As a former journalist, assistant professor, and seasoned dissertation-writing-workshop coach at New York University, I can promise you there is only one fail-safe method, one secret, one guaranteed trick that you need in order to finish your dissertation: Write.
Theresa MacPhail has a very good piece about writing a dissertation (found through Stuart Elden’s Progressive Geography blog). What I like the most is the warning about the fact that no magic shortcuts exist, but that of making of writing a “non-negotiable part of your daily routine”.
At the end of the day, researching in social sciences – and to a certain extent in technical sciences as well – is about writing: research projects, reports, notes, papers. And dissertations. Those of us who wrote or are writing their PhD thesis remind and experience the process as something inherently connected with the theoretical and empirical research process: the drafting of the table of contents, the building of the reference section, the writing of each chapter were, in my experience, the moments where ideas and concepts could be translated to a more concrete and transferable level. I wonder whether I’ll have further occasions, during my career, for the in-deep analyses that writing my dissertation allowed me to develop.
Nowadays in several countries and school, the hype is that of asking for three papers instead than a dissertation. This is considered a way to increment the “productivity” of the student, therefore supporting his/her career and the evaluation of the hosting institution – dissertations are barely evaluated in assessment procedures. We had an interesting debate about this processes with prof. Rob Atkinson during the academic writing workshop at the YA conference a few days ago.
Is the need for start publishing as soon as possible a good reason for abandoning the learning process allowed by dissertations?