Saturday, August 30, 2008

How To Write And Finish Your Doctoral Dissertation

I went to visit one of the professors on my doctoral committee after I passed my oral exam. According to the statistics I had read, 85% of doctoral students in the humanities, who reach the stage I had just reached, never finished their doctoral dissertations. After completing all course work and passing their exams, they become ABDs, which stands for "All But Dissertation." Knowing this statistic, I wanted to ask my professor a question.

The professor was a brilliant scholar, outstanding teacher, prolific author, and one of the most street-smart academics I have ever met. And so I asked him: "What do I need to know to write and finish my dissertation?"

His answer was short: "By the time people reach the point of writing a doctoral dissertation, they are smart enough, they know enough, and they work hard enough to finish. But everything they hear is: 'You aren't smart enough, you don't know enough, you don't work hard enough.' And so they never finish because they think they can never do enough."

After that brief conversation, I wrote on a 3x5 yellow index card: "What Is Enough?" I put that card on the wall in front of me, where I could see it any time I sat down to work on my online dissertation help.

I think that this simple question: "What Is Enough?" is the single most important reason why I was able to go from ABD to Ph.D.

Several times, as I was working on my dissertation, I would suddenly realize that I had just spent the last two hours on some interesting tidbit that was pulling me off course. And so I would ask myself: "What Is Enough?" Sometimes it was. Sometimes it wasn't. But the question itself reminded me of my purpose. My purpose was to complete the dissertation, defend the dissertation, and finish the degree.

The enemy of completing a dissertation is the word "more." The word "more" drives scholars. There is always more to read, more to study, more to know. One more article. One more book. One more fact. The question: "What Is Enough?" cuts through this relentless drive to know and do more, to remember that the immediate task is to finish.

Each time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, confused, off-track, wondering how you will ever finish, ask yourself: "What Is Enough?" I have offered this question to other students in the years since I completed my dissertation, and I also offer it to you. The question itself will help keep you on track to accomplish what you set out to do.

So what is enough? To complete your dissertation, you will need to write a cogent, coherent argument on a single thesis. You don't have to write everything you know on the topic. You only need to write "enough" to make your case and prove your thesis.

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