What this handout is about
Graduate school pundits often cite 50% or more as the attrition rate for ABD students (those who have completed All the requirements of their programs But the Dissertation). Why? This handout will not only answer this question, but also give you good, practical advice on starting, drafting, and completing your dissertation.
A quick tip—dissertation formatting
The Writing Center can’t advise you about technical questions (for example, how to force Microsoft Word to set up tables correctly or format page numbers the way you want), but we know people who may be able to!
Reasons for ABD inertia—the nature of the beast
Why don’t doctoral candidates manage to get rolling on the dissertation any sooner, or KEEP rolling once they get started? Partly because the dissertation is a completely new experience that is much larger and more independent than your previous academic work dissertation specialists.
1. Writing a dissertation is a completely new experience
To this point, being a graduate student has been, more or less, an extension of your earlier life as a student. Many people, in fact, go to graduate school because they have always been “good at school,” and want to continue with something that brings them success and self-confidence. The reading assignments, labs, papers, and tests you have been assigned as a graduate student may not have been so different from your undergraduate course work. The dissertation, on the other hand, is a new kind of academic project, unlike anything else you’ve done. It is the academic project that marks your transition from student to scholar.
2. Writing a dissertation is not only new, it’s also a very large, very independent project
Writing a dissertation is a lot like writing a book. It is, by definition, a self-directed process. There are usually no weekly deadlines from professors, no regular discussions with classmates, no reading assignments, no one telling you what to do—you are on your own, writing something longer than you’ve ever written, and doing it without a net. This independence can make the process seem very intimidating.
3. The dissertation marks the transition from student to scholar and is stressful as a result
When you embark on this large, independent project, you may begin to ask yourself questions about your future in academia. After all, the dissertation is the beginning of the end of a graduate career. When you finish your dissertation, you have to change your life pretty dramatically —you may go on the job market, begin work as an independent scholar, develop classes, move out of a community that you have grown to love, and so on. You may also feel like your dissertation will begin to define your professional identity. You may feel like your research interests, your theoretical influences, and your skill as a writer may all be evaluated by this first piece of serious scholarship. Whether any of these points are true or not, you may find yourself questioning your commitment to your chosen profession or topic and unable to begin the dissertation.