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Dissertation Writing – Preparing The Way

  1. Beginning.
  2. Style of Advising
  3. Quantitative instruments
  4. Interpreting the results.
  5. The professional literature.

1. Beginning

"If I'd known he'd be too busy to be of much help, I would have tried
to find a better advisor."

At the outset of your project, it is well to identify potential sources of
help and to recognize the advantages and limitations of each. Those sources
of most value are usually academic advisors, fellow graduate students, experts
outside of your own department or institution, you yourself, and the professional


Policies for assigning faculty members to supervise students' thesis and dissertation
projects can vary from one institution to another and even across departments
within the same institution.

In some cases, the advisor who guides a student's general academic progress
automatically becomes the supervisor of the candidate's work on the thesis or
dissertation. Under such a policy, students are relieved of the responsibility
of choosing a mentor, but they may unfortunately end up with less than optimal
help. In other cases, an academic advisor will not automatically be assigned,
but he or she will be only one of a group of several faculty members from whom
a student can choose a guide. Under these circumstances, before students announce
their choice of a mentor they can profitably collect several kinds of information
about the professors who form the pool of potential advisors. Included among
the sources of information are fellow students, the professors within the pool,
other faculty members, secretaries, research assistants, and the professors'

Institutions and departments can also differ in the number of faculty members
assigned to supervise and evaluate a student's research. One common pattern
at the master's level is to have a three-member committee for each thesis, with
the committee chairperson acting as the candidate's principal supervisor. However,
in colleges and universities with large numbers of master's degree students,
the entire master's project may be directed and assessed by a single faculty
member. At the doctoral level, the supervising committee often consists of three
to five professors.

In the following paragraphs, we describe kinds of information to seek about
potential advisers. We then suggest useful sources of each kind.

Kinds of Information to Collect

In learning about the professors in your pool of potential mentors, you will
likely find it helpful to discover their (a) fields of interest and expertise,
(b) style of advising, and (c) attitudes about appropriate research topics and
methods of research.

Fields of interest and expertise

Obviously, the closer an advisor's area of expertise is to your research problem,
the better equipped she or he will be to identify difficulties you may encounter,
recommend sources of information pertinent to your topic, and guide your choice
of methods for gathering and interpreting data. There are several ways to learn
about faculty members' specializations–the titles and contents of classes they
teach, their published books and articles, the topics of theses and dissertations
produced under their guidance, other staff members' opinions, and other students'
experiences with those faculty members.

The task of deciding how well a potential advisor's interests and skills suit
your needs is likely easiest if you already have a specific research problem
in mind, or at least if you have identified the general realm you hope to explore.
If you have no inkling of the kind of topic on which your study will focus,
then the next of our selection criteria – style of advising – may become your
primary concern.


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