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Temporary Page: Dissertation Tips from Former Dissertation Writers

Q:  What tips and tricks can you share for successful dissertation writing? I will be part of a panel on this topic later this week. The audience will be current IU graduate students.

Dr. 1:  Oh man. Such a hard thing, so first I’d say acknowledge that it’s hard and pat yourself on the back as you make progress. Hmm…as my friend Dan Swan says, the best dissertation is a finished one.

I know I used to get hung up for HOURS (days) on making the perfect paragraph. After all, I was trying to depict something incredibly important to me! Turns out, you get nothing done when you shoot for perfection. So just write, even if it’s garbled mess. Just write your thoughts without concern for structure or legibility. You’ve got to first get over that block, and let your words and thoughts pour out. You can organize and edit later. Just get it out of your head and onto screen.

Dr. 1: Join a “writing group.” Ok, ok. My grad school self would have laughed you out of the room on this one, but ten years later I am learning the value of this. I was always a “isolate myself, create the perfect atmosphere, silence” kind of writer. Even with all my preparation I never got anything done!

Recently, I’ve started writing as part of a virtual writing group with my partners all across the country (from OK to AK) and we literally all call in to the same line, state our intentions for the session, go on mute and write for hours and then unmute and account for our progress. It’s actually very helpful to know others are suffering alongside you. Lol

Dr. 2: Revising and editing are easier than writing. Try to suspend self-judgement. Put the words on the page. Write as a practice, the way one might, for instance, think about brushing one’s teeth. There is no magic to writing; there is the doing of it.

I often point people to Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and the idea of morning pages. Write without judgement. Write without looking. You can always go back.

Discover for yourself what times and ways are better. Even though I am very much a night owl, I have realized that it is “easier” for me to write first thing in the morning before getting caught up with other things. Find what works for you. Give yourself time limits: 15 minutes, half an hour, an hour or two, at most. Create a structure that works for you.

Dr. 3: Agreed. Just start writing down all you know about your topic, beginning anywhere. As you write you will start to figure out what goes where, what fits with what, etc.

Dr. 4: Glad to see you are doing this, Jason. My advice would be for students to look through past dissertations housed in the F&E library or IU library. Pick out one or two that seem to be attractive models for you, and go from there. My own model (lo, these many years ago) was Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s dissertation. It was (and is) a great model.

Dr. 5: Open the document every day and commit to at least revising a few paragraphs. Once you have it open and start doing a little work, that usually carries you on into new work as well.

Dr. 6: Although I just wrote a master’s thesis (that felt like a dissertation!), these are my three biggest takeaways: (a) you are probably not going to totally reinvent the wheel so stop trying; (b) you can’t read or incorporate every last word already written on the subject; and (c) ultimately, you will most likely have to edit out whole swaths of writing that you slaved over and originally thought were indispensable. Accept it early.

Dr. 7: Lots of good tips here. One more, which (sorry) is me quoting something I posted to FB a while ago: “Advice for dissertators: whenever you feel stuck, revisit the Acknowledgments page of your dissertation for five or ten minutes (or start one, stat, if you haven’t already). Upon re-reading it, you will inevitably realize that there are people and institutions you have failed to include. You will now have a chance to add them, but more importantly you will also present yourself with opportunities to remember and honor everyone who taught and helped you along the way. And then maybe you’ll realize that even though the writing is very lonely, the research never was. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but sometimes it takes a whole third-tier city to raise a dissertation, and for that realization you will be deeply humbled and grateful.”

Dr. 7: I thought about giving up on many, many occasions, but thinking of the many people who were part of my dissertation process kept me going. I wanted to do right by them to the extent that was possible.

Dr. 8: These are the two phrases I had taped on my computer while I was writing the diss–“The only way to get through it is to get to it.” I couldn’t wait until I had everything perfectly thought out, or put it off and expect it to get done. I wrote it over a summer by being very disciplined about making an outline, then sitting down to write, every day. I didn’t stop for the day until I had reached a certain word count. I also broke the task down into manageable chunks–a good outline helped. If you think about the whole thing at once, you can get overwhelmed. “Done is good.” With thanks to my friend Judy Hetrick for that. The dissertation is just a dissertation–a big project, to be sure, but the goal is to demonstrate that you have mastered the long research/fieldwork project and get the degree. You can’t include everything, so you shouldn’t try. There will be time later to make more major contributions to the field.

