Taming the Beast -- What we wish we had known but didn't know to ask:  A Thesis/Dissertation Writing WorkshopDr. Dianne Cothran, Dial Center for Written and Oral Communication

Dr. Mickey Schafer, Dial Center for Written and Oral Communication

Some Useful Links  writing diss /  writing  / tools / oral defense / fun / PPT Presentation (2003 version)

Perform an Amazon search for "thesis writing" and you'll get a list that is 8,699 hits long (as of right now).  Google claims to find a bit over 5 million hits for "writing a dissertation".  Seems a bit much, doesn't it?  Why do so many people write so many guides to this topic?  Off the top of our collective heads, we'd say that first, since new people are going through the process every year, there are new perspectives on the journey.  Second, there are real generational shifts regarding the dissertation process.  A few decades ago, the dissertation was largely a longish paper demonstrating your capacity to do discipline-specific work.  Afterwards, you spent your career actually doing the work itself.  Nowadays, the thesis/dissertation is more of a career-launching document, and it's expected that your first publications will come from it.  The time spent agonizing over it is longer and the expectations are higher (see an excerpt of "Professionalization in the Academy" in Harvard Magazine for a very recent discussion: http://harvardmagazine.com/2009/11/professionalization-in-academy).  

So, if we had one and only one piece of advice we would offer, it would be to decide early on what your relationship to your thesis/dissertation will be -- and we'd encourage a friendly sort of acquaintanceship.   Think of it like a newly adopted pet:  you really liked your first look; the little beast seemed sweet and friendly; but now you've got it home and are waiting to see what will develop.  You've not yet invested heart and soul -- you're still in the trial 30 days.  Stay in that space.  Keep it friendly but cautious. And remember that no matter what the thesis/disseration might make you feel, you really are the alpha dog.  It is your beast to tame.

To help, we've put together a few links that may be of use.  This is by no means an exhaustive list of thesis/dissertation writing sources (obviously!).  But these are some we like.  Links include how-to-writes, thoughts on research itself, and some useful tools to consider.  The links cover many disciplines, and we've found that general advice from one discipline usually translates nicely to another.  (This is not the case for methodology which is discipline-specific).  

How to Write a Thesis/Dissertation + How the pages describe themselves
Dissertations -- http://www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/handouts/dissertation.html
Graduate school pundits often cite 50% or more as the attrition rate for ABD students. Why? This handout will not only answer this question, but also give you good, practical advice on starting, drafting, and completing your dissertation. ...Why don't doctoral candidates manage to get rolling on the dissertation any sooner, or KEEP rolling once they get started? Partly because the dissertation is a completely new experience that is much larger and more independent than your previous academic work..
Writing and Presenting your Thesis or Dissertation -- http://www.learnerassociates.net/dissthes/
Usually a guide of this nature focuses on the actual implementation of the research. This is not the focus of this guide. Instead of examining such aspects as identifying appropriate sample size, field testing the instrument and selecting appropriate statistical tests, this guide looks at many of the quasi-political aspects of the process. Such topics as how to select a supportive committee, making a compelling presentation of your research outcomes and strategies for actually getting the paper written are discussed.

How To Write A Dissertation or Bedtime Reading For People Who Do Not Have Time To Sleep -- http://www.cs.purdue.edu/homes/dec/essay.dissertation.html

To The Candidate:
So, you are preparing to write a Ph.D. dissertation in an experimental area of Computer Science. Unless you have written many formal documents before, you are in for a surprise: it's difficult!
There are two possible paths to success:
          o Planning Ahead.
              Few take this path. The few who do leave the University so quickly that they are hardly noticed. If  you want to make a lasting impression and have a long career as a graduate student, do not choose it.
          o Perseverance.
               All you really have to do is outlast your doctoral committee. The good news is that they are much older than you, so you can guess who will eventually expire first. The bad news is that they are more practiced at this game (after all, they persevered in the face of their doctoral committee, didn't they?).

