Writing and Presenting Your
Thesis or Dissertation
S. Joseph Levine, Ph.D.
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan USA
Note #14 Having the discipline to finish writing your thesis/dissertation.
I used to do a bit of jogging (slow running) and would enjoy running in local 5 kilometer races. My purpose was not focused on winning. I just wanted to make a good showing and complete the entire race without stopping. I wasn't a very good runner but I enjoyed doing it.
I would usually be very excited at the beginning of the race. Once in a while, however, I would begin a race and I would feel rather weak - "I will never finish this race!" However, I would not stop running. I would try to be very disciplined and would force myself to continue running. I had a strong desire to stop running but I would keep on going at my slow pace. "Don't stop running, keep going. You have to get to the end of the race"
After a while, as I saw I was making progress toward the end of the race, my attitude began to change. "Look, I have run this far. I am getting closer to the end. I can't stop now. I know if I keep running I will feel good when I get to the end." And I would get to the end.
I think this story is very similar to what we experience as we are try to write our thesis or dissertation.
At the beginning of our writing we are often confused and very unsure of the correct path we must take. Trying to identify the "correct" path is often impossible to do at the beginning of your writing. Sometimes we try a bit of writing and worry that it is no good and we throw it away. We try again. And again we throw it away. This "start-and-throw-it-away" cycle may continue for many weeks. Sometimes it gets to the point where we give up - we stop the process entirely.
How can we move past this roadblock?
Once you begin writing it is important for you to keep writing. As you are writing try to keep pushing yourself to move ahead - do not stop and re-read your literature, re-design your methodology, re-write your words, etc. Just keep writing. It will get clearer as you get closer to the end. It's okay if it is not clear at the beginning. Understand that you may be making many mistakes, your words may not be good ones, or your ideas may need to be changed. However, your initial objective is to go from the beginning to the end - regardless of the mistakes.
Once you have arrived at the end of your thesis the first time (even if it is not good) you will have a good feeling that you have moved ahead. The first draft of your thesis has been completed. This is an important feeling to have at this time. Stop for a little while and congratulate yourself on achieving this first goal. Draft #1 has been completed!
Now it is time to go back to the beginning and start editing/improving your paper. You now have some wonderful new insight - you know how your project will end. You can easily find things you have previously written that will now need to be changed. You will find that the task of editing/improving your writing will not be as difficult as was the original writing. You can move back and forth on your paper - fixing a part here or fixing a part there. You can add new sections. You can throw away confusing sections. As you continue to work on your paper you will find that your thesis will start to grow and develop - like a flower that is in the process of blooming.
If you worry too much at the beginning and keep throwing away your ideas you will probably never finish a draft of your paper and you will never get to the end. You will never have a finished thesis. However, if you push ahead and prepare a first draft that goes from the beginning to the end you will have a working document that can then be improved until it is ready to be submitted.
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Writing and Presenting Your Thesis or Dissertation