You say potato I say potahto

Myriad and comprise

I remember a professor in graduate school saying he would take our grade down an entire letter if we ever used “a myriad of” or “comprised of” in a paper. This was graduate school in journalism so we believed him. Now, when I begin editing a dissertation for a proposal one of the first things I do is a search for these two phrases.

It turns out that using these two phrases incorrectly is also something that readers, chairs, and committees notice.  Along with the incorrect use of affect/effect, except/accept, utilize/use, site/cite…the list goes on. and Grammar girl also weigh in on these and other typical but incorrect word usage.

In 20 word mistakes even smart people make, a article, writer Alvin Ward starts by noting the difference between comprise and compose.

A whole comprises its parts. The alphabet comprises 26 letters. The U.S. comprises 50 states. But people tend to say is comprised of when they mean comprise. If your instinct is to use the is … of version, then substitute composed. The whole is composed of its parts. weighs in by saying: Comprise means to consist of or to be composed of. Compose means to make up the constituent parts of. Parts compose the whole, and the whole comprises the parts. For example, we could say that the United States comprises 50 states and that the 50 states compose the United States.

I like these quotes from She said what? Quotable women talk leadership.

Our life is composed greatly from dreams, from the unconscious, and they must be brought into connection with action. They must be woven together.
Anais Nin (1902-1977)
French author, diarist

Forever is composed of nows.
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
American poet

But what I can’t believe is that a google search for comprises vs “is comprised of” yields 1,980,000 results in .56 seconds. It’s nuts that almost two million people care about this enough to google it. (And don’t get me started about using “google” as a verb.)

EFFECT/AFFECT and a lot of others use the RAVEN image to show affect vs effect.

Choosing between affect and effect can be scary. Think of Edgar Allen Poe and his RAVEN: Remember Affect Verb Effect Noun. You can’t affect the creepy poem by reading it, but you can enjoy the effect of a talking bird.

EXCEPT/ACCEPT has a perfect mnemonic for except/accept.


Discreet means private. Discrete means separate. This vocabwords1 blog shows both discreet and discretion.


I was always told the mnemonic e.g. = egg zample. And usually if it’s in parentheses in a sentence it’s e.g. I like this cartoon from By the way, their site has one of the best disclaimer’s I’ve seen.

Disclaimer: The facts on are not thoroughly researched, and the author of this site offers no guarantee of factual validity. If you take action based on the what you read on this website, and bad things happen, the author is in no way responsible for any harm or losses. If, however, you become wealthy due to reading this website, the author is 20% responsible.

Cite vs site vs sight uses this blackboard graphic to tell the difference between cite, site, and sight.


 Dr. Kat (aka Dr. Kathleen Cannon)
Fun, fast, reasonably priced dissertation editing, coaching, and therapy. Contact

©2017 Dr. Kathleen Cannon


How to save money working with a dissertation editor

Yes, you can try this at home

Since one of the previous tips went on and on about why it’s not a good idea to negotiate pricing with an editor, it seemed only right to offer some tips on how to save money working with a dissertation editor. First, some background. Most editors use the same method to estimate the cost of editing your dissertation or proposal. We edit a few sample pages and estimate the cost per page. I always ask to see the entire file (title page, TOC, references, and appendices) because those add-ons can be the real time-suckers. Here are some money/time saving tips:

Use spellcheck

You’d be amazed how many people don’t spell check their dissertation before sending it to an editor, or worse, to their chair/advisor or committee. I know it’s a pain because every proper name comes up even though you’ve said not to flag capitalized words but it’s worth it. Even then it’s worth it to really read it carefully. And you might do a special check for words that may be spelled correctly but aren’t what you want to say.

But don’t use “autocorrect.”  Sorta funny story. I was editing a research paper that included the word “biodata” and somehow every instance was changed to “bidet.” Okay, at least I thought it was funny. There may be other words in your field that could be a problem.

I recently edited a dissertation on education in public schools and did a search for “pubic.” I got three hits. Oops.

One client spelled phenomenological wrong in the title. That’s just wrong.

Turn on grammar editing

APA requires use of active versus passive voice. Here’s what Purdue Owl says:

Active voice is used for most non-scientific writing. Using active voice for the majority of your sentences makes your meaning clear for readers, and keeps the sentences from becoming too complicated or wordy. Even in scientific writing, too much use of passive voice can cloud the meaning of your sentences.

I love Grammar Girl. Here’s what she says about active vs. passive voice.

In an active sentence, the subject is doing the action. In the Marvin Gaye song “I Heard It through the Grapevine,” “I” is the subject, the one who is doing the action. “I” is hearing “it,” the object of the sentence.

In passive voice, the target of the action gets promoted to the subject position. If you wanted to make the title of the Marvin Gaye song passive, you would say “It was heard by me through the grapevine,” not such a catchy title anymore.

To turn on grammar editing: File/options/proofing/writing style/settings – then click everything. I don’t click “complex words” because who’s kidding who – it’s a dissertation.

Use styles

I should make this tips number 1-10. That’s how much time it can save you. The number 1 tip is that there shouldn’t be a single word that’s “normal” in your dissertation.

I’ve included an example of how you might want to set up styles. The ones I use most are Heading 1, Heading 2, body text, list paragraph, and references. I also set up styles for three levels of Tables of Contents.

Pay attention to references

My Dad used to start a lot of sentences with “If I had a nickel for every time…” Now it would probably be “If I had a dollar…” Readers often go to references first. If you don’t follow APA in your references they could wonder about your entire document.

