Mastering the Dissertation: Most Common Mistakes

You have just defended your dissertation for the third time - unsuccessfully. Leaving the defense, you suffer in silence recognizing it will probably be another year, in the five years you have tried, before you will attempt to defend again. You have taken all the courses and passed all the qualifying exams for the degree; but you can't seem to get beyond the dissertation defense. It's not that you are undeserving of the doctorate degree because in your subject area you are quite accomplished. It just seems that every time that you defend your dissertation, your persnickety committee finds something new for you to change, some new research that has been unearthed, or some argument that you failed to address. And by this point, you are so frustrated that you are ready chuck the whole piece in the recycling bin and join the Peace Corps.

Not to worry - most people defend their dissertation or Phd thesis a couple of times before actually being successful because of common mistakes that are not addressed early in the research process.

The most common dissertation writing mistakes include not adequately researching information on the topic;

not providing up-to-date research; not addressing all of the opposing arguments; not focusing the research topic on one subject; and not providing drafts for the committee to review before the defense.

The most common mistake that is made by doctoral candidates is that they do not adequately research the topic before turning in their dissertation or PhD proposal. It's great to have an interesting new spin on a subject, but if there is little to no research on the topic then it becomes very difficult to support the paper. A candidate should always, before they turn in their proposal, research the information so that when they actually sit down to write the paper they have enough material. In addition to providing enough material for the paper, prior research will prevent changing of topics in the middle of the paper because the original topic cannot be substantiated.

In deciding the best approach for the paper, the research that is used for the document should not be more than five-years-old - especially if your paper covers any of the sciences or engineering subjects. New information always can substantiate your argument better because it is relevant today. Researchers every year are discovering new information, and so what was correct ten years ago, may not be applicable today. If you are giving background into a subject, then, yes, maybe older research is sufficient. However, be up-to-date research should be the meat of your paper.

Before writing the dissertation or PhD Thesis, it may also be wise to address all of the possible points of contention. If there are points that will attract the committee's attention, then take care to look for research that addresses these points. The purpose is to fill in all of the possible holes in the paper, so that neither the committee nor you waste time fixing details that should have been addressed long before the defense.

Another common problem candidates have is not focusing their dissertation on one subject. Because a dissertation is such a large document, it can cover many sub topics, which sometimes makes it unfocused. To avoid lack of structure in the paper, use an outline and avoid veering from the outline - no matter how interesting the new piece of information. Always remember the focus of your discussion.

The final error that candidates make before defending their dissertation is not keeping the lines of communication open with their committee members by not providing them with copies of their initial drafts for review. The first time the committee views your paper should not be at the defense. Most committees require an initial draft, but there are many that do not. As a result, many candidates unsuccessfully defend their papers. By turning in an initial draft, the committee can draw attention to weak areas so the candidate is not surprised during the defense.

Although the idea of writing a dissertation may seem overwhelming, by avoiding these common mistakes, the process can be a lot less stressful and you, the candidate, can be successful in your attempt at defending your argument. Just remember to research before you turn in a proposal; to use up-to-date research; to address possible points of contention; to focus on the topic; and to provide drafts to the committee before the defense.

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