If you're still in the early stages of graduate school, you may have a year or two of coursework ahead of you before you get to turn to your dissertation. But it's never too early to start planning – or even writing – your dissertation. You can use your graduate seminars and graduate coursework to start building the foundation of your dissertation.

What is the Purpose of Coursework

There's a reason why graduate school begins with coursework. Your courses introduce you to the methods, debates, and arguments that are foundational to your discipline. Larry Marnett calls graduate courses the “intellectual basis for a research career.” At their best, your graduate courses expose you to research by important scholars in your field, and give you the chance to practice writing in the styles and formats that are used in your discipline. They should offer you a chance to learn, but also to experiment with your own ideas. Among the tips that Professor Ralina Joseph offers on how to succeed in a graduate seminar is this one: “Showcase your intellectual curiosity by engaging with all types of ideas.” This is spot on: use your coursework to be curious and explore. It's probably one of the best opportunities that you'll have to do so!

Find Models to Emulate

But how can your courses help with your dissertation? One way that they'll help is by introducing you to a range of scholarship. You may encounter scholars whose writing style and research methods you admire, or whose arguments resonate with your ideas. Keep a list of writing you come across during coursework that inspires you: you can return to those examples throughout the process of writing, editing, and formatting your dissertation when you're looking for inspiration or motivation

Start Building Your Literature Review

During coursework, you'll likely read many of the most-cited texts in your field. You can use this opportunity to start building the literature review section of your dissertation or your dissertation proposal. As you read sources that seem important, write down your thoughts on them and reactions to them. One of my professors suggested to me that as soon as I read something, I should very quickly write a 200-word description of what it was about. You might consider maintaining a dedicated file on your computer for this. When it comes time to write your dissertation literature review, you'll already have notes to build on. This exercise is also helpful when it comes to studying for your comprehensive exams: you'll have built a database of notes on core texts in your field that you can use to study from.

Learn to Structure an Argument

In many graduate courses or graduate seminars, you'll need to turn in a final paper at the end of the semester. This is an opportunity for you to learn how to write an extended, academic-style argument. The model that you use for your seminar papers is one that you could adapt to the chapters in your dissertation. Marcia Hansen provides a great seminar paper template that is adaptable to many different disciplines.

Start Writing Dissertation Chapters

One of my graduate school colleagues finished his dissertation in record time. When I asked him how he managed to get it done so quickly, he told me that each dissertation chapter had started life as a seminar paper for one of his graduate school classes. When the time came to write his dissertation, all he had to do was revise and expand them!

This strategy takes advance planning, and won't work for everyone. It demands that you have a clear idea of what your dissertation will be about before you start coursework. You must also be able to choose classes that will allow you to write papers that are relevant to your dissertation topic. But even if you can't generate an entire dissertation from seminar papers, you might be able to do so for a chapter or two.

If you can decide on a dissertation topic while you're still in coursework, try thinking of your seminar papers as early drafts of dissertation chapters. This will put you ahead of the game when you're at the dissertation stage.

If you need help converting a seminar paper into a dissertation chapter, hire a Thesis Editor or dissertation consultant from thesis-editor.co.uk. Our experts have been through the graduate school process and know what it takes to write a dissertation chapter that will impress your committee. We can also help you at the end of the writing process: let us take care of your dissertation editing and dissertation formatting.


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