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Main Problems Encountered when Writing a Dissertation

Main Problems Encountered when Writing a Dissertation

When Ph.D. candidates sit down to write their dissertations, many will encounter a similar set of problems. From topic selection to time management, the same issues crop up time and again. That’s one reason that it can be helpful to learn about the common pitfalls when writing a dissertation so you can avoid them when you are ready to start creating your own extremely important major academic documents. To help you out, we’re going to go over some of the most important issues that students face when writing a dissertation.

Topic Selection

First, students run into trouble when selecting a topic for their dissertation. It can be easy to take on too much or bite off more than you can chew by selecting a topic that is either too broad or that will require too much time, effort, and energy to cover thoroughly. Students are advised to work with their advisors in order to craft a topic that is narrow enough to allow for thorough investigation without overwhelming the student with too much material. If you find that your topic would require an entire book to properly investigate, you might want to discuss how to tailor it to focus more narrowly on a smaller subset of the original.

Time Management

The single biggest issue that students face between topic selection and the dissertation defense is time management. Learning to balance your time so you can accomplish everything that needs to be done is a challenge and one that not every student is equipped to overcome. In the first place, writing a dissertation is always going to be a time-consuming process. However, many students become intimidated and start to procrastinate in order to put off dealing with some of the challenges of writing the dissertation. Others fail to plan ahead and end up in a situation where they are scrambling to make up lost time because they did not realize how quickly they would need to write after conducting their research. Making a time management plan and sticking to a calendar to work steadily and consistently will help to make the process go much more smoothly.

Formatting and Documentation

A third issue that confronts students when writing their dissertations is the issue of formatting. Every school has a very specific style guide that they use in order to format dissertations, but many students have difficulty reviewing, following, and implementing each and every rule. Some of these rules are arcane, governing, for example, how many spaces to place after a period or when pages need roman vs. Arabic numbering. Other rules are designed specifically to create variations from strict adherence to a widely recognizes citation format such APA, MLA, or Chicago. Because of these challenges, it is not uncommon for a student to be told to revise a dissertation in order to correct a number of minor formatting issues. This, of course, can produce no end of stress because it distracts from the hard work of doctoral-level research to focus on minor word processing issues.


Similarly, software can be a problem when writing a dissertation. A surprising number of students make it to the doctoral level without knowing some of the more arcane rules of how to use a word-processing program such as Microsoft Word. For example, many students have difficulty inserting a section break or formatting a document so that page numbering will differ from section to section according to the requirements of the school style guide. Further, aligning tables and figures to appear on the correct pages can be challenging. None of these issues is of major importance by itself, but taken together they can become enormously frustrating when students are faced with having to learn dozens of new commands in order to write an original dissertation and to produce a print-ready final paper.

Overall, the dissertation-writing process is always going to be stressful, but the stress that students experience can increase when they are not familiar with requirements and formatting functions, or when they have not planned ahead for the kind of time management that they need to achieve the best results. Fortunately, learning about these common issues is an easy way to avoid them, and this will help to make sure that your dissertation runs smoothly from start to finish.