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Writing and Presenting Your Thesis or Dissertation
Author: ADMIN (ukstudent at gmail dot com)
Published: Tue, 22-Mar-2005
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Writing and Presenting Your Thesis or Dissertation. Guide by S. Joseph Levine


    This guide has been created to assist my graduate students in thinking
    through the many aspects of crafting, implementing and defending a thesis
    or dissertation. It is my attempt to share some of the many ideas that
    have surfaced over the past few years that definitely make the task of
    finishing a graduate degree so much easier. (This Guide is a companion to the Guide for Writing a Funding Proposal.)

    Usually a guide of this nature focuses on the actual implementation
    of the research. This is not the focus of this guide. Instead of examining
    such aspects as identifying appropriate sample size, field testing the
    instrument and selecting appropriate statistical tests, this guide looks
    at many of the quasi-political aspects of the process. Such topics as how
    to select a supportive committee, making a compelling presentation of your
    research outcomes and strategies for actually getting the paper written
    are discussed.

    Of course, many of the ideas that are presented can be used successfully
    by other graduate students studying under the guidance of other advisers
    and from many different disciplines. However, the use of this guide carries
    no guarantee - implied or otherwise.
    When in doubt check with your adviser.
    Probably the best advice to start with is the idea of not trying to do
    your research entirely by yourself. Do it in conjunction with your adviser.
    Seek out his/her input and assistance. Stay in touch with your adviser
    so that both of you know what's happening. There's a much better chance
    of getting to the end of your project and with a smile on your face.

    With this in mind, enjoy the guide. I hope it will help you finish your graduate
    degree in good shape. Good luck and good researching!

    (NOTE: Periodically I receive requests for information on how to prepare a "thesis statement" rather than actually writing a thesis/dissertation. How To Write a Thesis Statement is an excellent website that clearly sets forth what a "thesis statement" is and how to actually prepare one.)

    Summary of Key Ideas in this Guide

      The Thinking About It Stage


    The "thinking about it stage" is when you are finally
    faced with the reality of completing your degree. Usually the early phases
    of a graduate program proceed in clear and very structured ways. The beginning
    phases of a graduate program proceed in much the same manner as an undergraduate
    degree program. There are clear requirements and expectations, and the graduate
    student moves along, step by step, getting ever closer to the completion
    of the program. One day, however, the clear structure begins to diminish
    and now you're approaching the thesis/dissertation stage. This is a new
    and different time. These next steps are more and more defined by you
    and not your adviser, the program, or the department.

    check mark1. Be inclusive with your thinking.Don't try to eliminate
    ideas too quickly. Build on your ideas and see how many different research
    projects you can identify. Give yourself the luxury of being expansive
    in your thinking at this stage -- you won't be able to do this later on.
    Try and be creative.

    check mark2. Write down your ideas. This will allow you to revisit an
    idea later on. Or, you can modify and change an idea. If you don't write
    your ideas they tend to be in a continual state of change and you will probably
    have the feeling that you're not going anywhere. What a great feeling it
    is to be able to sit down and scan the many ideas you have been thinking
    about, if they're written down.

    check mark3. Try not to be overly influenced at this time by
    what you feel others expect from you
    (your colleagues, your profession,
    your academic department, etc.). You have a much better chance of selecting
    a topic that will be really of interest to you if it is your topic. This
    will be one of the few opportunities you may have in your professional
    life to focus in on a research topic that is really of your own choosing.

    check mark4. Don't begin your thinking by assuming that your
    research will draw international attention to you!!
    Instead, be
    realistic in setting your goal. Make sure your expectations are tempered

      ... the realization that you are fulfilling an academic requirement,

      ... the fact that the process of conducting the research may be just
      as important (or more important) than the outcomes of the research, and

      ... the idea that first and foremost the whole research project should
      be a learning experience for you.

    If you can keep these ideas in mind while you're thinking through your
    research you stand an excellent chance of having your research project
    turn out well.

    check mark5. Be realistic about the time that you're willing to commit
    to your research project.
    If it's a 10 year project that you're thinking
    about admit it at the beginning and then decide whether or not you have
    10 years to give to it. If the project you'd like to do is going to demand
    more time than you're willing to commit then you have a problem.

