Writing and Presenting Your
Thesis or Dissertation

A selection of books to help with writing your thesis/dissertation.


I was rather amazed at the large number of books available to help in the writing of a thesis/dissertation. I have attempted to identify a number of them in this listing. As you will notice, some of the books below include my comments (and they are MY comments). They are the ones that I have actually held in my hands and spent time examining. Books without my comments are waiting for me to review (and I wanted to let you know that I am aware of them). And those books that are not shown below? Well, I am either not aware of them or not impressed enough to want to share them on this page. In addition, I have loosely ordered the books with the "better" ones presented toward the top of the listing.

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Joe Levine

      Writing the Winning Dissertation : A Step-By-Step Guide by Allan A. Glatthorn.

      I was rather impressed with this book. The chapters are short with descriptive titles and sub-titles that make it easy to focus in on specific areas in which you may need help ("Develop a Planning Chart", "Choosing and Organizing the Committee", "Develop an Outline of the Final Chapter", etc.) I was particularly pleased with the chapter on writing the proposal. (Author Glatthorn even includes a small table where he presents the suggested number of pages for each section of a Comprehensive Proposal as compared to the number of pages for each section of a Working Proposal.) The book is truly a "Step-by-Step Guide" which allows you to consult it as needed to help you to effectively move through the entire dissertation process. There's no need to read the book cover-to-cover (though it probably wouldn't be a bad idea!). Plus, during that very eery quiet time between the day you send your completed dissertation to your committee members and the day for your defense you can spend time going over Chapter 20 - Holding a Successful Defense. The 25 Questions Typically Asked at Defense will surely help you prepare for the defense (#18 "Your summary seems just a bit generally stated. Could you speak more specifically about your important findings?")

      Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis by Joan Bolker.

      What a great little book. Just over 170 pages packed with very helpful ideas and suggestions on how to really get on with the task of getting your dissertation written and over with. The author uses her background as a psychologist to talk you past some of the rougher aspects of facing the challenge of completing the dissertation. Drawn from her own experience surrounding the two attempts she made at completing a dissertation, Joan Bolker's comments are both reassuring and very practical ("You wouldn't have gotten this far in your graduate study if you didn't have some resilience and some capacity to control your own life."). Not intended to focus on the technical aspects of creating a dissertation (no discussion of research methodology, writing a null hypothesis or how to create meaningful tables) the book approaches the task of dissertation writing as a challenge of "writing in order to think" rather than "thinking in order to write." I especially liked the section detailing key ideas to help in making revisions to your draft - always a difficult task for all of us (keep a thesaurus at hand, have someone else read your work and look for overused phrases, leave the revision of Conclusion and Introduction to last, etc.). This book deserves an honored spot on your night stand. Reading a chapter or two before going to sleep each night is sure to help you identify a variety of "next steps" for your writing and to help in maintaining a positive attitude through this potentially perplexing task of writing your dissertation/thesis.

      The Readable Thesis: A Guide to Clear and Effective Writing by Darrel Walters.

      As I paged through this soft cover volume the feature that immediately caught my attention was the great number of examples - showing both the "Original" version and the "Revision." What a great way to help the author of a thesis/dissertation work their way through the next-to-last draft and make it systematically more readable. As Darrel Walters suggests, "Writing is revision. First drafts are tomorrow's trash; second and third drafts are momentum toward a good final copy." And this book is certain to add tremendous momentum to your project. The book is organized around a set of 26 writing principles. Such key concepts as #3 arrange material logically, #7 say what you mean to say, #11 avoid overstatement, and #25 avoid informal expressions are the basis for clear presentation of very specific hints on how to improve your writing. Whereas Joan Bolker's book (see above) is designed to help you approach the challenge of the dissertation with a winning attitude, this book provides the technical writing advice. Well organized, clearly presented and sure to be very helpful.

      Dissertations and Theses from Start to Finish : Psychology and Related Fields by John D. Cone, Sharon L. Foster .

