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


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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 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 ( 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.

©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.

©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 ( 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. 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 “I was lost in a sea of nameless faces.” 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/ 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. 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” (, 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?” ( I think this is a rhetorical question but that’s a blog for another day.

The title of Richard Compton’s dissertation ( 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.

©2016 KathleenJCannon


Transitioning through literature reviews

Good Transitions. Bad Transitions. No Transitions.

One of the biggest complaints of dissertation chairs and committees (and academic editors!) is sloppy and choppy and even non-existent transitions. You know what I’m talking about. You are intent on hammering out your lit review and you plop those paragraphs in there under the topic or subtopic and you’re done. Not so fast. The good news is that literature review transitions is as easy as connecting the dots.

Transitions are an integral part of structure. Bethel University in Minnesota used this graduated scale for evaluating the structure of doctoral dissertations.

  1. Structure: The overall structure of the document is well developed.
  2. The document lacks any real structure. It does not follow guidelines set forth in the assignment.
  3. The document’s structure is inconsistent. It is unclear and often moves from point to point without any transitions.
  4. The structure of the document is generally good. For the most part it has clear headings, transitions, and meets requirements. Yet there are some areas that lack this clarity.
  5. The structure of the document is excellent. The headings, transitions, and required areas flow well. All areas of the document support one another.

Resources: tutorials. http: //

I like this one. Transitions are about relationships and this list shows the relationship and gives some words to use to make smooth transitions. Pick one from each column.

Addition also, besides, furthermore, in addition, moreover, again
Consequence accordingly, as a result, consequently, hence, otherwise, so then, therefore, thus, thereupon
Summarizing after all, all in all, all things considered, briefly, by and large, in any case, in any event, in brief, in conclusion, on the whole, in short in summary, in the final analysis, in the long run, on balance, on the whole, to sum up, to summarize, finally
Generalizing as a rule, as usual, for the most part, generally, generally speaking, ­ordinarily, usually
Restatement in essence, in other words, namely, that is, that is to say, in short, in brief, to put it differently
Contrast and Comparison contrast, by the same token, conversely, instead, likewise, on one hand, on the contrary, on the other hand, rather, similarly, yet, but, however, still, nevertheless, in contrast
Sequence at first, first of all, to begin with, in the first place, at the same time, for now, for the time being, the next step, in time, in turn, later on, meanwhile, next, then, soon, the meantime, later, while, earlier, simultaneously, afterward, in conclusion
Diversion by the way, incidentally
Illustration for example, for instance, for one thing
Similarity likewise, similar, moreover
Direction here, there, over there, beyond, nearly, opposite, under, above, to the left, to the right, in the distance

Source:  http: //


Purdue Owl. https: //

This is my go-to source for all things APA. The transitions page is especially good because it shows befores and afters (bad transitions and good transitions or example and revision). Contributors are Ryan Weber and Karl Stolley. Here are some examples and revisions.

Example:  Overall, Management Systems International has logged increased sales in every sector, leading to a significant rise in third-quarter profits.

Another important thing to note is that the corporation had expanded its international influence.

Revision:  Overall, Management Systems International has logged increased sales in every sector, leading to a significant rise in third-quarter profits.

These impressive profits are largely due to the corporation’s expanded international influence.

Example:  Fearing for the loss of Danish lands, Christian IV signed the Treaty of Lubeck, effectively ending the Danish phase of the 30 Years War.

But then something else significant happened. The Swedish intervention began.

Revision:  Fearing for the loss of more Danish lands, Christian IV signed the Treaty of Lubeck, effectively ending the Danish phase of the 30 Years War.

Shortly after Danish forces withdrew, the Swedish intervention began.

Example:  Amy Tan became a famous author after her novel, The Joy Luck Club, skyrocketed up the bestseller list.

There are other things to note about Tan as well. Amy Tan also participates in the satirical garage band the Rock Bottom Remainders with Stephen King and Dave Barry.

Revision:  Amy Tan became a famous author after her novel, The Joy Luck Club, skyrocketed up the bestseller list.

