Complete the Research for a Dissertation

The prospect of starting to write a dissertation is usually a daunting one. Once you have decided on a topic for your project, you can begin the research element. There are different types of research. For example, you could conduct experiments, interview people, or just read extensively about your topic. Productive or effective research requires you to manage your time efficiently and be well organized. Should you feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the task that lies ahead, try to remain focused and productive.

First Part: Create a Work Schedule

Determine what research methodologies you want to use. It may be necessary to use a number of different methods, with much dependent on your topic. List the research types you will undertake. This could mean reading, conducting experiments, taking surveys, interviewing people, or doing field-based research. Develop a timetable for every research method. Select the methods you can immediately begin with and decide which ones need to be left until later. Your timetable can be broken down into weeks, months, or year according to the breadth and scope of the project you are embarked on. Usually, reading should and can begin immediately. This gives you time to absorb the material you have read, and to tackle any new materials you find out about as you go along. Planning is often required for experimentation work. Where one or more experiments need to be performed, start planning these early on to ensure they can be done efficiently and successfully later when you are ready. Be sure you allocate sufficient time for experiments, and to re-do these if they do not go according to plan. If other people or participants are involved in your research, e.g., interviewees, subjects, helpers, and so on, you will need to contact these people as early as possible to check their schedules and availability.  

Your research may require travel. Decide when and where you will have to travel to and work out if you need to find funding for your travels. In the event you are unsure how much time you will need for a particular piece of research, ask a course advisor or a fellow student. Most likely, anyone who has undergone this process will have some idea of the amount of time needed for different types of research. Sketch out your timetable in calendar form. A lot of people like to use electronic tools such as email calendars or Google Calendar. Then there are others who prefer to use a date book to carry in their purse, bag, or backpack. Others like to keep a calendar on the wall in front of them or use a whiteboard.   

Select a calendar method you are most likely to adhere to. Online calendars and scheduling apps can be particularly useful because many of these send daily reminders showing your plans for that day. Larger displays such as whiteboards are good at helping you see the bigger picture, and a lot of people like being able to add and erase items as a means of showing progress. You may find a reverse-order calendar helpful. With this system, you work backwards from the final submission date to establish when the various steps should be completed by. Put time aside every week for research. When people are busy with dissertation writing, they do not usually have the same amount of time for leisure as they were previously accustomed to. However, productivity is often increased when a schedule allows sufficient time for both work and leisure. Decide how many hours you will devote to research every day or week. Do your best to stick to this schedule, and stop work when you have reached your target. Your schedule may need adjusting when your deadline draws near, but not radically, it is hoped. Let people around you know about your schedule. The hours you spend at work or with those you love may need to be reduced. While this can prove difficult, such sacrifices should be a bit easier if everyone in your life understands the demands and limitations placed on you.  

Maintain your focus. Keep distractions to a minimum during the time you have set aside for research. Find a quiet space to work i.e. a laboratory or library – somewhere that allows you to be on your own. You could also try a method known as the Pomodoro method, which advocates setting a 25-minute timer – a “pom” - before starting work. When this time is up, break for five minutes. If your work is not complete when the first 25 minutes are up and/or you wish to begin another “pom,” set the timer for another 25 minutes. This is a great system for helping maintain focus and each break is an opportunity to leave your desk, stretch your legs, check your social media account(s), or grab a coffee. Distractions such as television, radio, and the Internet should be avoided while research work is in progress.

Maintaining focus during the time you have set aside means you should need less of it

You should break from your work at 45 or 60-minute intervals. Breaks are a chance to stretch, chat with friends, or check the Internet. Scheduled break time is good for helping us maintain focus and be more productive during work time. Adhere to the schedule you set. With an itemized calendar on the front of you and all the time you require put aside, the only thing that is left for you is to stick to your schedule. If it happens you find you are digressing, it may be that you are prone to procrastinating. Make an effort to eliminate this habit as early as you possibly can. Create a daily “to do” list showing the research activities you are working on. Include on this list certain tasks that can be completed each day and ones that will need a little work every day. Give yourself a reward once you have accomplished an item on your schedule. Go out for coffee or a good lunch. Take time out with those you love without feeling stressed because you have left work unfinished. 