Dr. 9: all good suggestions. i am a very pragmatic person. once the research was completed, my writing was organized like a work project. i created an outline (drawn directly from the prospectus).

i looked at the calendar, having set goals for how to structure and literally set deadlines for each chapter. i scheduled family events, holidays and fresh air breaks in that calendar. that way i didn’t feel guilty spending time with my friends/family.

then i started each day’s writing by rereading that target chapter. this way, the chapter’s were getting edited as part of the progress and what i added flowed because i could see what was needed to extend what i had written.

when i hit a mental wall trying to figure out how to get an idea out i would take a 1-mile walk. this stretched my back and legs and fresh air is remarkable for thinking.

Dr. 10: Have a schedule and a routine. Commit to being in that chair writing/editing/organising for at least 3 hours a day. Reward yourself every day for doing that every day–have a nice lunch, read a few chapters of a novel, take a walk, go swimming, etc. Never stop writing when you are finished–stop before and leave yourself notes/breadcrumbs/ideas for tomorrow. Each day, review what you did the previous day and then pick up from there. Take off one day a week; you are not allowed to work on your dissertation that day. Visualize being done!

Dr. 11: In addition to what others have shared above: Acknowledge what the dissertation is and is not. It is a piece of work that demonstrates certain knowledge and abilities. It helps to position you to take part in certain conversations, so think about what conversations you want to engage. It is not an astonishing masterpiece of writing – it may be the most you’ve said about a topic/best thing you’ve written yet, but it’s not a stopping point or final word. And speaking of stopping points: Many of us study things that are ongoing, and so we have to be prepared to draw a line somewhere so we can finish the dissertation. Be as prepared for that as for all the pieces that will necessarily have to hit the digital cutting room floor. It’s just part of it. You can’t write everything; that would just be living it.

Dr. 12: Have a dedicated writing time. I finished my diss while working full time by working on it 4 hours a week on Wednesday mornings from 8-12 (negotiated with my boss) plus some one week “dissertation vacations” around the holidays and a final crazy push of writing after work in the evenings the month before submitting. The limited time was so precious I really had to make use of it. It put me in the “on” mode. However, you also just need give yourself time/acceptance to be frustrated and bored. It’s part of the process. Writing is learning, is becoming more human. It doesn’t just emerge fully formed. To that end, you must work out a manageable and mutually understood writing/editing relationship with your advisor. I learned so much from ADVISOR’S editorial process and it really worked for me. I’m not sure I would have finished if we hadn’t been on the same page. And for me, as you know, getting to that place required changing advisors. Don’t be afraid to do what is right for you, even if it involves potentially difficult personnel negotiations to get to the right advisor relationship. Know what you need to succeed and seek it out.

Dr. 13: In the same line with what others have written here, Raymond J. DeMallie’s advice was to make yourself work even when you didn’t want to. Those words have stayed with me in many projects over the years.

Dr. 9: remember that a dissertation is not a student fixing a needed subject, it is a student proving the capacity and professional skills to earn the degree. that degree will open the door to dealing with the subject in a real manner. that is an important distinction for people working in their own  communities.

Dr. 14: My dissertation adviser: your dissertation is an exercise to demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarship in your field, your ability to think critically, to determine what’s significant, to synthesize, and to write. Your dissertation is not a book. Dissertations seldom make good books. Write your dissertation in six weeks. Get it done. Then write books, good books.

Dr. 15: my conclusion took me a year : (

Dr. 16: I would acknowledge that the process is highly individual, so what works for one person may not for you. Listen to all the tips/tricks and then pick/choose.

In my case, I continued the organization system that I used for my comp exams. I established an outline with chapter headings and assigned each chapter a color. Notes for each chapter were taken on colored paper. It made filing and staying organized easier for me – but would seem excessive, maybe even draconian, to others.

Dr. 17: Three things:

1. Have topic sentences in place in whatever you’re currently drafting so you can read through a very short version of it and see the flow of logic without getting lost in the weeds. Helps to know if you’re on the right track (and great for folks who are terrible at using outlines but good at word-barfing). Credit on this one to my former advisor.

2. Find a stopping point in each writing session when you have a clear idea of what to do next. Label it “START HERE” and then briefly sketch out what you want to do, so you’re not starting from a blinking cursor at the next writing session. Credit on this one to a colleague who gave me this advice.