Though her fiction is well known, her work with the satirical garage band the Rock Bottom Remainders receives far less publicity.


Fresno State:  http: //

These guidelines make it even simpler because it narrows it down to four types of transitions:

  1. Additive: addition, introduction, similarity to other ideas
  • Addition: indeed, further, as well (as this), either (neither), not only (this) but also, (that) as well, also,  moreover, what is more, as a matter of fact, and, furthermore, in addition (to this), besides (this),  to tell you the truth, or, in fact, actually, to say nothing of, too,  let alone, much less,  additionally, nor, alternatively, on the other hand, not to mention (this)
  • Introduction: such as, as, particularly, including, as an illustration, for example, like, in particular, for one thing,  to illustrate, for instance, especially, notably, by way of example
  • Reference: speaking about (this), considering (this), regarding (this), with regards to (this),  as for (this), concerning (this), on the subject of (this), the fact that
  • Similarity: similarly,  in the same way, by the same token,  in a like manner, equally,  likewise
  • Identification: that is (to say), namely, specifically, thus,
  • Clarification: that is (to say), I mean, (to) put (it) another way,   in other words
  1. Adversative: signal conflict, contradiction
  • Conflict: but, by way of contrast, while, on the other hand, however, (and) yet, whereas, though (final position), in contrast,  when in fact, conversely,   still
  • Emphasis: even more, above all,  indeed,   more importantly,   besides
  • Concession: but even so, nevertheless, even though, on the other hand, admittedly, however,  nonetheless, despite (this), notwithstanding (this), albeit, (and) still, although, in spite of (this),  regardless (of this), (and) yet, though, granted (this), be that as it may,
  • Dismissal: either way, whichever happens, in either event, in any case, at any rate, in either case, whatever happens, all the same, in any event,
  • Replacement: (or) at least, (or) rather, instead
  1. Causal: signal cause/effect and reason/result
  • Cause/Reason: for the (simple) reason that, being that, for, in view of (the fact), inasmuch as, because (of the fact), seeing that, as, owing to (the fact), due to (the fact that), in that since,  forasmuch as
  • Condition: on (the) condition (that),  granted (that),  if,  provided that,  in case,  in the event that,  as/so long as,  unless, given that,  granting (that),  providing that,  even if,  only if
  • Effect/Result: as a result (of this), consequently, hence, for this reason, thus, because (of this),  in consequence, so that, accordingly, as a consequence, so much (so) that, so,   therefore,
  • Purpose: for the purpose of, in the hope that, for fear that, so that, with this intention, to the end that, in order to, lest, with this in mind, in order that, so as to, so
  • Consequence: under those circumstances, then, in that case, if not, that being the case,  if so,   otherwise
  1. Sequential: chronological or logical sequence
  • Numerical: in the (first, second, etc.) place, initially, to start with, first of all thirdly, (&c.)  to begin with, at first,  for a start,  secondly,
  • Continuation: subsequently, previously, eventually, next, before (this), afterwards, after (this),  then
  • Conclusion: to conclude (with), as a final point, eventually, at last,  last but not least, in the end,   finally, lastly,
  • Digression: to change the topic, incidentally, by the way,
  • Resumption: to get back to the point, to resume, anyhow, anyway,  at any rate, to return to the subject
  • Summation:  as was previously stated, so,  consequently,  in summary,  all in all, to make a long story short,  thus,  as I have said,  to sum up,  overall,  as has been mentioned,  then,  to summarize, to be brief,  briefly,  given these points,  in all,  on the whole,  therefore,  as has been noted,  hence,   in conclusion,  in a word,  to put it briefly,  in sum,  altogether,  in short,


California State University:

This is a good example of how to pull various citations together using smooth transitions.

