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10 Ways to overcome challenges to writing your dissertation

The top challenges participants of TAA’s August Dissertation Writing Boot Camp indicated that they were facing in completing their dissertation included time management, staying focused, writer’s block, holding themselves accountable to deadlines, and anxiety.

Boot Camp Leader and Dissertators United Chapter Chair Ashley Sanders, who is also working on completing her dissertation, said that one of the strategies she finds really helpful to overcome the anxiety she feels when working on her dissertation is to start the day by free writing in her journal.

“I mean, completely free writing,” she said. “Whatever comes to mind I pour out on the page for 10 to 15 minutes. It helps me work through any anxiety I’m facing or worries or fears by taking the time to write out things I’m grateful for in my life. That starts me out with a positive mindset to begin tackling what can be some very challenging tasks, because I’m much more focused on what’s going well, what I’m thankful for, and all the good things that are happening in my life.”

Here are some additional strategies participants learned during the boot camp that they found to be helpful in their writing process:

“Free writing really helped me with writing anxiety. I made a Word file and dumped ideas into it. When I color coded, the ideas and categories began to appear.”

“I really liked the 25-minute timer and 5-minute break. That got me started with my research questions.”

“Short bursts, check-ins, literature review resources, and the writing log.”

“Dedicating time to write. It is so easy for other priorities to get in the way.”

“I decided not to worry about logic and just write–quantity over quality–and it was really freeing. Using a timer was also great.”

“The accountability to a group definitely increased my focus.”

“Setting concrete, realistic goals. Even if you don’t meet them, you know what you need to work on the next time you sit down. Feeling like you are part of a community–suffering and celebrating in solidarity.”

“When you aren’t feeling confident about your writing, or anxiety about what you’re writing, look at a piece of writing in which you received kudos, a high grade, positive comments, etc. It will reenergize you that you really can do this, you have done it before, and you can do it again.”

“You don’t need to write chronologically. Start where you feel most comfortable–where you have the most data, where you feel writing inspiration–and work forward and backward. This might help you reach a place where you can work on the introduction or other sections that are blocking your progress.”

“Silence your phone and let loved ones, colleagues, co-workers, etc. know when you’ve blocked off time and that you would be happy to interact, talk, and take phone calls before/after, but not during, that time.”


Join us for TAA’s second boot camp, which will be held September 20-21 and features a mini webinar entitled “Writing with POWER”, presented by Margarita Huerta, Assistant Professor of English Language Learning/Early Childhood Education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. As a postdoctoral research assistant, Huerta was integrally involved with P.O.W.E.R. Writing Services program at Texas A&M University, a program that provides “motivational and instrumental support for graduate students’ and faculty’s academic writing”. In this webinar she will share tools and strategies from the P.O.W.E.R. writing program that can help you jump-start your dissertation project. You can learn more about P.O.W.E.R., which stands for Promoting Outstanding Writing for Excellence in Research, by visiting Register