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When creating a plan for your dissertation, first estimate how much time you will need for research, writing, and revision. Then add on a little extra time for each step to give yourself a safety zone. Also, make sure to check dissertation requirements at your school. You may need to add in time to develop a proposal, write an abstract or an outline, and you may need to apply or give notice to schedule your dissertation presentation. Creating a calendar with each area listed with its working deadline can help structure your plan. You may also need to schedule in time for meetings with a dissertation advisor. Once you know how long you need, compare this to the school’s deadlines and count backward to find the best starting date.
In a dissertation plan, you have to allow enough time for your research. Consider what sort of information you will need and how long it will take you to gather it and go over it. If you need to do field research, figure out how much time that will take, including travel time. It is also a good idea to budget time for additional research in case some sources don't work or your focus shifts; you don’t want to overlap too much into your writing block.
Writing the body of the dissertation can be difficult to plan. By this point in your academic career, however, you should know what works best for you when it comes to writing. Some people work best under deadlines of meetings with committee members; others prefer to set a goal of a certain number of pages each week. Whatever carrot or stick you use, remember that you will almost always need more time than you think. If you think you can write the dissertation in six months, give yourself seven or eight.
Time for revision is an essential step in a dissertation plan. You will probably have at least three committee members offering suggestions and asking for changes in addition to an advisor. If you haven’t planned for this, you may face a frantic scramble before graduation. Try to leave at least one or two months for editing before the last deadline to submit the dissertation. If your committee doesn’t ask for substantial changes, you can just be done early. But if you run out of time, you’ll likely have to push back your graduation date.
Another point to keep in mind while formulating your dissertation plan is life outside of your project. Very few people can do nothing but their dissertation; most are working at the same time. While your degree might be the most important project you have, you probably will have other responsibilities. Be realistic about your commitments while you sketch out time blocks. Whether it’s grading papers or attending your sister’s wedding, other things will come up and your schedule needs to allow a bit of flexibility.
Once you know how much time you need, compare this to your school’s procedures and deadlines. Check both your departmental and the graduate school’s guidelines. Find out if you need to submit proposals, outlines, or abstracts and what sort of paperwork or approvals are needed. For example, you may have to file for “dissertator” status while working on the project but may need to be registered as a “candidate” for the semester before your graduation date. Late forms can derail a good dissertation plan.
Count backward from the last submission date for dissertations, going by the months you’ve set aside for each step. This will tell you the best starting date for your project. If it is in the middle of a semester, start at the beginning of that semester. Some people find the dissertation goes very quickly, but it is always good to have more time than you need.
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