      When I started looking through this volume I was prepared to be less-than-excited due to what appeared to be a very large amount of reading (350 pages) - especially for someone who may be doing considerable reading in conjunction with his/her thesis or dissertation with little time for any extra reading. However, after the first few chapters, the utility of this book became more apparent. The authors use a very "friendly" voice for their presentation, suggest not trying to read it all at once ("We think you will get the most out of the book by reading the relevant chapter as you approach each new phase of your thesis or dissertation.") and have tried to keep each chapter focused on a specifc aspect of the thesis/dissertation. It is more a book of suggestions rather than continuous prose and is very readable. A variety of Exhibits are included throughout the book to help illustrate in very concrete ways the points they are making, each chapter concludes with a short "To Do" checklist, and there is an excellent group of Appendices (Bibliographic Databases, Statistical Software, etc.). The book not only provides general suggestions in such areas as writing and organizing the committee, but also deals with technical topics such as selecting the appropriate statistics.

      Enjoy Writing Your Science Thesis or Dissertation! by Elizabeth Fisher, Daniel Holtom.

      I think an important understanding before you dig into this book is that it is written especially for someone who is working on a physical science or natural science thesis or dissertation - not a typical social science project. I tend to look at the usual social science dissertation as having five chapters. This is usually not the case in the physical or natural sciences where many different organizational schema, often accomodating published papers within the dissertation, may be appropriate. With this as a preamble, if you are finding that you are not receiving meaningful feedback from your advisor about the structure, organization and style of your dissertation/thesis this book can be extremely helpful. The book makes few assumptions about what you do or do not know and presents dozens of very specific short paragraphs on such topics as Preparing to Print the Final Version, What Results to Include, Writing Methods, Which Tense to Use ("It is best to use past tenses, on the whole..."), Annotating Graphs, and even Problems With Supervisors. The book is written in a very clear and concise manner and should serve well as a handy guide to be kept close by as you are writing. Plus, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the great appendices which include Easily Confused Words, Wordy Words and Phrases, and Words That Can Cause Vagueness. Need a coach to help you with your writing? This book may be your answer.

      Theses and Dissertations: A Guide to Planning, Research, and Writing by R. Murray Thomas, Dale L. Brubaker.

      If I was teaching a semester-long class on helping graduate students begin to understand the scope of the dissertation/thesis process I would seriously consider adopting this book. It's organized very appropriately - following the same sections as a typical dissertation in the social sciences - and it attempts to bring forward just about every conceivable decision that the novice dissertation writer must deal with. However, if you've already made many of the decisions that will guide your project and are looking for a boost to help you get your study finished than this book will probably contain way too much detail on topics that no longer hold interest for you. On the other hand, if you have yet to decide how to go about reviewing literature in a systematic manner, how to state your research problem, the best way to collect data for your study, how to classify data once it has been collected, or interpreting your results - you may want to get a copy of this book. Also, if you have had a quantitative measures class and you're still not sure how to select appropriate statistics for your research than you will appreciate Chapter 11 - Summarizing Information, Verbally, Numerically, and Graphically. In the short span of 15 pages the authors provide very readable synopses of each of the major statistical methods for both descriptive and inferential statistics.

      Secrets for a Successful Dissertation by Jacqueline Fitzpatrick, Jan Secrist, Debra J. Wright.

      Good reading when you are in the early stages of considering a thesis/dissertation and you would like someone to briefly talk you through the many and varied decisions and issues you may be dealing with as you progress. Written in an easy-to-read style, these 3 women don't hide the idea that they have a "bit of gender bias." Their writing is more casual than technical and they employ humor throughout to try and make a potentially intimidating task a bit more accomplishable. At times their section titles and writing can appear a bit too cute ("Writing the Doctoral Proposal - aka The Birth of a Nation" or "When Everything Is In Pieces - aka Humpty Dumpty") but it is consistent with their objective to, "...make you smile. You need to smile. Believe us, you need smiles." It shouldn't take long to read and, assuming you are just beginning to think about your project, it will give you a good overall perspective of what you are about to jump into.

      Writing the Modern Research Paper by Robert Dees.

