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Taking The Stress Out of Writing the Dissertation

October 09, 2015 - Posted toWriting

Content taking the stress out of writing the dissertation

Taking the Peanuts Out of the Peanut Butter

Stress and dissertation writing are a lot like peanut butter. You can’t take the peanuts out and still have the product, and taking the stress out of writing the dissertation means the dissertation doesn’t get produced. Of course, there will be stress, because you have observed others go through this process and you have seen their stress. You have heard the horror tales that many tell; you know what is awaiting you, and it’s not pretty. But you have chosen to do this for a reason, so you will get through it.

Some Serious Talk About What it is and What it isn’t

By the time you are at the stage of planning, you have a pretty good idea of how to write a dissertation. You know what must be included in each chapter, and you know how you proceed through approvals of advisor and committee. But, let’s talk for a moment about some other facets of this whole dissertation writing thing.

  1. A dissertation is a huge undertaking, and you cannot obtain that degree without it.
  2. You have written many other doctoral papers in your Ph.D. coursework, but none have been as complex, as long, or in as much depth as your dissertation.
  3. You will spend over a year producing this work – a length of time you have never spent before on a single project.
  4. You will have great “highs” and terrible “lows,” that make you want to quit

Here is what a dissertation is not:

  1. It is not your whole life for the next 12+ months – if you make it this, you will be unbalanced, unhappy and resentful, and you may not finish
  2. It is not going to be an absolutely perfect work – no dissertation is.
  3. It does not define you, either personally or professionally. It does make you an expert in a small area of your field.

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Reducing the Stress – Here is your Step-by-Step Process

Ph.D. writing for that ultimate degree is no “cake walk.” It is tough and demanding work, and anyone who tells you differently is lying. Adding unnecessary stress to this work, however, only makes it tougher and more demanding. Here are the steps you can take to reduce that stress.

  1. Once your proposal has been accepted and you have your timeline, create a wall-length calendar with the next year on it. Put all of the benchmark deadlines on that calendar, so that you can see it as a whole. As you organize yourself for meeting each deadline, calendar in each step toward the benchmark. For example, if your literature review is to be completed in two months, how many sources will have study each week? If you have 8 weeks and 20 resources to study, you can do the math and figure this out. There is something about getting all of the details down on paper that really relieves stress. You have a road map, and you can cross off each small accomplishment as it is achieved.
  2. Know your biological clock. You probably already do. Are you a morning person, an afternoon person or a late night person? Schedule your working hours when you are most alert and task-oriented. Schedule those hours 5 out of every 7 days – this is like a part-time job. You work and then you take some time off.
  3. If you have inspiration outside of your scheduled working hours, take advantage of it, because there will be scheduled times when you experience blocks.
  4. If you have a writing block during a scheduled time, don’t force it. Do something else that is related. Clean up your files and your workspace; revise that calendar if necessary. Call your advisor for an appointment. Re-read a piece of literature without taking notes – you may gain some new insight in a more relaxed mindset.
  5. If you miss a benchmark, immediately change your calendar. This act will immediately relieve the stress of that, because you still have your road map, even though it is a newer one. The plan is still in place.
  6. Sticking to your plan and revising it when necessary, and sticking to your work schedule means that the project will progress steadily. And that progress itself will reduce a great deal of stress. Good dissertations are written in chunks, not in all-nighters before something is due to an advisor –now that’s stress.

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Do’s, Don’ts, and Common Mistakes

Do Don’ts
  •  Stick to your schedule
  •  Give up your social life – you will be angry and resentful
  •  Meet with your advisor frequently so that s/he can offer suggestions and encouragement
  •  Berate yourself if you skip a work session for a special event – it happens
  •  Eat well and do get adequate rest
  •  Edit your own work. Get a professional to do this

Leave the hesitations behind if you need someone for the statistical analysis section if you are at all uncertain about formulae or algorithms

You cannot extinguish all of the stressors that come with the dissertation writing process. But you can really reduce them is you follow the advice given here. And, as the famous saying goes, “This too shall pass away.” You will finish.

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