Back to “If I had a dollar…” …for every time I saw an entire reference list with hard paragraph returns for each line and the space bar used to indent five spaces for the next line. It takes forever to correct this but it has to be done. Follow APA religiously for references. That’s all I’m sayin’.

Ask your chair what is his/her pet peeve in mistakes in references. One editing client told me her chair went nuts because she had a space after the colon in doi:xxx. I now do a search for doi with “show invisibles” on to catch any extra spaces. Another client said her chair knew she wasn’t up on APA because she kept putting in a “Retrieved on date.” That was soooo APA 5th!

Literature Review – go with the flow

There are a billion things to say about the literature review but three you should watch out for. Use the same approximate number of references for each major heading. Watch transitions between paragraphs. Work on flow. The thing that’ll save your editor time is if you put citations in past tense. Jones and Smith (2005) found, etc.

Check your school’s guidelines

Provide a copy of your school’s guidelines to your editor and tell him or her what to watch out for if something is really different from standard APA 6th. Several schools want references single spaced with a double space between references. And don’t get me started on running heads.

Give your editor a heads up

Tell your editor the kinds of things your advisor or committee might be looking for – some care about APA, some about references, some about tables. Ask your chair/advisor what he/she could see that would be the kiss of death.

What’s left for the editor to do if you’re doing all the heavy lifting? Well this is where a good editor can really add value. A good editor will spot inconsistencies between chapters (You said there were four stakeholder groups and you only talk about three in your literature review.) And a good editor will point out if you come up with a conclusion with no foundation. And a good editor will suggest another way of phrasing a sentence to add clarity.

It all kind of depends on the number of revisions. Here’s an example where there were 1471 revisions in 65 pages. That means a lot of nit picky things. But it’s hard to add real value when there are 24 edits per page.

Dr. Kat (aka Dr. Kathleen Cannon)

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

©2017 Dr. Kathleen Cannon

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.

©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.

©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.

©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.


©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, 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

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:;, and 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 ( 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 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 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.)

The Council on Writing Program Administrators ( 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.

©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. 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 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 ( 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, assonance “refers to the repetition of vowel sounds in close proximity.” 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. (

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 “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 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.

©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 ( 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.

©2016 KathleenJCannon


If I had my dissertation to do over…

I asked a random group of people I know pretty well (that’s random as in casual not random as in statistically random!) the question: If you had your dissertation to do over again what would you do differently?

Responses ranged from their relationship with their chair to organization of the process to nuances in the lit review.  In fact, the only thing the responses and respondents had in common is that, to a person, they wouldn’t do it again!

Working with a dissertation chair

Your dissertation chair becomes one of the most important people in your life. People talked about the importance of matching your chair to the methodology, your personality, your topic.

“I would have been more deliberate about choosing a chair for my dissertation. I would have conducted interviews and had a better understanding of how we would connect. I would also have connected with a dissertation coach right away, to help guide my emotions as I had so many other things to do.”

“I would have touched base more frequently with my chair.”

“I would have worked better with my chair. I ended up cutting about 75 pages of what I thought was scintillating content—and could have avoided all of that if I had just checked in with my chair sooner.”

“Choose a realistic, no-nonsense chair.”

The dissertation process

More than anything else, people who have written a dissertation  say they would change things about the process itself.

“I would do a better job on organizing the data from all the articles and readings into a more coherent format.”

“I did a lot of highlighting and flagging on the reading, but felt like I had to go through this a second time to pull together the converging and/or diverging data points. Doing so would have shortened the process. While I was happy with the outcome, for others, it might make a difference on the final product.”

“I would have done it sooner (I was fried from the coursework though so maybe I should have taken off three months and then buckled down). Other advice? Keep it simple (don’t save the world!). Expect that everything will take longer than it should or than you expect. Use an editor earlier.”

“I would make sure I had a realistic time frame. There are many things in the dissertation process that are out of your control and I wasn’t prepared for them (IRB review, changes in the dissertation committee, the workload of the dissertation chair…”

“I would write outside of my home more often…Scheduled dedicated time for writing and stuck to it!”


New doctors talked about all the people involved in the dissertation process—work colleagues, cohort members, spouses (this was a big one), children, parents, and more.

“There’s really nothing I would do differently, however I would
encourage folks to find a research librarian and make him/her their new best friend. This was such a help in my research that I acknowledged 2 librarians by name in my dedication. In fact, I also provided both a signed (by me and all the committee members), bound version of the final product. These two individuals were invaluable – they did alot of the so-called ‘heavy lifting’ at the front end.”

“I would have created a project plan, leveraged my spouse better in the endeavor, selected an advisor better, and used a support network.”

“My mother babysat one day a week for my twins so I could have uninterrupted time to write—and think. I’d still be working on it now without her.”

Topic and methodology

Everyone talks about the importance of having passion for your topic; one person mentioned the importance of having passion for your methodology.

“Our doctoral instructors said from day one that we had to pick a dissertation topic that we were passionate about. That is certainly true. We lived and dreamed this topic for months….in some cases, years. What they did not warn us about is that you should also pick a research methodology that you are passionate about because you will also dream (or have nightmares) about this for months or years. The dissertation process requires you become an expert in your topical area and an expert in a particular research methodology.”


Anything that’s referred to as a terminal degree ends up being personal.

“I wouldn’t beat myself up so much when I didn’t make the progress I expected to make or if I didn’t understand something I knew everyone else was understanding. My chair said that some things just had to percolate; I was thinking more Keurig coffee maker than old fashioned drip grind!”

“Half way through I realized if I took a walk every day, sometimes twice a day, it helped me get back on track and stay sane.”

Dr. Kat

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

©2016 KathleenJCannon