Finish Your Dissertation

University counseling services may prove helpful as well.

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Graduate school pundits often cite 50% or more as the attrition rate for ABD students (those who have completed All the requirements of their programs But the Dissertation). This handout will not only answer this question, but also give you good, practical advice on starting, drafting, and completing your dissertation.

The Writing Center can’t advise you about technical questions (for example, how to force Microsoft Word to set up tables correctly or format page numbers the way you want), but we know people who may be able to! Why don’t doctoral candidates manage to get rolling on the dissertation any sooner, or KEEP rolling once they get started?

Writing a dissertation is a lot like writing a book. There are usually no weekly deadlines from professors, no regular discussions with classmates, no reading assignments, no one telling you what to do—you are on your own, writing something longer than you’ve ever written, and doing it without a net.

This independence can make the process seem very intimidating.

If so, it is unlikely that your cognitive abilities are to blame.

More likely, the culprits are anxiety, self-doubt, procrastination, perfectionism, and the thoughts, feelings, and behavior that accompany these difficulties.

Many, many people lead happy, fulfilling lives, build lucrative and rewarding careers, make important contributions to knowledge, share interesting ideas with others, and generally get along just fine without three letters after their names. It also does not mean that you have wasted the time and money that you invested in the degree up to the ABD stage.

It may simply mean that after considering your own personal motivations and goals, you decided this career choice wasn’t for you—and that you plan to use the skills you honed as a graduate student in other ways that are more suited to you. Unlike the elaborate study strategies you developed in order to pass your comprehensive exams, writing the dissertation will enable you to start developing a set of valuable research and writing skills.

You may feel like your research interests, your theoretical influences, and your skill as a writer may all be evaluated by this first piece of serious scholarship.

Whether any of these points are true or not, you may find yourself questioning your commitment to your chosen profession or topic and unable to begin the dissertation.

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