Managing Doctoral Dissertation – Part III (Data analysis and Thesis Writing)

In my last article, I had talked about the stage of proposal development. In this article, I would like to share some tips about data collection and analysis.

If you have taken into account some of the points mentioned in my last article on proposal development, the data collection and analysis part will be relatively easy. This part of the dissertation requires more of logistical effort and is more laborious that the others. You may need to conduct experiments, float surveys, download secondary data sources, etc., in order to get the data that is needed for your dissertation.

You must ensure that you take care of all the details associated with your data collection method and analysis technique. Please take help from seniors, your thesis committee and anyone who may guide you with planning and conducting the data collection in the right manner. Also, read carefully the ‘Methods’ sections of papers that have followed a similar methodology.

It is important for you to stay focused and keep documenting everything on a daily basis. If you are doing analysis and getting some results, please keep saving the output of your analysis as well as the syntax (SPSS also has a syntax editor which enables you to save the syntax of your runs. See this link: of the commands you are running. Saving of results and syntax is important as after some time you may not remember what analyses you had done and how you had done that analysis. Documentation will be helpful at that time.

Writing up the dissertation is the final part of the dissertation stage. This is also perhaps the most challenging for many. One may collect data and analyse it. But he/she will have to write the dissertation properly and in a manner that makes logical sense. Some of the points mentioned below may help you write:

1. Break down the problem: Do not plan to write the full thesis in one go. You will never be able to do it. Break down the problem into parts. By the time you submit your proposal, you should be ready with Chapters 1 and 2 (Introduction and Literature Review) of the thesis. Before you start the data collection you should have written a rough draft of Chapter 3 (Methods) of the thesis. After the data is collected and analysed, you should finalise Chapter 3 and also complete Chapter 4 of the thesis. Finally, write the discussion (Chapter 5) and the conclusion chapters (Chapter 6).

2. Look at other dissertations: Refer to your professor’s thesis or a dissertation, recognised as a good quality submission, by a senior. If these are not available, try to follow a good (top-rated) journal and try writing according to it. You should try to follow the style and the structure followed in the thesis or the journal paper. If possible, also try to read some international dissertations done in your area. Proquest database is one such database that provides access to international dissertations.

3. Stay organised and disciplined: It is important to write for few hours everyday rather than expecting/hoping that you will write all of your thesis in a day (or a few days). Do not think that the whole dissertation can be written in one go. That is just impossible. Be disciplined and promise yourself that you will write for some time every day. This is true for manuscript writing as well. Study/write everyday and you will find that the journey is not very difficult.

A dissertation is a ‘labour of love’. You need to love what you are doing and stay committed to the process. Soon, you will be able to get the results that you hope for. A lot of what I have written here is based on my experiences of doing my own PhD and guiding doctoral students at IIM Ahmedabad. I am aware that the dissertation process and the timelines may be different for different colleges/institutions/universities. Please read this (and other articles) and pick whatever you think may fit into your context.

Lastly, I would like to leave you with my favourite quote that has motivated me over the years: ‘Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible; and soon you will be doing the impossible.’

Best wishes