A dissertation is a big undertaking. One of the most challenging aspects, however, can be how to manage what is in essence a great deal of unstructured time, in which to complete a big list of tasks. The best way to negotiate this maze, and to plan and schedule a dissertation from start to finish, is to break it down into the various components, and setting and reaching sub-goals to chart your progress.

Take advantage of lead-up time

Regardless of the program you are in, you will undoubtedly know that you will be writing a dissertation for at least a year, if not more, before you actually begin the process. This is a good time to speak to library staff in student or graduate services, who can provide a wealth of valuable information about conducting research and make you aware of other services that may be available to you. Take a ‘dry run’ of using the services so that you are familiar when your time comes.

This is also an excellent time to familiarize yourself with the important literature in your field. Consider this mandatory for future success. Not only will this help you identify areas in the field you may wish to research for your own dissertation, but you will become familiar with how other people have completed the task that lies just in front of you.

The more you get to know during this time about your field, and how this work is done, the more panic you can avoid later, and finding a good topic will be a much easier task.


Once you have gone through the process of topic selection and approval, you can set a list and timeline for yourself as to what needs doing before you can begin to write. This will likely boil down to how you are conducting your research, or your methodology. Most dissertations include a literature review, but if you are conducting an experiment for your dissertation as well, be aware that this will not only be time consuming but will require logistical planning.

When is it feasible to conduct it? What things do you have to wait for or schedule, such as lab time? Be aware that some parts may be not entirely in your control, and thus you must plan ahead for possible delays or scheduling conflicts.

Start your writing as soon as you can

You do not have to wait until your research is finished to start writing. In fact, it is probably a good idea not to. You will likely be asked to submit a proposal early on, which will include some background to your research, a note on its significance, as well as details on your methodology, and perhaps even a starter version of the literature review. Working through this part of the process thoroughly can make the rest a lot easier.

You have been asked at this point to identify exactly what you want to research, where the ideas come from in terms of the field at large, why it is a valuable contribution, and how exactly you’re going to do it. This is the very core of your dissertation, so making sure that it all fits together logically, and that it makes sense to you is critical. Put your final structured paper together with headings, reference page, etc, and plug these sections in, expanding as you go., as you don’t need your research to finish these sections.

Your work does not have to be groundbreaking, but it does not to be clear and logically consistent. Get those ducks lined up at this point, and the rest is a matter of filling in the banks with the research, and the findings once you have them. Good luck!