Time saving dissertation references techniques

Dissertation Reference – do’s and don’ts

Most dissertation writers go overboard on the number of references they cite. I’ve edited dissertations with 300+ references. Yikes. Way too many and it makes reviewers suspicious. Here’s a shortcut: Develop a formula based on your dissertation content outline. See how many references others used. My own dissertation was a positivistic case study and others using this methodology tended to have 75 to 100 references.

Rule 1: Start with the minimum number of dissertations.

So I figured 8-ten references for the methodology, 5-7 for each major topic and 3-5 for each sub topic. Here’s how it breaks down for mine. My title was “The combination of five factors that lead to women leaders’ decision to opt out of their senior leadership position.” I know, sounds like a real spell-binder, doesn’t it?

The title kind of gives away the five to seven major topics with sub-topics:

  • The opt out phenomenon (5 sources)
  • Organization reasons for opting out (23 sources)
    • Organization reasons — multiple (boss, culture, M&As, etc.)
    • Organization reasons — discrimination (glass ceiling, lack of advancement / development opportunities)
    • Organization reasons — policies (work / life balance policies)
  • Career reasons for opting out (26 sources – overlap with organization reasons)
    • Career reasons — men and women career choices
    • Career reasons — obstacles and lack of opportunity (men vs. women)
    • Career reasons — patterns (general)
    • Career reasons — patterns for women
    • Career reasons — retention and development
  • Family reasons for opting out (28 sources)
    • Family reasons — career change
    • Family reasons — work / life balance
  • Personal reasons for opting out (13 sources – overlap with career)
    • Personal reasons — life stage and self-awareness
    • Personal reasons — stress and time
  • Openness to change factor in decision to opt out (6 sources)
  • Positivistic case study methodology (5 sources)

There was a lot of overlap but I ended up with 123 references. The secret is to start with an outline. I sort of had an idea going in that there would be a variety of reasons so I started with the obvious. I found a couple dissertations on the opt out phenomenon and discovered a few major references that seemed to pop up in all of the dissertations. I bounced back and forth with the basics and stopped myself after about references for each topic.

This is a big deal. I know a lot of people who go nuts finding everything they can about a topic and printing out entire articles. Better to stick with the main ones for now.

Rule #2. Find out your school’s reference dates policy.

Most schools are very strict on the relevance of references according to date. In other words, stick with recent citations even if there isn’t a written policy. My school had a policy that 75% of the references had to be from the last decade. The exception was seminal research like Lewin’s change formula or similar kinds of references – usually related to research methodology or some broader topic.

One woman I worked with recently had to make a boatload of changes because her university required references within the past five years. That information was in the dissertation guidelines but she didn’t notice it and no one pointed it out until she was on the third version of her proposal. Ask first.

Rule #3. Peer review only, please.

A lot of universities assume a lot. For instance, chairs and committees figure you know to use peer-reviewed references for the majority of your references. Again, estimate that 80% of your references should be peer-reviewed citations. It’s easiest to include that in the search criteria. For this search I went under Academic Search Premier then clicked four limiters:

  • Full text
  • References available
  • Scholarly/Peer reviewed Journals
  • Published date 2010 to 2016

I also check PDF Full Text which is an easier to use format.


Rule #4. A trick to finding references fast.

One of the advantages of clicking “references available” is that you can look at the reference list and get lists of other references. You’ll use the same criteria for years published and peer-reviewed and referenced. Then you read the abstract to see if it makes sense to go any further and save the PDF in a folder with the keywords and title and author. Once you go through four or five references you start to get a sense of the significant research on the topic.

Rule #5. Use styles instead of hard returns and keystroke spacing in references.

Arghhh. This makes me crazy. I’ll turn on “show invisibles” and see a hard paragraph return after each line and a tab for the next line. Instead set up a style that says references and use it for all.


  • Use styles instead of hard returns
  • Purdue owl format
  • No space after doi
  • References less than 10 years or 5 years if time sensitive or that’s what your chair/school/committee wants
  • As cited in – don’t do it
  • Create your references while you’re creating literature review. Use at the end of single page citation on outline topic. Keep a separate document with references. What a lot of chairs and committees will do is look at references first to get a sense of the research and citations. 75% need to be peer-reviewed. I made up that number but that’s what I was told and I think it makes sense.
  • Use apa and get as close as possible so your editor can add some value. Like suggest more references or inconsistencies.


Dr. Kat (aka Dr. Kathleen Cannon)

Fun, fast, experienced, reasonably priced dissertation editing, coaching, and therapy.
Contact drkatcannon@dissedit.com

©2016 Kathleen J Cannon





Better dead than ABD

…okay, maybe not dead but…

This is kind of a continuation of the last tip. I’ve worked with three people lately (and many earlier) who completed their doctorate 10 or more years after beginning their program. The reasons for completing the degree after such a long time appear to be as numerous and varied as the reasons for remaining lifelong ABDers. Here are several reasons I’ve heard for finishing:

  1. My wife/husband made me. “I was told in no uncertain terms that she hadn’t sacrificed all those years and listened to me complain endlessly to not have me finish.”
  2. My father was dying. “I knew my father was ill but finding out he was terminal was the final push I needed. He wanted to see me graduate. That was a tight deadline and I made it. He died shortly after graduation and one of our last conversations was about how proud he was of me.”
  3. I wanted to finish before my daughter. “My daughter started college at the same time I started work on my dissertation. No way was she going to finish before me!”
  4. My chair kept pushing. “I had a great chair but life kept getting in the way. He finally said I had to finish so he could move on! He had invested a lot of time and energy and faith in me and he said I just had to do it. Period.”
  5. I did it for the money. “I found out I had three semesters of grace before I would take a huge financial hit. That was the motivation I needed to finish my dissertation.”
  6. I got sick of people asking me about it. “I had been in school for so long that people stopped asking me about my dissertation. That’s when I knew I had to finish.”
  7. I got pregnant with my third (surprise) child. “I had been putting off finishing my dissertation and about 20 seconds after I found I was pregnant with my third child I decided now’s the time. I knew if I didn’t do it now I never would – or at least it would take me 18 years!”
  8. I was told point-blank I had topped out without my doctorate. “I think I always knew on some level that finishing my doctorate would help in my career but I had to be told outright that I would be going backwards without it. What a wakeup call.”
  9. “I realized one day when I was making yet another excuse about how I didn’t have time, blah, blah, blah, that I was letting everyone down by not finishing.”
  10. A recruiter said I couldn’t put ABD on my resume. “Well, technically I could have kept putting ABD on my resume for a hundred years but this recruiter said that after two years I’m better off removing any mention of a doctorate. He said it looks better to not have started than to not have finished.”
  11. I had a health scare. “While it turned out to be a false alarm I had an epiphany waiting for results of an MRI. I decided I wanted “Dr.” with my obituary. It might have been shallow but it was what I needed to get back in the game.”
  12. I was turning 50. “I had had all these big ideas for what I would accomplish by the time I was 50 and had actually succeeded at achieving most of them. But when I turned 49 I realized I had to move quickly to finish my dissertation in a year. I didn’t want that hanging over my head anymore.”
  13. A co-worker asked me about my bucket list. “I realized I only had one thing on my bucket list – finish that damn dissertation.”
  14. I wanted to teach college. “My whole career I was a “suit” and talked about how I wanted to finish out my working career by teaching college. That wasn’t going to happen without a doctorate. Then our company started doing reengineering or downsizing or whatever the latest term is so I thought I better finish my doctorate just in case.”
  15. I saw someone facing bigger obstacles who did it. “A friend of mine with a full time job, two teens, and an elderly mother was able to do it. I felt like I had used up all my excuses.”

