When it comes to writing a dissertation, as a fellow graduate student once told me after he’d finished his dissertation—work smarter not harder. By working smarter, I mean taking advantage of all the good resources that are right at your fingertips—and I’m going to show you how. After you read this document, I hope you’ll start getting some phone numbers and email addresses of students in your department who are hard at work on their dissertations and visit your school library and check out a bound dissertation or two.
The best resource for help with a dissertation is from someone who just made it through the whole dissertation process—preferably, someone within your own area of study. For example, a student in the sciences or who is writing a dissertation with lots of case studies, bars, and graphs, will not want to rely upon a student in the English department for help—because they don’t know the special ways to format or find these the easy way, while a graduate student in your area of study will.
When I first began writing my dissertation in literature, the Internet had not yet exploded—and I wouldn’t have relied on anything on the internet for a school of the caliber that I attended anyway. But a student in your department, who is working with a committee full of members you probably know well from your own classes, they will have exactly what you need in terms of dissertation proposal samples, introductory matter such as acknowledgements, a table of contents (which are very difficult in terms of formatting), and your dedication page, as well as writing the introduction itself. What I learned after finishing my own dissertation is that it is best to write your dissertation AFTER you write the rest of the chapters, because you might learn something that changes the spin of your entire work.
Viewing other students’ dissertations from your own school, which will be with the dissertations in your library and go back for years, can help you strategize a new idea for a topic, formulize a new approach on an old topic, teach you about formatting of books, teach you about footnotes and endnotes and how important and professional these are to your project, can introduce you to whole new sources of books and articles you might not have discovered on your own (often because professors know about things that don’t necessarily hit in search engines) and teach you a lot about scholarly writing as well. Plus, you are liable to find out that you are a much better writer than many of the students who have already received their PhDs—and this can give you a whole new level of motivation!
ILL stands for Inter-library loan, a service you need to start utilizing like crazy—why? Because even though there might not be a student tackling subject matter very close to yours at your school—they will be somewhere in a country that speaks your native tongue—so order them—and, graduate students get to keep materials a whole semester – not just a few weeks. .
Graduate students working on their dissertations get all kinds of library perks like these and many others—use these to your advantage, and your dissertation might progress slowly (as it probably should) but will progress much more easily.