    I know it's still early in your thinking but it's never too early to create a draft of a timeline. Try using the 6 Stages (see the next item) and put a start and a finish time for each. Post your timeline in a conspicuous place (above your computer monitor?) so that it continually reminds you how you're doing. Periodically update your timeline with new dates as needed. (Thanks to a website visitor from Philadelphia for sharing this idea.)

    check mark6. If you're going to ask for a leave of absence from your job while
    you're working on your research this isn't a good time to do it. Chances
    are you can do the "thinking about it" stage without a leave
    of absence. Assuming that there are six major phases that you will have
    during your research project, probably the best time to get
    the most from a leave of absence is during the fourth
    stage* - the writing stage.
    This is the time when you really need to
    be thinking well. To be able to work at your writing in large blocks of
    time without interruptions is something really important. A leave of absence
    from your job can allow this to happen. A leave of absence from your job
    prior to this stage may not be a very efficient use of the valuable time
    away from your work.

      Stage 1 - Thinking About It

      Stage 2 - Preparing the Proposal

      Stage 3- Conducting the Research

      Stage 4- Writing the Research Paper*

      Stage 5- Sharing the Research Outcomes with Others

      Stage 6- Revising the Research Paper

    check mark7. It can be most helpful at this early stage to try a very small preliminary
    research study
    to test out some of your ideas to help you gain further
    confidence in what you'd like to do. The study can be as simple as conducting
    half a dozen informal interviews with no attempt to document what is said.
    The key is that it will give you a chance to get closer to your research
    and to test out whether or not you really are interested in the topic.
    And, you can do it before you have committed yourself to doing something
    you may not like. Take your time and try it first.


    Assuming you've done a good job of "thinking about" your research
    project, you're ready to actually prepare the proposal. A word of caution
    - those students who tend to have a problem in coming up with a viable
    proposal often are the ones that have tried to rush through the "thinking
    about it" part and move too quickly to trying to write the proposal.
    Here's a final check. Do each of these statements describe you? If they
    do you're ready to prepare your research proposal.

      I am familiar with other research that has been conducted in
      areas related to my research project.

        (___Yes, it's me)

        ( ___No, not me)

      I have a clear understanding of the steps that I will use in
      conducting my research.

        (___Yes, it's me)

        ( ___No, not me)

      I feel that I have the ability to get through each of the steps
      necessary to complete my research project.

        (___Yes, it's me)

        ( ___No, not me)

      I know that I am motivated and have the drive to get
      through all of the steps in the research project.

        (___Yes, it's me)

        ( ___No, not me)

    Okay, you're ready to write your research proposal. Here are some ideas
    to help with the task:

    check mark8. Read through someone else's research proposal. Very often
    a real stumbling block is that we don't have an image in our mind of what
    the finished research proposal should look like. How has the other proposal
    been organized? What are the headings that have been used? Does the other
    proposal seem clear? Does it seem to suggest that the writer knows the
    subject area? Can I model my proposal after one of the ones that
    I've seen? If you can't readily find a proposal or two to look at, ask
    your adviser to see some. Chances are your adviser has a file drawer filled with

    check mark9. Make sure your proposal has a comprehensive review of the literature
    included. Now this idea, at first thought, may not seem to make sense.
    I have heard many students tell me that "This is only the proposal.
    I'll do a complete literature search for the dissertation. I don't want
    to waste the time now." But, this is the time to do it. The rationale
    behind the literature review consists of an argument with two lines of analysis:
    1) this research is needed, and 2) the methodology I have chosen is most
    appropriate for the question that is being asked. Now, why would you
    want to wait? Now is the time to get informed and to learn from others who have
    preceded you! If you wait until you are writing the dissertation it is too
    late. You've got to do it some time so you might as well get on with it
    and do it now. Plus, you will probably want to add to the literature review
    when you're writing the final dissertation. (Thanks to a
    website visitor from Mobile, Alabama who helped to clarify this point.

    check mark10. With the ready availability of photocopy machines you should be
    able to bypass many of the hardships that previous dissertation researchers
    had to deal with in developing their literature review. When you read something
    that is important to your study, photocopy the relevant article
    or section.
    Keep your photocopies organized according to categories and
    sections. And, most importantly, photocopy the bibliographic citation so
    that you can easily reference the material in your bibliography. Then, when
    you decide to sit down and actually write the literature review, bring out your
    photocopied sections, put them into logical and sequential order, and then
    begin your writing.

