Tag Archives: dissertation strategies

Goodbye Concept Paper, Hello Thesis Statement

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There is a class in Pacifica’s myth curriculum titled “Dissertation Formulation.” It’s a quarter-long mini-workshop to help students figure out just what their dissertation will be about. Each group is formed of a fraction of their cohort and one faculty, and each student is given an opportunity to present their idea and receive feedback from the rest of the group about their topic. It’s designed to take us from vague concept to ready-to-go topic before we form our committee and write the beast. At the end of the class, students submit a Concept Paper, which is essentially a proto-Introduction. Passing the Concept Paper is the golden ticket to enter into the dissertation-writing phase of the program.

One of the problems I’ve had this entire process is articulating just what I want my dissertation to be about. My chapter organization has never been in question, but my methodology has been. As Dissertation Summer comes to a close, I think I have finally grasped what it is I’m trying to do and started another redux of my introduction chapter, one that tightens my thesis statement and better represents the chapter structure. Of course, then I’m faced with the problem of justifying two of the chapters, but that will come by final draft I’m sure. In order to do this, I’ve had to divorce myself from the Concept Paper and write fresh. From talking with other buddies, it seems that this is a necessary step to a successful dissertation.

Key themes of this new thesis include: Cold War, hyperreality and new myth.

It’s a Dissertation, Not a Book

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A friend of mine posted a link to this article on Facebook the other day, and it has some good advice. Though I do think that some of the suggestions it offers  emphasizes the point that “the only good dissertation is a done dissertation,” which can lull us dissertation writers into a false sense of security or laziness. My school publishes our dissertations on Proquest, meaning that my dissertation will be all over the internet for ever and ever. I’d rather write something I’m proud to share with the entire world than simply write something mediocre to get out of grad school.

 

It’s a Dissertation, Not a Book – Advice – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

From Concept Paper to Chapter 1

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The Concept Paper is a proto-chapter 1 that my school requires third year students to write to prove they are ready to start writing the dissertation. It goes through an extensive quarter-long peer review process, and includes an overview of the dissertation (Introduction), a preliminary Lit Review (my bane of existence), and a rough chapter outline. For my dissertation, I succeeded in writing the perfect chapter outline during the concept paper phase, so I have a very healthy container for this whole project. The rest, however, has been a tad annoying.

In the perfect world, to translate the Concept Paper into Chapter 1 entails some editing and perhaps some added material. Chapter 1, of course, lays the foundation for the rest of the dissertation, and it is the only one of my chapters that isn’t themed around a land in Disneyland. Because of this organizational structure, I’ve felt the need to pack as much additional information as I can into the introduction. But that’s not going to work, my chair informs me far more eloquently that I am sharing with you this morning, because my introduction is too long. The introductory statement (i.e., the content that precedes the Lit Review) is typically no longer than 15 pages. Mine is 25 pages. In reality, this is probably a relief, because there are sections that I felt were stretched just to make the chapter seem a bit longer. I am intimidated, by dissertation introductions that are longer than 40 pages—and they seem to be full of content, not lit review…

Ah the Lit Review. How I don’t write odes to thee. My biggest challenge with the Lit Review is that I haven’t read half my sources yet. This is part of my plan: There are sources that are pertinent to the Lit Review and to the overall argument of my dissertation, but I’m waiting to read them until the chapter that heavily focuses on their content. My reasons should be fairly obvious to anyone who suffers from my memory problem: I typically can’t retain information I read for longer than a few months. If I read a passage more than once and quote it often, then it’s likely not so bad. But there are books I read over a year ago (TechGnosis, The Mouse that Roared) that I have a difficult time recalling. In some cases, though not all, I’ve made an extensive list of quotes and commentary; but, the flip side to that is that if I were to make quotes and commentaries for EVERY SINGLE SOURCE, I’d spend my entire dissertation clock quoting and commentating, and not actually working.

So one of the biggest challenges I’ve had to deal with during the course of this Introduction is what to do about Walt Disney’s biography. I’ve wanted to make a statement about it, because it is an essential component to unlocking meaning at Disneyland; however, it really just doesn’t fit anywhere. There’s a lot to comment on in the Main Street, U.S.A., chapter, which is chapter 2 and mostly finished at this point. Perhaps what my real answer is, is that I need to weave the biography into the dissertation when it is necessary and leave it alone otherwise. Treat Walt like just another theorist. Well, not *just*  another theorist.

The other question is whether or not I need to actually introduce the myths under discussion in the dissertation, or whether or not I can just gloss over them and really address them in each chapter. Of course, I was already going to address them in each chapter, especially given that each chapter is also themed around one of them. But do they actually need real estate in the Introduction?

In Search of Structure, or: How to Outline

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Writing a dissertation is very difficult. It’s as difficult as everyone makes it sound. Even when you have a solid idea and a clear visualization what should come of it. What makes writing a dissertation difficult isn’t the pulling a great idea of thin air, nor is it the painful hours of reading and writing. No, it’s the structure of the thing.

A lesson i have learned recently is that outlining is an excellent exercise in organization; however, it’s one I never really learned how to do. Outlining was my second least favorite activity in grade school. The first was PE. Yes, I enjoyed long division and diagramming sentences to writing outlines.

One of my last classes at Pacifica included a project to become familiar with the Outliner tool in Microsoft Word, which I did, except that the assignment was to dumb my previous Pacifi-papers into Outliner and organize them accordingly. Which I did, but they came with a built-in structure, and I didn’t need to worry about it too much.

But now I have to create a structure completely from scratch. When I write, I let the words flow and let them build their own structure. Presumably, this comes either from my ability to visualize a completed project (i.e. end goal) and progress directly toward that goal, or perhaps this comes from my tendency to follow directions and patterns rather than free form.

Today, I set out to make a dear friend a set of arm warmers. Google arm warmers. There are a bagillion patterns out there, all variations on the arm warmer main pattern. But I decided to create my own pattern. But here’s the rub: I’m creating it as I go. I’m noting stitches and counts along the way. What makes this significant? Because there’s no bloody outline!

So now, I’m hung up on the need to create an outline, more for myself than anything. All in the name of having an organizational structure to my dissertation, so it’s not entirely a haphazard exercise in creative writing. That was what NaNoWriMo was for (and I’m very proud of that exercise!)

This leads me to the point of having to make some decisions, the main one being where to go from here? Do I spend the rest of my week construction arbitrary outlines (I haven’t even begun some of the research for the later chapters yet), or do I continue plowing along and let the outline build itself? Either prospect sounds intimidating.