Stay tuned for some of the more creative reasons I’ve heard for not finishing. (No, not the dog ate my dissertation.)

Dr. Kat (aka Dr. Kathleen Cannon)

Fun, fast, experienced, reasonably priced dissertation editing, coaching, and therapy.
Contact drkatcannon@dissedit.com

©2016 Kathleen J Cannon

Deciding to finish your dissertation

…do you have what it takes to finish?

This is going to be a different type of blog. One that comes from years of acting as a dissertation therapist as well as a dissertation editor. I’ve started noticing over the years – and had my own epiphany while I was working on my dissertation – that there comes a time in the dissertation process that you have to make a conscious decision to finish. More than that, you have to decide at what level you want to be at. (Don’t worry, I wouldn’t let you get by with that kind of sentence construction in your dissertation!)

In my own dissertation I remember thinking “Can I do this?” “Do I have it in me to finish?” I’ve always been a little smug about my sense of discipline and dogged determination. It’s taken me through times when I had nothing else going for me. But there came a time when I questioned even that capability to persevere. I felt I had already dipped into my reserve tank and was running on fumes. It was only when I allowed myself to question my ability to finish that I felt I could. I know that doesn’t make sense. Put another way, I decided to go with it and see if I could just do a little bit more and that would have to be enough. I stopped second guessing myself and just kept keeping on. This went against everything I believed to be true about myself. Somehow I finished. It was humbling. I don’t take much for granted anymore.

I’ve worked with many editing clients over the years who’ve had similar experiences. After they finished I asked several who I admired most how they did it? How did they talk themselves into finishing?

Example one: Jocelyn. It took Jocelyn ten years from the beginning of her coursework until graduation. She went through three advisors, two major job changes/promotions, family pains (raising young children and taking care of aging parents at the same time), and a personal health crisis. When I asked how she did it – all the starts and stops and changes – she said “it all would have been for nothing if I hadn’t finished. …All the excuses, all the stress, all the times I wasn’t where I was supposed to be or wanted to be because I had to work on my dissertation. How could I live with myself if I didn’t finish? How could I let all those people down?”

Example two: Steven. Another person I admired was getting blasted from all sides. An ill-advised chair choice. Chemical abuse and subsequent treatment for his teenage daughter. The breakup of his marriage. A career change. The list goes on. To make matters worse, he went all the way through the proposal phase and his case study company pulled the plug. So it was back to the drawing board with a new proposal, new topic, new participants. His logic for finishing was that he needed to set an example for his daughter. How could he expect her to work so hard to get healthy and deal with an addiction if he couldn’t summon the inner resources to regroup and “get it done.”


Example three: Fred. While it might not seem like a big deal, Fred’s dissertation hit the rails when he was beginning his research after successfully defending his proposal when the company who created the sophisticated instrument he was going to use reneged on their agreement. Again, doesn’t sound like that big a deal but it did involve going back to the IRB (institutional review board) several times with a new self-designed instrument. Because it wasn’t a tested instrument he had to complete a complicated process involving pilot testing, subject matter experts, revamping his literature review, and changing his survey questions. I asked him how he kept going and he shrugged and said: “What are you going to do?”

Example four: Katherine. Another client of mine, Katherine, had decided twice that she’d had enough and wasn’t going to finish. It wasn’t what she wanted anymore. It had been eight years and she’d had it. She didn’t need it for her career or her feelings of self. Then her father got cancer and said: “If you’re going to do this, can you just finish so I can watch you graduate?” No one in her family or extended family had a doctorate and her father wanted bragging rights. Katherine did add that her father also said: “If you’re not going to finish can you at least stop talking about it?” Katherine finished and dedicated the dissertation to her father.

Who knows why people finish or don’t finish a dissertation. All I’m saying is that almost everyone I’ve worked with reaches a point where they have to dig deep, put their back into it, and just get it done.

Dr. Kat (aka Dr. Kathleen Cannon)

Fun, fast, experienced, reasonably priced dissertation editing, coaching, and therapy.
Contact drkatcannon@dissedit.com

©2016 Kathleen J Cannon

So you want to fire your dissertation chair / advisor

…and not have it come back to bite you in the a_ _.

I was lucky with my choice of dissertation chair, beyond lucky. But it wasn’t all luck. I started with ruthless self-awareness. I wanted to be done. I was running out of time and money and, while I wanted to contribute something to the research in my field, my real priority was getting ‘er done!

Let me digress for a second. There’s a wonderful blog by the thesis whisperer where he talks about how he parted ways with his supervisor. Interestingly enough, his supervisor’s style is pretty close to what worked for me, with the exception that my chair was also kind, thorough, brilliant, and empathetic.

Here’s what he said about his advisor: “As it happens I was not trying to do anything too radical with my approach to research and writing. I wanted to understand the big picture of my research field, try to learn some theory and apply it appropriately. I wanted to write about my insights on policy and current practice in relation to my topic area, based on published, scholarly literature. Basically I wanted to come out confident I had contributed something to knowledge via my topic, gained valuable skills and expertise, but still have lots more to learn. Personal growth and insight would come in parallel with the academic skills as part of the complex PhD journey.”

Instead, what he got was:

Her vision of what ‘research training’ entails is to stay totally focused on your topic. My summary of her description is this: Don’t talk to anyone, don’t write anything non-academic. The topic is not what is important – all that matters is getting finished and being able then to move on to something interesting and collaborative. …Exclude everything else from life until it is done, because it is the piece of paper that matters, and opens doors to other opportunities.