In order to understand best the importance of learning styles in the language classroom, it is first important to provide a definition of what learning styles are. Reid (1995) defines learning style as “an individual’s natural, habitual, and preferred way(s) of absorbing, processing, and retaining new information and skills”. In a similar way, Brown (2000) states that every person has their own natural way to perceive, transform, learn, and possess knowledge and information in their environment. Using a narrower concept, Larsen, Freeman & Long (1991, p. 192) define ‘cognitive style’ as “the preferred way in which learners process information or address a task”. Their definition is limited in that, as will be seen when a classification of learning styles is given (Reid 1995), there are learning styles that do not depend on cognitive processes. Finally, it is important to mention that learning styles will not vary across teaching methods and content areas, they will persist (Reid 1995 and 1998); and, even though they develop gradually in children, they are supposed to be more or less permanent in adults (Brown 2000). It can then be concluded that learning styles are the somewhat permanent ways in which learners perceive, process, and understand the information around them.

Indiana University.

Another great idea is to use a grid. Here is a good example from Indiana University:

Sample Literature Review Grid of Common Points

Research Question: What role does capital punishment play in American society?

Possible Answers: Capital punishment plays the roles of deterrence, revenge, oppression, and political leverage

Author Deterrence Revenge Oppression Political Leverage
Author A
Author B
Author C
Author D


Once you have completed a grid of common points, you can begin writing your paper. When you begin to write the body of the paper, you may want to follow these steps: 1. Select one common point and divide it into sub-topics that represent paragraph size “chunks.”

For example, capital punishment literature on the issue of deterrence has the following sub-topics: (1) the public’s impression that capital punishment does deter crime; (2) researchers’ impressions that capital punishment does not deter crime in most cases; and (3) researchers’ impressions that capital punishment can lead to more crime

Dr. Kat

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

©2016 KathleenJCannon

Suck it up, buttercup — Dealing with the IRB

I did some process consulting with a global company and was often at odds with the technology director because what I usually thought (in my technological naiveté) was a quick and reasonable request for an oh-so-minor technology process change quite simply wasn’t. It got to the point where we developed a code for two responses he might have for my technology requests – “Okay” or “Suck it up, buttercup.”

The second response was a quick way of saying “not gonna happen” without having to go through a long explanation of why. We developed a communication trust that said he’d do it if he could but wouldn’t have to explain why if he couldn’t. Or, “suck it up, buttercup.”

Working with the IRB (Institutional Review Board), IEC (Independent Ethics Committee), ERB (Ethical Review Board), ERR (Ethical Research Review Board), REB (Research Ethics Board), RRB (Research Review Board), HRR (Human Research Review Board), or whatever it’s called at your university, made me think of the technology leader and “suck it up, buttercup.” The IRB (what they called it at the University of St. Thomas where I got my doctorate) has power. Reminds me of dealing with my daughter growing up – we can do this the easy way or we can do this the hard way. (She always, always chose the hard way.) Same with the RRB, you can do it the easy way or the hard way.

Here are some tips for the easy way:

  1. Understand the purpose of the IRB. According to Wikipedia (yes, I’m directing you to Wikipedia!), “The purpose of the review process is to assure, both in advance and by periodic review, that appropriate steps are taken to protect the rights and welfare of humans participating as subjects in a research study.”
  2. Do your homework. Find out at your graduate studies website or in the handbook what you can expect from the RRB. This will tell you how long it takes, what forms you have to fill out (lots and lots of forms), what they do, and the different types of reviews – exempt, expedited (not so much), and full.
  3. Don’t make waves. Sometimes the IRB will suggest something you don’t agree with or something that seems like it shouldn’t be necessary or something just plain stupid. Say it with me now, “Suck it up, buttercup.” A guy I know disagreed with a change the RRB insisted on that was just plain stupid and it put his proposal at the bottom of the pile. His advice to me was “don’t make waves, just make the change and move on.”
  4. Think twice before getting your chair involved. Another tip I wrote focused on protecting your chair. Save your chair for the heavy lifting. Deal with the IRB yourself. However, most chairs will let you know if they think your proposal is ready for the IRB. If they don’t think it is, it isn’t.
  5. Do it right the first time. If you front-end load the proposal (get it super tight from the beginning), it will be easier and faster in the long run to proceed to your research. It’s the back and forth and hurry up and wait that takes the time and drags you down. Make it as perfect as possible before submitting it to your chai
    r, your committee, and the RRB.

