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Dissertation Planner: Plan & Research

This planner aims to help doctoral students through the dissertation writing process.

Create a Work Plan

Work plan

Researching and writing your dissertation is a huge, complex undertaking. Before beginning, check with your advisor and your department/college about specific dissertation research-and-writing conventions in your discipline. The instructions in this section are offered as general suggestions and not as definitive guidance for the University of Kentucky requirements.

In order to manage the dissertation writing process, you should CREATE A WORK PLAN. A work plan will help you:

  • Break down the large, overwhelming process of writing a dissertation into manageable steps;
  • Keep a "daily commitment" to your dissertation;
  • Discover and take advantage of your most productive work habits;
  • Set goals and reward yourself for achieving them; and
  • Balance dissertation writing with the other aspects of your life.

To start your work plan, you should assess your own goals and work habits as well as those of your advisor, committee, and department. Think about questions like:

  • When would you like to complete and defend your dissertation?
  • To meet this deadline, how much will you need to work every day/week/month?

Start your work plan by setting a completion goal, the date by which you would like to have your dissertation complete.

Then, think about the "big picture" issues. Talk to your advisor about all of the steps and associated deadlines for your specific program. Completing a dissertation involves many smaller deadlines along the way to the final deadline. You need to have a complete understanding of what is expected of you throughout this process. Once you know all the smaller deadlines and steps you will need to complete, map them out along the timeline set by your completion goal.

Once you know all of the deadlines and requirements, think about the "little picture" issues. Most importantly, how will you manage your time? You should map out all of your absolutely unbreakable time commitments to identify what remaining time is available for you to use on your dissertation. Additionally, you should:

  • Establish a regular work schedule;
  • Figure out when and how you work best and try to maximize these advantages;
  • Find productive and positive work spaces;
  • Eliminate distractions while you work;
  • Create "ready to write" rituals that help you get started every day;
  • Base your daily goals and requirements on output instead of time worked; and
  • Save your "mindless work" (such as formatting, transcribing, etc.) for when you are blocked so you can still make progress every day.

Check out this video for time management tips:

When you are first starting, set a specific amount of time (such as two weeks to a month) as a pilot test for your work plan. Stick to your plan during this pilot test, then evaluate and revise your plan. Additionally, make sure to evaluate and revise your plan each semester to account for changes in your schedule.

Dissertation writing is a long process and setbacks will happen. You should expect the unexpected and build in extra time to your schedule to account for unavoidable delays. Let missed deadlines and other lapses go, and remember to focus on what you can do today and tomorrow to reach your goals. Further, you need to make sure to reward yourself for completing work on or ahead of schedule.

The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has created a handout about planning for dissertation writing. Additionally, the video below offers an overview of the planning process. 

Research-Related Considerations

Will your research require you to use human subjects in any capacity?  If so, you will need to get your research reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB). At the University of Kentucky, all IRB matters are handled by the Office of Research Integrity.

Additionally, these 10 simple rules for protecting research integrity may be of help. 

Keeping your research organized is key because it will help ensure your dissertation writing process remains efficient. A wide variety of tools are available to help you keep your research organized. The following is some of the most popular options.

Copyright issues are prevalent in activities related to teaching, learning, and research.  For instance, researchers may wonder who owns the copyright of their publicationsAt the same time, they may run into questions about whether they can lawfully use copyrighted materials in their publications. 

You as the author are by default the copyright holder of your dissertation and thus have exclusive rights over it.  Registering your copyright is optional.  However, registration will provide you with more protection in case somebody infringes upon your rights in the future. 

When deciding whether you can use somebody's work in your dissertation, you need to find out if the work concerned is already out of copyright protection.  The Copyright Slider can help you with that.  If the work is out of copyright, you can reuse it in whatever way you want without seeking permission. 

For materials that are still under copyright protection, you should think about whether your use is fair.  There are many online resources that help people determine what constitutes a fair use.  For example, the University of Minnesota Libraries provides detailed information about using copyrightable materials, understanding fair use, and thinking through the four factors of fair use.  Other libraries provide a checklist to help researchers make a decision on the matter of fair use. 

If you have questions about copyright, feel free to contact the University of Kentucky Libraries or refer to this Copyright Resource Center

It is likely that your scholarly endeavors will generate research data in different formats.  It is common nowadays that researchers are expected to take care of the collected data and later provide access to the processed dataset, especially if the research project is publicly funded.  Managing research data can help researchers develop commendable work habits and thus enable them to do their work more efficiently.  If you need help with research data management, refer to this guide or feel free to contact your academic liaison for suggestions and assistance.  There are also these 10 simple rules to help you with a data management plan. 

Below is a short video that shows the importance of research data management.  The second video provides a quick Introduction to the basics of research data. 

There is an international initiative that addresses problems related to confirming the identity of researchers with similar or the same name. It is ORCID, which issues unique identifiers to distinguish individual researchers. Different stakeholders in the research community, including funding agencies, higher education institutions, and publishers, plan to adopt the ORCID ID as a means to disambiguate the identity of researchers and to track their scholarly activities and contributions. More information about ORCID is available from the video below. 

Click here to register for an ORCID ID. Once you have created the ID, take some time to add information about yourself and your research outputs.  This will help build your professional online presence and reputation.  Last but not least, remember to add the ORCID ID to your CV, scholarly publications, grant applications, and academic profiles such as a personal Web page. This will help clarify your identity as a scholar among others who have names similar to or same as yours.

In the video below, a professor explains how a professional online presence can supplement a CV.  She also points out what to consider before putting together an online profile.  Additionally, these 10 simple rules show you how to build and maintain a scientific reputation.