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The Top Strategies for Completing a Dissertation

By Diane Kennedy

The ten most effective and useful dissertation completion strategies developed and proven by actual use over forty years are all listed below:

Strategy #1.    Be assertive in dealing with your advisor and committee. Do not accept long waits for an appointment or for him/her to review work you submit. Let your advisor know up front what you will do to make the process easier, such as submitting drafts and meeting deadlines. Let your advisors know what you expect: the support, advice and direction for which they are paid.

Strategy #2.    Remember to be careful with your topic choice. You should only consider those topics which are realistically "do-able", given your availablity for doing the empirical study.

Strategy #3.    You MUST always do the research first. It is a proven fact that you simply cannot prepare a good Proposal without first having completed your Review of Literature. Identify, retrieve, copy your sources. Write Chapter II first, no matter what your advisor says!

Strategy #4.    It is imperative that you resolve to work on your dissertation every day. Even if you read one article, or write just one paragraph - whatever you know is an achievable goal.

Strategy #5.    You must meet with your advisor on a regular basis. Always tape record all meetings and email your advisor a summary of each meeting and than follow up with a certified mail, within 24 hours of the meeting to protect yourself. Include this statement: "I am providing the above to summarize the direction you have given me of our last meeting (or discussion). Please let me know by return mailIf I have misunderstood or forgotten any of your directions. I will make the revisions indicated and re-submit (put time frame in here) if I do not hear from you."

Strategy #6.    Always document and protect yourself when dealing with your advisor and committie! Every interaction you have with your advisor, committee and institution should be documented in writing. Always communicate with your advisor via certified mail and email, based on importance. Always keep copies of everything you submit and of every critique, direction and comment you receive. Always insist upon written responses to your submissions.

Strategy #7.    It is a very good idea to talk with your family and friends and enlist their support in the very beginning of the dissertation project. Be up front, and tell this will be a highly stressful period in yours and perhaps theirs. Tell them that you need their support and help during this period. Just present the dissertation process as a life/career goal with a very definite beginning and end, and stress the benefits all will enjoy.

Strategy #8.    Take control at the start. Conduct yourself under the understand that this dissertation is your project, undertaken by you for a specific purpose and reasons. If in doubt then examine that purpose and those reasons. Is your goal still clear? If it is, then determine why are you stuck. If it is because advisor is holding you back, get a new advisor. If your own procrastination is the problem, then figure out why you are stuck. You must accept that only you have the power to put the dissertation process back on track.

Strategy #9.    Be very careful when choosing your advisor! Your advisor must be responsive, available, and willing to go to bat for you if you are to successfully complete your dissertation. He/she must be willing to give you detailed, specific written instructions and directions when you need them. Be ready to replace any advisor who does not cooperate with you in the above ways.

Strategy #10.    Get help if needed. Do you need help with writing, research or editing? Are you stuck at the gate because you don't know how to get started? Is a solid support system in place? Consider reaching out to helpful colleagues, or sympathetic professors and friends that you may know. Obtain the expert help of dissertation writing authorities such as

Okay, I said 10, but here is one more. It might be the most important:

Strategy #11.    Don't believe the myths you hear. "My dissertation topic must be totally original." NOT TRUE! "My dissertation must be perfect." By whose standard? "Everyone knows that advisors and committees put you through's part of the deal." Name one person who is in that crowd! All of these myths are untrue! Clients call me every day with these and other misconceptions. Here are the real truths: There is no such thing as a perfect dissertation! No dissertation topic can possibly be entirely original. If it was, there would be no research base upon which to base your argument. Successful dissertations deal with relatively common topics that are well-known. The original work that comes from your specific empirical study is what is unigue! The successful dissertation writer works until the document is as good as it can be. She submits her work for review even though it isn't perfect, and expects helpful feedback from her advisor. When the dissertation is finished it will be good....perhaps great.....but it will never be perfect. As to the last, and perhaps most damaging myth - it is based on an outmoded concept that regarded the dissertation "process" as something more than the research and writing of a document, as a rite of passage involving constant demands for rewrites and revisions and even total changes in topic. In this day and age, you should demand professional, timely, and relevant feedback and direction from your advisor at all times. If you don't get it, get a new advisor and make sure that your institution knows why you are insisting on a the change. You are a consumer of the university's services in this case and you have the right to effective advisement.

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