    check mark11. What is a proposal anyway? A good proposal should consist of the
    first three chapters of the dissertation.
    It should begin with a statement
    of the problem/background information (typically Chapter I of the dissertation),
    then move on to a review of the literature (Chapter 2), and conclude with
    a defining of the research methodology (Chapter 3). Of course, it should
    be written in a future tense since it is a proposal. To turn a good proposal
    into the first three chapters of the dissertation consists of changing
    the tense from future tense to past tense (from "This is what I would
    like to do" to "This is what I did") and making any changes
    based on the way you actually carried out the research when compared to
    how you proposed to do it. Often the intentions we state in our proposal
    turn out different in reality and we then have to make appropriate editorial
    changes to move it from proposal to dissertation.

    check mark12. Focus your research very specifically. Don't try to have
    your research cover too broad an area. Now you may think that this will
    distort what you want to do. This may be the case, but you will be able
    to do the project if it is narrowly defined. Usually a broadly defined
    project is not do-able. By defining too broadly it may sound better to
    you, but there is a great chance that it will be unmanageable as a research
    project. When you complete your research project it is important that you
    have something specific and definitive to say. This can be accommodated
    and enhanced by narrowly defining your project. Otherwise you may have
    only broadly based things to say about large areas that really provide
    little guidance to others that may follow you. Often the researcher finds
    that what he/she originally thought to be a good research project turns
    out to really be a group of research projects. Do one project for your
    dissertation and save the other projects for later in your career. Don't
    try to solve all of the problems in this one research project.

    check mark13. Include a title on your proposal. I'm amazed at how often the title is left for the end of the student's writing and then somehow forgotten when the proposal is prepared for the committee. A good proposal has a good title and it is the first thing to help the reader begin to understand the nature of your work. Use it wisely! Work on your title early in the process and revisit it often. It's easy for a reader to identify those proposals where the title has been focused upon by the student. Preparing a good title means:

      ...having the most important words appear toward the beginning of your title,

      ...limiting the use of ambiguous or confusing words,

      ..breaking your title up into a title and subtitle when you have too many words, and

      ...including key words that will help researchers in the future find your work.

    check mark14. It's important that your research proposal be organized around a
    set of questions
    that will guide your research. When selecting these guiding
    questions try to write them so that they frame your research and put it
    into perspective with other research. These questions must serve to establish
    the link between your research and other research that has preceded you.
    Your research questions should clearly show the relationship of your research
    to your field of study. Don't be carried away at this point and make your
    questions too narrow. You must start with broad relational questions.

      A good question:

        Do adult learners in a rural adult education setting have characteristics
        that are similar to adult learners in general ?

      A poor question:

        What are the characteristics of rural adult learners in an adult education
        program? (too narrow)

      A poor question:

        How can the XYZ Agency better serve rural adult learners? (not generalizable)

    check mark15. Now here are a few more ideas regarding the defining of your research
    project through your proposal.

      check marka. Make sure that you will be benefitting those who are
      participating in the research.
      Don't only see the subjects as sources of
      data for you to analyze. Make sure you treat them as participants in the
      research. They have the right to understand what you are doing and you
      have a responsibility to share the findings with them for their reaction.
      Your research should not only empower you with new understandings but it
      should also empower those who are participating with you.

      check markb. Choose your methodology wisely. Don't be too quick in running away
      from using a quantitative methodology because you fear the use of statistics.
      A qualitative approach to research can yield new and exciting understandings,
      but it should not be undertaken because of a fear of quantitative research.
      A well designed quantitative research study can often be accomplished in
      very clear and direct ways. A similar study of a qualitative nature usually
      requires considerably more time and a tremendous burden to create new paths
      for analysis where previously no path had existed. Choose your methodology

      check markc. Sometimes a combined methodology makes the most sense. You can combine
      a qualitative preliminary study (to define your population more clearly,
      to develop your instrumentation more specifically or to establish hypotheses
      for investigation) with a quantitative main study to yield a research project
      that works well.

      check markd. Deciding on where you will conduct the research is
      a major decision. If you are from another area of the country or a different
      country there is often an expectation that you will return to your "home"
      to conduct the research. This may yield more meaningful results, but it
      will also most likely create a situation whereby you are expected to fulfill
      other obligations while you are home. For many students the opportunity
      to conduct a research project away from home is an important one since
      they are able to better control many of the intervening variables that
      they can not control at home. Think carefully regarding your own situation
      before you make your decision.

