Thesis / Dissertation Seminar Materials
UC Davis University Writing Program
TIPS FOR GETTING ORGANIZED
AND COPING WITH WRITER'S BLOCK
Consider the Logistics of the Task before You Begin
- Think of the dissertation as your job. Make it the top priority in
your life. Establish a "dissertation office," a quiet space of your
own in which you do nothing but work on the dissertation.
- Set aside a certain amount of time to write each day. Don't be
afraid to think small. If you wait until you have a four-hour block
of time, you may have trouble writing on a regular basis. Also, you
may find yourself intimidated by having to write for such a long
- Start a dissertation file to help organize your materials. Choose
file headings that make sense to you and add new headings as the need
- Make long range plans. Outline the dates by which you plan to have
completed major jobs--defining the research question, writing the
proposal, completing the research, finishing the rough draft.
- "Eat the elephant one bite at a time." Break your project into
bite-sized parts that you can complete successfully. Start a
dissertation calendar to establish due dates for these parts and to
give you a record of your short-term progress. Reward yourself when
you accomplish short-term goals.
- Consider investing in a data base management program. Investigate
which one might work best for you by talking to knowledgeable
people-- librarians, experienced users in your own field.
Develop Support Systems
- Organize or join a dissertation-writing support group in your
field or department. Such groups provide encouragement and
structure, help you set deadlines, and give you an audience for
your work in progress.
- Form a writing partnership with another person in your program
. Meet on a regular basis to offer encouragement, share ideas, and
exchange drafts. (See handout, "Beating the Isolation
Develop Writing Strategies That Help Avoid Blocking
- Start each writing session with non-threatening prewriting
activities. Brainstorm, freewrite, draw a picture of your internal
critic. Such activities prime the pump and help relieve writing
- Use simple lists and outlines to help overcome organizational
blocking.Many writers block because they feel overwhelmed by the
amount of material they have to cover and do not know where to
begin. Informal lists and outlines help you put your thoughts in
order. As you work through your lists, you begin to see patterns
that become more detailed as you work.
Start writing as soon as possible.
- You don't have to wait until you have all of your research
done. Tell yourself "it's just a draft" to help take the threat
out of putting words on paper. Such drafting will increase your
understanding of the subject and build momentum for your project.
- Don't worry about writing the sections of your proposal or the
chapters of your dissertation in the order they will appear in the
final product. Start by writing what comes easiest for you. --Once
you start writing, keep the flow going by signposting. Each time
you quit writing, plant a "booster" for the next writing session:
leave off with directions to yourself about what will come next;
stop in the middle of a sentence. Avoid starting a new writing
session facing a blank page.
Accept that you will go through a series of revisions. Writing is
a process: prewriting, drafting, revising editing.
- Don't edit prematurely. Use your initial draft to discover the
big picture; don't get bogged down worrying about the niceties of
grammar and style until you have all of your ideas in order. There
will be plenty of time later to revise on the local level.