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Complete Your Dissertation or Thesis in Two Semesters or Less Paperback – Dec 21 2006
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The major strength of the book is that it is easy to read and gives good sound 'common sense' suggestions and a process that is understandable and works. I believe a doctoral student will find comfort in reading the book and using the prepared forms and checklists that are provided. (Dr. Ron Joekel, professor emeritus of educational administration at The University of Nebraska and former executive director and past internatio)
About the Author
Dr. Evelyn Hunt Ogden is deputy superintendent of schools in East Brunswick, New Jersey. As a consultant and state education deputy assistant commissioner for research, planning, and evaluation, she has worked with doctoral students from major universities in fields a wide range of fields. She has also served on the U.S. Department of Education's Program Evaluation Panel, which reviews research study claims. She lives in Trenton, New Jersey.
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The author does NOT say a dissertation is the same as a thesis. What the author DOES say, is that a dissertation or thesis CAN be completed in two semesters of less. The author does NOT say your dissertation should only be 100 pages. What the author DOES say, is that 100 pages is an INITIAL GOAL, and that your thesis or dissertation will probably have more pages than that.
Many dissertation guides out there (and I feel like I have read them all) talk about things like topic selection, emotions of being a grad student, statistics, and choosing/working with committee members. This book also touches on all those topics. What this book does better than all the others, is to help you lay out an actual plan to writing the dissertation. (i.e. how long will you need for the lit review, how long will you need for data collection, etc.) The book helps you map it all out whether you are in the sciences, humanities, or somewhere in between.
If you are already pretty far along with your dissertation, you probably won't get much from this book. If you are in the first half, or you are coming back to the dissertation after time away from it, this book will help you get into gear. If I had to recommend one dissertation guide, this one would be it.
Although every chapter in the book is helpful, I found chapters covering committee choice and topic selection of particular interest. Ogden presents a variety of different professor-profiles as potential advisor (mentor) candidates. She succinctly elaborates on the factors that a PhD candidate should consider when choosing an advisor, including his or her availability, career position, commitments, interests, capability, and personality type. As I read this chapter, I began to reevaluate my own assumptions about what a good advisor is in terms of the bottom line--completing the dissertation.
The chapter on choosing a dissertation topic was full of useful information, although the author certainly guts any idealism or excitement when she says, "Make your objective a topic that is `tolerably non-boring,' a topic that has a high potential for success (finishing)" (p. 38). True to the title of the book, the chapter (as is with every chapter) is all about being practical. Topic choice is dictated by such considerations as access to the data, feasibility of data collection, and short-cut means-to-an-end topic mining (rather than interest).
The emphasis on efficiency and practicality, coupled with the brevity of the text, leads to some problems, however. In the chapter on research design, Ogden champions the experimental method over every other type, attempting to keep things as simple as possible. Not only does she leave out other types of quantitative approaches, such as observational studies, but she seems completely ignore any qualitative method. Speaking of case study research, she erroneously claims that "it is difficult to draw conclusions from the data and justify them with what amounts to a small sample" (p. 42). While it may be hard, if not impossible to make statistical generalizations with small case study samples, analytic generalizations and generalizations using case-comparison strategies are often made (see Yin's Case Study Research: Design and Method). Rather than arguing for a particular method, perhaps the author could have argued for using a structured method and provided more design options. Further, because design and topic choice are interdependent, the student may find an experimental design does not fit the topic of choice.
A final caveat I have with the book is, despite its realistic approach, ironically, her claim that a dissertation can be completed in two semesters or less is more fiction than reality. No wonder the author glosses over the revision process, typically a painstaking one that requires time. In Chapter 6, covering the writing phase, she states that after only three weeks of writing, "Figure another week for revision and voila--the end is in sight" (p. 85). She makes the revision process sound as quick and pain-free as painting the living room. Devoting a few pages to the revision process and how to speed up that particular end of things would have been helpful to the reader and in keeping with the practical nature of the book although might have conflicted with the book's slant. Despite such issues, the book provides a wealth of practical information when read with caution.
This book is a good start and a great motivator. The first couple chapters - on doctoral life, on researching and selecting your committee, and on selecting a topic - are very good. Ogden breaks things down and emphasizes that you can, indeed, finish a dissertation. She's like the opposite of that annoying advisor (usually a tenured professor with a cushy salary) who just suggests that you can take all the time in the world to make your dissertation into your magnum opus; her emphasis is on helping you finish as quickly as possible. Her advice about researching your committee is just so spot-on, it's great. Her advice about selecting a topic is also fantastic - about finding something that's tolerably not-boring and that can be completed in a limited amount of time, and about finding something someone will pay you to do.
The later chapters - about actually sketching a plan and writing - are less great. Still good, just not great. The overall ideas - about breaking your dissertation down into small pieces; planning each workday and what you will get done; setting realistic goals for yourself and meeting them - those are great! And they really do work, as they are keeping me on task during my proposal-writing stage.
However, the actual details of the advice are a bit unrealistic. Fifteen days from finding a topic to turning out a completed, ready-to-be-approved dissertation proposal is a bit ludicrous, especially if you are at a university like mine where your committee has to be convened for you to give an oral defense of it (and the proposal is around 30 pages). She's allotted just 10 days for collecting and analyzing your data; most people's data collection will take longer than that (and may take an entire semester in and of itself). And while I think that the writing of a dissertation can definitely take place in 2-3 months if well-planned, less than a month seems a little unrealistic for even the most diligent student. Ogden also suggests hiring a bunch of people to do things for you, with no indication of where you are going to be getting these gobs of money. Yes, I can see hiring an editor, but hiring a person to badger you into writing?
So some of the advice is practical, and some is not. I think it's a good $9 book, for motivating you into making some lists and a timeline and sticking to it. I also think that you can complete a dissertation or thesis in 2 semesters or less (I completed my undergraduate thesis - 60 pages - in 2 semesters, including a proposal and collecting data) but some requirements have to be met, such as you're doing a secondary data analysis or your data will really only take you a few days or weeks to collect. Otherwise, use her time more metaphorically.
HOWEVER, as I am a student in English Language Arts and Philosophy, I personally didn't find this book too instructive.
If you're doing a dissertation in the Sciences, this book will probably be very helpful. If your dissertation is going to be historical or oriented more towards the Humanities, you might be better off with something else.
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