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Dissertation writers sometimes get stuck in revisions forever.
Imagine this common scenario: You’ve put your heart, blood, and time into creating and submitting an initial dissertation prospectus, concept paper, or dissertation proposal — only to receive a request for revision. Now, it’s up to you to revise this thing and return it to your chair and/or committee members such that you can move forward. You make the revisions based upon your understanding of the requests being made. You resubmit. Then, it happens: You receive more requests for revision.
It’s at this point where most candidates get stuck. It’s from this point that so many candidates will never advance. Such candidates are forever caught in the cycle of what I call “The Dissertation Revision Trap.”
The Dissertation Revision Trap is being caught in seemingly endless rounds of revision of an element of your dissertation or thesis such that the candidate loses momentum in their writing and hope in finishing the project. In the cycle of this trap, (1) a submission is made by the candidate, (2) the chair and/or committee members respond with revision requests, (3) the candidate makes the revisions requested, and (4) after review from the chair and/or committee, more requests for revision are made. This cycle repeats and repeats until the candidate becomes too discouraged to submit any further.
Every dissertation writer will need to complete revisions of some kind. Revisions are not a bad thing, in and of themselves. They are part of the natural structure of scholarly work. In the publishing of scholarly papers and articles, it’s exceedingly common (if not expected) to receive editorial feedback that requires revision. In professional life after graduation, revision and enhancement of work is always expected. There are rarely no-revision slam dunks in dissertation work — and, in my view, such slam dunks should be looked at with a fair bit of skepticism toward the advisors, programs, and universities involved. Revisions should be expected.
On average, candidates can expect to receive up to three revision rounds of requests — provided that the work you submit is in tip-top shape and that each revision you submit is a significant clarification on the previous submission. See the tips below to learn how to reduce revision rounds.
However, when candidates keep receiving revision requests and their draft is not advancing (getting closer to the target), something is wrong!
Here are a few reasons that candidates get stuck in this trap:
Candidates sometimes submit their “draft” before it’s fully ready for chair and committee eyes. While checking in with one’s chair, asking for feedback about specific elements of one’s draft, and asking specific questions about executing specific sections of one’s draft are great strategies to writing a great dissertation, submitting an all-out draft before you know (with about 95% certainty) that it fully (I mean fully) meets the expectations of a finished draft is pretty unwise.
Imagine I got hired to build you a house. I laid the concrete foundation and nailed a few boards together and said, “What do you think of your house?” Chances are, you’d have a few revision requests for me! Same goes for your dissertation. When you show an incomplete product to your chair, asking for feedback on the whole draft, you are guaranteed to get requests for feedback. Sometimes, revision requests at that early stage can set you up to write a dissertation that is nothing like the one you wanted to write in the first place.
The antidote to this poison: Don’t submit a full draft until you are quite sure it’s ready.
When you receive a request from a committee member, it’s natural to want to satisfy that revision. However, satisfying that revision request alone is not enough. Often, you have to adjust other elements of your draft to satisfy the revision request AND address any paper-wide changes required to accommodate the request.
For example, if you have a puzzle sitting finished on the table that fits perfectly together and I pull one piece out of it from the center and hand you another piece from another puzzle, you could not simply pop that new puzzle piece into place. You’d have to get creative with some tools, shaving off the edges of some pieces to accommodate the new one. Chances are, you’d have to look at the whole puzzle again to make sure that that little change did not make it lopsided. You might even have to grab some paint and augment the picture created by the puzzle to fit that little small revision. Same with your dissertation. The addition of a single sentence can throw off the alignment of your entire line of logic.
It’s rare that a simple revision of a sentence or two will satisfy the revision request.
The antidote: Make the requested revision and examine how the draft needs to change around the revision. Carefully check your line of logic to make sure that it still holds with the new revision. In the event you don’t understand the revision request, call the requester on the phone (yes, the phone) or meet face-to-face to ask some questions.
Sometimes, rarely, candidates will change their draft more than required. For example, if a revision request was made to augment a minute element of a single sentence and the candidate made unnecessary global changes to one’s literature review based upon that single request, that would be an overreaction.
The antidote: Ask careful questions to the person requesting the revision. Understand the extent of the change before you make it. It’s worth a phone call to understand what’s being asked of you.
If you are in this situation, I want you to reach out to me. My heart breaks for you. Know that it’s possible for you to finish — but it’s going to take some hard work. I can help you make progress. Reach out.
When you get a revision request, focus more on creating an amazing document over simply satisfying the revision request. Slow down! Get the revisions carefully done before you submit again. If you get caught in another revision round, that’s a hint to slow WAY WAY down and get some help from a trusted ally.
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