This style didn’t work for him but it was exactly what I needed. That single-minded purpose is what got me through the proposal, research, and writing process at near warp speed. I told everyone – family and friends alike – that I was unavailable until I was finished. I said “no” to most invitations for coffee, used a grocery delivery service and takeout to keep food on the table, and hunkered down to spend every non work minute on my dissertation. The only thing I was careful not to exclude was exercising every day. I set expectations with everyone and found that apparently I had been quite cranky so most people were willing to give me the space I needed to finish. This also meant they didn’t have to hear about my “damn dissertation.”

Others I’ve talked to in my time completing my doctorate and editing dissertations for others reveal that it’s not uncommon to finish with a different chair/advisor than the one you started with (fabulous sentence construction, right?).

Example #1: One woman I knew had a chair who refused to use track changes/insert comments to provide feedback and edits. Instead she wanted to do everything with handwritten notes and meet in person to discuss all the changes. This wouldn’t have been so bad if she hadn’t left the country for weeks at a time, took short term sabbaticals at whim, or was simply too disorganized to show up for scheduled meetings.

It also meant Example 1 didn’t have a paper trail of previous changes so there was no way to go back and see if she was on the right track or respond to other changes that didn’t agree with the previous changes. The woman started taping the conversations to have a record of all of the changes and when they were made. Yikes.

The outcome? Example 1 went to the department head (before saying anything to her chair) and said “find me someone I can work with” and they did. The chair wasn’t happy.

The lesson? Ask prospective chairs/advisors how you’ll be working with them. How they provide feedback. Do they use track changes. How often you need to meet. What will happen if you disagree.

Example #2: A man I know picked a chair, planned out his dissertation work, and was into the proposal when the chair said he was taking a one-year sabbatical and they could still work online. Example 2 said he felt he’d work better with someone one-on-one who could meet in person at critical points.

The outcome? Example 2 went to his chair, talked it out, and they both agreed there might be a better fit. The man went to the department office to work it out.

The lesson? Ask prospective chairs if they have time to chair your dissertation. Tell them your schedule and plan. Ask if they will be unavailable for long periods of time.

Example #3: Another man I know simply didn’t get along with the person he chose as his chair. Their personalities didn’t mesh and they butted heads from the beginning. He just couldn’t see the next two years of his life (an estimate of how long it would take him) with this chair.

The outcome? Example 3 asked his chair point blank if he thought they should continue working together on the dissertation. Not surprisingly, the chair gave him an out. They left it on good terms and the Example 3 found someone he could work with.

The lesson? Ask around about personality styles of people you’re considering for your chair. Be upfront in asking if they think your personalities would mesh. When you’re interviewing the prospective chair (or you’re interviewing each other) ask him/her what kind of personality he or she works well with.

Example #4: A woman I know was using a grounded theory methodology and was surprised mid-way through her proposal to hear her chair had never worked with grounded theory but “was always interested in that methodology” so thought this was a good opportunity to learn more about it. What! Example 4 said, in nice terms, that she must have misunderstood (she didn’t) when the chair agreed to work with her and assumed the chair had experience in this methodology.

The outcome? Example 4 told the chair that she felt she had to work with someone who understood this methodology. The chair pushed back a little but Example 4 insisted on making a change. By saying that it was her (Example 4’s) fault for not asking specifically if the chair had experience in this methodology she allowed the chair to save face.

The lesson? Ask if the prospective chair has experience in your methodology. One of the reasons my chair and I were a good fit is that I wanted to do a positivistic case study and she had lots of experience with this methodology.

Example #5: A woman I know found out fairly early on in the proposal process that her chair wasn’t all that knowledgeable about or interested in her topic. That means her chair wouldn’t be a resource for research direction nor a strong cheerleader for the value of the topic and research itself.

The outcome? Example 5 said she felt like they were early enough in the process that she’d like to explore working with someone with more knowledge about her topic. She left off the part about saying the chair didn’t seem that interested in her topic.

The lesson? Ask a prospective chair if he or she is familiar with your topic and if this is something he or she would like to explore. Most people are pretty honest about this. If you’re not sure you could ask for specific examples of similar research.

Bottom line: Choosing a dissertation chair is serious business. You’re going to be joined at the hip for around two years (about average) so it better be someone you like and can work with.

Dr. Kat (aka Dr. Kathleen Cannon)

Fun, fast, experienced, reasonably priced dissertation editing, coaching, and therapy.

Contact drkatcannon@dissedit.com

©2016 Kathleen J. Cannon

Dissertations and Plagiarism — Say it isn’t so

Should universities require the use of plagiarism software? Many say “no,” even more say “he__, no.”

Some universities are beginning to require the use of plagiarism software. I’ve included an example from one university that requires the use of turnitin.com, one of the big names in plagiarism software. But I’m not providing a URL and changing the copy so it doesn’t seem like they’re connected to the following personal opinions about the dangers of using plagiarism software.

“Unfortunately, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests scholarly works, including theses and dissertations, are not immune to various types of plagiarism. These documents are becoming increasingly accessible with the move towards Electronic Theses and Dissertations and their publication through portals; … it is critical to ensure that these documents are plagiarism-free, as evidence of this would severely damage students’, advisors’, and the institution’s reputation. Therefore… the Office of Graduate Studies has instituted a requirement that theses and dissertation be analyzed using plagiarism-detection software.” Note that this university uses turnitin.com

Let’s back up. Here’s how most universities define plagiarism: Plagiarism is one example of academic dishonesty. Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s ideas or work as your own. Plagiarism also includes copying verbatim or rephrasing ideas without properly acknowledging the source by author, date, and publication medium.

A plagiarism rant from a friend of mine

Here’s what a friend of mine in the dissertation business has to say about plagiarism software:

“Plagiarism software is becoming pretty popular at some schools and I hate it! A very popular one, Turnitin, is a problem because if you run a draft through the Turnitin checker, it will store that draft and then when you go back later to check it again, or when the reviewer of the students’ work runs the submitted dissertation through, the work comes back as plagiarized. This is because that %$**&^ Turnitin has saved the student’s draft in the database!

I’ve had a few clients who have specifically told me NOT to check work with a plagiarism software because of this very reason. Some reviewers just run a dissertation through, get a result that the work is 90% plagiarized, and want to report the student…or they at the very least scare the heck of the poor student, who then calls me and says the work is plagiarized. Which it isn’t!

