Researching and writing a doctoral dissertation requires your long-term commitment to a complex project. We at the Centre for Academic Communication are gathering the best books, websites, blogs, and articles to assist you along the way. We welcome your contributions to this resource, a living document. Let us know what has worked for you. We also encourage you to contribute to the blog, Graduate Student Writers’ Community, with your own story. Contact the editor, Madeline Walker, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The many self-help books out there written for PhD students may provide encouraging tips and tricks, but many do not acknowledge the identity-building, social, and disciplinary aspects of dissertation writing (Kamler & Thomson, 2008). The following two highly recommended books do acknowledge writing as a social practice and site of identify formation. They also provide lots of very practical ideas and advice:
- Dunleavy, P. (2003). Authoring a PhD: How to plan, draft, write and finish a doctoral thesis or dissertation. Hampshire, UK: Palgrave MacMillan.
- Thomson, P. & Kamler, B. (2016). Detox your writing: Strategies for doctoral researchers. Oxon, UK: Routledge. Now available as an e-book in the UVic library database.
We rely quite a bit on these books in the following sections, but also draw on numerous other articles, books, and websites.
As you begin your journey, it may be helpful to check out dissertations by other UVic students in your school or department. Doing so will give you a sense of what others have done as well as give you examples of formatting and organization. UVic has a searchable repository for electronic theses and dissertations (ETD).
An overview of the contents of the Dissertation Writers’ Resource:
- Make writing social: This page provides some ideas for how to create a sense of community as you write your dissertation, including joining a writing group, reading blogs, writing blogs, and meeting with a writing tutor.
- EAL dissertation writers: This page describes some tips for dissertation writers with English as an additional language, including information on North American academic writing conventions and how they may differ from other conventions; using “I” and voice recording; using prompts; and writing throughout your research rather than delaying the writing process.
- The structure of your dissertation: This page explains how structure can improve the readability of your dissertation and provides information on two different approaches to organization.
- Rhetorical moves: Understanding how writing works: This page is about the ways writers use language in academic writing and offers some exercises for you to discover how writing/language works in your discipline as well as a description of a useful resource, The Academic Phrasebank.
- Performing scholarly identity and developing voice: This page describes how writing a dissertation involves a shift in identity from student to scholar. This shift brings uncertainty and sometimes feelings of being an “imposter.” Also discussed is the issue of developing a writing “voice” and how to negotiate the first person (“I”) in academic writing.
- The literature review: This page describes the literature review in the dissertation and provides some guidelines about how to do one. Also discussed is how writing the lit review involves writing with authority and the common pitfalls in this type of writing.
- Writing in your discipline: Suggestions on how to figure out the stylistic conventions in your discipline, with a note on interdisciplinary writing.
- The oral defence: What to expect: This page describes the oral defence process and gives some tips on how to prepare for it and get the most out of it.
Page written by Madeline Walker; last updated December 19, 2016.