The only good dissertation is a finished dissertation.

Ever heard this before?  I heard this several years ago when I set out on my journey to obtain my PhD, and I thought I understood what it meant.  Silly me.  When I reached the point where I needed to solidify my thinking and come up with a researchable topic, I STILL didn’t quite get it.

I’ve been a dissertation coach and editor for almost 5 years, and I thought I’d begin my adventure into blogging by providing a description of the lessons I’ve learned by doing and by coaching, beginning with topic selection.  Maybe you can relate; hopefully you can learn something.

Silly thought No. 1:  I thought my dissertation topic should be important.

What I should have been thinking was that the dissertation phase was about me learning how to become a scholar/researcher.  My faulty thinking that someone would care permeated my decisions, including the first choice:  topic selection.  I should have been thinking about choosing a topic that could be researched in a way that would help me finish and within an area of interest where I saw my future.  The accompanying lessons learned are as follows:

  • You have a general idea of the topic, and hopefully you’ve been looking at this topic in your coursework.  Go find out who has studied this topic in the past and how they have studied it, and make a note of what theories informed the studies – very important for later.
  • If your mentor has suggested a topic for you, and if your mentor is responsive and encouraging, you would be stupid not to go with one of his or her suggestions.  At the very least, find something close to what your mentor has suggested and DON’T GET STUCK ON A METHOD (more on this later).
  • Finding the gap takes time and effort, but it is not rocket science, and the gap doesn’t need to be earth-shattering news.  The process of finding the gap also serves to build your knowledge not only of the topic, but about how scholars have thought about and researched the topic. Hint:  Take good notes; write a paragraph or two about each article you read and you will be writing your lit review as you go.
  • IT’S VERY LIKELY THE GAP WILL NOT BE WHAT YOU THOUGHT IT WOULD BE (more on this later).

I found some helpful notes online about finding a topic:  http://www.cgu.edu/pages/891.asp

For now, I’m just grateful to have gotten this blog on the road, so to speak, and I look forward to hearing from those who are on one of the most maddening and wonderful journeys:  You are ABD!

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