      check marke. What if you have the opportunity for conducting your research
      in conjunction with another agency or project
      that is working
      in related areas. Should you do it? Sometimes this works well, but most
      often the dissertation researcher gives up valuable freedom to conduct
      the research project in conjunction with something else. Make sure the
      trade-offs are in your favor.
      It can be very disastrous to have
      the other project suddenly get off schedule and to find your own research project
      temporarily delayed. Or, you had tripled the size of your sample since
      the agency was willing to pay the cost of postage. They paid for the postage
      for the pre-questionnaire. Now they are unable to assist with postage for
      the post-questionnaire. What happens to your research? I usually find
      that the cost of conducting dissertation research is not prohibitive and
      the trade-offs to work in conjunction with another agency are not in favor
      of the researcher. Think twice before altering your project to accommodate
      someone else. Enjoy the power and the freedom to make your own decisions
      (and mistakes!) -- this is the way we learn!

    check mark16. Selecting and preparing your advisory committee to respond to your
    proposal should not be taken lightly. If you do your "homework"
    well your advisory committee can be most helpful to you. Try these ideas:

      check marka. If you are given the opportunity to select your dissertation committee
      do it wisely. Don't only focus on content experts. Make sure you have selected
      faculty for your committee who are supportive of you
      and are willing
      to assist you in successfully completing your research. You want a committee
      that you can ask for help and know that they will provide it for you. Don't
      forget, you can always access content experts who are not on your committee
      at any time during your research project.

      check markb. Your major professor/adviser/chairperson is your ally. When
      you go to the committee for reactions to your proposal make sure your major
      professor is fully supportive of you. Spend time with him/her before the
      meeting so that your plans are clear and you know you have full support.
      The proposal meeting should be seen as an opportunity for you and your
      major professor to seek the advice of the committee. Don't ever go into
      the proposal meeting with the feeling that it is you against them!

      check markc. Provide the committee members with a well-written proposal well in
      advance of the meeting. Make sure they have ample time to read the proposal.

      check markd. Plan the proposal meeting well. If graphic presentations are
      necessary to help the committee with understandings make sure you prepare
      them so they look good. A well planned meeting will help your committee
      understand that you are prepared to move forward with well planned research.
      Your presentation style at the meeting should not belittle your committee
      members (make it sound like you know they have read your proposal) but
      you should not assume too much (go through each of the details with an
      assumption that maybe one of the members skipped over that section).


    Now this is the part we've been waiting for. I must assume that you
    have come up with a good idea for research, had your proposal approved,
    collected the data, conducted your analyses and now you're about to start
    writing the dissertation. If you've done the first steps well this part
    shouldn't be too bad. In fact it might even be enjoyable!

    check mark17. The major myth in writing a dissertation is that you start writing
    at Chapter One and then finish your writing at Chapter Five. This is seldom
    the case. The most productive approach in writing the dissertation is to
    begin writing those parts of the dissertation that you are
    most comfortable with.
    Then move about in your writing by completing various
    sections as you think of them. At some point you will be able to spread
    out in front of you all of the sections that you have written. You will
    be able to sequence them in the best order and then see what is missing
    and should be added to the dissertation. This way seems to make sense and
    builds on those aspects of your study that are of most interest to you at any particular
    time. Go with what interests you, start your writing there, and then keep building!

    (David Kraenzel - North Dakota State University - wrote in describing the "A to Z Method". Look at the first section of your paper. When you are ready go ahead and write it. If you are not ready, move section-by-section through your paper until you find a section where you have some input to make. Make your input and continue moving through the entire paper - from A to Z - writing and adding to those sections for which you have some input. Each time you work on your paper follow the same A to Z process. This will help you visualize the end product of your efforts from very early in your writing and each time you work on your paper you will be building the entire paper - from A to Z. Thanks David!)

    check mark18. If you prepared a comprehensive proposal you will now be rewarded!
    Pull out the proposal and begin by checking your proposed research methodology.
    Change the tense from future tense to past tense and then make any additions
    or changes so that the methodology section truly reflects what you did.
    You have now been able to change sections from the proposal to sections
    for the dissertation.
    Move on to the Statement of the Problem and the Literature
    Review in the same manner.

