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Each Sentence in a Dissertation Must be Complete and Correct

Having completed your research, analyzed the results, organized notes, and begun writing, it may feel like your dissertation is nearly over. Don’t get too attached to that feeling, however. Many young scholars become frustrated as their committee sends their dissertation back time and again for revision. Why? Attention to detail is paramount when writing your dissertation. In no other piece of academic writing a student as thus far completed has this been so true as in their first dissertation.

What to Be on Guard Against

Unlike the vague, rambling essays of your undergraduate days, each sentence of your dissertation—even each phrase—is going to go under the microscope. You can save yourself a good deal of trouble if you watch out for the following things:

Technical Terms

Define each technical term you use in your dissertation, either from a reference you’ve cited or a clear, concise, precise definition of your own. Go so far as to create a glossary for these terms, and ensure you use them consistently throughout the dissertation.

Adverbs & Adjectives

Unless the descriptor has a measurable, concrete quality which you want to apply to what you’re describing, leave it out.

Qualitative Statements

Unless you can back up words like “good,” “bad,” “ideal,””perfect,” etc. with concrete support, leave them out.

Ambiguity

It’s fine to use a term like approximately—when “approximately” has been defined. But generally, any sort of ambiguity is frowned upon. If you mean “within X amount,” say that instead. Instead of “few,” “most,” “many,” define what you mean. If you can’t… there’s a good chance that should be cut from the dissertation.

Passive Voice

Although in creative writing using the passive voice can be a conscious choice for effect, it’s often discouraged in dissertations. Save yourself the frustration of rewriting by writing in an active voice to begin with.

Leave Yourself Out of It

After your long solitary struggle to get to this point, you will find yourself tempted to speak of the circumstances of your research, add in personal context, etc. This will only be a cause for conflict with your committee.

Correlation is Not Causation

Don’t draw lazy conclusions based on correlation. Even if your paper doesn’t depend on these conclusions in any way, they’ll be pointed out and you’ll need to rewrite them.

Tips:

  • Write the body of your dissertation first.
  • Clarify each main supporting fact.
  • After writing the body, make notes on your own dissertation to determine what should be included in the introduction and conclusion