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Tips on planning your Thesis/Dissertation

In this series, we will attempt to provide general information that should apply to most graduate students, particularly in the United States and Canada. While there are some differences in terminology between the UK and the US, most everything else applies on both sides of the Atlantic. Graduate research and thesis writing, Planning & Preparation: Part three of a series

Planning

I can’t stress this enough: Planning is one of the most important aspects of your project! I was advised to use a Gantt chart to track progress and not lose sight of specific deadlines. There was, indeed, something reassuring about being able to visualize my course of action, and while I ultimately had to make some adjustments to the timeline, I still managed to submit the electronic file by the deadline.

The entire process of writing the thesis or dissertation breaks down into eight stages, from inception to completion:

1.     Formulating a topic

2.     Preparing the proposal

3.     Conducting your research

4.     Writing

5.     Submitting to committee for revisions, edits, advice

6.     Revising

7.     Final editing, format check

8.     Submission

Your supervisor or director should be able to give you some guidance as to the time it takes, but you should set firm but realistic objectives in terms of how much time steps 3 and 4 will take.

Steps 5 and 6 may require more than one trip around the committee and director - in fact, you should plan on it and budget an appropriate amount of time. If you set aside extra time and find that you don’t need it, you are ahead of the game and can work diligently on revisions and final edits.

Note: If you are planning to hire an editor to assist you, it is advisable to have a contract in place before you begin writing, especially if writing has never been one of your strengths. You need to have a good rapport with your editor as you might need to turn to them often for writing advice.

Don’t rush Stage 1

Some scholars approach the thesis or dissertation knowing exactly what they want to pursue and they have a fairly good idea of how to go about doing the research, and some scholars start the process and realize they’re not prepared in terms of their topic or research strategy. I made the rookie mistake of asking a professor I liked if she would direct my thesis without knowing what, exactly, I wanted to write about.

Our first meeting ended up being more of a confessional about what I didn’t know than what I did know. Not having a clear idea of the direction in which I wanted to take my research resulted in a longer process with more revisions than I had planned, simply because I hadn’t taken a few things into consideration. 

This self-assessment from the University of British Columbia (Vancouver) can help you pinpoint areas that need attention when you plan. Remember, you are doing a self-assessment here so be honest about where you stand.

Ask yourself:

1.     My supervisor supports my pursuit of research in this area.

____ Yes, it’s me
____ No, it’s not me

2.     I am familiar with other research that has been conducted in areas related to my research project.

____ Yes, it’s me
____ No, it’s not me

3.     I have a clear topic in mind.

____ Yes, it’s me
____ No, it’s not me

4.     I have a clear understanding of the steps to follow in conducting my research.

____ Yes, it’s me
____ No, it’s not me

5.     I feel that I have the ability (e.g., technical skills) to get through each of the steps necessary to complete my research project.

____ Yes, it’s me
____ No, it’s not me

6.     I know that I am motivated and have the drive to get through all the steps in the research project.

____ Yes, it’s me
____ No, it’s not me

Once you establish the areas you need to work on, and you have a clear idea of your topic and research strategy, you can move on to Step 2.

 

Next: Writing the Proposal