    check mark19. I must assume you're using some form of word processing on a computer
    to write your dissertation. (if you aren't, you've missed a major part
    of your doctoral preparation!) If your study has specific names of people,
    institutions and places that must be changed to provide anonymity don't
    do it too soon. Go ahead and write your dissertation using the real names.
    Then at the end of the writing stage you can easily have the computer make
    all of the appropriate name substitutions. If you make these substitutions
    too early it can really confuse your writing.

    check mark20. As you get involved in the actual writing of your dissertation you will find that conservation of paper will begin to fade away as a concern. Just as soon as you print a draft of a chapter there will appear a variety of needed changes and before you know it another draft will be printed. And, it seems almost impossible to throw away any of the drafts! After awhile it will become extremely difficult to remember which draft of your chapter you may be looking at. Print each draft of your dissertation on a different color paper. With the different colors of paper it will be easy to see which is the latest draft and you can quickly see which draft a committee member might be reading. (Thanks to Michelle O'Malley at University of Florida for sharing this idea.)

    check mark21. The one area where I would caution you about using a word processor
    is in the initial creation of elaborate graphs or tables. I've seen too many students
    spend too many hours in trying to use their word processor to create an elaborate
    graph that could have been done by hand in 15 minutes. So, the simple rule
    is to use hand drawing for elaborate tables and graphs for the early draft of
    your dissertation.
    Make sure your data are presented accurately so your advisor can clearly understand your
    graph/table, but don't waste the time trying to make it look word processor perfect at this time. Once you and your advisor agree upon how the data should be graphically represented it is time to prepare "perfect" looking
    graphs and tables.

    check mark22. Dissertation-style writing is not designed to be entertaining. Dissertation
    writing should be clear and unambiguous.
    To do this well you should prepare
    a list of key words that are important to your research and then your writing
    should use this set of key words throughout. There is nothing so frustrating
    to a reader as a manuscript that keeps using alternate words to mean the
    same thing. If you've decided that a key phrase for your research is "educational
    workshop", then do not try substituting other phrases like "in-service
    program", "learning workshop", "educational institute",
    or "educational program." Always stay with the same phrase -
    "educational workshop." It will be very clear to the reader exactly
    what you are referring to.

    check mark23. Review two or three well organized and presented dissertations.
    Examine their use of headings, overall style, typeface and organization.
    Use them as a model for the preparation of your own dissertation. In this
    way you will have an idea at the beginning of your writing what your finished
    dissertation will look like. A most helpful perspective!

    check mark24. A simple rule - if you are presenting information in the form of
    a table or graph make sure you introduce the table or graph in your text.
    And then, following the insertion of the table/graph, make sure you discuss
    it. If there is nothing to discuss then you may want to question even inserting

    check mark25. Another simple rule - if you have a whole series of very similar
    tables try to use similar words in describing each.
    Don't try and
    be creative and entertaining with your writing. If each introduction and
    discussion of the similar tables uses very similar wording then the reader
    can easily spot the differences in each table.

    check mark26. We are all familiar with how helpful the Table of Contents is to the reader. What we sometimes don't realize is that it is also invaluable to the writer. Use the Table of Contents to help you improve your manuscript. Use it to see if you've left something out, if you are presenting your sections in the most logical order, or if you need to make your wording a bit more clear. Thanks to the miracle of computer technology, you can easily copy/paste each of your headings from throughout your writing into the Table of Contents. Then sit back and see if the Table of Contents is clear and will make good sense to the reader. You will be amazed at how easy it will be to see areas that may need some more attention. Don't wait until the end to do your Table of Contents. Do it early enough so you can benefit from the information it will provide to you.

    check mark27. If you are including a Conclusions/Implications section in your
    dissertation make sure you really present conclusions and implications.
    Often the writer uses the conclusions/implications section to merely restate
    the research findings. Don't waste my time. I've already read the findings
    and now, at the Conclusion/Implication section, I want you to help me understand
    what it all means. This is a key section of the dissertation and is sometimes
    best done after you've had a few days to step away from your research and
    allow yourself to put your research into perspective. If you do this you
    will no doubt be able to draw a variety of insights that help link your
    research to other areas. I usually think of conclusions/implications as
    the "So what" statements. In other words, what are the key ideas
    that we can draw from your study to apply to my areas of concern.

