What is the main secret of successful dissertation writing?

As a graduate student you work hard. You spend years in school, completing all of your courses, forming a committee for your Ph.D. thesis, passing your qualifying examinations, and doing research throughout. Now comes the hard part: writing your dissertation.

Firstly, it is important to remember that your dissertation is not the number one, definitive piece of work on your research topic. It is also not the answer to any long-standing arguments within your field. The dissertation is not the most important piece of writing you will ever do. It is also not likely that anyone outside of your dissertation committee (save for the person trying to date you and your mother) will actually read it in the future. While this last part may be hard to swallow, you have to understand and accept it before you start writing. It truly is the key to success. You can’t become a perfectionist, trying to ensure very line is perfect for when it is read by the world, because it won’t be.

Now that the hard part is out of the way, what is your dissertation? It is your way of proving to the dissertation committee that you formed, that you are competent in your field and that you are able to stand on your own as a researcher, scientist, or academic. Your dissertation is where you demonstrate that you can make an original and also valuable contribution to your particular field. It is also where you show that you are informed about the broadness of your field, as well as the background to your sub-field, and that the work you are doing is backed by knowledge. Your dissertation is also a way to demonstrate that you are worthy of a Ph.D. and that you are prepared to continue researching on your own and no longer need a mentor looking over your shoulder.

Bearing all of this in mind: the main secret of successful dissertation writing is understanding and accepting all of the aforementioned things that your dissertation is NOT and all of the aforementioned things that your dissertation actually IS. Once you understand and truly appreciate those you will be better prepared to start the writing process and continually chip away at the dissertation. You can apply previous work and research to a background in your field and show your committee that you will make a difference as a scientist and academic!