A Dissertation Toolkit

These are the resources that have answered my questions and kept me moving while composing my proposal, and most of which I’ll continue to use in my final dissertation. I’ve divided them into two categories, because I’m just that nerdy.

Do-Or-Die Resources

Criteria: read multiple times, highlighted, wrote in the margins, packed for trips more than once, considering writing gushing fan letters to the authors. 


Preferably a caramel macchiato, but anything with a little milk will do. Also acceptable in a pinch: Coke For Girls (aka Diet Coke with Lime), anything in the fridge that’s caffeinated (including flat off-brand non-diet soda), No-Doze tablets, or running around the apartment at random intervals.

Demystifying Dissertation Writing: A Streamlined Process from Choice of Topic to Final Text. Peg Boyle Single. (2009).

This is the most readable, enjoyable book I’ve ever read about the research process. It’s encouraging, funny, and perhaps best of all, pithy (I read most of the book on a three-hour flight). It will help you develop a good writing routine, develop your topic, make the best use of your time, and figure out what the heck to do next. For related great content, read Boyle Single’s column in InsideHigherEd.

Writing a Successful Thesis or Dissertation: Tips and Strategies for Students in the Social Sciences. Lunenburg, F. C. and Irby, B. J. (2008).

This is geared specifically toward the social sciences. It’s fantastic, a chapter-by-chapter and heading-by-heading guide to writing a traditional five-chapter dissertation. It provides a dissertation outline, an explanation of each section, and brief examples of each. This makes the whole process seem doable.

Scholars before researchers: On the Centrality of the dissertation literature review in research preparation. Boote, D. N. and Beile, P. (2005). Educational Researcher, 34(6), 3-15.

I made a photocopy of this article, highlighted it, reread it about a thousand times, and now have PDF copies on my desktop computer, laptop, phone, and my husband’s iPad. I’ve recommended it to anyone who’s asked me how to do a literature review. I’ve even recommended it to people who didn’t ask. Read this article, and you’ll never look at a literature review the same way.

Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. Creswell, J. W. (2008).

So you took all those statistics courses, but you still don’t know what the appropriate method is for a specific project. Or you’re writing your dissertation, and you have no idea what to put in your methodology chapter. Here you go: this book is concise, easy to read, and there’s even an ebook version.

Secondary Resources

Criteria: read at least once, skimmed multiple times.

Dissertations and Theses From Start to Finish: Psychology and Related Fields. Cone, J. D. and Foster, S. L. (2006).

This is a guide to the overall process of a dissertation–choosing a committee, proposing and defending, etc. It also provides specific information on individual dissertation sections, but it’s not as detailed for the actual writing process as the Lunenburg/Irby book above. Its best use is reading the entire thing as a guide shortly before you begin choosing your topic (or better yet, early in your degree, so you can already be pondering your topic and potential committee members).

Scientific Research in Education. National Research Council. (2002).

I read this for an Educational Psychology class, but it should have been required reading for my Higher Education degree. It presents the context of educational research as a scientific field, how research should be done, and how educational research differs from research in other fields (for instance, it’s hard to do purely experimental research if you’re looking at the effects of treatments in children). Higher education often focuses on theory; this is a great resource to balance that with a practical look at how to scientifically build our knowledge base with new research. (It’s available free online, but I read it so much I bought a bound copy.)

The Craft of Research. Booth, W. C., Colomb, G. C., and Williams, J. M. (2008). 3rd edition.

The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success. Machi, L. A. and McEvoy, B. T. (2008).

I used both of these resources more for their exercises in how to develop a topic and research questions. However, they are also both excellent general introductions to research processes. They’re suitable for either graduate or undergraduate levels, and would make excellent additions to any library needing more resources on information literacy.

How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing. Silva, P. J. (2007).

Great resource on how to write academic content, and lots of it. Good tips on developing a writing routine, and it’s short enough that it won’t take you away from your own writing for long.


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