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This expert advice comes from Sonja Foss and William Waters - authors of Destination Dissertation: A Traveler's Guide to a Done Dissertation

Here are two key strategies for writing a dissertation effectively: fast writing and slow revising.

Fast Writing

When it's time for you to write, only write; don't revise. Write a "spew draft" -- a draft in which you write as fast as you can until you have a complete rough draft of a chapter. You'll revise later, but right now, your task is to get your ideas on paper in any form. The following strategies are designed to keep you writing and to stop you from editing. Give them a try!

  • Turn off the screen - Turn off the computer screen keeps you from seeing what you're writing. It will force you to keep moving. You can't go back and correct typos so there's nothing to do except keep typing.
  • Making notes to yourself - Rather than getting up to find a citation when you're writing, just make a note to yourself in:
    • ALL CAPS
    • Bold font
    • Different color
  • Write with headings - When using headings in fast writing:
    • Use descriptive headings: "Problems" vs. "Adolescent Discipline Problems in Special Education"
    • Type all your headings into the document when you first sit down to work on a chapter
  • Skip around - Write about whichever section appeals to you at the moment; writing becomes much more fun.
  • Keep the ideas flowing - Try these strategies to help unfreeze your ideas:
    • Free writing: Short, timed responses to questions about the section you're working on, such as:
      • Who am I talking to, and what am I trying to tell them?
      • Why is this important?
      • Talking through ideas aloud

Slow Revising

  • Only after you have a complete spew draft as a result of fast writing should you begin to revise.
    • Edit
      • Are your ideas in correct order?
      • Do you have effective transitions between paragraphs?
  • Proofread
    • Use computer-aided proofreading for spelling and "find and replace" corrections
    • Use hard-copy proofreading to correct punctuation and grammar.

Writing and revising your dissertation can look overwhelming in the beginning. Try out some of the ideas in fast writing and editing and you might find that writing your dissertation can be both satisfying and enjoyable.


About the Authors: Co-authors of Destination Dissertation: A Traveler’s Guide to a Done Dissertation, Dr. Foss is a professor of Communications at University of Colorado, Denver, and Dr. Waters is an assistant professor of English at University of Houston-Downtown, They are co-directors of Scholar’s Retreat, a program to support progress towards completion of your dissertation, thesis or writing project.