Example: I’ve been working with a client for about a year on her proposal methodology as she goes through some of her final classes. Each class the instructor reviews what she has, gives input, and we make some more adjustments. The adjustments by now are just silly things that I think the reviewer suggests, just because they have to critique something. Well, the last class she took, the instructor sent her work through a plagiarism checker and you know what? 100% plagiarized! That is because her document had been submitted in a prior class by a prior instructor so the software was comparing the students work to her own work! That isn’t the bad part. The bad part is the instructor had such a hard time understanding this concept and wanted to report the work as plagiarized. Luckily someone convinced him to look at the information more closely so he could see that Turnitin was just referencing her earlier draft that hadn’t changed much in the current draft.

Long story…I know…The other thing reviewers do is that they send the document through the plagiarism checker with the references. Well, of course the references are all going to be marked as plagiarized, they’ve been cited probably many, many times in other articles or works in APA format, so they are verbatim the same from document to document.

Anyway, plagiarism software is the devil in the wrong hands for sure. And unfortunately many reviewers don’t seem to understand how to work with it correctly. And, most likely if you run this person’s work through a plagiarism check he will find himself having to ‘splain himself on the next draft when it comes back as 95% plagiarized due to his own prior plagiarism check.

Ok, as Forrest says, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

Plagiarism by any other name…

“How To Check A PhD Dissertation For Plagiarism.” This was the title of an article saying how you can check a PhD written by a third party for plagiarism. Am I missing something here (let the rant begin!)? Aren’t dissertations supposed to be original work? Anyway, here’s what it says:

When you have your PhD dissertation written by a third party, one of the things you need to worry about is the risk of plagiarism. There are times when you may end up finding that parts of the dissertation are copied from some other source. In such cases, the entire dissertation may be rejected, and this means that you may need to start writing it afresh. In order to avoid such inconveniences, you need to come up with ways of ensuring that your dissertation is not considered to be plagiarism. There are a number of things you need to keep in mind when doing this including:

Sorry, I just don’t get this. And this is why I didn’t cite the source. It sounds like it’s promoting plagiarism!

First-hand plagiarism story:

I worked on editing one dissertation that was so inconsistent in its writing that I knew exactly which paragraphs were plagiarized. The way I checked was to copy and paste what I thought were plagiarized sections and sure enough, the original work was there for all to see. (More on this later.) I contacted the client and suggested maybe he didn’t understand he had to include page numbers if he copied something exactly. (It had a citation with author and year but no page number.) He wanted me to show him exactly which paragraphs were plagiarized because he had spent a lot of money for someone to write his dissertation proposal and didn’t think he should pay him if he plagiarized citations. I declined.

Which leads me to the question: How does someone get to this stage in the doctoral process without knowing this? And by “this” I mean what is and is not plagiarism. Bottom line. If you copy something exactly you have to have author, year, and page number. That’s basic APA style. My answer to the bigger question of how someone can get all through the dissertation coursework (presumably using APA style for everything) to the dissertation stage and not know this (or at least one answer is): Beware of non-accredited online doctoral programs. A disclaimer here: I’ve edited lots of dissertations from accredited online doctoral programs and their programs and doctoral guidelines and advisors and chairs are as rigid as any I’ve seen.

How plagiarism software works

There are several plagiarism software programs in the marketplace and more entering the market practically every day: turnitin.com; safeassign.com, and grammarly.com and others.



“Instantly check to see if student work is original by comparing it to the most comprehensive database in the industry, including the world’s largest repository of student papers. Color-coded and percentage-tagged highlights provide immediate insight into matched content.”



“SafeAssign is a tool used to prevent plagiarism and to create opportunities to help students identify how to properly attribute sources rather than paraphrase. SafeAssign is effective as both a deterrent and an educational tool. SafeAssign compares submitted assignments against a set of sources to identify areas of overlap between the submitted assignment and existing works.”


“Grammarly is an automated proofreader and plagiarism checker. It corrects up to 10 times as many mistakes as other word processors.”

An article in insidehighered.com (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/03/13/detect) entitled “False positives on plagiarism checkers” compared Turnitin and SafeAssign.

“Generally, the study found that Turnitin was much more likely than competitor SafeAssign (which is part of Blackboard) to identify material as being potentially not original. But that finding shouldn’t necessarily cheer Turnitin. The researchers reported that many of the instances of “non-originality” that Turnitin finds aren’t plagiarism, but are just the use of jargon, course terms or the sort of lack of originality one might expect in a freshman paper. In other cases, the study found that Turnitin didn’t necessarily identify the correct source of plagiarized materials.”

“False positives: Many of the phrases or sentences flagged by both services — but especially the greater number identified by Turnitin — weren’t plagiarism, but were cases in which certain phrases appeared for legitimate reasons in many student papers. For example, the researchers found high percentages of flagged material in the topic terms of papers (for example “global warming”) or “topic phrases,” which they defined as the paper topic with a few words added (for example “the prevalence of childhood obesity continues to rise”).”

“Likewise, commonly used phrases generate much flagging even though writing something like “there is not enough money to go around,” while not original, wouldn’t be considered plagiarism. When the Texas Tech researchers started asking professors about some of these issues, they discovered unusual work-arounds, such as a professor who tells his students to write their papers, and then to delete any topic sentences so that their papers won’t be flagged in error.”

What if you want to check yourself?

Much of the software is for universities and professors to check their students’ work for plagiarism. I checked grammarly.com to try out a plagiarism checker.

I typed in my paragraph about myself “Dr. Kat is the president of The Cannon Agency, LLC, a St. Paul-based writing, editing, and communications consulting firm. She publishes the “She Said What?”…” and was told “significant plagiarism was detected.”

Then, to find out how to correct the plagiarism (and grammar and syntax and style), you can subscribe to a monthly, quarterly, or yearly plan. Again, I declined.

Alternatives to plagiarism software

Most university dissertation guidelines include something about plagiarism and honesty. Purdue https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/589/01/ has this to say: (Purdue University students will want to make sure that they are familiar with Purdue’s official academic dishonesty policy as well as any additional policies that their instructors have implemented.) http://www.purdue.edu/purdue/about/integrity_statement.html

The Council on Writing Program Administrators (http://wpacouncil.org/positions/WPAplagiarism.pdf) published this document about plagiarism. It’s surprisingly interesting and easy to read.


Thanks for listening to my rant. More on plagiarism and plagiarism software to come!

Dr. Kat (aka Dr. Kathleen Cannon)

Fun, fast, reasonably priced dissertation editing, coaching, and therapy.
Contact drkatcannon@dissedit.com

©2016 KathleenJCannon

You’ve got (dissertation) style, baby

How to save time and money using MS Word styles

The good thing about dissertations is that the format is rigid. Chapter 1 is this, chapter 2 is this, chapter 5 discusses this. Most dissertations are done using APA style which is also pretty rigid. There’s a style for everything. Headings. Type fonts. Tables. Figures. References. Tables of content (or is it Table of Contents?).