3. Use styles and citation management to streamline (and therefore forestall) the easy procrastination of hunting down citations and making things pretty.

Dr. 18: Dr. 17, Your #2 is great advice. I made sure to write a few sentences that began a new section before I stopped each day to avoid having to remember where I left off. Having a transition already written helps immensely that next day when you pick it back up.

Dr. 17: Dr. 18, I literally write “START HERE” at the end of a writing session (still) so I can search for it at the beginning of the next. In addition to knowing what I’m doing, it keeps me from starting the editing/reading from the top as I scroll down to begin the day’s tasks.

Dr. 19: Haven’t read through everyone else’s comments yet). Ray Folgelson once told me: ~“Let your committee work for you. You’re the only one in that group who hasn’t written a dissertation, so don’t act like you know what you’re doing. Ask questions. Take their advice. Ask for help and embrace the edits.”

Dr. 20: One of the best bits of advice on dissertation writing came from Russ Bernard: “Remember that you are writing A dissertation, not THE dissertation.” Meaning, you don’t have to cover everything, just something.

I started with an extremely detailed outline, with sub-sub-sub sections. I then color coded all my notes and quotes by chapter, and then re-color coded them by sub-sections within each chapter to match my detailed outline. Once that’s done the writing part is easy.

Also, I had scheduled appointments at the writing center once or twice a week with the same person. This made sure I kept writing in order to have something to review, but also helped me get better as a writer as I went so I stopped making the same mistakes. During these meetings he would read, out loud, what I had written so I could hear the mistakes, not just see them.

As for writing itself, I was the primary care giver to my two young kids at that time and my wife was out of the country one to two weeks every month. So, I had a limited window to get this done. From 8:30 to 2:15 every day I would write while my kids were in daycare/kindergarten. That’s it. That’s the only time I had to write, but it kept me really focused during that time. You don’t have to kill yourself doing this. Just pace yourself. It took me five months to write the whole thing in this way.

Dr. 21: I wrote overviews/abstracts of my chapters – used this exercise to map out where I wanted to go and the connections among parts. I revised these abstracts a lot but this process let me keep big picture and specific chapter/task in mind. I also color coded in ways similar to what’s described above. I also spent a lot of time just hanging with my data and thinking about what it was telling me. I’m someone who writes quickly once I’ve figured out what I want to do so the non writing bits take a lot of time. Finally, writing groups for writing and talking about writing and ideas.

Dr. 22: Much of what helped me was passed on from others, and I think the best advice is to gather as much advice as you can, and then see what works for you 🙂 Here’s what was most effective for me.

Know what time of day you personally work best, and reserve that for yourself – don’t schedule anything else at that time if you can help it. If you don’t know yet, experiment.

Write down any idea you have, no matter when it comes to you and no matter how big or small. Substantial portions of my dissertation were written while driving, using voice to text. Had to be edited later, but at least I didn’t lose those great ideas. I also kept tons of little notes in an app on my phone, and could revisit them later when I was stuck.

Give yourself permission to work out of order. Work on whichever piece of it is most interesting to you. Jump around. “Follow the energy” sounds a little silly, but working on something when your heart isn’t in it can be really counter-productive.

Don’t write much of the intro/conclusion until you’re done with everything else. Then when you claim you’re doing something in your text, you’ve already done it.

I jokingly recommend pregnancy as a motivator to get done quickly – but really, external deadlines really are helpful for some people. Knowing that something big is going to change in your life gives you reason to also finish this big project before that time (maybe funding running out, or moving to a new place?).

Dr. 23: I personally relate to all of them but pregnancy

Dr. 24: I reached a point where I told myself that if a book or source wasn’t already in my home, then I didn’t need it. This meant no more trips to the library, no more reading “just one more book.” I worked with what I already had on site. And it was more than enough.

Much of my dissertation went up like an Amish barn in a fairly concentrated period of time. (My shot clock was ticking, so that was a very powerful motivator.) Once I found my momentum, I was militant about pushing almost all of my other obligations to the side to maximize writing time. I stepped on some toes in doing so, but it was critical that I not get distracted and lose my flow. I don’t regret that decision.

Write out of order. I wrote the parts of my dissertation that I thought were easiest / most fun first and then worked my way up to the sections or chapters that I found intimidating or complicated. By the time I got there, I had already been mulling over how to approach them for quite a while, and they seemed more manageable.

