha Thank you for contacting me at TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. I read your questions and it seems as if you are looking for information on how to get started and how to put the document together in the form of a Master's thesis.

You must remember that when you are writing a thesis or dissertation you are never starting from scratch. Generally I start writing with a problem statement. There must reason why you are doing this research in the first place.

What is the problem that you are trying to solve with your thesis?

In considering whether or not to move forward with a research project, you will generally spend some time thinking about the problem. The problem provides the context for the research study and typically generates questions which the research should address.

Your thesis should begin with the statement of the problem. The problem statement should "hook" the reader and establish a persuasive context for what follows.You need to be able to clearly answer the question: "what is the problem"? and "why is this problem worth my attention"? At the same time, the problem statement limits scope by focusing on some variables and not others. It also provides an opportunity for you to demonstrate why these variables are important. To be blunt, if you don't get to the statement of the problem by page 3 of your thesis. the reader will not care enough to read the rest of the document.

Moreover, your thesis is suppose to "add to the existing literature" : Hence, in your literature review you should be trying to find out if:

• Someone has done a similar topic perhaps with dissertations?
• Someone has done a similar research method but different topic?
• Someone has done a similar topic but different research method?
I have written a 2 newsletters that might help you to know what goes in each section.

• Look at the newsletter about how to write a proposal because it helps to define the introduction from the background section etc....
• Next look in the Email of the Month section in the same newsletter. That will tell you how to match up the sections (intro, background, significance...) with chapters in the thesis/dissertation.

The 2nd newsletter "The Six Burner Stove" also provides the more formal discussion about writing the document.

I hope this helps you move forward

Dr. Carter



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—TA-DA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. To learn more, contact us. Privacy is our policy. TA-DA™ Finishline does not give out or sell our subscribers' names or e-mail addresses.

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From ABD to PHD: Interviews with Students Who Are Finally Finished

Email Q & A of the Month

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How to Write a Thesis or Dissertation in 30 Days

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Practical Steps to Selecting a Viable Masters Thesis or Dissertation Topic
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