Writing and Presenting Your
Thesis or Dissertation
S. Joseph Levine, Ph.D.
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan USA
Note #6 - Approach/Avoidance
I wonder what it would be like if we were required to do a hundred dissertations/theses rather than just one. I suspect that the task would be a lot easier - a lot less threatening. Why? It seems that the fear of the unknown ("I've never done a dissertation before!") can be very ominous. Doing something for the first (and only) time is very scary (What if I do it wrong? What if I make a fool of myself? What if I fail?).
A very typical response to situations of this sort is what we call "approach/avoidance". We begin our project but as we start to gain momentum we suddenly turn away - refusing to move closer to the target. After awhile we may again attempt to head toward the goal (approach). But, as before, we only move so far before we stop our progress (avoid). Eventually it may lead us to completely surrender and stop all work on the project.
Here are a few ideas to help deal with approach/avoidance in writing a disertation/thesis -
1) Read/evaluate a variety of dissertations/theses by others. Some of these works can be on a topic close to yours. Others can be on very different topics. The key is to see what has gone on before you arrived at this stage. If you read/evaluate enough other works you will no longer feel like you are doing your project for the first time. You will begin to feel like a seasoned veteran.
2) Start writing. So many students want to make sure that their idea is "perfect" before they put a single word on paper. The result is that they continually change their idea and they never seem to get a word on paper. The reality, though, is that until you get your first ideas in writing it is very difficult to change your ideas (how can you change something that you haven't written?).
3) Once you start writing, don't stop writing too soon. Before you stop writing, make sure you have a beginning, middle and end to your writing (just like a good story). Even if you have just a single paragraph for each (beginning, middle and end) you will have framed your entire project. Now all you have to do is to continue to build on what you have started (and if anyone asks how you are doing, you can say, "Oh, I'm all finished. I'm just filling in a bit here and there!").
4) Set very clear and measurable goals for yourself. The key is that the goals be measurable. For instance, maybe you will decide to write a minimum of 10 pages each day. Or, you will prepare a draft of 3 important tables each day. Or, you will identify at least 10 references to include in your bibliography. Or... I think you get the idea. Each day make sure you attain your goal. And, once you attain your goal for that day relax and reward yourself for doing a good job. How many consecutive days can you have whereby you attain your goal?
5) Schedule periodic appointments with your advisor/thesis director. Schedule these appointments weeks ahead of time. Don't wait until you have accomplished something to schedule your appointments. If you schedule the appointments ahead of time they will help serve as motivation to keep you moving ahead. "Wow, I have an appointment next week with my advisor. I better make sure I have something important for us to discuss!"
Effectively dealing with approach/avoidance can mean success in completing a thesis/dissertation. It's not always easy. But there are ways we can structure our environment to make it all possible. Approach - approach - approach - FINISH!
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Writing and Presenting Your Thesis or Dissertation