I had two bulletin boards above my desk as well. One was for statistics on the project–how many pages I had written, how many sections I had to go, etc. It allowed me to visualize my progress on a daily basis. The other bulletin board was more of a dissertation vision board. I’d hang up quotes there from famous writers talking about how hard the writing process was, notes of encouragement from friends, memes, etc. It gave me something to focus on when I was frustrated or tired.

Finally, one of the hardest things for me was strategically declaring bankruptcy again and again so I could get a more streamlined dissertation to the finish line. I spent six agonizing months pushing around language on a very complicated chapter and then finally murdered the entire thing and didn’t include it. I also only used about 15% of the archival sources I had collected because I had more than enough. Fortunately, I had marked the best material in my archive notes, so that’s what I built the dissertation around. If I ever turn the project into a book, I’ll revisit all of that abandoned material and see what’s worth including in a longer manuscript.

Dr. 25: This isn’t always practical, but if you have the ability to live and write far away from the people at the heart of your dissertation, you are more likely to get it done in a reasonably short amount of time. I ran right up to the end of my clock, in part because I lived in the same city as the folks I was learning from, so my brain was often able to divert me from writing with an “Oh, I should really follow up on that question in person” moment. My friends who did fieldwork halfway around the world had to work with the material that they had in hand. That doesn’t stop you from chasing down endless secondary sources, but it can help.

Dr. 26: Write as much as possible on the dissertation topic in seminars and for conference papers.

Read some dissertations on or adjacent to the topic (wish I’d done this much sooner than I did, like ten years sooner).

Realistic goals are important, as well as micro- and macro-goals. I flagged typos and minor edits on chapters, and fixing those was anxiety free, while also kick starting my brain for writing new, or substantively revising older, text.

Dr. 27: When I was in the throes, Descartes told me to break it down into small bits, especially ones that were in effect already done.

I wrote my first and last chapters first, then clung for dear life to my outline.

Alan Jabbour told me that I would get it done when nothing else mattered as much.

My priest at the time (an academic scholar who had shepherded many a dissertation to the finish line) paraphrased GK Chesterton when he told me “Anything worth saying, is worth saying badly” – a wry antidote to pointless perfectionism.

Dr. 15: Alan was right, diss has to come first

Dr. 28: A professor friend told me there are only two kinds of dissertations: finished and unfinished. Anything else beyond finished is gravy, so don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

This means that doing things like setting deadlines for something help because you have to do what you can rather than what you’d like to do. Too many dissertations get bogged down by unrealistic expectations and tinkering long past the point of productivity.

Also, don’t be afraid to walk away. Something can seem too complex but if you let it sit a week, it often resolves itself when you come back.

Dr. 29: Find the place(s) where you can write. I was not able to write at home or work. For me, local coffee shops and other venues serving caffeinated beverages did the trick. Also, the illusion of privacy while surrounded with action helped. I would often work with a headset on that might or might not be playing very quiet music (generally big bands from 1940s radio shows). If the music was not playing, the headset acted as an imaginary foil shutting out the outer world and allowing me to be in the work itself. For one with severe ADHD, this worked very well. I also found working at picnic tables in local parks to be good places to set up shop. And, as a proponent of the best social media has to offer, I often posted images of the day’s “office” to Instagram and Facebook with hashtags like #dissertationfuntime and #dissertating. The support from those in my virtual network gave me many a boost.

Dr. 30: (1) (something I figured out for myself) Writing for eight hours won’t get you twice as far as writing for 4 hours. Schedule yourself. Pace yourself. Treat it like a job.

(2) (something someone in my grad cohort said to me, and the best piece of advice I got) It’s the longest thing you’ve ever written. Don’t think of it as one 350-page object. Think of it as five or six related essays.

(3) (something one of those “I write from 7-9 every morning” novelists said to me) Always leave the desk knowing there’s something you have to come back to the next day. If you just stay at it till you finish that section, you’ll have nothing calling you back the next day.

(4) (something one of my committee members said to me, and I don’t know how helpful it is, but it felt like a good reality check) “It’s just your dissertation.” The stuff that really matters is the published work that comes out of it.