FAQs about RRB, IRB, ERB, IEC…

What is the Review Board?

The purpose of any review board is to protect human subjects from harm as they participate in research. It’s that extra little backup that also protects the university. And it helps identify risks that the researcher may have overlooked.

What research has to be submitted to the Review Board?

If it involves human subjects it has to be submitted for review before the research begins.

What is considered “human subjects” research?

Not sure people still say this but, “like, duh.” It’s research that involves human subjects. The definition sometimes goes a little further and says that it’s research that uses human subjects to gather data that adds to the knowledge base of a field.

Why does the [substitute your university name here] require that all human subjects research be approved by the review board?

Everything these days is about risk and managing risk. The review board helps protect the university and researcher.  Oh, and because federal regulations require it.

What are the different types of Review Board approvals?

Many universities have three different kinds of approvals – exempt, expedited, and full review. It usually depends on the research and the risk.

Exempt: Most of the time exempt reviews are for research in educational settings, anonymous surveys, research involving public behavior or things in the public domain, or a review of existing data.

Expedited: This one can fool you. Lots of times what the researcher thinks is a slam dunk expedited proposal differs from what the review board thinks is an expedited proposal. Imagine that. Make sure yours really is an expedited proposal and that it’s not just wishful thinking. If you don’t, it will come back and you’ll have to resubmit everything.

Full review: If the participants are considered vulnerable or part of a protected class (children, prisoners, mentally or physically disabled, or people with HI
V or AIDs) you’ll need a full review.

What do you include with your IRB application?

It doesn’t matter what university you’re with, forms are forms. Use the correct ones. Proofread your submission carefully and proofread it again. Sloppy submissions make the review board think sloppy research.

How long does a review take?

Double whatever your review board website says it takes. Okay, maybe triple it. The tighter your submission the faster you’ll probably get it back. And the fewer changes you’ll have to make. So if the website says it takes 10 business days, they might mean it takes 10 business days from the time of the Review meeting which is held on the first Monday of the month unless that’s a holiday and then it’s held on the second Tuesday of the month unless it’s a term break or summer or whatever.

How long is review board approval good for?

This is a good question. It can vary by university but usually ongoing research has to be reviewed once a year. That means that once you get approval you need to get moving.

Dr. Kat

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

©2016 KathleenJCannon




Dissertations are all about physics

Capacity refers to the relative amount of some quantity with respect to another quantity upon which it depends.

The dissertation process is invariably added to a life that is already filled to capacity. In a finite system (capacity), something has to give—actually it turns out a lot of things have to give. Friends in my cohort said they relied on takeout, rarely cleaned (but couldn’t afford cleaning help because they were paying for school), and like the line in the movie Office Space, did the “minimum” in most other areas. They/we asked spouses, friends, family to stick with us because we were sure there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

Centrifugal force is the apparent force that draws a rotating body away from the center of rotation.

If we apply this to a dissertation we could see it as all the forces that draw you (the rotating body) away from working on your dissertation (the center of rotation). Doctoral candidates in my cohort were simultaneously dealing with aging parents, an adoption, the challenges of tweens and teens, becoming first-time grandparents, neglected spouses, and every family scenario in between. And that doesn’t begin to address the forces of work and friends and extended family and ….

Closed system is a physical system on which no outside influences act; closed so that nothing gets in or out of the system and nothing from outside can influence the system’s observable behavior or properties.

Okay, that’s heavy. But that’s what working on a dissertation feels like. It’s a physical system that nothing permeates. The dissertation process may have an ebb and flow but the writer (you) remain closed off from the world. Add to that the forced linear structure of the dissertation (proposal, review, IRB review, changes, approvals, rejections, writing, research, more changes…) and you feel like John Travolta in the one of his first movies, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. Unlike the movie you don’t break free from the bubble until you’re done and your committee at your defense calls you “doctor.”

Energy is a property associated with a material body. When bodies interact, the energy of one may increase at the expense of the other, and this is sometimes called a transfer of energy.

