Five Key Things to Avoid when Writing a Dissertation
As you begin writing your dissertation, the sheer amount of research you have compiled and the wealth of information you intend to impart to your reader can be overwhelming. Sibia Proofreading’s editors have provided quality proofreading and editing services for countless PhD candidates and masters students writing their dissertations. Drawing upon our extensive experience completing these manuscript reviews and paper reviews, we have compiled the following useful tips about the most common pitfalls to avoid as you write your dissertation.
1. Over-Generalized or Unfocused Argument
Too often, dissertation writers attempt to address a particular topic too broadly, which results in the dissertation featuring an over-generalized, unfocused argument—or worse, no original argument at all. Perhaps this tendency to over-generalize stems from the writer’s desire to avoid eliciting disagreement by avoiding specifics, or from the writer’s attempt to include information regarding all of the research completed, no matter how irrelevant or peripheral to the argument at hand.
Regardless of the cause, do not sit down to write your dissertation without first clearly establishing and internalizing your argument. As you complete each section or chapter of your dissertation, you should keep your overarching argument in mind to ensure that all parts of your dissertation contribute towards bolstering this argument. Most importantly, be sure to evaluate your argument critically – are you presenting a unique and dynamic perspective? Will your dissertation be a valuable addition to the existing literature in your field? Your argument should be specific and clear enough to generate an indisputable “yes” to both of these questions.
2. Unclear Structure
Once you are certain that your dissertation features a strong and specific argument, you must ensure that this argument is not obscured or even undermined by unclear structure within the dissertation itself. Structure refers both to the layout of your entire dissertation, including chapter content and order, as well as to the layout within each chapter. Your argument is more persuasive when you build it methodically, ensuring that the various points to your argument are elucidated in the appropriate order so that the reader can follow you easily.
Despite the highly technical or complex nature of the subject matter, the best dissertations are straightforward and easy to read. This quality pertains primarily to structure. If Point A needs to be established before you can convince the reader of Point B, make sure that you elaborate on Point A in an earlier chapter, not in the conclusion!
3. Convoluted Sentences
So you have established a persuasive argument and outlined a solid structure for your dissertation. As you begin writing various sections for your dissertation, do not obscure all you have accomplished thus far with convoluted sentences, awkward phrasing, and inappropriate use of vocabulary. Again, your dissertation reader should not have to review a sentence more than twice to ascertain its meaning.
A good dissertation expresses your point clearly and concisely. Do not hesitate to break up excessively long sentences into two (or more) shorter sentences. If you must convey your point within one sentence, use punctuation carefully to make your meaning clearer (although this does not mean that you should use commas and semi-colons indiscriminately). Finally, do not use overly sophisticated vocabulary simply for the sake of attempting to sound academic. Before you use a word, be sure you fully understand its meanings and possible connotations, as well as the appropriate contexts in which it can be used. Using an impressive word incorrectly will only detract from the credibility of your argument and the quality of your dissertation.
As you have no doubt spent countless hours thinking about your research topic and dissertation argument, you may tend to repeat yourself throughout your work without realizing it. Or, fearing that your reader may not be fully convinced of your argument, you may repeat yourself in the hope that this will enhance the argument’s validity. Unnecessary repetition, however, only makes your dissertation cumbersome and less readable. To be sure, you can briefly allude to previously established facts or points, but only with the purpose of building upon these to extend your argument. If you have successfully presented that point with clarity earlier in the dissertation, the reader will not need to be reminded of it again in extensive detail.
5. Informal Language
While you should not use vocabulary with which you are unfamiliar (see Tip #3), you should make every attempt to ensure that your language throughout the dissertation is appropriate to academic writing. Do not use contractions or slang, and avoid colloquial expressions. Consider alternate words to express yourself more formally. For example, you do not “get” results, but you “obtain” them, or instead of “looking at” a phenomenon, you “investigate,” “explore,” or “examine” a phenomenon.
We at Sibia Proofreading wish you the best of luck as you write and revise your dissertation. We certainly hope you would consider us as a source for professional editing and proofreading services!