Dr. 31: Be creative to find what works for you and don’t give up (unless you want to. It is totally okay to decide ABD is right for you). I tried so much of the above that worked for others– write first thing in the morning (always interrupted by child), set aside a writing day once a week (something else always came up), tried different locations (didn’t change anything). All great advice, but it didn’t work for me. What finally did work was fully confessing to my completely amazing chair what was going on (too much daily complicated life stuff getting in the way of being able to have a coherent thought long enough to get it on paper- compounded by having to use my best time of day- morning- to just try to get myself away from that complicated life stuff). He wisely listened to my barriers and said, “can you get away for a week and just write?” and I thought, yes I could do that. Having time to focus on just one thing was magic. I got up, made a piece of toast and coffee, and wrote. I took breaks, cooked good food, ate it, took a walk, and then wrote again. I went to bed early, got enough sleep, and did it again. During that first trip (I think 5 days?) I organized all my material (notes, project reports, snippets I’d already written) using Scrivener into possible chapters. And I found out I had about 80,000 words already and they didn’t all suck. Knowing I had so much already let me move forward. After 3 more trips away (of 3-5 days each), plus editing and revising in between, and I was done in 6 months. It also helped to be in terror of timing out. It also helped my partner had decided he was done with academia and the focus could shift to giving me more time to work. I later found out I had undiagnosed and thus untreated ADHD and suddenly it all made so much sense. I do great working in teams on projects. And this is how I got the research and public outputs done for the project that turned into my dissertation. But the write-up was a lonely road that felt like it was only for me (because I had no intention of getting a tenure-track job) and it was so hard. However, I’m so grateful for my incredibly supportive and creative chair and I’m so glad I did manage to finish.

Dr. 31: Also the other vital piece for me to be able to finish was abandoning my first dissertation topic and already completed research, which was never going to get done because of complicated life reasons, and switching to a completely new topic that worked better in my current situation. Again, was able to do this because of more than one conversation with my amazing chair and his willingness to be super flexible and let a project go that was dear to his heart too so that I could realistically finish. I certainly agree done is good!

Dr. 32: 1. Be gentle with yourself.

2. Now be gentler.

3. Read that again.

Dr. XX: Most important is to know clearly what your topic is for this dissertation and to really want to tell the story of your research.

Dr. 27: Also take with a grain of salt what most PhDs will tell you about how they glided through the writing in mere weeks, and it was really enjoyable. They aren’t exactly being dishonest, but suffer from a selective amnesia. Some writers suffer more than others, but I never observed anyone in process who wasn’t anxious, and pressured, sometimes cruelly. Re-read Van Gennep and Turner on rites of passage, and minimize the damage.

Oh, and -YES it was worth it. After more than thirty years, I remind myself of the triumph and pleasure of completion, and rejoice in the doors it unexpectedly opened for me.

Dr. 33: It was definitely not easy and there were days I was despairing and wanted to throw my computer against the wall. The stress level is unhealthy, but I actually did enjoy it overall. It doesn’t mean I would want to do it again though.

Dr. 28: Dr. 27, it may be true that the writing was quick (it was that quick for me), but they are leaving out the months of getting nowhere that accompanied it. Those claims, without context, are a bit like a pianist claiming it only took a few weeks to learn a complex Chopin piece, without discussing all the practice that went to getting to that point.

Dr. 27: Dr. 28, Right – and you acknowledge it. That’s important.

Dr: 33: I also had a phenomenal committee, so that makes a huge difference as well.

Dr. 34: Glided through in weeks??? Who says that? It was a slog that lasted about 9 months. Come to think of it, it takes about as long to write a dissertation as it takes to make a baby, and it’s about as uncomfortable and painful.

Dr: 27: Dr. 34, Correct!

Dr. 26: I carried an elephant (and then there were the dozen gap years between proposal approval and graduation).

Dr. 22: Dr. 34, I did both at the same time. Can confirm, remarkably similar experiences.

Dr. 35: [Link to a manuscript called Shitty First Drafts]

Dr. 34:  1. Write every day for a certain number of hours. Just do it.
2. Do not delete text just because you hate it or think it’s bad. Create a “Junk” file and copy-paste text you don’t like into it rather than deleting it entirely. Many times you will go back to the Junk file and find what you wrote isn’t as bad as you thought, can be edited, or can fit into another section of the dissertation.
3. Make an outline. It can be changed, but organization is 75% of the task.
4. You don’t need to write the chapters or sections in order — that should be obvious. Often the Introduction gets written last.
5. Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
6. Promise yourself a reward when you get it done — or small rewards as you finish chapters. A dinner out with a friend, a nice hike, a small item you like and is not too expensive — anything to motivate you.

