Throughout one’s high school and college career, one is likely to have been required to write research papers or long-form essays that could have been 10 – 15 pages in length. In these cases, a student may have been given topic questions and ideas to choose from and could rely on a lot of the resources (reading material and notes) encountered during the school term.
A dissertation is quite different. It’s recognized as the capstone project a graduate student (and in rare cases a college student) must complete before earning a master’s or Ph.D. degree in his or her field of study. It’s much longer and requires several months to conduct research and write. It’s also a project in which a student can choose his or her preferred research topic. Writing a dissertation also requires a student to search for resources outside of the class – relying heavily on past projects, research studies, books, articles and original sources available at college and university libraries from all over the world.
The student must debate a topic at length and must recognize the fact that his or her work will be considered a reliable study of the topic by colleagues, including professors, researchers, and other students. All of this can be daunting, but starting early is a key to creating a great document that one can be tremendously proud of.
So, When Should Students Write a Dissertation?
Because the project can take anywhere between 6 months to over a year to complete, a student should plan on starting the dissertation at least a year and a half before the proposed due date. This may seem a bit excessive and many students might not have a clear idea of what they want to write about. But even brainstorming at this early stage, meeting with their academic advisors, and creating task lists and plans will make the entire process much easier.
How to Develop a Long-Term and Short Term Plan
- Work Backwards
Choose a deadline date about a year and a half from your starting point. The deadline should fall at least 2 weeks before the final department submission acceptance date.
- Meet Your Advisor
Talk with your advisor and agree on a schedule for future meeting dates. These can change for one of many unexpected reasons, so make sure you have a backup plan.
- Define All Tasks
Make a list of all major and minor tasks. A major task, for instance, will be something like conducting research. Minor tasks beneath this will be searching for specific types of resources.
- Create Calendars
Finally, make your calendars. Make a yearly, monthly, and weekly calendar of all tasks and deadlines. Leave yourself buffers to account for inefficiencies and adjust accordingly.
The skills a student-developed and applied when writing research papers and long-form essays prior to the final capstone project will need to be utilized at a higher level to complete dissertation and earn a master’s or Ph.D. degree. This task can seem overwhelming when a student looks at it in its entirety. But if he or she breaks it down into smaller tasks to be completed over several months (or a year) then it becomes manageable and well worth the time and effort that one will commit to accomplishing this well-respected, academic goal.