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Dissertation & Thesis Writing Tips

Stalled on your thesis or dissertation? Here are some books that may help you get inspired to start writing again.

General Dissertation and Thesis Writing

Writing your dissertation in fifteen minutes a day: a guide to starting, revising, and finishing your doctoral thesis, by Joan Bolker

This text focuses on helping readers/writers discover a personal writing process, rather than imposing a process on them. The author offers advice on beginning to write, choosing an advisor and dealing with problems that may come up with an advisor, free-writing and drafting, dealing with interruptions, "funky exercises for times when you're stuck," revising, and finishing the dissertation.

Writing with power: techniques for mastering the writing process, by Peter Elbow

A writing help book for all kinds of writers. Includes different writing exercises as "warm-ups" - practice for getting words down on paper. Chapters focus on drafting, revising, considering the audience, soliciting, and using feedback 

Secrets for a successful dissertation, by Jacqueline Fitzpatrick, Jan Secrist, and Debra J. Wright

Written in an informal, humorous tone, this text offers many examples of doctoral students' dissertation experiences. Part I addresses issues of content and process (proposal, methodology, selecting committee members, collecting data) and Part II addresses "The Secrets to Maintaining Sanity and Good Humor" (support groups, staying organized, using technology, defending the dissertation, and avoiding sudden stops). The text will be most helpful for students in "soft sciences," but includes information for students in the "hard sciences" as well.

Surviving your dissertation: a comprehensive guide to content and process, by Kjell Erik Rudestam and Rae R. Newton

A general guide for students in all disciplines, this text focuses on guiding students through the dissertation process. Part I: Getting Started offers advice on the research process, selecting a topic, and choosing methods of inquiry; Part II: Working With Content deals with the different required parts of the dissertation (literature review, methods, etc.); Part III: Working With Process is focused on informing the student of what she or he needs to know to make the dissertation process easier.

The dissertation : from beginning to end, by Peter Lyons and Howard J. Doueck

Published in 2010, this guide is one of the most up-to-date guides on the steps of the dissertation in Social Work. It covers all the steps from selection of a committee to defending the dissertation, and everything in between.

The dissertation journey : a practical and comprehensive guide to planning, writing, and defending your dissertatio n , by Carol M. Roberts

This guide, written from the perspective of a faculty member who taught organizational leadership, discusses aspects of the dissertation process such as support groups for students, emotional issues, and writing problems. It focuses less on research design or methodology than the personal issues involved in the writing process.

The unwritten rules of PhD research, by Gordon Rugg and Marian Petre

With an informal tone, this text provides help for the doctoral student who feels that she or he is wandering around the dissertation process with no clear purpose. Helps students to "translate" what dissertation supervisors say about "good referencing" and "clean research questions."

The faculty mentor's wisdom : conceptualizing, writing, and defending the dissertation , edited by Raymond L. Calabrese and Page A. Smith

This book maps the entire process of graduate education from the perspective of faculty advisors or mentors.  Different authors describe different approaches to mentoring - from the more direct and formal to the more personal - and discusses how these styles affect the dissertation process.

How to write a lot: a practical guide to productive academic writing, by Paul J. Silvia

This author acknowledges that writing is hard work and can be difficult to wedge into a frenetic academic schedule. Drawing examples from the field of psychology, the author shows readers how to overcome motivational roadblocks; he describes strategies for writing productively and gives detailed advice on how to write and revise, how to improve writing quality, and how to write and publish academic work.

Theses and dissertations: a guide to planning, research, and writing, by R. Murray Thomas and Dale L. Brubaker

This is a general guide for all disciplines, but is most suitable for students in social and behavioral sciences. The text is organized according to the stages of the research-and-writing process as defined by the authors: preparation, choosing a topic, collecting information, organizing information, interpreting results, and presenting the finished product.

If you want to write, by Brenda Ueland

This classic book is a must-read. From the back cover, "In her 93 remarkable years, veteran freelance writer, memoirist, and writing teacher Brenda Ueland published some six million words. She once said there were two simple rules that she followed absolutely: to tell the truth, and not do anything she didn't want to do. Such integrity both distinguishes and defines If You Want to Write, her bestselling classic that first appeared in the late 1930s and has inspired thousands to find their own creative center. As Carl Sandburg once remarked, Ueland's primer is "the best book ever written on how to write."

The clockwork muse: a practical guide to writing theses, dissertations, and books, by Eviatar Zerubavel

Written in an informal style, this book offers strategies on getting writing done, no matter how busy or how blocked the writer is. The solution that the author proposes is to make a writing schedule and then follow it (staying slightly flexible), writing outlines and drafts, and writing to deadlines.

Liberating scholarly writing: the power of personal narrative, by Robert J. Nash

The author argues that the personal voice can and should be integrated into academic writing. Aimed particularly at education and human services students. Offers guidelines for writing personal narrative as well as examples from students and published writers.

Social Sciences

Completing dissertations in the behavioral sciences and education, by Thomas J. Long, John J. Convey, and Adele R. Chwalek

Chapters focus on overcoming common obstacles, completing a dissertation, defining and developing a topic, using library resources, selecting committee members, writing the proposal, organizing and rewriting, and preparing for the defense. The text provides a sample timeline for completing a dissertation and advice on using computers and other sources of research assistance. Includes a bibliography of other sources.

The education dissertation : a guide for practitioner scholars, by Dan W. Butin

This book is geared towards students who are writing dissertations in Education while also working in the field professionally, or “practitioner-scholars.” So in addition to traditional advice on choosing a topic, doing research and defending a dissertation, it has suggestions for balancing research and work responsibilities.

Doing your social science dissertation , by Judith Burnett

This book provides a thorough walk-through of the dissertation process in the Social Sciences, from topic generation, proposals, and research design, to carrying out the research, drawing conclusions, and defending the dissertation.