Dr. 36: Dr. 34, I’m part of a group comprised exclusively of my sorority sisters who have or are working on dissertations. For those still working, this would be helpful! Could I copy and share with them?

Dr. 34: Dr. 36, Of course! See also lots of good advice ^^.

Dr. 36: Dr. 34, Yes, I’m reading through the recommendations. When I joined my sorority dissertation group, I shared some of these, as well, as most of us have similar stories and recommendations!

Dr. 36: Dr. 34, I shared it with my group, and, already, dozens have seen it, 6 have 💕 or 👍🏾 it, and 2 have commented, with one saying she’s saving it to remind herself! 💕💐

ABD 37: Just hopping in here – not sure I’m entirely qualified considering I’m still in the process of doing this, but since I know who you’ll be talking to I’ll hop in! In addition to everything already covered, I think there’s a tendency, not only in our department but others, to hype the whole process up so much that you go into it expecting it to be the most awful and highly stressful experience of your life, like trying to walk through cement with lead shoes on. Similar to qualifying exams, this sort of “it’s going to suck, here’s how you can try to sort of deal with it” language around the writing process sets an expectation that if you’re not experiencing it as the worst time of graduate school, you must be doing it wrong. This is not to say that stress and anxiety are not very real parts of the process for some people and should be taken seriously. But I think we can frame how we talk about it a little bit differently, so we don’t go into it already expecting it not be productive or to be an awful experience. I know us anthropologists love talking about rites of passage, but I don’t think they have to reach horror-story levels of narrative (see what I did there…).

Dr. 38: Best pieces of advice I received: 1. the only perfect dissertations are in the minds of ABDs 2. the only proven method is to get your butt in the seat and type 3. On scheduling time to write: the kitchen timer method is my go-to. It’s a modified Pomodoro approach with specifics for writers. I was a single mom working full time with 3 kids at home when I finished my diss and didn’t have hours of time to devote to writing. The modified pomodoro showed me a way to snatch an hour here and there and generate pages.

Dr. 33: First, I think reading as much as you can before starting your research, and keeping up with the literature while you are in the field is crucial to finish quickly (however you personally define that). But I think the number one thing is to know your particular writing style. For me, I knew a writing group would annoy me more than help. I tried to write every day, but I didn’t beat myself up if I didn’t. I chose a place I write and a different place to edit. I can’t do either in silence so I went to specific coffee shops. I knew after 3 hours my mind would start wondering and I was wasting my time sitting there. I need the adrenaline of impending deadlines to do my best work, so I set a firm one year timeline for myself. By following all of that I was able to finish and defend in a year.

Dr. 39: Write every day for a minimum of 2 hours, but also take breaks every day, preferably doing something completely unrelated that brings you joy. If you feel yourself getting burned out on writing, work on your bibliography instead (maybe a list of books to look at or order later). You can also get out of a slump by, say, watching a documentary or listening to a podcast about your subject. I found that helped me when I was burned out on reading. Last but not least, take your mental health seriously, and don’t be afraid to see a therapist.

Dr. 40: Let go of the fear you might leave something out. I’ve known dissertators who could never finish even a chapter because of that fear. Your dissertation is not an encyclopedia; it’s a proposition which you defend by means of evidence you have collected.

Dr. 40: From time to time, ask yourself fiercely, “What’s important?!” Or as Paddy Clancy used to say, “Mind the main thing.”

Dr: 41: To finish

Dr. 42: NAME linking a student because there’s so much good advice here!

Dr. 43: Remember that you don’t have to write all possible disseratations on the topic in question, just one.

Dr. 44: Long walks.

Dr. 35: Don’t wait until you have a guaranteed two-hour block to write.

Dr. 45: When you write, try to stop writing in the middle of a good spot and outline the next 2 or 3 point you have coming. Then, when you sit down again tomorrow, you’ll pick up the writing again quickly and easily. If you stop for the day at a good stopping point where you’ve finished your thought completely, it may be harder to start up again. Always plan what you’ll do tomorrow, as your last step for the day, so that you don’t feel stumped when you arrive back at the desk. (Some writing tips I got from a bootcamp once that were helpful).

