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Don't Start Your Dissertation Before You Do These 3 Things

Oct 26, 2020

 If I would have known what to do before I started writing my dissertation, my last semester would have been so much easier.

In this blog, I am going to give you three action steps that you can take to start your dissertation off right that doesn’t include writing.


Step 1: Outline Your Chapters

This may seem really simple and intuitive, but the dissertation process is so daunting that it is often overlooked. We constantly think we need to write our dissertation, but sometimes we need to take a step back and actually plan and outline.

When I started working with one of my friends on her dissertation, she was fixated on needing to work on finishing writing one of her chapters. However, when I asked her about her dissertation outline, she didn't have one. She would tell me that she will work on creating her chapter outline as soon as she finishes writing this chapter.

This mindset can set you up for failure because when you do not even know what you need to do in your dissertation, you cannot make a plan for completing your dissertation. You become fixated on one aspect of your dissertation and potentially spend too much time on it and now make it impossible to finish everything in time.

While your chapters may change through the course of writing your dissertation, having an outline prior to starting your dissertation allows you to chart a course that can lead you to success.

Step 2: Check The Formatting Guidelines

One surprising fact: Dissertations have really strict formatting guidelines.

This can include margins, what your title page looks like, front matter, where figures and tables can go, and even if you have to have certain chapters. 

You need to check with your graduate studies department, your home department, and your advisor for formatting guidelines. 

When I started writing my dissertation, I followed my advisor's formatting guidelines and didn’t check my university's graduate studies guidelines. 

What I didn't know is that they had changed the formatting guidelines from when my advisor put together his templates and formatting guidelines. So when I submitted my dissertation to grad studies, they rejected it with a two-page list of changes I needed to make to the format.

When you get edits from your committee, it can be a very frustrating part of the dissertation process, but when you are getting edits to the formatting, it is beyond frustrating.

Once you change one part of the formatting, it generally messes with the entire formatting of the paper.

Therefore, if you start right from the beginning, it will make it easier than fixing the formatting at the last minute.

Step 3: Outline Your Chapters Before You Write

We have a tendency to just start writing before we even know what the chapter is going to say.

Just like we want to know what are chapters are going to be, we want to outline the individual chapters to be able to write better and faster.

I generally make figure outlines. These figure outlines are simply the figure panels that will be in my paper, but they also represent the story I am telling in my paper.

Once I have my figure outlines, writing my entire chapter becomes easier because I know the story so I know where I am going in my writing.

This can also help you become more excited about the paper.

When I make figure outlines for a paper, it basically writes your results and discussion sections for you, but it also helps you know what your introductions and methods sections should look like.


The dissertation process is so much more than just writing which is why it is so overwhelming.

If you want to go deeper into writing your dissertation in an easier way with less frustration, reserve your spot in the dissertation workshop.


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