    check mark28. Potentially the silliest part of the dissertation is the Suggestions
    for Further Research section. This section is usually written at
    the very end of your writing project and little energy is left to make
    it very meaningful. The biggest problem with this section is that the suggestions
    are often ones that could have been made prior to you conducting your research.
    Read and reread this section until you are sure that you have made suggestions
    that emanate from your experiences
    in conducting the research and the findings
    that you have evolved. Make sure that your suggestions for further research
    serve to link your project with other projects in the future and provide
    a further opportunity for the reader to better understand what you have

    check mark29. Now it's time to write the last chapter. But what chapter is the
    last one? My perception is that the last chapter should be the first chapter.
    I don't really mean this in the literal sense. Certainly you
    wrote Chapter One at the beginning of this whole process. Now, at the end,
    it's time to "rewrite" Chapter One. After you've had a chance
    to write your dissertation all the way to the end, the last thing you should
    do is turn back to Chapter One. Reread Chapter One carefully with the insight
    you now have from having completed Chapter Five. Does Chapter One clearly
    help the reader move in the direction of Chapter Five? Are important concepts
    that will be necessary for understanding Chapter Five presented in Chapter


    What a terrible name - a dissertation defense. It seems to suggest some
    sort of war that you're trying to win. And, of course, with four or five
    of them and only one of you it sounds like they may have won the war before
    the first battle is held. I wish they had called it a dissertation seminar
    or professional symposium. I think the name would have brought forward
    a much better picture of what should be expected at this meeting.

    Regardless of what the meeting is called, try to remember that the purpose
    of the meeting is for you to show everyone how well you have done in the
    conducting of your research study and the preparation of your dissertation.
    In addition there should be a seminar atmosphere where the exchange of
    ideas is valued. You are clearly the most knowledgeable person at this
    meeting when it comes to your subject. And, the members of your committee
    are there to hear from you and to help you better understand the very research
    that you have invested so much of yourself in for the past weeks. Their
    purpose is to help you finish your degree requirements. Of course other
    agenda often creep in. If that happens, try to stay on course and redirect
    the meeting to your agenda.

    The following ideas should help you keep the meeting on your agenda.

    check mark30. The most obvious suggestion is the one seldom followed. Try to attend
    one or more defenses prior to yours.
    Find out which other students
    are defending their research and sit in on their defense. In many departments
    this is expected of all graduate students. If this is not the case for
    you, check with your adviser to see that you can get an invitation
    to attend some defenses.

    At the defense try and keep your focus on the interactions that occur.
    Does the student seem relaxed? What strategies does the student use to
    keep relaxed? How does the student interact with the faculty? Does the
    student seem to be able to answer questions well? What would make the situation
    appear better? What things should you avoid? You can learn a lot from sitting
    in on such a meeting.

    check mark31. Find opportunities to discuss your research with your friends and
    Listen carefully to their questions. See if you are able to
    present your research in a clear and coherent manner. Are there aspects
    of your research that are particularly confusing and need further explanation?
    Are there things that you forgot to say? Could you change the order of
    the information presented and have it become more understandable?

    check mark32. I hope you don't try circulating chapters of your dissertation
    to your committee members as you are writing them.
    I find this practice
    to be most annoying and one that creates considerable problems for the
    student. You must work closely with your dissertation director. He/she
    is the person you want to please. Develop a strategy with the dissertation
    director regarding how and when your writing should be shared. Only after
    your dissertation director approves of what you have done should you attempt
    to share it with the rest of the committee. And by then it's time for the
    defense. If you prematurely share sections of your writing with committee
    members you will probably find yourself in a situation where one committee
    member tells you to do one thing and another member says to do something
    else. What should you do? The best answer is not to get yourself into such
    a predicament. The committee meeting (the defense) allows the concerns
    of committee members to surface in a dialogical atmosphere where opposing
    views can be discussed and resolved.

    check mark33. It's important that you have the feeling when entering your defense
    that you aren't doing it alone. As was mentioned earlier, your major professor
    should be seen as an ally to you and "in your corner" at the
    defense. Don't forget, if you embarrass yourself at the defense you will
    also be embarrassing your dissertation director. So, give both of you a
    chance to guarantee there is no embarrassment. Meet together ahead of time
    and discuss the strategy you should use at the defense. Identify any possible
    problems that may occur and discuss ways that they should be dealt with.
    Try and make the defense more of a team effort.

