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Winter 2016
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Kyle Crocco

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Entries in dissertation (19)


What's Keeping You from Finishing Your Dissertation?

There are probably as many answers to that question as there are dissertation writers. But no matter the reason, one thing is likely true: there’s often a large, unspoken disconnect between faculty advisers and graduate students when it comes to writing a dissertation.

In a recent article on Inside Higher Ed, Kerry Ann Rockquemore writes, "Advisers imagine that delays are due to the content of the project, while graduate students are most often struggling with writing and resistance. Because of that disconnect, advisers’ efforts don’t meet students where they are stuck, and the students’ impostor syndrome can be so intense (and the power differential so great) that it keeps them from asking for the type of help they need."

While Rockquemore's article is targeted at faculty advisers, graduate students can glean some good advice that they can start using right away:

  1. Ask yourself, "What is a dissertation?" Let's face it, most graduate students have never written a dissertation before, and the genre is wildly different from the types of papers they've been writing (e.g. binge-and-bust seminar papers) and reading (e.g. closely critiqued seminal works in their field) thus far in grad school. Have a detailed discussion with your advisor about the scope and quality requirements of a dissertation, and ask for a rubric, guidebook, or successful sample.
  2. Get into a daily writing habit. As Rockquemore writes, "It’s well documented that the most productive academics write every day - Monday through Friday - in short periods of time. (And by “writing” I mean anything that moves a manuscript out the door.) However, that’s the opposite of how most graduate students write, or imagine they should write, their dissertations. This emerges from a combination of past binge-and-bust writing habits, the flawed assumption that nothing can get done in 30 minutes a day, and the idea that they must have everything figured out before they start writing." So, if your current strategy isn't working for you, try out a new one!
  3. Figure out what type of support you need and where you can get it. Dissertation writers thrive in a supportive community of active daily writers. This might look like an in-person writing space like the Graduate Writers' Room or an online community of peers that can provide built-in and regular accountability.

To read Rockquemore's full article, click here.

To get regular updates from Inside Higher Ed, sign up for the newsletter, or connect via Facebook or Twitter.


Phrase it Right with Academic Phrasebank

Academic PhrasebankAt a loss for the right words? It happens to the best of us. Fortunately there are useful examples to get your academic phrases right at the University of Manchester Academic Phrasebank.

Whether you are a newbie at the academic writing game, a non-native English speaker, or an old pro in a word jam, there's a useful phrase for everyone.

They have multiple examples for all parts of your thesis, dissertation, or research paper for: referring to sources, describing methods, reporting results, discussing findings, and writing conclusions.

You can use their site for free or pay for a PDF version of the phrasebank booklet.


How to be a Devil or Angel When Giving Feedback on Writing

Angel and DevilYou can be the devil or an angel when giving feedback. Credit: openclipart.comIf you are in a writer’s group or helping another grad student with their writing, you can either be a devil or an angel when giving feedback.

Being a Devil

If you want to be a devil, make sure your feedback is aggressive, judgmental, general, and scattered. You'll know you have succeeded if you leave a person more confused and defensive than when you started. You get bonus points if you make them contemplate quitting school.

Being an Angel 

On the other hand, if you want be an angel you can provide feedback that is supportive, specific, descriptive, and prioritized. You'll know you'll have done a good job if you leave a writer feeling capable of improving his/her work and knowing exactly how to do it. You get bonus points if they offer you chocolate or a beer.

To be an Angel, you should be:

Supportive: Phrase your feedback in an encouraging manner, taking in account the kind of feedback issues your partner wanted addressed. For example: Good start on the description of your participants. Remember to explain the selection process.

Specific: Focus on a particular area or issue and then provide solutions or suggestions for improvement. For example: Your Methods Chapter needs headings for each section to provide better organization, such as Participants, Interview Protocol, and Coding.

Descriptive: Describe problem areas from a reader’s perspective. For example: Your reader might not be familiar with those technical terms, so provide a glossary they can refer to if needed.

Prioritized: Focus on the two of three most important areas to keep the revisions and feedback manageable. Prioritize the list into big and little points. Also, tailor it to the needs of what your friend or partner was looking for in the feedback.

For example: The main area you should work on in your results is organization. Organize your results by your research questions. You also need to decide what tables and graphs are the most important. You can move the least important into an appendix. Last, check your citations to match your list of references.


Dissertation Writing Retreat: Day Four

Any resemblance to people you know is entirely coincidental. Credit: openclipart.comWhen you're feeling like a pawn in some ridiculous academic game, the cure is some sound advice to keep you writing. The theme of the final Writing Retreat session was the three steps to maintaining motivation.

Step One: Review your writing process.

After writing for a week, compare your process to your writing goals for that same period. What took longer or shorter than you thought? What could be broken down into subtasks?

Step Two: Time Management

Now that you understand how you work, organize your tasks and plan for an entire week. First start with "must complete" tasks (e.g., job, family, working out); then add in "want-to-do" tasks (e.g., happy hour, Netflix, etc.). With the time slots remaining on your schedule, plan your dissertation writing time.

Tips for planning: Don't plan too much and set yourself up for failure. Remember to include a variety of tasks. Knowing yourself and your work habits, what can you reasonable accomplish in that time?

Step Three: Accountability

Find a writing partner: someone who is also writing a dissertation or thesis so you can compare progress, share your writing process, and keep on track.

For more tips on how to maintain your motivation, read the article "Motivate Yourself to Write", or make an appointment with someone who understands your pain, Writing Peer Kyle Crocco


Dissertation Writing Retreat: Day Three

Ferris Bueller's Day Off PosterAre you doing a Ferris Bueller and taking time off from your dissertation day after day? Lucky for you, today's Retreat topic was procrastination: what leads to it, reasons for it, and strategies to handle it. 

