Writing a dissertation is the culmination of a doctoral education program. It is an exacting task, calling for dedication and perseverance, especially when you experience time constraints due to work or family obligations. Gaining a clear understanding of how long it takes to write an education dissertation and carefully planning your dissertation process—from carving out time in your busy daily schedule to setting achievement milestones to keep a steady pace—are crucial steps to earning a doctoral degree.
It takes longer than a year for most PhD students to complete a first draft of a dissertation. Students typically spend one to two years conducting research and reviewing literature while they complete doctoral courses before tackling a dissertation draft. The writing process typically takes a year or two beyond that. It can take five or more years for PhD students who get stuck in research phases, experience writer’s block, or have a high level of distractions or time constraints. The average time for students to complete all requirements for a doctorate in the US is nearly six years, according to U.S. News & World Report.
The Education Dissertation Timeline
About how long will the dissertation process take? Many factors can influence the dissertation timeline length, such as:
- Job status: Doctoral students working in full- or part-time positions will need to be diligent about dedicating time to their dissertation work.
- Academic support: PhD students with strong support from faculty members, mentors, and peers are likely to find greater success in keeping the dissertation process on track.
- Topic selection: An initial dissertation topic’s success can keep a timeline on track. When doctoral students change a dissertation’s focus midstream, it typically adds extra research time.
- Time management: Writing a dissertation takes careful planning and scheduling. When students stick to their schedules and work efficiently, they’re more likely to complete their dissertations sooner.
The Dissertation Process
Before doctoral students can submit a dissertation proposal, they must complete all of their doctorate-level coursework and pass their comprehensive exams. This designates them as doctoral candidates. However, just because a student hasn’t achieved candidate status does not mean they can’t or shouldn’t start the dissertation process. On the contrary, students are expected to identify their dissertation topic and start preparing for the proposal while they are engaged in graduate coursework.
Many of the classes offered in a Doctorate of Education (EdD) program will help students explore potential topics and research techniques. For example, American University’s online EdD program includes three weekend residency sessions during which students connect with faculty and participate in workshops to help them develop their dissertations. The program also includes two course sessions on applied research methods to familiarize students with qualitative and quantitative research methods.
The dissertation process includes the following steps:
1. Draft and Defend a Proposal
The dissertation proposal may include the first few chapters of the dissertation. Students must be prepared to defend the proposal to the dissertation committee, which will evaluate the topic itself and approve, deny, or request revisions to the proposal. Many education dissertation topics relate to leadership strategies, literacy, or future learning trends.
2. Conduct Research
This stage can include conducting surveys and interviews on the chosen education topic. Students look for evidence to support their hypotheses, take notes, and conduct interviews along the way.
3. Conduct Literature Review
Students need to gather a broad range of articles and books that are pertinent to their dissertation topic. Resources cited in the dissertation are included in a bibliography.
4. Create an Outline
Structuring research and data in an outline helps students stay focused and organized during the dissertation writing stages.
5. Write the Dissertation
The elements of a dissertation paper can include abstract, introduction, background, hypothesis, literature review, methodology, conclusion, and bibliography sections. Universities often provide templates and style guides to help students format their dissertations correctly.
Tips for Writing a Dissertation
Your dissertation strategy should take into account your unique strengths and weaknesses. If you know that you are most productive in the morning, for instance, schedule your research and writing time for early in the day. To successfully navigate the dissertation process, you should:
Get familiar with the dissertation process before you begin writing. Look at dissertation samples and guideline documents to get a firm grasp on formatting and style. Keep yourself on track by setting milestone deadlines.
Don’t put off the writing process. It’s easy to find excuses not to write, such as having a busy schedule or feeling that your argument isn’t fully formed. But sitting down to write every day, for at least two hours (with at least one break), can help you find your voice and establish your structure through experimentation.
Don’t Get Discouraged
Writing a dissertation can be a trial-and-error process. You will have to be self-reliant in many of the independent learning stages, including finding quality research sources and conducting your own studies. Don’t give in to self-doubt when you hit a roadblock and remember not to sacrifice your health and well-being by overstressing about your progress.
Find a Good Mentor
Students should feel comfortable checking in with a supervisor or committee member when they need support, advice, or encouragement. Making sure that you have an engaged and enthusiastic mentor can make a big difference in the dissertation process. Some mentors encourage regular meetings to keep in touch. Connecting with a group of peers who are also drafting dissertations can give you feedback as well. In addition, university libraries often support dissertation work through research and writing labs.
Sharing Your Research Findings
Once you’ve determined how long it will take you to write your education dissertation, consider how actively you’ll pursue publication. Students often want to share their work with a greater audience so that others can benefit from their insights.
Typically, a university will require students to publish their dissertation in an electronic database. For instance, American University requires students to submit dissertations to the ProQuest Dissertations and Theses (PQDT) database and the American University Digital Research Archive (AUDRA).
Publication is also a plus on any academic CV. Some students reformat their dissertation into an article (or articles) for submission to a professional journal, or even as a book for publication. Others present their findings at educational conferences. Regardless of the arena, sharing a dissertation with a wider audience is a rewarding capstone achievement.
Advance Your Career as an Education Leader
Individuals who are passionate about improving the education system through cutting-edge learning strategies should consider pursuing an advanced degree program. American University’s School of Education Online provides a number of high-quality degree programs, including a Doctorate of Education (EdD) in Education Policy and Leadership. The university’s EdD program provides a flexible, part-time learning environment that helps education professionals gain the skills to effect positive change across all school levels and community settings.