The problem with using “normal” for everything and changing the styles for everything else is that if anything changes you have to go back and change every single thing. For example, let’s say you messed up on the margins and had a 1” left margin and had to change it to 1.5”. That could throw off everything. It’s much easier to go to styles and click Heading 2 and change all the styles at once.


What are styles?

Let’s back up. What are styles? Microsoft (https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/2726316) says that “built-in styles are combinations of formatting characteristics that you can apply to text to quickly change its appearance. For example, applying the Heading 1 style might make text bold, Arial, and 16 point, and applying the Heading 2 style makes text bold, italic, Arial, and 14 point.”

Benefits of using styles

Here’s what I wrote to one client. “I assigned styles to everything so it doesn’t get all hinky [a technical academic editing term] when someone with different defaults in their word program opens your document. The references especially took a little while but using paragraph returns to line things up will be a huge problem later—might as well deal with it now.” And this. “I removed the hard paragraph returns and followed styles here. Everything could be reformatted if someone has different default settings so you always want to follow formats.”

The University of Illinois Springfield (http://www.uis.edu/informationtechnologyservices/wp-content/uploads/sites/106/2013/04/Word2007Styles.pdf) gives these benefits for using styles.

  • Easier to modify. If you need to change formatting you only need to update the style once; changes apply to all text formatted with that style.
  • Efficiency and consistency. It saves time to save a group of formatting attributes as a style so they can be applied multiple times throughout a document. It also helps to keep formatting consistent throughout the document.
  • Faster to navigate. You can navigate through your document using styles. That means you can look for all the heading 2s for instance and check and see if they’re consistent with your TOC.


Practical typography.com (http://practicaltypography.com/paragraph-and-character-styles.html) notes that styles are the DNA of doc­u­ment lay­out. Styles make it easy to con­trol ty­pog­ra­phy across a doc­u­ment and can also be reused across mul­ti­ple doc­u­ments or web­sites. The re­sult is bet­ter, more con­sis­tent ty­pog­ra­phy with less work each time. Other style benefits from practicaltypography.com include:

  • Styles let you de­fine sets of for­mat­ting at­trib­utes that get ap­plied to­gether. So in­stead of se­lect­ing a head­ing, chang­ing it to 13 point, bold, and all caps, you can de­fine a style that in­cludes these three at­trib­utes, and ap­ply the style to the heading. What’s the ben­e­fit? When you come across the next head­ing, you don’t need to in­di­vid­u­ally ap­ply those three at­trib­utes. You ap­ply the style you de­fined be­fore. The head­ings will then match.
  • Styles let you change for­mat­ting across a class of re­lated el­e­ments. Sup­pose you want to change your head­ings from 13 point to 13.5 point. In­stead of se­lect­ing each head­ing sep­a­rately and chang­ing the point size—a te­dious project—you can change the point size in the head­ing style de­f­i­n­i­tion from 13 point to 13.5 point. Head­ings us­ing that style will be au­to­mat­i­cally updated. What’s the ben­e­fit? Up­dat­ing the for­mat­ting is cen­tral­ized and au­to­matic.
  • Styles can in­herit for­mat­ting from other styles. A change to the par­ent style will prop­a­gate to all the sub­styles. But a change to the sub­style will only af­fect that one style. What’s the ben­e­fit? In­her­i­tance adds an­other layer of cen­tral­ized au­toma­tion—it’s like hav­ing styles of styles. You can de­fine a set of foun­da­tion styles and use them as the ba­sis for more elab­o­rate styles.

Software Lifetips.com (http://software.lifetips.com/tip/59071/word-97/styles/b-major-benefits-of-using-styles-in-ms-word-b.html) notes the same benefits of using styles.

  • Consistency – you can be sure that all of your headings are the same if you format them using a style.
  • Time saving – you can apply all the formatting that a section means in one go. No more changing the font, then the size, then the colour, then the alignment, etc.
  • Changes can be made globally – to make a change to all of your main headings would normally be a pain. You’d have to search through your document, find each heading and make sure you made the changes correctly each time. With Styles, you don’t need to worry. Just modify the style and your changes will be reflected everywhere you’ve used that style.
  • Advanced features. If your document is formatted using styles, then advanced features like Table of Contents can be created in a matter of seconds.

APA Style

Your dissertation will have maybe six styles with some having sub-styles.

  • Normal (12 point Times Roman, double spaced, first line indented .5)
  • Block style (12 point Times Roman, double spaced, left indent .5)
  • Headings 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (See Purdue Owl below)
  • TOC (the TOC styles follow headings so you’ll have as many TOC styles as you have headings)
  • References (12 point Times Roman, double spaced, 2nd and 3rd lines indented .5)
  • Bullets (you can now use bullets in APA 6th; 12 point Times Roman, double spaced, hanging indent .5)

Tip: Change styles so they’re not based on normal. Instead base them on no style.


Purdue Owl – the be all and end all of APA.

Purdue Owl is probably the best source for all things APA. Check out their headings style pages


Dr. Kat

Fun, fast, experienced, reasonably priced dissertation editing, coaching, and therapy.
Contact drkatcannon@dissedit.com

©2016 KathleenJCannon

Dissertation editors are like plumbers

Or electricians or appliance or furnace repair technicians…

Prepare for a mini rant. When I was at the end of writing my dissertation I was a complete noodle. Emotionally. Intellectually. Physically. Financially. I know what a doctoral program costs. In addition to the actual costs of books and tuition there are the opportunity costs. Maybe you have to take time off work or can’t work as many hours because you’re working on your, say it with me now, “damn dissertation.” And there are costs involved in doing practicums. (I did two consulting practicums in Kiev, Ukraine and probably could have found something closer to home but wouldn’t have missed those experiences for the world.)

How we estimate editing costs

Back to my point. You’ve finished your proposal or completed your research and turned in all five chapters and your chair/advisor suggests you get an editor or you decide yourself you’d like an editor to go over it one last time. In my experience, if an advisor/chair suggests an editor, you need one! So you contact someone like me or another academic editor and ask for an estimate. Editors are different but here’s what I do/say: Send me your proposal or dissertation complete with references and appendices and I’ll edit a couple pages to tell you what it will cost and how long it will take. I also say that I track my time in 15-minute increments and will charge less if it takes less time than I think…but it won’t cost more if it takes more time than I estimated.

Costs are not-negotiable

Sounds pretty straightforward doesn’t it? Apparently not to some people. Here’s an email thread from a recent estimate:

Doctoral candidate: My name is ____________ and I am a doctoral student at ___________. My dissertation is 63 pages long and has mostly been edited by my chair and committee members. I have been given the go ahead to have final editing completed for submission to proqwest. I am wondering if you can provide me with information about your services, including an estimate of cost and how long it might take.

