The Chinese novelist Ge Fei spent more than eight years writing her epic trilogy of novels dealing with the dramatic disillusionment of a Chinese man with bureaucracy and communism. The last volume, Shadow in Her Dream, was published in 2008. Though it took many years for Ge to compose her epic, she never lost focus on the ultimate goal she set for herself.
In many ways, writing a thesis or dissertation isn’t that much different from composing an epic. Both involve copious research, dedication to a task, and an inner drive to propel the writer forward to create a lasting work that future generations will turn to and read.
When writing your thesis or dissertation, it’s important to stay focused and keep your eye on the prize. To help you prepare to tackle the most important academic document of your career, follow a few simple steps to stay on task and keep on target.
TIP ONE: Set Aside Work Time Each Day
The longest journey begins with a single step, runs the old proverb. The same thing applies to your thesis or dissertation. While creating such documents can seem daunting when taken all at once, breaking up your work into manageable steps can make the work seem that much easier. The first step is to provide a consistent work time each and every day.
Many students fall into the trap of working on their dissertations or theses in long periods once or twice a week. While these six or eight hour marathons may seem productive, they are actually taking a toll on your productivity.
Francis Lui learned the hard way that too much studying without a break can cause fatigue, forgetfulness, and mistakes. Then Lui started to break up studying into smaller segments, according to an article at EZineArticles.com.
“I felt less fatigued because I took breaks. And studying was more enjoyable. It seemed counterintuitive because I was spending less time studying because of the breaks. But it helped me to perform better and improved my grades.”
The same applies to writing a thesis or dissertation. Rather than work for long, boring hours at a time, set aside a period of 30 minutes to 1 hour every single day at the same time of day. (Mornings tend to work better because you will be sharper and fresher.) Use that time carefully, and devote yourself to writing your dissertation for that hour each day.
TIP TWO: Avoid Distractions
Hand-in-hand with setting aside time is maximizing how you use it. Turn off the cell phones, instant messengers, email, television, mp3 player, and other electronic devices. Focus all of your attention for that one hour on writing and preparing your document. Tell yourself that it’s only one hour a day. As long as you stay focused for that one hour, you’ll make progress, and progress means you’ll be that much farther along.
TIP THREE: Reward Yourself
After your daily hour is up, reward yourself with ten minutes of fun. Play a game, make a phone call, or take a brief walk. Stimulation and exercise are good for decompressing. Anticipating your reward time will help you move forward through your work time, and it will help you stay focused on a short term goal each day, helping you keep your larger goals in perspective.
TIP FOUR: Make a Long-Term Schedule
Once you have your daily routine down, set short-term, medium-range, and long-term goals. Decide when you need to have research completed, chapters written, and drafts completed. Then, mark these dates on your calendar. Make a game of it. Tell yourself that you need to beat your deadlines, and work hard to finish your work ahead of schedule. (Of course, you shouldn’t sacrifice quality for speed…the point is to stay on target and produce top quality work, not to race through just to get it done.)
TIP FIVE: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
At some point during the dissertation or thesis writing process, everyone gets stuck. When you’re really stuck it can help to talk things out with a friend, classmate, professor, or advisor. Don’t be afraid to ask for a friendly ear or some writing help thinking through what to say and how to say it. Everyone can use advice from time to time. It’s important to deal with writer’s block quickly because when you get stuck, you can fall into bad habits, even after your writer’s block vanishes. As one anonymous student told the Dissertation Diva blog:
“It’s not that I can’t think of anything to say; it’s just that I don’t actually write it down… anyway, by the time I stroll into my home office after a leisurely morning procrastinating, it’s almost noon and I feel like a slug, not to mention guilty. Soon email and internet surfing take their ugly toll.”
The Dissertation Diva recommended setting up a writing schedule like the one discussed above. So, if you have already done this, you’re a step ahead and ready to meet the challenge of creating a powerful and original thesis or dissertation.