The Study Dude – Writing a Dissertation in a Snap, Part III

Study Tips from a Semi-Anonymous Friend

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to write books in less time than it takes you to snap your fingers.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

This week’s Study Dude article continue with part three of Demystifying Dissertation Writing by Peg Boyle Single, Phd. In today’s article, Peg Boyle Single will show you how easy it is to write books with her Single System.

Changing a Focus Statement into a One-Page Outline
When in graduate studies, I never knew the difference between a thematic dissertation versus an article dissertation, yet these differences could result in completely unique one page outlines at the start of your dissertation project. Different disciplines have different structures for your dissertation, so It’s important to find out which format might be most palatable to your field. Whichever starting format you use will define the basic skeleton of your one-page outline.

In graduate studies, I started with chapter headings that included an introduction, a literature review, methodology, theory, results, and a conclusion. By placing this structure on a printed document, at least I had a starting point. Yet, moving forward challenged me. No-one had told me that writing the dissertation was as simple as breaking the dissertation into five chapters, each with five sections, each with five subsections. How simple.

So, what do you do once you know your chapter headings? And how do you take your focus statement and fit it into a guiding one-page outline?

Peg Boyle Single has some advice for getting your one-page outline ready.
– Rely on an auto-generated table of contents to give your book or dissertation a structure. Microsoft Word has this functionality built in, for instance.
– Get a working title as soon as you can. The working title will help guide your topic, and you can always change it later on. After the working title, insert your focus statement, which is kind of like a thesis, but also touches on your methodology and theories.
– Create chapter titles and make a bulleted list of subjects you want to discuss in each chapter.
– Be sure to get approval and suggested revisions from your advisor.
– The format of your thesis should help structure your chapter headings. For instance, if you choose to perform a thematic dissertation, start with an introduction, end with a conclusion, and have three different themes as your chapter headings.
– Another format, the typical social sciences format, will have an introduction, a literature review, a methods section, a results chapter, and a conclusion.
– Yet another format, a journal article format for your dissertation will have an introduction, a literature review, a conclusion, and three or so chapters that could be published as straight-out journal articles.
– Five chapters to your dissertation is the typical number.
– Ask yourself questions, such as what is the key idea? Why is this important? What resources am I referencing? What will motivate me to write your dissertation when I feel like giving up? What groundwork do I have for your topic? What gap will my dissertation fill? What methodology and theories will I use? What findings do I anticipate? These questions will help you think through your dissertation outline. Take these answers and put them into your outline wherever they might apply.
– Under each chapter, write a mini focus statement, specific to that chapter.
– For each chapter heading (which are first level headings in MS Word), come up with three to five main ideas you wish to discuss. These main ideas become your section headings, or second level headings. For each section, come up with three to five subtopics to discuss. These subtopics become your third level headings.
– Put your citeable notes (the quotes you wish to use) under each relevant heading. don’t worry about the order of the quotes, you will later reorganize them for optimal flow.
– In your computer generated table of contents, use, at minimum, two heading levels, so that you can easily print out your TOC and quickly identify your paper’s structure.

Transforming Your One-Page Outline Into A Long Outline, Polished with References

In graduate school, I stared down at my document, marked with several chapter headings and nothing else. I was unsure of how to proceed. I think feeling overwhelmed is commonplace for anyone during the initial stages of writing a book, making a course, or doing anything that requires the organization of a ton of material.

Also, while in graduate school, I stopped using outlines or cue cards for organizing my references on the advice of a professor. This professor wanted to stop me in my tracks from taking extensive cue card notes as she felt the process was too time consuming. But, those cue cards contained all of my references and enabled me to organize the quotes in a flash. Her advice was ill-conceived. With a cue card or outline system in place, writing an essay is streamlined.

Since then, I’ve tried writing books. My latest endeavour didn’t rely on a well-structured outline created in advance. I just added topics as they came to mind and wrote on them: big mistake. The longer the document grew and the more time that lapsed between writing sessions, the more muddled the endeavour became.

Yet, how do you craft an outline for a project as sizeable as a book? Peg Boyle Single has the perfect system. Just think in clusters of three to five. If you can do that, you can succeed remarkably at writing a book or dissertation of any length.
– Your one-page outline should contain a title, a focus statement, plus five chapters, each with its own focus statement, and a list of three to five sections within each chapter.
– To rehash, you have five chapters, each with a focus statement and five sections. Five seems to be the magical number in Peg’s system.
– Of the five sections, give each around five subsections (three to five). Give your sections and subsections a logical order. So, to rehash, you have five chapters, each with five sections, each with five subsections. That’s all.
– Get approval from your advisor on the long outline.
– Ensure that each subheading advances the focus statement of the chapter and reflects nicely on the section heading.
– Estimate page lengths for each section and subsection and document them.
– Type in your citable notes under the relevant headings, without worrying too much about order. Keep a miscellaneous section for citable notes without an obvious home.
– After you get your chapter headings, section heading, and subsection headings, insert your citable notes. Organize the citable notes logically.
– When you notice that parts of your long outline lack sufficient quotes, go back to the books to find quotes to fatten up those subsections. Where your long outline has oodles of information for a subsection, you likely can stop researching in that area.

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Single, Peg Boyle. 2010. Demystifying Dissertation Writing. Stirling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing.

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