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Writing the Successful Thesis and Dissertation: Entering the Conversation is intended to help graduate students complete theses or dissertations by providing both theoretical understanding and practical instruction. It derives from my experience as a Writing Center director, working with students from a variety of disciplines; from my role as a thesis advisor to students in the English department at my own university; and from workshops I have given in Holland to graduate students in the social sciences. It is also based on research I have conducted with students and faculty at several universities that has helped me develop strategies that students find helpful. Its goal is to help you write your thesis or dissertation with maximum insight and minimum stress.
Theoretically, this book explains how theories of process and genre can provide important insights into writing a thesis or dissertation in terms of function and form. Practically, it offers suggestions for undertaking the various components of the process: reading and engaging critically with complex texts, discovering ideas, writing a compelling proposal, developing and revising drafts, constructing the review of the literature, working with tables and graphs, and using various cuing and organizational strategies to maintain manageability and coherence. It also discusses administrative issues, such as selecting and working with an advisor, maneuvering through graduate committees, and avoiding inadvertent plagiarism.
The "process" approach to composition on which this book is based has become common in the study and teaching of undergraduate writing, particularlyin the United States. Whereas in the past writing was "assigned" and students were expected to produce a text or "product" that was given a grade, the process approach recognizes an important truism about writing: It does not occur effortlessly, and few, if any, writers produce an excellent text without a great deal of thinking, drafting, rewriting, rethinking, redrafting, and so on. Yet theses and dissertation advisors often do not use a process approach when working with graduate students. Professors who serve as advisors may have little difficulty identifying (or complaining about) inadequacies in their students' theses or dissertations, but they sometimes do not define rhetorical goals and genre requirements, perhaps because they have not consciously articulated these goals and requirements for themselves or because they feel that they shouldn't have to do so. Given this approach, students are left pretty much on their own to figure out what is expected of them.
Most graduate students, however, cannot "intuit" what is expected in a thesis or dissertation, and because they worry about appearing inadequate, they may ask few questions and embark on the process without a clear sense of purpose. Some are non-native speakers of English, grappling with unfamiliar terminology and language structures. Many have little idea of what is considered "knowledge" in their field, have only a general notion of a topic they may like to explore, are unaware of what is involved in transforming a topic into a workable research question, and don't know what sort of proposal is likely to be successful. Thesis anxiety causes some to avoid writing as long as possible, engaging in extensive reading and note-taking as an avoidance strategy or procrastinating in other ways. Some develop writing blocks, even if they have never had difficulty writing at other times.
Moreover, even thesis or dissertation advisors with the best of intentions have only limited time to devote to graduate students' writing needs; therefore, it is in your best interest to study the process on your own. Writing the Successful Thesis and Dissertation: Entering the Conversation can serve as your guide, helping you gain insight into what a thesis or dissertation is intended to do and become aware of how its form derives from its function. When you understand the genre of the thesis or dissertation and learn strategies to help you write more successfully, you will become a better writer and scholar who is able to enter the scholarly community and participate meaningfully in its conversations.
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