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Stage 8: Creating a dissertation support network

Working with a group of peers in a dissertation writing group is important for two reasons: 

  • It creates a community of emerging professionals who can share their own strengths and help stretch one another's skills
  • This exchange prods you as a writer to more carefully develop ideas, prose, and feedback and revision skills. In a writing group composed of peers you trust and work with well, you will create stronger work and, thus, be able to make more effective use of your advisor's time

Step 1: Look at models, templates, and guidelines created by folks who've been successful with this endeavour.

  • With "How to Survive the Dissertation" (by Jim Miller, an ecology professor at Michigan State University) you'll learn more about "how to approach writing a dissertation" and understand where and why and how "dissertation writing support groups could assist graduate students during their intense and often isolating work." Pages 10-14 of this PDF file speak specifically about how to ask for feedback in submitting drafts to chairs, committee members and peers.
  • For a look at what graduate students have to say about dissertation discussion groups – the "how to" of regular meetings including presentation of work (from dissertation chapters to discussion of a theoretical issue to staging of a mock defence or vetting of a job application) and group feedback, see Sonia Seeman's article.
  • To understand "What's in a writing group for me?" see Chris Golde's "Tips for Successful Writing Groups", especially the "Specific Techniques" for writers and responders segment.
  • To make use of local resources, students can join in a Thesis Writing Support Group focused on dissertation writing. Contact the Student Academic Success Services for more information.

Step 2: Learn more about writing as a process

  • "[T]he act of writing is often the business of taking half thoughts that run around your mind and fashioning them into full thoughts," according to writing experts Wendy Bishop and Toby Fulwiler. The work becomes less daunting once writers accept three basic tenets that make all writing projects more manageable:
  • Think about writing the segments, not the entire piece
  • Expect to write
  • Write regularly
  • For more about the writing process, see "Good Writing for Good Results: A Brief Guide for Busy Administrators" by Stephen Wilbers (affiliated with UM's MBA program) 

Step 3: Early in the dissertation process, learn about how people have gotten around "writer's block."