Dissertation Project Plan

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While I’ve suggested that people read one (or more) of the books that I’ve digested myself (check my Writing a Doctoral Dissertation page), one of the main things I teach my students is how to apply backcasting techniques to develop a project plan.

I was trained as a project manager, and I worked in that capacity for a number of years, so I understand exactly the kind of work that needs to be done to develop good project plans.

Outline your dissertation and break it into chapters to draft and edit: Once you have a defense date set it’s time to work backwards to determine how much time you have to write and when key paperwork is due.

Outline the major sections of your dissertation (introduction, materials and methods, data chapters, discussion, etc.) so that you know exactly what you are going to write.

By using this approach I was able to work on my dissertation a little bit each day and make consistent progress while maintaining my sanity.

Know the expected format before you start: Before you even start to think about writing you need to know exactly what you are expected to write.My students are doing theirs in the 3 papers’ model, which is a bit closer to the day-to-day life of a professor, but still, the trajectory is quite different.Anyhow, here are some recommendations (click on the tweet to expand the entire thread).For me, mapping out my dissertation writing plan meant establishing a dissertation progress meeting with my advisor every Tuesday morning where I would submit one chapter for comments and pick up the prior week’s chapter to start editing.In this way I was able to continuously write something new and edit previous chapters without getting stuck trying to write and edit the same section at the same time.Have no fear though, as writing a dissertation is a manageable task if you approach it correctly.One thing that helped me immensely in preparing my own dissertation was making a writing plan and sticking to it.Find yours and read it all the way through before starting to save yourself many headaches in the future.Another great resource are completed dissertations from your own program, so check out a few recent dissertations at the library or through the Pro Quest database!I had been planning to write this blog post for a while, since this is the one question I get asked the most by doctoral students (“ I had to rush to get this blog post done because my student is 2 years away from the deadline her university has imposed for her thesis defence, which is why I sat down with her last night to show her how I do things.I have two other Ph D students at exactly the same stage (2 years to defense) so I figured I might as well finish this blog post.


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