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

It’s just APA tables — not rocket science


Tips to Better Tables

I googled tables, APA, word and got 2,710,000 results. Come on, people. It’s just tables. Not rocket science. This checklist from Purdue Owl is all you need to know. Well, almost all.

Table Checklist

This checklist from Purdue Owl is a good starting point. I’ll add my own comments, of course.

  • Is the table necessary?

Dr. Kat says: One editing client said that she was told “tables are like prunes, are six enough, are 12 too many?” It’s probably not that simple. I think “a table, like a picture, can be worth a thousand words.” Adding a table also might depend on your methodology – I see a lot more tables in quantitative than qualitative studies. One question to ask yourself is, when you’re trying to explain your research to someone, do you find yourself drawing a table? Sometimes I create tables to organize my thoughts. It doesn’t mean I’ll keep the table but it’s a great reference when I’m doing a research content outline.

  • Is the entire table single- or double-spaced (including the title, headings, and notes)?

Dr. Kat says: This can be a trick question. You’ll want to be consistent but you’ll also want to be concise. If you have a lot of tables or a lot of content in each table, I’d go with single space. But create a separate style for tables so you don’t use normal or body, which likely have a .5 indent. Go to Styles/Apply Styles/Create a style/Call it Table/Modify (so it’s not based on normal)/then modify and, under paragraph, add 6 points after type. Another thing to check is if your school dissertation guidelines require one or the other. Some schools are funny about that and require double or single space.

  • Are all comparable tables presented consistently?

Dr. Kat says: See the previous explanation. Use styles. Use the same font size, margins, line leading.

  • Is the title brief but explanatory?

Dr. Kat says: You wouldn’t believe how many tables don’t have any title.

  • Does every column have a column heading?

Dr. Kat says: You wouldn’t believe how many columns don’t have a heading.

  • Are all abbreviations; special use of italics, parentheses, and dashes; and special symbols explained?

Dr. Kat says: I hate acronyms. And not too fond of abbreviations, either. Lots of people don’t read your dissertation cover to cover. And many are not familiar with your topic. Use a legend in every table that needs one.

  • Are all vertical rules eliminated?

Dr. Kat says: This is the most typical error and the one reviewers glom onto. I had one committee member tell me he looks at the table first and if there are vertical and horizontal lines he sends it back and tells the writer to check out APA thoroughly and fix what’s wrong and get it back to him.

  • If the table or its data are from another source, is the source properly cited?

Dr. Kat says: I have to look up how to cite sources in tables every time. I can never remember. Not sure why I have a mental block on that.

  • Is the table referred to in the text?

Dr. Kat says: If you don’t refer to the table in the text my feeling is that you don’t need the table. And remember to put the table as close as possible to the citation.

My favorite tables

I know, even having a headline saying “my favorite tables” shows what I dissertation nerd I am. There are three tables my chair suggested and I’ve passed them along to clients. Everyone who has used these tables said their chair and committee loved them. One said she used the literature review table for herself to keep everything straight but didn’t include it in her written dissertation.

If you’re a frequent blog reader you know that I talk about my own dissertation – Why senior women leaders opt out. This literature review helped me organize my own literature review.


My second favorite table

I created this table to keep my units of analysis straight. It was really helpful when I was reporting my findings in chapter 4 and in the discussion in chapter 5. I’ve suggested similar tables for phenomenological studies where “units of analysis” is replaced by themes and “empirical indicators” is replace by an example quote. The “source of data” is replaced by the participant’s name/pseudonym.


Another helpful table

Still another helpful table is an overview of participants. I used it in my positivistic case study but I usually suggest clients include it in qualitative studies, too. I especially like to see a demographic overview so I can figure out who said what. Sometimes it’s hard to remember who’s who.

The last helpful table

Finally, I like to tie things together. I created a table that tied the units of analysis to the Likert questions. This was especially helpful in writing the discussion chapter.

Dr. Kat

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

©2017 KathleenJCannon


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