Dear dissertation advisers: Focus on the practical dimensions of the research project

Focus studentsGenerally speaking, this may be the least common of the “bad feedback” issues that I see, but it can be crushingly bad feedback. Many, many professors try to force their students to look at the practical dimensions of the project and try to get the students to do less. Almost every professor I ever worked with told me some variation of “do less,” and many students with whom I’ve worked have also been told to try to do less, so I know it’s no rare idea, but some students could really benefit from this advice.

I have two main suggestions here: 1. Get the students to reduce the scope of their project if possible and reasonable, and 2. Explicitly focus on the practical dimensions as a reason to make the project smaller in order to reduce the emotional impact of being told to do less.  [Read more…]

Dear dissertation advisers: Make sure student has defined the research purpose and question

Disseration adviceDefining a good research question is crucial to developing a successful research project, and it is no easy task. For some, defining a good question comes easily, but for many, especially doctoral candidates who may have never developed their own research project before, it is a great hurdle. And, as I suggested in the previous post, if the research purpose and question aren’t defined, then there’s no point in your looking at other stuff: if your student hasn’t defined the research purpose clearly, they’ll have trouble making progress.

A good definition of research question or purpose is not only crucial, it’s usually really easy for a reader to find in skimming through a paper. Most drafts have several sentences that say things like “the purpose of this research is…” and “the research question is…”. These sentences need to be clear, and they need to agree with each other (multiple conflicting statements of purpose can often be found in early drafts of research). [Read more…]

Dear dissertation advisers: I have some advice for you

Dissertation adviceDear dissertation advisors, as a dissertation coach, I don’t actually want you to do your jobs better, because that might cut into my business. But if you’re interested in saving yourself effort and hassles in working with your thesis and dissertation candidates, I have a few pieces of advice for you.

As a dissertation coach, most people who contact me are struggling with their work, and often those struggles are exacerbated by poor feedback or support from professors. This biases my view of the general quality of research feedback, but the general patterns of what makes good vs. bad feedback are still useful to keep in mind. Good feedback helps the student effectively, reducing demands on the teacher; bad feedback will hinder progress, and may ultimately increase teacher workload. It’s good when students finish their projects, for both student and professor! [Read more…]

How writers can use feedback effectively

FeedbackA good writing practice—a habit of coming back to work on your project regularly—is the foundation of good writing. One of the biggest challenges to many writing practices is to keep going after receiving difficult feedback. And perhaps an even bigger challenge is the fear of receiving feedback, which often contributes to writer’s block. If you’re submitting to a publisher, a journal, to your dissertation committee, or anyone else who might provide feedback, it will help if you feel like you can use the feedback you get effectively.

The following is a slightly edited excerpt from my book Getting the Best of Your Dissertation: Practical Perspectives for Effective Research: [Read more…]

Writers: Don’t get caught in the ‘downward spiral’

Getting the Best of Your Dissertation

A good writing practice is the foundation of good writing. A good practice is built on regular action, and depends on the ideas or perspectives that lead to effective action. When faced with a large writing project, it is important to look at the relationship between your work practice and your emotions. Today’s actions influence tomorrow’s approach to the project, and work today can make it easier to work tomorrow.

The following is a slightly edited excerpt from my book, Getting the Best of Your Dissertation: Practical Perspectives for Effective Research: [Read more…]

5 Reasons to aim for brevity

Getting the Best of Your DissertationA good writing practice is the foundation of good writing. A good practice is built on regular action, and depends on the ideas or perspectives that lead to effective action. When planning a writing project, one effective idea is to aim for brevity: keep your work short.

The following is a slightly edited excerpt from my book, Getting the Best of Your Dissertation: Practical Perspectives for Effective Research: [Read more…]

Stuck? Write about your ‘stuckness’

Getting the Best of Your DissertationA good writing practice is the foundation of good writing. A good practice is built on regular action, and depends on the ideas or perspectives that lead to effective action. When faced with a large writing project, it is important to keep working and to keep writing when stuck. The more regular the practice, the more effective it will be. One way to keep writing is to have something to write about when you’re stuck.

The following is a slightly edited excerpt from my book, Getting the Best of Your Dissertation: Practical Perspectives for Effective Research: [Read more…]

How to request and receive feedback on your writing

Dave Harris

Dave Harris

We shall take it as a given that a good academic work is focused. I have trouble imagining a dissertation writer who wouldn’t agree that their dissertation ought to be focused. But focus doesn’t get enough attention early in the process. Yes, early in the process we are seeking to refine a focus by exploring a range of possibilities. All of these are important reasons not to focus too intently, too early.

But this piece is about feedback and how to get and use feedback effectively; this is about submitting work to professors for feedback. You may have many ideas in your head and you may still be seeking focus, but, when it’s time, you want to submit something that is focused. You can have all the competing ideas that you want rattling around in your head, but what you put down on paper for submission needs to be focused. [Read more…]