    check mark34. Don't be defensive at your defense (this sounds confusing!).
    This is easy to say but sometimes hard to fulfill. You've just spent a
    considerable amount of time on your research and there is a strong tendency
    for YOU to want to defend everything you've done. However, the committee
    members bring a new perspective and may have some very good thoughts to
    share. Probably the easiest way to deal with new input is to say something
    like "Thank you so much for your idea. I will be giving it a lot of
    consideration." There, you've managed to diffuse a potentially explosive
    situation and not backed yourself or the committee member into a corner. Plus,
    you've not promised anything. Try and be politically astute at this time.
    Don't forget that your ultimate goal is to successfully complete your degree.

    check mark35. Probably the most disorganized defense I've attended is the one
    where the dissertation director began the meeting by saying, "You've
    all read the dissertation. What questions do you have for the student?"
    What a mess. Questions started to be asked that bounced the student around
    from one part of the dissertation to another. There was no semblance of
    order and the meeting almost lost control due to its lack of organization.
    At that time I vowed to protect my students from falling into such a trap
    by helping them organize the defense as an educational presentation.

    Here's what we do:

      I ask the student to prepare a 20-25 minute presentation that reviews
      the entire study. This is done through the help of a series of 10-12 large
      pieces of paper, wall charts, that have been posted sequentially around
      the walls of the room. Each piece of paper contains key words regarding
      each of the different aspects of the study. Some pieces of paper contain
      information about the study setting, questions and methodology. Other pieces
      of paper present findings and finally there are those pieces that present
      the conclusions and implications. By preparing these wall charts ahead
      of time the student is able to relax during the presentation and use the
      pieces of paper as if they were a road map toward the goal. No matter how
      nervous you are you can always let the wall charts guide YOU through
      your presentation. Lettering is done with a dark marking pen and extra
      notes are included in very small printing with a pencil (that no one can
      really see). We've also tried it with overhead projected transparencies
      but it doesn't work as well. With the transparencies they're gone from
      view after a few seconds. The wall charts stay up for everyone to see and
      to help focus attention.

    Following this structured presentation the committee begins to ask questions,
    but as can be expected the questions follow along with the wall charts
    and the whole discussion proceeds in an orderly manner. If guests are present
    at the defense, this form of presentation helps them also follow along
    and understand exactly what was accomplished through the research.

    check mark36. Consider tape recording your defense. Using a small portable recorder,
    record your entire presentation and also the questions and comments of
    the committee members. This helps in two ways. First, the student has documentation
    to assist in making suggested changes and corrections in the dissertation.
    The student can relax more and listen to what is being said by the
    committee members. The tape recorder is taking notes! Second, the student
    has a permanent record of his/her presentation of the study. By keeping
    the paper charts and the tape together, they can be most useful for reviewing
    the research in future years when a request is made for a presentation.
    (Bring out the tape and the pieces of paper the night before your presentation and you can
    listen to you make the presentation. What a good way to review.)

    Well that about does it. By following the above suggestions and ideas
    I hope it will be possible for you to finish your graduate degree program
    in a most timely and enjoyable manner. By looking ahead to the different
    aspects of this final part of your graduate study it becomes clear that
    you can do a number of things to insure your success. Good luck!

    check mark37. Oh, I almost forgot. There's one last thing. Get busy and prepare
    an article or paper that shares the outcomes of your research.
    will be no better time to do this than now. Directly after your defense
    is when you know your study the best and you will be in the best position to
    put your thinking on paper. If you put this writing task off it will probably
    never get done. Capitalize on all of the investment you have made in your
    research and reap some additional benefit - start writing.

    Electronic or Print Copy of the Guide

    Thinking About Buying a Book?

    check markI have spent time identifying a number of different books that are available to help in writing a thesis/dissertation. The quality of the books, as can be expected, varies greatly. If you would like to see a listing of the books I have identified and my reactions to them, please click here.

