Now that you’re keeping a dissertation diary, you might be wondering what to write in it. The true but unhelpful response is that you can write anything you want! As I discussed in my earlier post, your stream of conscious writing can lead you to a better understanding of your subject matter. If you’re still stuck, here are some suggestions. You can think of them as writing prompts, or exercises that push you to think about your dissertation in different ways than what you might express in formal academic writing.Ideas for a dissertation title. You’d be surprised at how writing a title pushes you to think through the most essential points of your dissertation. Make a list of titles, and write out why some don’t make the cut – where do they fail, and why? You’ll discover what you think is the first and most important point you want your reader to know about your work.
How you plan to convince people who don’t care about your topic to care about your dissertation. This is the “so what” question. You’ll need to be able to do this for any type of job interview you go on, academic or not. Write about why it’s important to ask the question you’re asking, and what we learn from answering that question. This can push you to consider the larger stakes of your project, and how it can relate to seemingly disparate topics.
How your dissertation relates to something (really anything) else. This is a close cousin of the suggestion above. In both, you’ll take a step back to figure out the broader questions and themes that motivate your project. It can also make for a game of academic mad-libs: my dissertation is like (insert noun) because it (insert verb) like a (insert noun).
A very long explanation of a concept, then a very short explanation. You can explain a theory, concept, or criticism – really whatever you like. Then think about how to take the very long explanation and distill it into the most essential elements. Knowing your topic inside and out is a skill, but being able to explain it simply shows true mastery.
Of course, you can also de-stress by writing about silly (but no less academic) topics. How many cups of coffee will you need to drink in order to complete your literature review? What do you dream of saying to the committee member who never gives you timely feedback? Anything is fair game – just make sure you don’t accidentally cut and paste in into your final draft!