Organizing the Thesis or Dissertation

Organizing both your workspace and your ideas will help the research and writing process proceed smoothly. You may want to:

1. Establish a filing system. Purchase a file cabinet just for the thesis or dissertation; each drawer may contain drafts and research notes for a particular chapter. Write explanations of the contents of each file folder and file drawer. Include files for bibliographic information, contacts, and other supplementary information that may not go in a particular chapter. Alternatively, some people have used cartons to organize their dissertations, putting all relevant material for a particular chapter in its own box.

2. Examine several types of computer software. Some have very useful methods of storing notes. In addition, consider using outlining software or the outline tool on your word processor. You’ll know when you can convert material to standard paragraph form.

3. It may help to color-code your disks and folders if you have many projects underway in your life. Make sure all your dissertation disks and folders are easily distinguishable from those you use to teach, for example.

4. Date drafts to remember the order in which you worked on chapters. Also consider printing drafts in different colors. This can alert you immediately if a committee member has the wrong draft in his or her hand when you meet.

5. Establish a calendar for completing your work. Set deadlines for submitting drafts of each chapter. Meet your deadlines even if you cannot deliver everything you promised. See the time management suggestions page for more tips.

6. List what each chapter or section should cover, including both general ideas and specific examples.

7. Look at style guides; they may provide an organizational formula for your field.

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