Here are a few guidelines that may help you when you finally get serious about writing. The list goes on forever; you probably won't want to read it all at once. But, please read it before you write anything.
Writing Theses and Dissertations -- http://www2.hmc.edu/www_common/writing/centweb/diss.html   [no description -- just starts right in]
Practical Advice for how to Write your Dissertation, Book, or Article -- http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2006/0612/0612gra1.cfm
You have a stack of research materials, a nebulous yet promising topic, and a looming deadline. Now, how do you actually write?

In my work as a dissertation coach and academic writing consultant, I am often asked for concrete strategies for writing. How to transform ideas into writing? How to finish that dissertation, book, or article? And how to stay motivated and sane during the writing process?

I have found that the best recipe for sustained intellectual productivity is a mix of structured writing practices, time management strategies, and holistic lifestyle support.
New Professors' Reflections on the Dissertation Process -- http://www.rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/mo2542z3.htm
In this article, we reflect on the process and procedures that we embraced when completing our doctorates.  In the quest for academic excellence, we examine the role of organization, current technology, collaboration among graduate students, and options in traveling and scheduling.  With the intention of providing pragmatic information for those still in the midst of their research and writing, we also share what we wished we had known prior to the experience.
Sample Dissertation Proposals -- https://webspace.utexas.edu/cherwitz/www/ie/sample_diss.html     [ examples of various dissertation proposals from different disciplines]
A Quick Guide to Dissertation Writing -- http://grad.berkeley.edu/acapro/pdf/dissertation_writing.pdf     [well, not really a quick guide -- in fact, this is a reference guide -- a bibliography of more sources for you to look up]
Principles of Effective Research -- Michael Nielson -- http://www.qinfo.org/people/nielsen/blog/archive/000120.html
This essay is intended as a letter to both myself and others, to hold up in the sharpest possible terms an ideal of research I believe is worth working toward. I've deliberately limited the essay to 10 pages, hoping that the resulting omissions are compensated by the forced brevity. This is a rather personal essay; it's not the sort of thing I'd usually make publicly available. I've made the essay public in order to heighten my commitment to the project, and in the hope that other people will find it stimulating, and perhaps offer some thoughts of their own.
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Writing Links
Seven Guidelines for Writing Worthy Works of Non-Fiction -- http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2009/10/worthy_books.html
I try to write the kind of books I'd like to read, and I try to read the kind of books I'd like to write. This isn't as narcissistic as it sounds.  I'd like to write like Tolstoy or Alan Moore or Steve Landsburg, but I have to settle for being me.

As far as fiction goes, I don't have enough experience to pontificate.  But I propose the following guidelines for writing worthy works of non-fiction:
Monday Master Class:  How to Schedule your Writing Like a Professional Writer -- http://calnewport.com/blog/2007/10/15/monday-master-class-how-to-schedule-your-writing-like-a-professional-writer/
It’s not the writing itself that’s horrible, but instead, being forced to write when you don’t want to. Is there any worse feeling than staring at a half-completed term paper at 2 AM?

The solution is simple. Schedule your writing better. But the specifics can be tricky. What’s the best way to schedule writing? Clear out a full day? Do it a little bit at a time? Work at night once you’ve finished all of your other work? I could give you some answers that sound right, but (for now) forget about me. Let’s see what the pros have to say…
Six Rules for Re-Writing -- http://michaelnielsen.org/blog/six-rules-for-rewriting/
The only way I know to write well is to first allow myself to write freely, and then to rewrite. The trick to rewriting is to recognize which bits of my writing are good, and leave those be, while improving or eliminating the bad bits.