So consider the causes below to determine what's stopping you from working and then try some of the strategies to help you get back on track.

What Leads to Procrastination

Personality: What is your ability to tolerate negative emotions or to resist distractions?

Expectations: How long do you expect it take to complete your tasks or how complex do you think they are?

Skills/Habits: What are your time management skills or writing habits?

Mood: Is boredom or anxiety about the task, or maybe depression holding you back?

Reasons for Procrastination

Fears: Do you have a fear or failure, success, anxiety and catastrophe, judgment, or of the unknown?

Actions: Is perfectionism and micro managing, over planning, or overworking holding you back?

Habits: Do you self-sabotage by impossible expectations or indulge in guilt driven self-talk and criticism?

Feelings: Are you plagued with feelings of inadequacy, frustration, boredom, or being overwhelmed?

Strategies to Handle Procrastination

Remember SMART goals: Set realistic expectations; you don't have to be perfect.

Manage your writing environment (time and location)

Location: Where do you work best? (Home, coffee shop, library, other?). Work there. Mix it up if it stops working.

Time: What time of day works best for you? Schedule to work when you work best.

Plan breaks: Avoid overworking and help set up your time to reward your successes.

Leave a little bit for tomorrow: Stop when you're on a roll so you have a place to begin the next day.

If you would like help setting goals and tasks for your dissertation, set up an appointment with the Graduate Division's Writing Peer Kyle Crocco at


Dissertation Writing Retreat Recap: Day Two

Thinking about writingThinking about writing. Credit: openclipart.comFor those of you not attending this year's Dissertation Writing Retreat, here's a breakdown of what you missed. Today's advice: get out of the writing rut with the three perspectives strategies and use your writing to digest your reading.

Three Perspectives Strategies

When you're stuck in a rut and not sure where to go with your material, try these tricks to get you going again.

Describe and distinguish: Describe the sticking point from the macrolevel view and then break it down into components. How would you describe it to someone or a person in your field.

Trace moves and changes: How has the subject changed over time? How have other people examined it?

Map networks and relationships: Group your subject by placing it in the larger context; compare and contrast your subject to similar subjects.

Use Writing to Digest Reading

Here are a few methods using writing to make sense of what you are reading.

  • Look for repeated information
  • Connect reading to other readings
  • List what you understand and don't understand
  • Freewrite and/or write a brief summary of the material

If you would like help setting goals and tasks for your dissertation, set up an appointment with the Graduate Division's Writing Peer Kyle Crocco


Dissertation Writing Retreat Recap: Day One

BootcamperDissertation Bootcamper hard at work. Credit: openclipart.comFor those of you not attending this year's Intensive Dissertation Writing Retreat, here's a breakdown of what you missed on the first day: setting SMART goals and breaking down goals into subtasks. 

SMART goals

  • Specific: determine the what, when, and how of what you plan to do in detailed terms.
  • Measurable: define in numbers what you will do (pages written, hours worked, concepts worked on).
  • Achievable: make goals you can achieve realistically in the time allotted.
  • Relevant: consider which goals are most productive and important to you.
  • Time limited: set endpoints to your goals and then reevaluate and reassess your progress.


Now that you have goals, make them manageable by

  • Breaking down your goals into tasks: what do you need to do to achieve this goal?
  • Breaking down your tasks into subtasks: what steps do you need to complete each task?
  • Determining the time amount for subtasks: estimate how long will each task and subtask will take.

If you would like help setting goals and tasks for your dissertation, set up an appointment with the Graduate Division's Writing Peer Kyle Crocco


Stay Organized and on Track With Your Dissertation

Writing Tip LogoLook at any dissertation work area and it’s bound to resemble a federal disaster zone. Staying organized is the key to keeping on track. Here are a few articles from former Writing Peer Ryan Dippre on how to stay on top.

Plan your dissertation: Use outlines to put your ideas in order.

File organization: Establish a system to keep your multiple drafts manageable.

Keep your dissertation on track: Ten tips from writing every weekday to knowing when to research and when to write.

For more help with writing, all graduate students are encouraged to book an appointment with the Graduate Division's new writing peer, Kyle Crocco. Kyle can be reached at:

Writing Peer Kyle Crocco. Credit: Patricia Marroquin


Finding a Place to Write

Credit: Carrie BaughcumFinding a comfortable place to write is just as important as having the time to write. Hemingway spoke of a clean, "well-lighted" space.

For some, that place might be the Dissertation Writing Room in the Student Resource Building, for others it might be a café or a study carrel in the library.

Here are a few things to consider when creating your writing environment, courtesy of former Writing Peer Ryan Dippre.

Building your writing environment: Tips on how to build a writing environment.

Consider your writing environment: Different writing environments for different stages of writing.

Writing in different places: Choose different locations for different writing tasks.

For more help with writing, all graduate students are encouraged to book an appointment with the Graduate Division's new writing peer, Kyle Crocco. Kyle can be reached at:

Writing Peer Kyle Crocco. Credit: Patricia Marroquin


The Secrets to Finding Time to Write


Want to learn the secrets to finding time to write? Check out the wisdom of former Writing Peer Ryan Dippre. He coveres developing a motivating schedule to using twenty or thirty minutes a day to make progress.

20 minutes: Get work done by writing and revising in small bursts.

30 minutes: Schedule thirty minutes a day when you can get words down.

Finding time to write: How to balance writing with a heavy teaching load.

Motivating schedule: Learn how to craft a schedule that motivates you to complete tasks.