Last week, we discussed how to write the “Summary and Conclusions” section for a paper. We looked at what we don’t want to see in this section in any paper – regardless of your excuse – and then we discussed how I go about writing this very section of a paper. Today, we are looking at writing the final chapter of your dissertation, or at least, my 2 cents on that topic. We are assuming that you did some decent planning, so that you don’t need to write your final chapter the night before your draft dissertation is due. I can’t repeat it often enough: keep some buffer in your planning so that, whatever happens, you leave yourself the luxury of time to edit your work. Before looking at the HOW of writing the final chapter of the dissertation, let’s zoom into the GOALS for this chapter. Regardless of your field, you will have specific messages that you want your readers to remember. Give an overview of the main original contributions: I wanted to serve these up on a shiny tray for the committee and readers to show that where precisely my contributions are situated, within my research field.

No need for unnecessary modesty, simply listing your contributions can be quite helpful to start a summary. Summarize what was said in the different chapters: My goal for the final chapter was to have an executive summary of the entire dissertation. I was shooting for about 10 pages, and ended up with 13 pages for my final chapter (book size, that is – not A4/letter). For every reader pressed for time or not so interested in my work, I wanted to have this chapter ready so that they can get a nice eagle view of the dissertation. Release the structure of the chapters: You might not agree with me on this point, but I wanted the summary to be rather thematic than by chapter. Therefore, I selected a number of main topic and summarized around these ideas. The overall sequence of these topics did follow the sequence of the chapters in my dissertation. Future work. As much as you might have done during your PhD and studies, you’ll never have it all finished. As in, there will always be a number of open ends, questions that remain lingering in the sideline.

That does not mean that your work isn’t ready for a doctorate, that simply means another researcher might like to pick up from here, or you might like to assign these topics later on to a masters’ student. Given that we now have defined the elements that we want to include in the Conclusions section, it is now time to look at how we will be doing this. The key element here is reflection, reflection and then some more reflection. If someone were to read nothing but your conclusions chapter, what would you want them to remember from your work? What is your take-home message for your audience? As I explained last week, I write the “Summary and Conclusions” section of a paper by taking notes while proofreading the first draft. I had used the “proofread, note, summarize” approach for the final section (“Conclusions”) of every single chapter. I then went out to copy-paste all these summaries together into the final chapter. From that raw material, I started cooking up the main ideas for the overall summary. Then, I added the sections with the practical implications and the future research. Finally, I reread it, asking myself if this is really the very core of my work or not. How did you write your final dissertation chapter, or how are you planning to do this? Is your approach similar, or completely different? Share your experience in the comments section!

However, in a pinch, never underestimate the focus and productivity of working in the middle of the night or intensely for one hour during baby’s nap to meet a deadline. 2: Don’t set yourself up for failure by approaching a writing or analysis task completely exhausted b/c you’ll spend more time staring at the screen and berating yourself than getting anything done. If you can’t keep your eyes open, go to bed. If you find yourself using childcare time to clean house/apt. Instead of writing, get a cleaning service. True, you probably can’t afford a cleaning person when you’re a student. On the other hand, can you afford to be a student for another year or more if you don’t finish writing? Are there other home or dissertation related things you can hire out? 2 now and then to get it done. It is absolutely essential to find time and ways to replenish your energy and have fun.

It is OK to use paid childcare time for these treats, the same way you might take a lunch hour if you were in a normal job. If you are always taking care of others, and obsessing about your dissertation, you will burn out, procrastinate, and resent your work, your kid and spouse/partner. Be prepared to having that nagging feeling of having something hanging over your head, b/c you’ll always feel you could be doing more, writing more, analyzing better. Easier said than done, but you’ll come back to the computer in better shape too write and you’ll be able to savor that baby time. Form a writing/dissertation support group with other parents or friends. My writing group all finished our dissertations in record time, due in large part to support and encouragement from each other. Attend a workshop by Dorothy Duff-Brown (dissertation/writing consultant) offered by the Graduate Division, or other dissertation-survival workshops.

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