    A Handful of Worthwhile Bookmarks -

    check markIf I only had time to visit a single website for help with my thesis I'd probably go directly to the Thesis Handbook (http://www.tele.sunyit.edu/ThesisHandbook.html) maintained by the Telecommunications Program at SUNY Institute of Technology. Especially helpful are the accompanying Thesis Workbook and Frequently Asked Questions where you will find a wealth of clearly written and helpful information. (Selecting a topic; Developing a search strategy for going after relevant literature: Deciding which tense to use in your writing; etc.)

    check markAn extensive set of hints and ideas on how to improve your dissertation/thesis writing. How To Write A Dissertation or Bedtime Reading For People Who Do Not Have Time To Sleep (http://www.cs.purdue.edu/homes/dec/essay.dissertation.html) lays out suggestion after suggestion in direct and non-confusing form. A great list to bring out after you've completed the first draft of your writing, are rather tired of your topic, and you are not sure where to begin your fine tuning.

    check markAn excellent website with lots of highly specific information (especially if the focus of your work is in a scientific or technical area) has been developed by Joe Wolfe at The University of New South Wales (Australia). How to Write a PhD Thesis (http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/~jw/thesis.html) provides a variety of very useful suggestions on how to get from the beginning to the end of your thesis project - and survive the process!

    check markWouldn't it be great if there were a bunch of theses/dissertations available for reading right on the web? Well, there are some resources you should be aware of that will let you see what the finished product could look like. First, there is an Experimental Digital Library of M.I.T. Theses (http://theses.mit.edu/) which includes electronically-submitted theses. Next, you can always purchase a copy of most US dissertations/theses. These are available from UMI's website - UMI's Online Dissertation Services (http://www.umi.com/hp/Products/Dissertations.html). The University of Wisconsin has a site which lists Sites with Full Text Access to Dissertations (http://www.library.wisc.edu/libraries/Memorial/elecdiss.htm#fulltext).
    You should also be aware of the various Electronic Dissertation/Thesis (ETD) projects that are currently underway. A good access to this area is via the library at the University of Virginia which has a page dealing with Electronic Theses and Dissertations in the Humanities (http://etext.virginia.edu/ETD/).

    check markAnother website that's worth visiting is maintained by Computer Science & Electrical Engineering at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and also the Computer Science Department at Indiana University-Bloomington. How to Be a Good Graduate Student/Advisor (http://www.cs.indiana.edu/how.2b/how.2b.html) "attempts to raise some issues that are important for graduate students to be
    successful and to get as much out of the process as possible, and for advisors who wish to
    help their students be successful."

    check markProf. John W. Chinneck at Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada) has created a very practical and well written webpage on the preparation of your thesis. How to Organize your Thesis (http://www.sce.carleton.ca/faculty/chinneck/thesis.html)
    starts with a description of what graduate research/the graduate thesis is all about and then moves point-by-point through a "generic thesis skeleton".

    check markIf you are in need of some gentle prodding and a bit of humor to go along with it, check out the Dead Thesis Society (http://freewebhosting.hostdepartment.com/d/deadthesissociety/) - a support group for graduate students. Lots of well organized information that is moderated by Frank Elgar, a graduate student in Psychology at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

    check mark
    Mike Hart, Professor of Business and Informatics at King Alfred's College, has put together a very helpful website focused on successfully completing the "final year project." Final Year Projects(http://final-year-projects.com/) is loaded with numerous ideas and suggestions for helping the student get started in the project and then to keep going until the project is finished.

    check markNot sure of all the administrative steps at your university that are required to successfully complete a dissertation? Check out this well thought through website from Pepperdine University's Graduate School (http://gsep.pepperdine.edu/studentservices/dissertation/education/). Everything seems to be included from a definition of exactly what is a dissertation all the way to exactly how many spaces between the title and your name."

    check markFeeling a bit lonesome in the process of writing your thesis or dissertation? Take a minute to find out who else has visited this website and read what others have said about this Guide (http://LearnerAssociates.net/dissthes/results.htm) and their own situation. It might just be reassuring!!

    check markAnd finally, when all else fails, you might want to see what other sites have included a link to this Thesis/Dissertation website. These other sites will have a variety of additional resources to check out.

    Your comments and suggestions for improving
    and extending this guide would be most welcome. Please click on the box (below) to send feedback about this website. Thank you!

    Joe Levine

    Copyright for this article belongs to S. Joseph Levine

    This document was re-printed with the kind permission of S. Joseph Levine. The original source is located here: http://www.learnerassociates.net/dissthes/

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