My response to the original query: Hi _________. I reviewed your dissertation and edited a few sample pages. I estimate it would cost about $350. I track my time in 15 minute increments so if it doesn’t take me as long as I think that’s all I charge you for. But I don’t charge if I go over the estimate. I would like a week to complete the editing. Let me know!

Doctoral candidate: I was hoping not to spend more than $250.00 as I am on a budget, being a poor college student. Dr. _____, the director of the program, has asked us to provide him with the edits to review once our editor has finished. He would like to create his own list of dissertation editors for the program.

My response: I hear you about finances (having recently completed my doctorate) but know that my rates are reasonable. As I mentioned I do keep track of my time but feel the amount I quoted you is pretty accurate. Believe me I will not be hurt if you go with someone else. I get a lot of referrals from professors at _____ who are familiar with my work and think I will continue to do so. Best of luck to you!

Doctoral candidate: I didn’t mean to offend you and did not mean to imply that your rates were not reasonable. I am sure your work is very good and that you receive a lot of referrals from _________. I was simply stating that I was “hoping to keep the cost around $250, because that is all of the money I can afford at this point.” I suppose I should have followed that statement with would you take a payment arrangement for the additional $100. I suppose I was waiting for you to provide me with options you might be willing to work out versus being direct and asking. So this is good learning lesson.

My response: Thanks for the explanation. I am not comfortable negotiating my rate or the payment terms (within 7 days of emailing file) — makes it seem a little too commoditized (a word?) for me. Maybe ______ writing center could help?

Why dissertation editors are like plumbers

When the water won’t go down in your tub (or comes up in your toilet—yuck) you call a plumber and are told that the service call is $85.00 plus so much for every ¼ hour and parts and whatever. Same with an appliance or furnace repair person or electrician. And heaven forbid you need someone outside of regular business hours which of course you always do. If you don’t like what they charge you can move on to someone else. It’s all up front – no negotiating.

If someone doesn’t like what I charge or my payment terms or want to work with me, that’s their business. But I don’t think they should try to negotiate rates or say they’ll refer me if I give them a deal. Or, as one person suggested, “If you charge less for the proposal I’ll give you my entire dissertation.” They wouldn’t do it with a plumber…or maybe they would!

By the way…it wouldn’t normally be $350 for 63 pages but I could tell from editing just a few pages that this dissertation would require a boatload of editing. I mean, who spells “phenomenological” incorrectly in the title? Not a good sign.

Dr. Kat

Fun, fast, experienced, reasonably priced dissertation editing, coaching, and therapy.
Contact drkatcannon@dissedit.com

©2016 KathleenJCannon


If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times — skip the hyperbole

And adverbs and adjectives for that matter

You know all those things that make magazine articles and books and online content and virtually everything else you read interesting? Similes, analogies, metaphors, hyperbole, and my personal favorite, onomatopoeia? And what about plain old adjectives and adverbs? With dissertation writing, “fuggetaboutit.” Let’s take them one at a time.

Analogies. Example from the movie Forrest Gump. “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Oxford Dictionaries (oxforddictionaries.com) defines an analogy as “A comparison between two things, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification.”

Well, then, I guess analogies have no place in dissertations because you shouldn’t need them. The writing has to be clear enough that there is no need for further explanation or clarification. The only kind of comparison might be a causal comparative methodology (research that attempts to identify a cause-effect relationship between two or more groups). So the difference between an analogy and the causal comparative study is that analogies explain or clarify and causal comparative studies identify cause-effect relationships.

Hyperbole. The title of this dissertation tip is a good/spectacular/fabulous/stupendous example of hyperbole:  If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, skip the hyperbole. Thefreedictionary.com defines hyperbole as “a figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect, as in I could sleep for a year or This book weighs a ton.”

With dissertations, exaggeration or overstating could land you in a heap of trouble. Even the use of the words “good,” or “interesting,” or “unfortunately” could be seen as editorializing. All readers are different and bring their own experiences to the table. Just the facts, please.

Metaphors. Example from ereadingworksheets.com. “I was lost in a sea of nameless faces.” Yourdictionary.com defines metaphors as “a figure of speech containing an implied comparison, in which a word or phrase ordinarily and primarily used of one thing is applied to another.”

Yes, the use of metaphors and other colorful writing techniques would make dissertations more readable, but whoever said that was the purpose of dissertations. No one wants to read a dissertation. I keep a bound copy of my dissertation (a real page-turner) on the bedside table in our guest room. Guests wouldn’t get through the title page (The Combination of Five Factors That Lead to Women Leaders’ Decision to Opt Out of Their Senior Leadership Position) before nodding off.

Onomatopoeia. I had a nun who taught English in the high school I attended who loved to point out uses of onomatopoeia. I was always just grateful that I could finally pronounce it. ˌänəˌmadəˈpēə, änəˌmädəˈpēə/ Wikipedia.com defines it as “a word that phonetically imitates, resembles or suggests the source of the sound that it describes.” Examples are cuckoo, sizzle, sprinkle, squirt, drip, drizzle. Yourdictionary.com has great examples of onomatopoeia related to voice: giggle, growl, grunt, gurgle, mumble, murmur, bawl, belch, chatter, blurt.

Unfortunately (another word you can’t use in a dissertation), as much as you’d like to make your dissertation content “sizzle,” don’t give in to the temptation.

Adverbs and Adjectives – even these are a no-no. There’s a great article by William Noble “Don’t Use Adverbs and Adjectives to Prettify Your Prose” (http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/write-first-chapter-get-started/nobles-writing-blunders-excerpt, August, 2008) that says that good authors and clear writing don’t need adverbs or adjectives. Noble says that’s usually a mistake that inexperienced writers make. Most of the time both are redundant.

One really well done dissertation I worked on about “wounded warriors” going back to school used this phrase: …The moral imperative academe has to study a neglected group which has [profoundly] sacrificed itself for this country.” I suggested deleting the word “profoundly” because it seemed like editorializing and wasn’t necessary. The content itself made this a powerful statement.

Let’s step back and define each. I know, you shouldn’t be at this stage and need a definition of either but there you have it. I have a master’s in journalism and years of editing experience and I get mixed up. So here goes: An adverb often ends in “ly.” Noble uses these two examples: The stone sank quickly…The fire truck bell clanged loudly… and goes on to say, “how else would a stone sink but quickly?” and “how else would a fire truck bell clang but loudly?”

