Writing Your Dissertation: Setting Goals, Writing, Thinking, and Finishing

Thinking your dissertation and finding your voice: as doctoral students embark on the most daunting scholarly task of their lives, this workshop will be devoted to planning their writing future. Emphasis will be placed on setting writing goals, developing a writing practice, and learning how to get along with your dissertation.

Hosted by: 

  • Douglas Campbell, The Writing Support Centre

Own Your Future Power Skill Focus:

  • Communicating Complex Ideas Broadly
  • Managing Time Effectively 

Date(s) Offered:

Writing your Dissertation: From Daunting to Doable

A workshop participant reflection

By: Rhiannon Simpson, PhD candidate in Music Education

This webinar was facilitated by Douglas Campbell in June 2020

As I watched my colleagues complete comprehensive exams and begin dissertation writing, I knew the development of a writing process was invaluable. So, even though I was far from beginning my thesis, I attended the Own Your Future webinar ‘Writing your Dissertation’. Throughout, Douglas Campbell discussed the process of beginning, reviewing and completing such a major part of the academic career in a relaxed and approachable way.

Though full of great ideas and tips for developing a writing voice and style, the webinar’s focus on achievable goals has informed my writing the most. As addressed in the question time, dissertations are long and stressful! Douglas discussed how resources which claim to help you complete a dissertation one paragraph at a time, or within a set frame can be problematic. However, the idea that small, time-sensitive and measurable goals can break a large project into manageable chunks can make a thesis seem less overwhelming. Instead of telling yourself “I’m going to write some of my thesis today”, or “I need to get this done before the end of fourth year” setting smaller, measurable goals can be much more productive (and motivating!). Telling yourself (and others if you need accountability) that you will “write two paragraphs in the afternoon”, or “four pages by tomorrow” is a much more manageable goal. Writing a chapter, paragraph or section feels much less stressful than reminding yourself that a whole dissertation is due by a set date!

However, my favourite part of the webinar addressed the concept of failing while writing. As a first-year PhD student, I realized that I had the time to try different writing styles or techniques. Importantly though, I also had the time to fail miserably at them. Douglas made it clear that knowing how you don’t write can sometimes be the most valuable information when beginning your thesis. As a result, I’ve started trying to write in different environments or using different techniques. From waking up at 6 a.m. to, to working outside in the front yard, I am getting to know how and where I write best. Though some of these writing sessions seem wildly unproductive at first glance (I do not write well when I’m hungry, or from bed!), they have made me aware of situations to avoid when hard deadlines are present. Though I am not in the process of writing my dissertation at the moment, I feel confident that when I do I will know the times of day, types of goals and environments that work for me. Importantly, I will know those that definitely do not lead to productive sessions, and plan my studying accordingly.

I thoroughly recommend that students look into the different webinars provided as part of the Own Your Future program. The workshop with Douglas Cambell has informed my writing process in ways I had never predicted when signing up. A full list of upcoming seminars can be found here.