Writing a Dissertation is hard. Make it easier.

It goes without saying that producing a full-fledged, honest-to-goodness, bonafide dissertation is probably one of the most time consuming and soul sucking endeavors any of us is likely to take on. Ever.

The bad news is that you can’t really reduce the soul sucking part, but you can reduce the amount of time and effort that you spend on it, wire to wire. I want to cover a few of my favorites here. Enjoy!

(1) Ditch the article hardcopies.

Fine, maybe you’re not ready to take the full Paperless Plunge yet, but that doesn’t mean that the only copy you have of an article should be the photocopied kind. University libraries typically afford multiple databases for you to search and acquire .pdf versions of articles. Moreover, if you’re requesting a particularly obscure article or other source, your friendly neighborhood librarians will contact other members of their cabal through what is known as Inter-Library Loan. This ancient and secret practice will procure for you a freshly scanned .pdf of the source article you requested AND it becomes available for everyone else. Give yourself a pat on the back for that one. Once you’ve got the articles on your computer, use a text editor to take notes, instead of printing and highlighting (I’m looking at you Mr./Mrs. meaninglessly-highlight-every-single-line-on-the-page).

(2) Become a Microsoft Word Ninja.

Seriously. Not only is being a Ninja a pretty sweet aspiration, but being able to dominate Word for once (and forever) is a kind of nerd Nirvana. Also, you’ll waste a lot less time screwing around and screaming at your computer, and more time being productive.
Most of us still use Word for all of our word processing needs, and most student writers I know are still haunted by it. Here’s a scenario that’s almost archetypal: you’ve just pulled most of the hair from your head. Why? Well, it’s because you can’t get Word to stop automatically formatting your document with Arial Bold 14-point font. Every new paragraph, every new sentence: Arial *!%$*&* Bold 14-point font. If you’re having these, or similar problems, head over to a real Pantheon of succor, courtesy of the fine folks at The Word MVP Site. Among the litany of advice and tutorials, they have a reference for download that I have sworn by for years entitled “Bend Word to Your Will”. Unfortunately, they don’t sell Katanas. You’ll have to get your Ninja gear somewhere else.

(3) Write with style.

By style, I mean use the style manual adopted by your discipline or committee. Fine, so style manuals are not exactly page-turners. In fact, one could make a case that they are possibly the most uninspiring and irksome books ever printed. Maybe a little cognitive reframing is in order: writing and formatting your document according to the proper style manual will give your committee one less thing to cloud up and rain on you for. I’ve seen it a lot, people, and I promise you, those fine folks standing between you and your Ph.D. don’t need any more grist for the mill, so don’t make up your own heading style and hope they won’t notice. They will. They’ll surely let you know about it, too. You’ve already proven your penchant for masochism by subjecting yourself to graduate school, and everyone’s really impressed by it. So, give yourself a break and get the style manual you need now, of your own volition. It beats having your chairperson hurl it at you later.

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to read this post. In turn for giving me your time and attention, I hope that these tips might help give you back some of yours. Good luck, and have heart!!


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