Dissertation Advice for the Lonely Writer (Or the Perpetual Procrastinator): Part 2

LaToya R Jefferson-James
4 min readSep 14, 2022

Going into the dissertation phase is scary. Heretofore, it is the most important thing a graduate student has ever written. Sadly, for many students of color and women, there is just no good advice out there and mentors are hard-to-find or do not exist. It depends on the department and the school. But don’t fret. I am here with a few survival tips.

Okay, Reader, the last time that you heard from me, I was hoping to light some fires.

I hope that some of you have done the following things:

  1. ) Gone to your library’s database to see what is already published about your topic.
  2. ) Hashed out a plausible thesis statement.
  3. ) Done a quick literature review in your head!

Now, if you have done Steps 1 and 2, at least, it is time to move on to Step 3. For everything that you have found that is relevant to your research topic, I want you to do this one, seemingly unnecessary thing. Open a separate Word document and keep an annotated bibliography. Yes, you read that right.

Do you remember annotated bibliographies from your undergraduate days in Composition 102? If not, here’s some advice from the online writing laboratory at Purdue University.

Sometimes, on the research journey, we can find some AMAZING material, then walk out of the library or log off our computers, and forget the author and title of that super-important, AMAZING article/book/encyclopedia entry. At this point, it would be embarrassing to revert back to freshman year, walk up to the reference librarian, give her a brief word-of-mouth description of what you found, and become bewildered when she has no clue! Don’t do that.

Now that you have a thesis statement and plenty of credible sources, it is time to do an outline.

Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

Right here, I am taking you back to Composition 102. Would you embark on a long journey to an unfamiliar place with no map or some kind of digital assistance? Maybe you would if you just wanted to explore and sight-see. But if you had to drive, ummmm let’s see, from Baltimore, Maryland to Bakersfield, California for a business trip or job interview, would you do that without a map or digital assistance? I am thinking that a rational person would not do that.

Okay, why would you attempt a book-length project of research exploration with no map or any sort of guidance? The dissertation is not some scary monster. However, it is a long-haul project that requires a great deal of concentration and planning. I know that all freshmen HATED those outlines, but at this stage in the game, it comes in handy. An outline is good, because it forces the writer to impose order on the project. It asks important questions:

  1. ) How many chapters does this tentative book have?
  2. ) How long will it take the writer to research and produce the book?
  3. ) Approximately how many pages will this book contain?
  4. ) What subjects and subtopics are addressed?
  5. ) How will the dissertation be put together (I will address this during the next posting)?

An outline is important, because an astute writer can easily go from the outline to two or three introductory paragraphs! And that is what you, the writing expert, want. But, put a pin in those introductory paragraphs. I have another posting coming that will talk about the qualifying chapter and structure of your dissertation.

At this point, I am going to return to the annotated bibliography. There is another reason why an annotated bib, and not just a works cited list, is important. Keeping an annotated bibliography easily leads you to do a literature review. As with the two or three introductory paragraphs, put a pin in this. I will come back with a third post detailing this.

Now, I am going to end this posting here. This is one of my shorter postings, but there is a lot of information to take in. I will be back soon with the next post. We are going into the qualifying chapter or dissertation prospectus deeper next time.

This is coming directly from my experiences writing a dissertation prospectus and dissertation in the Humanities as a Black woman.



LaToya R Jefferson-James

LaToya Jefferson-James has a Ph.D. in literature. Welcome! The professor is in! Come in and stay a spell. Let’s discuss and learn from one another.