Pursuing a doctoral degree typically requires the completion and defense of a doctorate dissertation. While some may view this in-depth research project to be a bit daunting, it is quite manageable when handled the right way.

We recently caught up with the directors of Saint Leo University’s current doctoral degree programs: Dr. Dale Mancini, director of the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) program, Dr. Phillip Neely, director of the Doctor of Criminal Justice (DCJ) program (with tracks in Homeland Security and Education), and Dr. Fern Aefsky, director of the Doctor of Education (EdD) program. Each offered some valuable insight on how doctoral students can effectively manage and complete a doctorate dissertation.

1. Think ahead and look at the big picture when creating a dissertation outline.

Creating a detailed dissertation outline and looking at the big picture are two critical first steps when diving into a doctorate dissertation.

“Most students don’t realize what they are getting into with a dissertation,” Neely says. “It’s not just a research paper. It should be content that contributes to the academic community.”

He adds that it is much easier to accomplish this by taking a broader view before narrowing one’s focus.

“Some students only look two or three feet in front of them,” he says. “You have to look much further and see the big picture. You should come into the program with  a topic in mind. Then the further you go, all you have to do is keep track of your references and put all of the content together.”

2. Know what you want to say and how to say it.

“Oftentimes, students know what they want to say, but they don’t know how to communicate it,” Neely explains. “They try to use big words, or they try to write the way they speak.”

He says using relatively simple language is absolutely acceptable in a dissertation, even if students think using overly impressive or unusual language is required.

“If Joe Shmo doesn’t know what you are talking about, it’s probably not the best approach,” Aefsky adds. “You have to be descriptive and tell me what you r doing by identifying the problem or what the study is addressing, along with how and why you are doing it.”

3. List your objectives and narrow your focus.

“Know what you want to accomplish,” Mancini says. “Follow your checklist and then meet those objectives in your writing.”

According to Mancini, all students in the DBA program are given a checklist to help guide them with each step of the dissertation process.

“Be realistic,” Neely says. “Don’t try to change the world. Just focus on accomplishing your goals and objectives.”

Mancini also underscores the importance of understanding the true function of a dissertation.

“The purpose of the dissertation is not to prove a point or change anything,” Mancini says. “It is finding the answer to a question.”

4. State the facts and avoid including your opinion.

In general, research papers should answer a question by backing up findings with fact-based evidence. The same can be said when approaching a doctorate dissertation.

“You have to leave out any opinion,” Mancini advises. “It’s hard to do this because on one hand, we want students to pick something they’re passionate about. But you have to remember that it’s not your job as a researcher to only find data that aligns with your opinion. Let the data you find answer the question.”

He adds that working with a committee can help students avoid inserting their personal beliefs into their project.

“Keep in mind that your committee probably doesn’t have the same passion for your topic as u. Therefore, they can see things you can’t always see as a student. You have to be willing to listen and look at things from other points of view.”

Mancini says accepting constructive feedback is also part of the doctorate dissertation process.

“There is no chair who wants to put something out that isn’t quality work, so they have a vested interest in your work.”

5. Communicate often with your dissertation committee.

When working on a doctorate dissertation, it is imperative that students are in some form of regular communication with their committee or, at the very least, the chair of their committee.

“It’s incumbent upon you to reach out to your chair,” Mancini says. “Even if you just send a note with an update, let them know what’s going on and your progress.”

Students certainly don’t want to get too far down the road researching something and learn that their focus is a little off base, he adds. This is why sharing your progress with your team is a must.

6. Understand your research abilities and limitations.

According to Aefsky, students in the Doctor of Education program and other doctoral programs must understand the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and how it factors into the research they are conducting.

“In a lot of cases, there are restrictions on who students can survey in their research,” Aefsky says. “It’s important to find all of this out before getting too deep into your project. You should investigate what you want to do, if you can do it, and how you are going to do it. It’s all about doing your homework.”

7. Time management is key.

Due to the scope of a doctorate dissertation, it is essential to block off time on a regular basis to devote to the project.

“Create office hours for yourself,” Mancini says. “Tell everyone in your life that you will be working on this unless there is some catastrophe. You don’t want to be up against the clock.”

In terms of specific timeframes, Aefsky advises dedicating at least four to six hours per week to working on a dissertation.

8. Record your sources and back up all of your files and data.

First and foremost, doctoral students should make sure to keep close tabs on the sources from which they are compiling data and other research. It can be frustrating–and time consuming–having to go back and find the source of a small piece of information.

In addition, college students in any academic program should ensure their work and research is backed up. This is particularly important when working on a doctorate dissertation because of the amount of work involved in both the research and writing processes.

“Save all of your research and primary data,” Aefsky advises. “Don’t throw out anything. Keep things until you have completed your dissertation and defense.”

She recommends using multiple flash drives or even an external hard drive to ensure everything is safe. She adds that keeping multiple copies of files is a must.

9. Stay calm and don’t be too hard on yourself.

Finally, doctoral students should try to remain calm throughout the dissertation process. Plus, they should not take themselves too seriously. While it can seem like an overly challenging project, it is doable.

“Don’t beat yourself up, and don’t take yourself too seriously,” Mancini says. “When you’re caught up in it, you think it’s overwhelming, but this is where your committee comes in to help guide u. Just remember the saying that, ‘This too shall pass.’”