Applying this to the dissertation process means that, in my opinion anyway, if you’re not careful the dissertation process can sap all your energy leaving you a husk of your former self. (Too much information?) What I found helpful (and others I talked to agreed) is to do the last thing you feel like doing—exercise daily. Not sure there is anything to the whole endorphin thing but oxygen helps—especially if you’re stuck or in a waiting or holding pattern.

Law of inertia says that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

One simple bit of advice can make the whole dissertation process easier. Do something every day; do not take even a single day off. Even if all you have is 15 minutes or 5 minutes, do something. It will help you stay in motion—and maintain speed and momentum. That’s it.

Kinetic energy is the energy a body has by virtue of its motion. The kinetic energy is the work done by an external force to bring the body from rest to a particular state of motion.

This could vary person to person. For me the kinetic energy was a combination of my chair and my own need to finish. I over-promised things to my chair that I then had to deliver. Others said the outside force was a spouse or a major life event. One woman said she was not losing another summer to her dissertation.

Reaction. Reaction forces are those equal and opposite forces of Newton’s Third Law.

Some places refer to this as absolute uncertainty and relative uncertainty. Gotta love that! The dissertation process can get so involved we don’t even know what we’re certain or uncertain about. And then scientists and physicists who haven’t already been complex enough say there are two kinds of uncertainties—indeterminate and determinate.

Variable. A symbol representative of a set of numbers, points, values, etc. In science, variables represent values of measurements of quantities.

My personal favorite. The variables involved in the dissertation process. Friends. Family. Work. I asked a friend of mine who was working on her dissertation a year before I started mine if she could have coffee sometime. She said not until she was done. She was sorry but it took 100% of her mental and physical and emotional energy to complete the dissertation. All she did was work and work on her dissertation. Then when I got knee deep into my dissertation I knew what she meant. It was all I could do to stay upright let alone take a break and have to try and get the energy back.

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

10 things guaranteed to tick off your dissertation chair

Let’s start with a line from Jerry McGuire. Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character says to Tom Cruise (Jerry McGuire), “Show me the money, Jerry! Show me the money! Dissertation chairs don’t make very much money for being your dissertation chair. One chair said that anyone who does it [act as a dissertation chair] for the money would be better off practicing saying “Would you like fries with that?” The time amortizes to about the same as a counter worker at a fast food restaurant.

So why do they do it? Part of the reason is that it’s often their job. Many universities and colleges require it. Some dissertation chairs do it for the power—they realize they are the only thing in the way of you getting those letters after your name. Too altruistic? The chairs I’ve worked with and talked to are really into it. They say it can be incredibly rewarding. I’ve seen dissertation chairs beam when they describe how proud they are of a new “doctor.”

How do you show appreciation for their time and attention and expertise? Well you don’t do any of these ten things!

  1. Miss deadlines. And this doesn’t mean calling at the last minute to cancel. One chair said she had one person who used to text her to cancel meetings. She did this twice and the chair said she told her if it happened again—if she missed one more deadline—she was dropping her. They can do that. Disrespect their time and you disrespect them.

Hard as it is to believe, your chair has a life outside of your dissertation. It might be the albatross hanging over your head and in your mind 24/7 but it’s not all your chair has going on. You miss a deadline and that has a ripple effect that could blow everything out of the water. One chair told me she provides her schedule upfront along with as much notice as possible when she’s going to be unavailable. She said that missing a deadline for getting a revised chapter to her could mean she can’t look at it for a month.

  1. Try to breeze through the proposal process. The dissertation proposal is as or even more important than the dissertation itself. Here’s why: Only 50% of the people who have completed the doctoral coursework and are ABD ever finish their dissertations and become doctors. But, and this is really important, in my experience 100% of doctoral candidates who get their proposal approved by the RRB or IRB or whatever it’s called at your school, finish. Period. Exclamation point. The proposal is the hard part. A dissertation is what we editors refer to as front-end loaded. The proposal includes chapters 1 through 3 and the references. That’s it. You’re almost there. If your proposal is approved that means you’ve justified the need for your research (chapter 1, introduction); discussed related research (chapter 2, literature review); and covered the research methodology (chapter 3). That’s the real brain work. Now it’s just plain old work. All you have to do is execute the proposal.

