The process of writing a dissertation is a long and complicated one. Indeed, the dissertation has so many parts that it can become quite easy to make mistakes that can cause irreparable damage to your progress through your doctoral degree. The good news is that it is relatively easy to avoid the worst dissertation mistakes as long as you can recognize the most common errors in order to avoid them.
Let’s take a look at ten types of errors that dissertation writers frequently make so you, too, can learn to recognize the good, the bad, and the ugly in the wild world of writing your most important academic document: your dissertation.
- Plagiarism. Let’s start with the biggest and most important mistake a dissertation writer can make, and that is plagiarism. Plagiarism is the improper use of others’ work as your own. By the time you reach the dissertation level, you’ve likely been exposed to warnings about plagiarism time and again, but it’s important to really let the lesson sink in. You need to avoid plagiarism at all costs. When in doubt, cite a source. Hundreds of PhDs have been revoked after plagiarism came to light, and you don’t want yours to be one of them.
- Superficial coverage of the topic. A dissertation is the longest and the most detailed piece of writing that most students will ever compose. You need your topic to have a greater degree of depth than a typical research paper. Ask yourself: Could I summarize this whole dissertation in 10 pages or less? If so, your topic is too superficial.
- Tedious or boring research. It’s true that most people would argue that the majority of dissertation topics are boring, but the topics are interesting to someone, and if that someone isn’t the author, you have a problem. No matter how obscure your topic, it’s important that it engages you because a boring topic makes it impossible to focus and devote the necessary time and energy to complete the project.
- Starting the writing process too late. We all have deadlines that we have to live by, but it is essential that you plan ahead to give yourself enough time to meet your deadline without rushing. As a general rule of thumb, writing a dissertation takes longer than you think it will. Leave yourself about 30-50% more time than you think you’ll need to make sure you can complete the dissertation with acceptable levels of quality.
- Repeating the proposal without editing. The proposal provides a guide for the dissertation, but when you incorporate the proposal into the final dissertation, it’s important to be sure you’ve changed the tense from the future to the past to reflect the fact that you’ve now finished the research and completed the writing process.
- Unbalanced chapter length. This one is a little more obscure. Generally, the five chapters of a typical dissertation should be relatively the same length, give or take. If you find that one chapter is much longer or shorter than the others, chances are there is something wrong in that chapter that needs correction.
- Irrelevant or tangential material. A dissertation is a lengthy document, and it becomes all too easy to try to “fill space” by going off on tangents or including indirectly related or irrelevant material to fill out chapters. Every piece of information in the dissertation should be clearly focused on the research question. If a piece of information isn’t necessary, leave it out.
- Wrong format. Your university will provide you with a style guide that will lay out exactly how your dissertation should appear, from the title page down to the number of spaces between sentences. Use this guide to format your dissertation and don’t deviate from it without permission.
- Proofreading problems. Your dissertation should put your best foot forward, and that means showing your readers that you are a serious and credible scholar. Good grammar, spelling, and punctuation show the reader that you respect their time. Proofread carefully.
- Giving in to fear. Writing a dissertation shouldn’t be scary. You are simply telling your readers what you know about a subject you have mastered. Don’t let yourself be intimidated. The calmer you are, the stronger your dissertation will turn out. Relax! You’ve got this.