Mark Twain said: “As to the Adjective: when in doubt, strike it out.” Twain is also quoted as saying: “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them–then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are far apart.” And, “A man’s character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.”

In “Cluttered writing: adjectives and adverbs in academia” Rutgers public policy professor Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn counts adjectives and adverbs in some samples of scientific writing and concludes that “social science” writing uses about 15 percent more adjectives and adverbs than “natural science” writing. He then wonders, “Is there a reason that a social scientist cannot write as clearly as a natural scientist?” (http://www.slate.com) I think this is a rhetorical question but that’s a blog for another day.

The title of Richard Compton’s dissertation (http://linguistlist.org/pubs/diss/browse-diss-action.cfm?DissID=38022) was: “The Syntax and Semantics of Modification in Inuktitut: Adjectives and adverbs in a polysynthetic language.” Apparently Inuits don’t use adverbs or adjectives. I think we might be able to learn something from them. While this dissertation topic is pretty deep (I couldn’t really understand the abstract) it does point out that adverbs and adjectives may be superfluous to a centuries-old group. I’m just saying…

Dr. Kat

Fun, fast, experienced, reasonably priced dissertation editing, coaching, and therapy.
Contact drkatcannon@dissedit.com

©2016 KathleenJCannon


Creating a good dissertation title

Why Good Dissertation Titles are Like Making Love…

The advertising giant, David Ogilvy who was known for promoting the use of long copy in advertising, used to say that long copy was like making love, as long as you have something to offer, keep going. His philosophy was that people who are interested in a product or service crave information. Or as he put it, you can use short, clever copy to sell a candy bar but the audience for a Cessna Citation will want to know more, a lot more.

Although many people think advertising is about as far away from academia as it’s possible to get, advertisers spend billions of dollars a year coming up with the perfect headlines for their print and online advertising. That should count for something. Use these tips from the advertising world to come up with the perfect headline (I mean title) for your dissertation.

Allow for alliteration. Everybody knows what alliteration is. The most common uses of alliteration from our childhoods are
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” and “She sells seashells by the seashore,” although I think the second one was an example of a tongue twister not alliteration.

Literarydevices.com defines alliteration as the “repetition of the same consonant sounds at the beginning of words that are in close proximity to each other. This repetition of sounds brings attention to the lines in which it is used, and creates more aural rhythm.” I’m not sure what “aural rhythm” is but Literarydevices.com points out that writers from Beowolf to Shakespeare used alliteration to create it, aural rhythm that is.

Advertising has long used alliteration in headlines. A Journal of Advertising article, “The Use of Figures of Speech in Ad Headlines” by James H. Leigh (http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/9408152593/use-figures-speech-print-ad-headlines) provided an analysis of 2183 print ad headlines and found that figures of speech, including alliteration, are used in many if not most of the ad headlines.

  • EXAMPLE: Problems With Partnerships at Work: Lessons From an Irish Case Study

Assonance assists in readership. We loved that the nuns let us use this word at St. Stanislaus Catholic School when I was growing up. What rebels!  Also from Literarydevices.com, assonance “refers to the repetition of vowel sounds in close proximity.” Yourdictionary.com says that “Assonance examples are sometimes hard to find, because they work subconsciously sometimes, and are subtle. The long vowel sounds will slow down the energy and make the mood more somber, while high sounds can increase the energy level of the piece.” Hmmm…increasing the energy level of a dissertation – not gonna go there.

  • EXAMPLE: “I lie down by the side of my bride”/”Fleet feet sweep by sleeping geese”/”Hear the lark and harden to the barking of the dark fox gone to ground” by Pink Floyd. (Dictionary.com).

Oops, here’s a relevant example of assonance: The Affect of Mobile Performance Support Devices on Anxiety and
Self-Efficacy of Hospital Float Staff

Consider consonance as a literary device. Here’s a fun example from dictionary.com. “A skunk sat on a stump. The stump thought the skunk stunk. The skunk thought the stump stunk. What stunk, the skunk or the stump?” Consonance refers to the “repetition of consonant sounds in close proximity.” It sounds like alliteration, sort of, but the difference is that consonance doesn’t have to be at the beginning of the word; it can be at the beginning, middle, or end. That makes alliteration a type of consonance except it’s only the beginning of the word or stressed syllable. (TMI? Nodding off?)

  • EXAMPLE: Consequences of the Psychological Contract for the Employment Relationship: A Large Scale Survey (the hard “c” in consequences, psychological, and contract)

Bigger is better. In advertising, the headline is often used to make big claims (new, improved, better, faster, cheaper, easier). In dissertation titles, bigger can mean a large scale survey or meta-analysis or simply a big idea.

  • Example: Eyes Open Wide: Thinking About Race and Broadening Perception to Combat Racism by Louis John Camilleri (sometimes bigger means a big concept…In this case, changing thinking about race to combat racism)

Use colorful words. In advertising, words are used to create a mood, to create an image, to initiate action. That action in dissertations translates to someone sourcing or reading your dissertation. The more colorful words you can use in your title the more citations you’ll get. Some words are more colorful than others. The example uses the words “dynamic” and “conflict” to create interest. The author could have chosen “changing” instead of dynamic which isn’t as strong or “discord” for conflict. Go to thesaurus.com to search for more colorful words for your title. (But not too colorful; it is a dissertation after all.)

  • EXAMPLE: The dynamic nature of conflict: A longitudinal study of intragroup conflict and group performance

Use the shortest words possible. There’s something about dissertations and dissertation titles that brings out the verbosity (verboseness?) in people. Advertising headlines often use the ERF (Easy Reading Formula) to ensure concise headlines. Here’s how ERF works: You assign a point for every consonant and try to keep it to as few points as possible. Try it. It’s kind of fun to shave points. That means “utilizing” gets four points and “using” gets two points. That means you can save your points for point-suckers like “phenomenological.”

  • EXAMPLE: Analysis of Leadership Perceptions Using Multi-rater Feedback (notice “using” instead of “utilizing although the author could have substituted “leader” for “leadership” saving two more points…I’m just saying).

Play to your strengths. If you tie two things together that nobody expects to tie together, go for it. Look at your topic and using the example below, you wouldn’t expect to see “musical responses” and AIDS together.

  • Example: Musical Responses to AIDS: Meaning and Signification in Two Works for Solo Piano by Robert Savage and Kevin Oldham. (Note: The author could have used “significance” instead of “signification and saved one whole point.)

You don’t have to start with the title or headline. Sometimes the headline emerges from the scintillating body copy or a subhead works better as a head. Start with a working title and go from there. Lots of times the working title turns out to be the best title anyway. So if someone says, “What’s your dissertation about?” you tell them what it’s about and that ends up being your title.

