Up until the dissertation, a student has always been told what to do and when to do it. Many find comfort and success given specific instructions and guidelines. If not, they would never have reached the level of completing a dissertation. The problem is that in all the prior years, assignments were very specific and the timelines artificially motivated you.
When you begin your dissertation you often have more questions then answers yet you feel like you are supposed to be the expert. Let me reassure you that you are not the expert and this dissertation will not be the best work you ever do. You are new at this, you will make mistakes, and at times you will feel lost.
Many believe that their committee’s role is to tell them how to do their dissertation. What you have to realize is that you are no longer a student in a classroom. You are moving into the position of being a doctoral peer. Your committee is there to review your plans, offer direction and guidance but not write your thesis. When you meet with your committee, it is good to have several approaches or possibilities to discuss. This will lead to a consensus and give you the direction you need to move forward. If you walk in with nothing, you will most likely walk out with the same. If you show perseverance and effort, they will see you as a serious candidate. Realize that they see a great number of students start the dissertation process and never finish. So if they are going to spend time, it will be for someone that they feel is serious and motivated to complete their degree.
Somehow this thesis process gets more complicated then necessary. I mean how many papers have you written over the years, yet all of a sudden you feel like you don’t know where to begin or what direction to take. No matter how far along you are when you read this, stop and write a simple paraphrase of your thesis. Write it as if you were explaining what you were doing to a 12 year old. (For example, “How do you find out if the size of an organization has an effect on how it performs”?) Explain what you are trying to do in very simple terms that anyone could understand.
Make sure that you write it down step by step and then have someone read it out loud. In your mind, you think you see clearly what you are trying to do because you have spent so much time thinking about it. In reality, there are huge holes and unanswered questions you are missing because you are so close to the situation. Writing it out in a simple fashion and then explaining it out loud will open your eye to the holes in the procedure.
Writing a simplified version and matching the statistics to it first is a valuable way to start organizing your paper. Obtain an undergraduate statistics book from the library. Read the first page or two from each chapter and see if this type of statistics lines up with what you are trying to measure. This should narrow down two or three possible techniques. Sometimes you may be torn by two possible ways to go. You can then present these two options to your committee and they will help you determine the best approach. Can you see that this would be much better then just walking into your committee and saying you don’t know what type of statistics to use? Never walk in empty handed. It would be better if what you presented was all wrong then to present nothing at all expecting that they would do all the work.
Once you have a solid foundation that your committee understands and agrees with, you can then dig into the thesis and look for massive amounts of research to build on your ideas. The simplified version of your thesis is for your use only so that your research does not get off track. Be prepared that the work you submit to your committee will have many corrections as they are the experts. Corrections are helpful in arriving at a more logical and well thought out paper. Corrections are feedback, so smile and be thankful.