Here is a list of six rules that help me recognize the bad bits in my own writing. Until these criteria have been met, or the exceptions identified and understood, my writing is still in draft, not yet ready to be abandoned to the reader.
Write or Die: Putting the "prod" back in "Productivity" -- http://writeordie.drwicked.com/
Write or Die is a web application that encourages writing by punishing the tendency to avoid writing. Start typing in the box. As long as you keep typing, you're fine, but once you stop typing, you have a grace period of a certain number of seconds and then there are consequences.
Qualitative and Qualitative Research Writing Guides -- http://writing.colostate.edu/collections/collection.cfm?collectioncategory_active=40
This collection of guides was written by graduate students enrolled in the Colorado State University Department of English research methods seminar. The guides focus on research methods and theories related to qualitative and quantitative research.
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Defending your Dissertation
Dissertation Defense -- http://tadafinallyfinished.com/dissertation-defense.html 
Congratulations, if you are getting ready to defend your dissertation you are almost finished. The dissertation defense represents one of the final hurdles you will face in completing your degree, and it is important to be prepared. Although the graduate handbook might describe this stage as an oral presentation of your research, the traditional defense is an oral exam that most graduate students are likely to pass. You can pass your defense with a grade of (1) “Pass As Is,” (2) “Pass With Minor Revisions,” (3) "Pass With Major Revisions,” or rarely (4) “Reject.”
The Thesis/Dissertation Defense -- http://www.learnerassociates.net/dissthes/#29 -- (there's LOTS more at this site!)
What a terrible name - a dissertation defense. It seems to suggest some sort of war that you're trying to win. And, of course, with four or five of them and only one of you it sounds like they may have won the war before the first battle is held. I wish they had called it a dissertation seminar or professional symposium. I think the name would have brought forward a much better picture of what should be expected at this meeting.
The Oral Defense -- http://www.cgu.edu/pages/911.asp 
Depending on your committee, you want to try to talk with your readers rather than at them. The most positive exam experiences are those in which the oral turns into an academic discussion rather than a grilling session.  (good humanities oriented questions)
Oral Defense Preparation -- http://www.wmich.edu/coe/fcs/cte/doctoral/oraldefense.htm -
The following represents a list of potential questions that a researcher should consider when preparing for the oral defense of the Dissertation Research Study. Although it is not intended to be a complete list of potential questions, this list is provided to assist the student in the preparing for the defense the Dissertation Study
Dissertation Oral Defense -- http://tinyurl.com/yencohq 
this is not advice/instruction -- this is the dissertation defense presentation prepared by a student -- nicely done powerpoint slides with the kinds of issues you should consider when preparing a defense)
Preparing for the Oral Defense of the Dissertation -- http://www.asq.org/edu/2010/01/career-development/preparing-for-the-oral-defense-of-a-dissertation.pdf
Students are never quite as prepared for this event as they would like to be. This rite of passage looms before them as a mysterious and unknown event, a gothic terror in its own right. It certainly should not be this way, and some forethought and preparation will go far in fostering confidence.

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Tools of the Trade
BACK UP YOUR WORK --Please Please Please -- http://delicious.com/msscha/tools+storage
This link will take you to a list of web-based storage tools.  You should employ at least 2 forms of back-up: 1) use hardware (usb flash drives, external hard drive, pogoplug); 2) web-based software (email work to yourself at a non-UF account such as gmail OR use one of the storage solutions linked here).
USE AN ACADEMIC BOOKMARKING PROGRAM -- http://delicious.com/msscha/aca.bookmark
This link will take you to a list of academic bookmarking sites.  These are programs that allow you to store all your sources online, meaning that you have access to them anytime, from any computer, so long as you have an internet connection.  Some of them also offer citation-style programs so that you can prepare style-specific bibliographies with just a couple of clicks.  Refworks is one that UF has a license to so you can get all of its functions (which are too numerous for this brief message) for free.
USE ONLINE ANNOTATIONS TOOLS -- http://delicious.com/msscha/tools+annotate
This link will take you to a short list of web-based annotation tools.  These are apps that let you "take notes online" though they vary considerably in what you can annotate.  Still, they can be useful.
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Last but not Least, the Funny Links --  Okay, just one, but it's a great collection: Grad School Humor