Demystifying Dissertation Writing

Single’s book Demystifying Dissertation Writing: a Streamlined Process from Choice of Topic to Final Text guides the novice through the task of developing a book-length text. In addition to advice on choosing advisers and an overview of best practices for structuring writing sessions, Single offers refined procedures that eliminate wasted effort from academic writing projects:  

  • Reading to create “citable notes”
  • Developing “clear, concise, and compelling” focus statements
  • Transforming the focus statement into a dynamic and useful outline
  • Revising systematically

Single’s discussion of “content smoothing” (revising sections so that each paragraph focuses on a single topic) is especially good. But for sentence level editing, I recommend Belcher’s exceptionally thorough Diagnostic Test, which also suggests fixes.

I adapted Single’s naming convention for computer files [ABBR_yyyymmdd.doc] for my own use. Single suggests saving a document in process with a new file name each day to create a series of developmental backups that can be revisited as necessary (if only to admire one’s own progress)! For co-authored projects, just add initials to the file name.


“Your dissertation will not be perfect. You, and all scholars, conduct and publish research and scholarship within the constraints of living in three-dimensional space. Write the best dissertation you are capable of writing now, and move on to publish higher quality research and scholarship in the future. Please do not get caught up in being perfect at this stage of your career because you have a long career ahead of you.”

~Single (2010) Demystifying Dissertation Writing, p. 67.