Thirty-Eight Strategies for Completing your Dissertation


  1. Select a topic early in your doctoral program. 
  2. Ensure your topic is doable in one year. 
  3. Develop a clear statement of your research problem and solidify the scope of your project. 
  4. Select a dissertation chair/mentor who fits with your temperament and work style. 
  5. Establish a dissertation timeline with realistic deadlines. 
  6. Use the “planning backwards” process. 
  7. Set up a regular work schedule and work place. 
  8. Commit at least five days a week to working on the dissertation. 
  9. Arrange a work area with minimal visual distractions. 
  10. Limit new commitments (e.g., teaching a new course); learn to say no! 
  11. Maintain firm boundaries around your dissertation writing time. 
  12. Practice time management, establishing daily goals. 
  13. Set up small milestones and deadlines; track and reward your progress in reaching them. 
  14. Create outlines for individual chapters so you’ll know where you’re going. 
  15. Maintain a running “to do” list to ease getting in and out of your work. 
  16. Alternate periods of researching and writing. 
  17. Begin by writing in short bursts, aiming to complete at least half a page every half hour; do your new writing before editing the previous day’s work. 
  18. Consider writing in “waves,” from a general overview of a topic/ variable (what you know now), to more specific points, then to very specific information (e.g., statistics).
  19. Experiment with methods of visual organization (mind maps, postits on walls).
  20. Use binders for the chapters you’ve completed. 
  21. Keep all your writing and drafts until the dissertation is done; you may need work you rejected early in your discussion or in revisions. 
  22. Use “waiting time” to edit and revise your work. 
  23. Arrange regular meetings and frequent contact with your dissertation adviser. 
  24. Be proactive in seeking feedback from your adviser; ask for help when you get stuck. 
  25. Stay connected to other faculty who can assist you. 
  26. Tell others about your timeline and plans to finish. 
  27. Develop a peer support group (e.g., departmental, campus, on-line). 
  28. Partner with a research buddy to ensure accountability. 
  29. Don’t compare yourself to other students completing the dissertation. 
  30. Keep a manageable number of references. 
  31. Use bibliographic software to help with your references. 
  32. Ensure you have adequate academic support (e.g., committee members, statistical or editing help); emotional support (e.g., family, friends, peers); and administrative support (research assistance, office space/help). 
  33. Take some time off when you absolutely need it. 
  34. Eat nutritious foods, rest well, and exercise regularly. 
  35. Don’t quit! Convince yourself that you can succeed and learn from this experience. 
  36. Attend at least two departmental defenses to get familiar with the process. 
  37. Practice your defense by attending conferences and scheduling “practice defenses” with friends, colleagues and a few faculty. 
  38. Participate in the final graduation ceremony; it’s wonderful to be “hooded” and presented as a “doctor”!

Adapted in part from Jain, Rachna D. (2002). Get it done: A coach’s guide to dissertation success. Columbia, MD: Moonswept Press, Inc.