  • EXAMPLE (from my own dissertation): Working title: Why women leaders opt out. Final title: The Combination of Five Factors That Lead to Women Leaders’ Decision to Opt Out of Their Senior Leadership Position (Note: I was able to add the “combination of five factors” after I completed my research. The “opt out of their senior leadership position” clarified that they weren’t retiring, only leaving their positions.)

Look at buzz words and trending terms. Copywriters in the advertising world are always aware of the latest buzzwords and trends. I started my career in advertising and marketing (after earning a master’s in Journalism I immediately sold out to the highest bidder!), and every year my girlfriend and I decide which buzzwords we’re not going to use that year. One year it was “leverage,” another was “traction,” and there’s the all-time favorite “24/7.”

  • EXAMPLE: Mentoring Women Faculty: An Instrumental Case Study of Strategic Collaboration (strategic collaboration is about as timely as it gets and mentoring is resurfacing as an industry trend, too).

Go global. Like real estate, dissertation titles are often about location, location, location. If your dissertation has an international component, use it in the title.

  • EXAMPLE: Barriers to Internet banking adoption: A qualitative study among corporate customers in Thailand.

Target your audience. The example dissertation title is a narrow enough title that it identifies the target audience by topic “networking” and “marketing strategy” and size “small community businesses.” You could also target your audience by geography, methodology, timing (longitudinal), gender, or myriad other target marketing options. (Notice the use of “myriad” as an adjective. It is never “a myriad of.” One dissertation chair kept changing it on a dissertation I edited and was getting increasingly salty about her comments about how the “editor” was ignoring her changes. I finally sent my client the rule on the use of the word “myriad” to pass along. Never got an apology for the salty comments.)

  • EXAMPLE: Networking as marketing strategy: A case study of small community businesses.
  • EXAMPLE: Substance and Mediation: Towards a Critical Hylomorphism of Media. (Since no one knows what “hylomorphism” means – Metaphysical theory that studies being as substance of matter and form…not sure what that means either, the use of the word in the title really, really narrows the target audience.)

Dr. Kat

Fun, fast, experienced, reasonably priced dissertation editing, coaching, and therapy.
Contact drkatcannon@dissedit.com

©2016 KathleenJCannon

Writing the dissertation abstract — key words are key

Select. Index. Repeat.

While the main purpose behind keywords is for selection, the other purpose of the abstract and keywords is for indexing. Since most article databases in online catalogs let you search abstracts, keywords make quick work of the search function by eliminating full-text searches for articles that don’t apply.

Tips for Choosing Effective Keywords

  • Use the words you used when searching articles for your literature review.
  • Tie your keywords to your title and topic. If your title is “Why Senior Women Leaders Opt Out” that pretty much sets your keywords.
  • Use your headings to determine keywords. Dissertations in APA style use five levels of headings. Look at your level 2 headings to determine keywords.
  • Follow APA or your school’s guidelines for use of keywords. Most of the time you’ll choose five or six keywords. Some schools and most peer-reviewed publications have specific guidelines for the number and type of keywords used. Some publications even provide a list of preferred terms or keywords, what they often refer to as a common vocabulary.
  • Consider your target audience. Most people who will search for terms used in your dissertation will be in your field. Include terms specific to your field while at the same time expanding your keywords to include people who may be interested in your methodology or another aspect of your dissertation.
  • Avoid acronyms or jargon. This should go without saying but sometimes when you get to the dissertation stage your focus gets so narrow that you think everyone will be in the same place you are in terms of interest and experience.
  • Use key phrases not just keywords. And use synonyms for the key phrases. (For my dissertation I looked at women leaders and women executives.)
  • Go back to articles you referenced in your literature review and check what keywords they used in their abstracts.
  • Think globally. Some terms may differ in the international market. Grades in the United States may be referred to as “forms” in the UK.
  • Include all variations of a keyword. For my dissertation (naturally) I included opt-out, opting out, opt out without a hyphen. For this article I’d use keywords and key words.

Formatting keywords

Like all things to do with the dissertation, APA even has guidelines for formatting keywords. These keywords go at the bottom of the abstract (which, of course, has its own set of formatting rules).

  • Two spaces (one double space) after the last sentence in the abstract, type the word “Keywords” in italics followed by a colon. Place it flush left, no indent.
  • Using lowercase letters type in the keywords followed by commas BUT without using a comma at the end.

Example (from my own dissertation on why senior women leaders opt out – much longer title but that’s all we have room for here):

Keywords: leadership, women leaders, opt-out, glass ceiling, positivistic case study


Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Keywords and SEO are joined at the hip. Virtually every virtual site uses SEO to make sure people find and visit their site. The keywords you choose will determine how many people find and read your dissertation. Since most searchers don’t look past the first page of the search results, you can see why choosing the correct keywords is so important.

Network Solutions (http://www.networksolutions.com/education/choosing-seo-keywords/) says there are four factors to keep in mind when choosing keywords: keyword volume, keyword relevance, keyword competition, and keyword focus.

Keyword volume: All this means is how often you use the term in your dissertation. So you go to “Find,” type in the word and you’ll see a list of how many times it appears. If in doubt go for volume. The downside is that generic terms get the most searches so you’ll end up on page 250 if you don’t choose carefully.

Example: With my dissertation there would be a billion cites with “leadership” as a keyword but many fewer sites with women leaders opt-out.

Keyword relevance: Keywords have to be real. That means you have to use keywords that truly describe what people will find in your dissertation. APA doesn’t like superlatives or even adjectives (or anthropomorphizing for that matter) so you can’t exaggerate findings or expand on the topic to get more people interested in your work.

Example: Again, with my dissertation being about women leaders opting out, it would be misleading to piggyback on Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In (which by the way came out after my dissertation and my easy-to-read dissertation wasn’t exactly flying off the shelves).

Keyword competition: All you have to do to check the competition for your keyword is to do a simple search for that one word. The more results for the word the less likely people are to find your dissertation.

Example: While my dissertation (enough already with your dissertation!) was about women leaders opting out, it was also a positivistic case study which isn’t a methodology normally associated with this topic.

Keyword focus: Narrowing the focus by expanding the keyword phrase helps get your dissertation out there.

Example: Naturally, again using my own dissertation, I found 94,000,000 sites using opt-out and only 62,000,000 using women opt-out, and only 3,810,000 for women leaders opt out. You can see where this is going, right?

Dr. Kat

Fun, fast, experienced, reasonably priced dissertation editing, coaching, and therapy.
Contact drkatcannon@dissedit.com

©2016 KathleenJCannon