Is Your Dissertation Great or Lousy? Cheat Sheet for Top Five Mistakes to Avoid

You’ve done the research for your dissertation. Now what?

After you’ve completed all your research, it’s time to sit down and write your dissertation. As daunting of a task as that may feel to you at the moment, you’ll benefit from learning how to avoid the five most common mistakes writers make when writing a dissertation. After reading and editing hundreds of dissertations, I’ve created a short cheat sheet that lists the top five mistakes to avoid when writing your dissertation.

  1. Writing freeform without a defined structure
  2. Not asking for help and input from others before submitting your work
  3. Choosing topics that don’t offer a challenge
  4. Creating a bibliography of sources that only defend your topic
  5. Writing vague and non-focused content without strong arguments

The following content further details my opinion of the five common mistakes to avoid.

  1. Writing free form without a defined structure

Writing a great dissertation is all about providing depth and details about your topic. To do that, you’ll succeed by creating an outline before writing one word of your dissertation. It’s easy to ignore obvious rules that you have been taught throughout all your years of schooling. Obviously, when you create and write to an outline, you won’t get lost or get off track in the challenging aspects of writing. Creating a dissertation is not like writing a work of fiction and letting the characters decide how to ‘up the ante’ and how the story will end. Dissertations require a focused plan, which means that your paper should be clearly argued and well structured. Details within that outline may change as your research becomes more defined, however, not writing to the structure of an outline can result in a low-regarded dissertation.

  1. Not asking for help and input from others before submitting your work

Sometimes when writing a dissertation, you can become so focused on the goal of completing your work that you fail to challenge yourself by asking for help. The best dissertations were written by writers who invited professionals to view and provide feedback on specific portions of their topic. Likewise, hiring an editor with the goal of not only correcting grammar and spelling errors, but providing you with written feedback about the style guide formatting puts your work into the top 10 percent. Academic integrity is enhanced when you seek the advice from a topic expert to add more credibility to your dissertation. Failing to reach out and ask for help and input is a definite mistake.

  1. Choosing topics that don’t offer a challenge

Sometimes we need to get out of our own way when choosing a dissertation topic that gives us the warm and fuzzies but doesn’t offer a challenge to the reader. While it’s true when writing nonfiction to write about what you know, that is not the goal when writing a dissertation. Ask yourself what the real concerns are in the field at the present time. Don’t be afraid to consult current periodicals and recently published dissertations that pose challenging questions, theories, and research that you can add to your outline. In fact, you don’t have to spend weeks researching this. By just scanning the titles, you’ll benefit from knowing what other scholars have presented, thereby allowing you to add more depth to your dissertation’s challenging arguments. Don’t make the mistake of writing a soft dissertation. Create a paper that’s controversial and challenging.

  1. Creating a bibliography of sources that only defend your topic

One of the biggest mistakes I see are dissertations that list pages of bibliographic resources that support the writer’s topic and predetermined answers to questions. If you create a dissertation that can disprove an initial hypothesis, then you’ve added credibility to the academic community by not proving that your approach and viewpoint is the only right choice. Through your research you can show various arguments, points of view, and evidence that someone would not ordinarily think would support your topic. By including sources that challenge your topic, you will be creating a dissertation with more credibility in greater depth.

  1. Writing vague and non-focused content without strong arguments

When you’re creating challenging questions for a doctoral-level reader, your research depends on focused examination of the topic you’re presenting. When papers are written in a vague and unfocused manner, the reader becomes easily bored and will ask you to provide more depth, rather than breadth. It is extremely easy to get off course when you’re doing your research, because your creative mind keeps interrupting the technical side of your work with ideas that are not pertinent to your paper. You don’t want to leave your reader asking the question: “What’s the point?” Your goal is to provide a strong argument with challenging questions that don’t take the reader into a predictable outcome in the observations and summary.

 Are you ready to write a great dissertation?

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