Second Part: Keep in Contact with Your Dissertation Adviser

Arrange to meet regularly with your dissertation adviser. When you are working on your dissertation, you will have a supervisor or adviser whose job it will be to help and guide you through the entire process. Even if it is the case both of you are extremely busy, you should still schedule meetings at regular intervals so that you can discuss your project and its progress. The support of your adviser is essential even though you should also remain independent and autonomous. Hence, you need not meet with your mentor on a daily basis or run every single thing past them. Monthly meetings should be sufficient. It is important there is a purpose to every meeting; they should not simply be a matter of obligation. When each meeting has a specific objective, they should improve productivity and help you remain on schedule. These meetings may serve the purpose of reporting on the results of experiments or discussing your interpretation of a particular piece of reading material.

Set new objectives at every meeting. Worthwhile objectives might include completing the reading of a book, re-doing an experiment, or carrying out a series of interviews. Write your objectives down and discuss them with your dissertation adviser. This will ensure both of you know what to expect at each meeting. Make sure you complete agreed objectives before the meeting. Communicate progress with your adviser. In the event you cannot achieve specific objectives before the meeting, communicate this to your adviser. It may be that they would prefer to reschedule your meeting until your objectives have been met or they may still wish to meet you to understand what prevented your progress. In any case, it is crucial that you report progress honestly. Professors are usually busy so it is essential they feel you value their time, help, and guidance.

Connect yourself with other professionals in your field. It is likely your adviser is acquainted with other experts and/or professors who might be able to help with your research so see if your adviser can put you in contact with such people. This might prove especially useful if or when your adviser is extra busy or is not hugely experienced in your research area.

Third Part: Organize Your Content and Data

Try to ensure the notes you take are truly useful. It is important that notes have meaning for you and can act as an aid to jogging your memory at a later time i.e. during the writing stage. Do your best to take sufficiently long notes so that they are really helpful, yet sufficiently short that your efforts do not entirely bog you down.

Consider what you are making notes about and why you are choosing specific items. The purpose of notes should be to help answer research-related questions. Create a style of shorthand for use at lectures, meetings, interviews, or whenever you need to make a note of what someone is saying. Mark journal and/or book pages with color-coded tabs to coincide with the references in your written notes. This will enable you to easily locate particular places when you need to cite a source or a specific piece of text.

Create a data storage system. Some researchers like to keep all notes and data in electronic format i.e. in computer files. Then there are others who like to keep everything in a special journal or in an index card system. The important thing is to remain consistent, whatever your preferred method, so that important data does not get lost or misplaced. If you are a fan of mind mapping, create a map. These are excellent for organizing information prior to organizing it in linear fashion. Your paper’s thesis or research question should take center place in a mind map. From there, your map’s branches can extend to include every aspect of your research work in addition to questions that are still to be answered. Refer to the notes you took to fill in any gaps in your mind map.

If there are any large gaps that your notes do not cover, further research may be needed. Your dissertation adviser may be able to recommend where you can look or how best to approach that part of your research. Understand your limitations. While researching, it is likely you will collect some data that is not entirely relevant to your central thesis. Since this may be useful later, you should store it separately in a notebook or electronic folder. It is best to keep the data before you as streamlined as possible since this makes it easier to keep everything well organized. In the event you are unsure, check the mind map you created. If any research data does not fit naturally in this map, it is probably surplus to requirement, for now at least.

Fourth Part: Get Ready to Start Writing

Adhere to all deadlines. There comes a point when you need to cease research work and begin the writing stage. Decide what amount of time you are likely to need for writing – check with your dissertation adviser if necessary. From there, work in a backward manner to figure out when the research element needs to end and writing begin. Without a realistic deadline, you could keep on researching and never get around to writing. Collect all data and sources into one location. When you start writing, you will need ready access to notes and research materials. Even if your notes are appended to a book, you will need to have that book to hand for citing, quoting, and perhaps for cross-referencing.

Return to the mind map you created. Ensure all gaps are bridged with the reliable source material. Your mind map can now be transformed into a dissertation outline. An outline is critical to every written piece, and especially to a text as important as a thesis or dissertation. Creating an outline is a first attempt at putting linear order to your research materials. Your outline should answer your dissertation’s question. It needs to include all research sources to support your central thesis - without any extraneous material. There should be space in your outline for data analysis, which will ultimately prove your thesis. Let your adviser see your outline. Before you start to write, they should be in a position to say from your outline if you are ready to proceed. Take heed of the feedback they provide and make sure you complete any last-minute reorganization or research before starting to write.