So why do a lot of doctoral candidates try to breeze through the proposal so they can get to the actual research? Beats me. I’ve had people say things like “I’ll worry about APA in the actual dissertation.” Or they’ll say, “I’ll put a lot more in my literature review in the final dissertation.” Or, my favorite, “It’s just the proposal, not the real dissertation.” Pretty soon, with this kind of attitude, you significantly add to the people you are ticking off. In addition to your chair and committee, you run the risk of ticking off the entire IRB (and they tend to remember sloppy or incomplete work).

  1. Disregard APA style. This really annoys chairs. Even worse, some chairs have told me they equate sloppy APA style with sloppy research. They can’t see the content (the forest) for the disregard for APA style (the trees).

And it’s not like you haven’t been hearing about APA style since you began your doctoral studies. Here’s an idea: Ask your chair what their APA style mistake pet peeve is (okay, holy bad sentence construction, Batman). This lets them know that you are aware of the need to use APA style and care enough to find out what especially matters to them.

I’ve found that what makes one chair crazy doesn’t phase another. And vice versa. One chair said he hates it when tables have vertical lines in them. It only takes a second to go to Purdue Owl ( and copy the example shown.  Another chair said it’s the seriation thing. Put a comma before the “and” in a serial statement. (In order of importance, chairs say it’s seriation, improper use of headings, and vertical lines in figures or tables that make them crazy.)

  1. Disregard your school’s style guidelines. When I’m working on editing a dissertation and someone sends me their school’s dissertation writing guidelines I know I’m in for a treat. The fact that they even know their school has guidelines (usually in addition to APA guidelines) is a good sign. It usually means the APA and style rules have been followed so I get to focus on the meat (the content) instead of having to make several passes just to fix the style mistakes. That costs more and increases the likelihood I might miss something important in the content.

It’s also a good idea to introduce yourself, even virtually, to the head of the writing center. You could ask him or her for writing tips, an opinion of the best resources, and even for insights for working with your chair or department. Writing center resources remind me of librarians and library resources—I’m amazed at their resourcefulness and selflessness. Be respectful of their time. Say you have a question or a couple questions and ask what would be a good time to contact them and how they prefer to be contacted. If someone really goes out of their way for you it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge them (probably not by name) on the school’s website or in your favorite social media. “Got some great insights from the graduate studies librarians. What an untapped resource.”

  1. Disregard your chair’s comments. Most chairs use track changes and comments. Track changes are changes you can accept or reject. Comments take a little longer. Whether you disagree or agree with the comment you should keep their comment and insert your response below. “I agree with your concerns about the dearth of research in this area and I inserted additional sources to support the statement.” Ask your chair before you get started how they will use track changes and comments.

In a previous blog I said I wouldn’t work with a chair who doesn’t use track changes or insert comments electronically. No one’s memory is that good. What I’ve seen and what I’ve heard indicates a correlation (gotta love the research talk!) between a smooth dissertation process and the use of track changes and electronic comments. That doesn’t mean you never talk with your chair, it just means you can maintain version control and keep moving forward. One woman said her first chair (she ended up changing chairs) preferred to meet in person and use handwritten notes because it was more “organic.” Took all of my control not to expel the coffee I was drinking through my nose. Seriously…are you kidding me? It’s a dissertation and this is a university not a Whole Foods!

  1. Expect your chair to edit your dissertation. Your chair is your chair. His or her responsibility is, well, I’m not exactly sure what his or her responsibility is. You should ask at the start how he or she sees their (you can’t go from singular to plural in APA but I’m doing it here—so there!) role and how the university sees their role. I did a google search for contract with dissertation chair and got over 2 million hits. Turns out a lot of universities have contracts that spell out the role of the chair and student, how often they’re going to meet, who does what, overall responsibilities, and more. Who knew! One thing they all have in common however (I did a random search—not random as spelled out in the research methodology sense….) is that no one expects the chair to function as a
    n editor.