The social work dissertation : using small-scale qualitative methodology, by Malcolm Carey

While many dissertation guides focus on the issues relating to quantitative research, this guide focuses on the challenges for those students undertaking smaller, qualitative research studies. In its attempt to be accessible and jargon-free, it focuses on real students’ experiences, case studies, and relevant research areas for this type of project.

Writing with style: APA style for social work, by Lenore T. Szuchman and Barbara Thomlison

This text focuses on the academic style of writing used in social work. Chapters focus on ethics and writing, general writing techniques, writing each part of the academic paper (introduction, literature review, methods, results, discussion, and abstract), listing references, formatting, revising, and preparing a poster presentation. Appendices include samples of student writing.

Concept to completion: writing well in the social sciences, by Bronwen T. Williams and Mary Brydon-Miller

A general writing guide that addresses the importance of writing well, includes writing exercises to help students get started, instructs the reader on how to use the library and other sources, and gives advice on how to complete a final project. The authors offer specific sources to read and consider for students in anthropology, psychology, social work, and sociology.

Doing your masters dissertation : realizing your potential as a social scientist , by Chris Hart

A step-by-step guide particularly for Master’s students in the social science.  In addition to describing the research and writing process, it also introduces students to key reference sources in social science disciplines. 

Writing and publishing your thesis, dissertation, and research : a guide for students in the helping professions , by P. Paul Heppner and Mary J. Heppner

This comprehensive guide focuses on the “helping professions,” which is a broad category encompassing social sciences like psychology and education.  It has chapters on personal preparation strategies, which it refers to as a “Self-Care Plan” for the dissertation, and also treats research methods, doing literature reviews, and quantitative and qualitative methodologies. 

Successful dissertations : the complete guide for education, childhood and early childhood studies students, by Mark O'Hara

This text is a thorough examination of all issues relating to dissertation work in childhood education.  It covers ethical areas of concern specific to the field, as well as broader considerations like research methods, literature reviews, research design, and interpreting your results.

Writing an applied linguistics thesis or dissertation : a guide to presenting empirical research, by John Bitchener

Whereas some guides break down the process of writing a dissertation or thesis, this text breaks down the areas of the dissertation itself, explaining the purpose of components like abstracts, introductions, literature reviews, results, and conclusions.


Doing your dissertation in business and management: the reality of researching and writing, by Reva Brown

This text addresses research and writing as non-linear processes and focuses on creating order out of the chaos and uncertainty of researching. Main topics include choosing a topic, creating a research proposal, writing process, dealing with anxiety, organizing information, literature search and review. Especially applicable for students in business and management. 

Researching and writing dissertations : a complete guide for business and management students, by Roy Horn

A comprehensive guide to all aspects of the business or management dissertation.


Guide to writing empirical papers, theses, and dissertations, by G. David Garson

A general guide for students, this text addresses the various stages of writing a paper and includes exercises to help students start writing. Each chapter includes a bibliography. Includes instruction on both primary and secondary research and addresses writing fundamentals. 

The final hurdle: a guide to a successful viva, by Natalie Mansfield

In Great Britain and some other parts of the world, the oral defense of a thesis or dissertation is referred to as the “viva.”  This e-book, written from the British perspective, provides some advice for preparing for and succeeding in an oral defense of a thesis.

Your chemical science thesis: an introductory guide to writing up your research project, by Natalie Mansfield

A practical guide from the Royal Society of Chemistry (Great Britain) that includes everything you need to know about writing up your chemistry project, but its insights and suggestions also speak to anyone working in the sciences, mathematics, or technology.


Writing the Successful Thesis and Dissertation: Entering the Conversation , by Irene L. Clark

In addition to covering the basic components of a humanities or social science dissertation, this book provides advice on how to situate your work within a wider academic dialogue.  Its easy to lose track of this bigger picture when you’re working on the nitty-gritty parts of a dissertation, and this work helps the student keep that framework in mind.

MLA style manual and guide to scholarly publishing, by Joseph Gibaldi

More than a basic style guide, this text features tips on the writing of scholarly literature, and deals with legals issues of submissions of work to publishers.

Writing your journal article in 12 weeks : a guide to academic publishing success, by Wendy Laura Belcher

While many dissertation guides feature a “step-by-step” approach, this guide literally has twelve concrete steps that will help you publish a journal article in twelve weeks.  This would be an excellent resource for students looking to finalize a dissertation chapter, or to publish some part of their dissertation.

English in today's research world : a writing guide
, by John M. Swales and Christine B. Feak

This work is both a guide for instructors of high-level ESL students, but also has practical tips for academic writing beyond the dissertation - like conference proposals - for all levels of scholars.

Other Resources

Have writer’s block? This website will help you write on a daily basis in a structured way. Even if you’re not writing about your dissertation, the routine of getting words on a page every day will help your academic writing.

This is a chapter on scholarly communication from Hacking the Academy, a book “crowdsourced” in one week by contributors from around the world.  It touches on many emerging issues in the field of scholarly publishing, and asks some hard questions about the changing nature of published research. See especially Tanya Roth's piece on "Hacking the Dissertation Process"

Another blog post from Anastasia Salter on rethinking the dissertation:

This is a social media-heavy site that focuses on providing insight into the publishing world for post-docs, with special focus on new digital, open source and interactive forms of publishing.


Association for the support of Graduate Students

National Organization for Graduate-Professional Students

A discussion and support forum for those who are trying to finish a dissertation.  Answers provided by those who have PHinishD their dissertation (get it?).

http://www.acls.org/ - American Council of Learned Societies
Information on learned societies for new academics, and also a good resource for grant, fellowship and research opportunities.