Dr. 46: Continue reading widely, especially outside your field, to keep your mind stimulated beyond your chosen subject. One of my professors used to assign classic works of literature in anthropology classes as a way of modeling good writing and broad thinking about humanity. Among dissertation writers, there’s a tendency to go into seclusion and to think only about one subject, which is not good for your thought process or writing habits in the long run. Working music—or other art forms—into your routine can also keep your mind operating on multiple levels, going beyond the narrow, linear thought that defines so many specialty areas in the academy. Oddly enough, this is the kind of advice many of the leading scientists took (such as Einstein), but it also works for the humanities. Geertz had his students read a ton of philosophy and literature, which comes up all the time in his work. Knowing your own field is just not enough to make you a well-rounded scholar or person.

Dr. 47: Lower your standards

Dr. 31: Yes.

Dr. 15: Dr. 31, as I quickly learned when I was a reporter, quit worrying about the Pulitzer Prize, just get it past the copy desk

Dr. 48: Keep your courage…and get it done.

Dr. 49: Advice I got from Henry Glassie: Write very detailed descriptions because these might not fit in articles or in more tight book formats but you can use them later in publications (as references).

Dr. 50: Limit your topic to one well-defined thing you can cover well.

Dr. 15: 1. immerse yourself in your data, soak everything into your memory, notice what things crop up repeatedly, what are those things telling you about the big picture [your main argument and over-arching themes] 2. ID your main argument and overarching themes, but don’t try to write the intro until you know where you’re going to end up, i.e. your conclusion. 3. what data goes in what chapter. what should be left out, i.e. branches out too far in other directions. 4. in the conclusion, address how my findings support, refute, complement, build on other important work in the field. who is the most relevant. what questions does my work raise for future research (more is always necessary 🙂 ). 5. go back to the chapters presenting your data and draw connections to the sources you cited in your conclusion. 6. write the intro, telling what you did and what it means in context of previous research! 7. write in the morning. 8. I visualized sequences of connections or points to be made in bed at night or when half awake in the morning, or when taking “naps.” go over it a few times in my head, then hop up, turn the light on, and scribble down the sequence. a lot of times when having trouble with how to present things in a meaningful sequence I would go lie down on my bed. or take a walk. also helps to make a list of the things that need to be in a certain chapter. then figure out a logical order. set deadlines for when each chapter needs to be done [Jason did this for me, it helped! I’m very deadline-oriented, I knuckle down and produce when I’ve got a deadline. set everything else aside.] writing group meetings were fun, helped with morale, but did not help get the diss done.

Dr. 29: Dr. 15, This speaks to the value of doing your own interview transcription (if you used such data sources). It was invaluable to me in spite of the hours. Get a transcription foot pedal.

Dr. 15: Dr. 29, yes I absolutely agree. I printed out all my transcriptions, and scribbled notes and underlines all over them.

Dr. 15: thank God the thing’s done. still can’t believe I did it 😛😎😀🌹🌟

Dr. 24: I’m surprised that nobody has made the inevitable comparison yet between writing a dissertation and running a marathon.

I’ve done them both, and the one commonality is that I intend never to attempt either one ever again. 😂

Dr. 51: Early on, find data/reference management and writing systems/software that work for you. I currently rely on Zotero for citations and notetaking, Atlas.ti for coding primary sources, and Scrivener for drafting. You can spend a million unproductive years finding “the best” system(s), though, so trust the recommendations of those who seem to process information like you do.

Dr. 28: Ok. One more inspired by Dr. 51, put somewhat snarkily: Avoid Microsoft Word.

This may not apply to everyone as I stated it, but I spent more time fighting Word’s attempts to be “helpful” than I did writing at first. I switched to InDesign (which I realize isn’t for everyone) and my frustration factor plummeted and my productivity climbed.

But put more generally, find software that helps rather than hinders you. You’re going to get to know the software you write in *very* well, so you should make sure that’s a good choice for you. Perhaps Word will be a good choice for you, but make sure you can live with the choice you make.

Dr: 51: I formatted my dissertation using InDesign, too. 😉 So much easier (thanks, FolkPub and free UITS workshops!)

Dr. 52: Find a good, productive procrastination activity; mine was bread-baking because it takes a long time but requires few brain cells.






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