      At first I wasn't going to include this book. It is designed for someone who is just beginning to consider research - not someone in the middle of his/her thesis/dissertation. What caught me was the very attractive way the book has been designed. It is almost fun to read! It helps you understand what research is and provides lots of great ideas for each step of the process from identifying a researchable problem to working with a preliminary thesis to strategies for using the internet. If you are well on your way with your thesis/dissertation this book is not for you. However, if you are just beginning to think about the whole process you are about to embark upon (and the process has you a bit worried!) this book can prove to be invaluable.

      The Clockwork Muse : A Practical Guide to Writing Theses, Dissertations, and Books by Eviatar Zerubavel.

      Though not focused specifically on the challenge of writing a thesis or dissertation, this little book is certain to offer inspiration via a clear plan of attack to help any graduate student who is uncomfortable in the task of writing. The author presents a set of four strategies that are certain to help just about any writer move forward with their project and actually complete it. His first strategy is to establish a writing schedule (determining how much time you have to devote to writing, identifying what part of the day/night is best for you to do your writing, etc.). Next comes the strategy of breaking down large and complex writing tasks into smaller/more manageable steps (creating an outline, thinking in terms of several drafts, etc.). His third strategy is estimating the length of each of the sections of your writing project (overestimating length in order to avoid failure, learning how to pace yourself, etc.). And finally the fourth strategy is really a group of ideas to ensure sustained progress (making your writing more linear, the ability to close each section to allow you to move on the next section, etc.). At 100 pages the book is a quick read with lots of specific suggestions for you to implement. I am not sure I would run out to buy it, but I would certainly check it out of your college's library when you get your first major case of writer's block.

      Completing Your Doctoral Dissertation or Master's Thesis in Two Semesters or Less by Evelyn Hunt Ogden.

      Dissertation - An Architectural Student's Handbook by Iain Borden, Katerina Ruedi.

      Surviving Your Dissertation: A Comprehensive Guide to Content and Process by Kjell Erik Rudestam, Rae R. Newton.

      Writing the Doctoral Dissertation : A Systematic Approach by Gordon B. Davis, Clyde A. Parker.

      Doing A Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination by Christopher Hart.

      Successful Dissertations and Theses : A Guide to Graduate Student Research from Proposal to Completion by David Madsen.

      The Dissertation Journey : A Practical and Comprehensive Guide to Planning, Writing, and Defending Your Dissertation by Carol M. Roberts.

      Guide to Publishing in Psychology Journals by Robert J. Sternberg.

      The Portable Dissertation Advisor by Miles T. Bryant.

      Writing and Publishing Your Thesis, Dissertation, and Research : A Guide for Students in the Helping Professions by P. Paul Heppner and Mary J. Heppner.

      Writing Your Doctoral Dissertation : Invisible Rules for Success by Rita S. Brause.

      Writing a Thesis: Substance And Style by R. Keith Van Wagenen.

      Writing Your A+ Thesis by Research & Education Association.

      Guide to the Successful Thesis and Dissertation by James E. Mauch, Jack W. Birch.

      This book uses a textbook presentation and has a strong academic focus. Each chapter begins with "Quick Reference" points which present a few questions and page references where the answers can be found. ("What literature must I review for the proposal?") I was pleased that a section was included on "Writing for Publication." The book includes a tremendous amount of valuable information. However, it requires a tremendous amount of reading. It is probably better suited as a course textbook (where you will spend the needed time to work through all 306 pages) rather than a guide while you are actually working on your thesis/dissertation with no time for extra reading.

      How to Complete and Survive a Doctoral Dissertationby David Sternberg.

      This volume appears to be more of a treatise on the topic of writing a doctoral dissertation than a guide to getting it done. Though the chapters are well intentioned and appropriately titled (Chapter 5. The Unfolding Dissertation: Researching and Writing It; Chapter 7. Down in the Dissertation Dumps: How to Get Out; etc.) the reader must wade through considerbale verbage to get to the key ideas/concepts. If you are already on your way toward the creation of your dissertation I have an idea you may not have the necessary patience to get through very much of this book. Author Sternberg seems to be more concerned that you understand his perceptions of the situation surrounding your task rather than actual suggestions for dealing with the task.

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