Sometimes a chair will recommend you work with an editor. In my experience they don’t make this recommendation lightly. If they make this recommendation in the early stages it’s usually because they can’t get through the content because of the writing—and they’re usually not talking APA.

  1. Expect your chair to read your mind. If something is going on that affects your dissertation or timing or quality of content or just about anything else involved in your research you owe it to your chair to bring them in on it. One woman told me she was getting a divorce and would have to put her dissertation on hold while she made some related life changes. She didn’t want to tell her chair because she was afraid he’d drop her and she liked working with him.

Another person told me he was having trouble vetting his survey instrument and wanted to see what he could work out on his own before involving his chair. Another bad idea. Still another said she heard a rumor that her chair was leaving for another university. You can ask if it’s true. Maybe he or she can’t say anything but most chairs have a lot of integrity and will make sure they hand you over to someone else if they leave. Sometimes, depending on school policies (and if they’re going to a competitor!), the chair can continue to act as your chair.

One woman told me she needed help with statistical analysis but was afraid to let on how weak she felt in that area. Most chairs know people who can help in this area and know the school policies for getting this kind of help. Take advantage of their help early.

  1. Expect your chair to translate your dissertation. If you speak English as a second language, most likely you’ve encountered writing issues in your coursework. At the dissertation stage, however, no one’s going to cut you any slack. They can’t. The chair and committee and IRB and the university itself has to sign off on your dissertation so it has to be in perfect English. You might want to hire an editor (not the same as a dissertation editor) to work with you on an ongoing basis during the proposal and dissertation process. You might want to run everything past your editor/proofreader before you send it to your chair and build that into the timing so you don’t miss deadlines.
  2. Have attitude. I’ve seen a lot of things in my time editing dissertations but the thing that totally stumps me is when I see arrogance or attitude. I simply don’t get that. Here is someone who is giving their time and energy and expertise (for very little monetary return) and the doctoral candidate (notice I didn’t say doctor) has attitude. The way I see it, you need them more than they need you. Attitude isn’t going to help. On the other hand, a good attitude is often all it takes to get them on your side. There’s a quote by Frank Lloyd Wright in which he says, “Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose the former and have seen no reason to change.” Only problem is that it’s Frank Lloyd Wright. He has earned the right to be arrogant. I can’t think of one doctoral candidate who has.
  3. Don’t mention your chair in the acknowledgements. No one I talked to came out and said this but they do expect a “shout out” after all the time they put in. One woman I worked with had a nasty, patronizing, dismissive, and arrogant chair. She finally got through it, was about to send the dissertation to her committee pre-defense, and happened to mention she had received one snarky email too many and was removing his name from the acknowledgements. (She said she was replacing his name with her dog’s who had been a lot more understanding throughout the process.) My response was, well it was almost unprintable. I took a deep breath and said something professional like, “Are you out of your mind? He still has to sign it and you have to get through the defense and your other committee members will notice the slight and…” Think all caps for my rant. The dissertation chair says “jump” and you say “how high?” They are holding all the power. You are a lowly doctoral candidate who, without your chair, could be putting ABD instead of PhD behind your name for the rest of your life. Suck it up. Put their name in the acknowledgements with appropriate phrasing that says “you couldn’t have done it without them.”

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


©2016 KathleenJCannon

You don’t have to start your dissertation at the beginning


Think about it. How can you do an introduction to an entire document before you know all the parts? That’s what happens when you force yourself to start your dissertation proposal with chapter one, background and introduction. You don’t have the background yet. How about thinking of a dissertation proposal a little more organically…do a little bit of the lit review, a little of the methodology, some parts of the introduction, add references as you get them.

The outline to most dissertations is pretty much the same. So all you have to do is plug in the sections as you go. The sections for my positivistic case study on why senior women leaders opt out (available at my website at is below. So the way I started was that I had read about this phenomenon about women leaders opting out and thought that sounded kind of interesting. I started looking up some articles on the subject and kept separate folders in my laptop for the basic sections.

Time-saving tip: Let’s start with the opt out phenomenon. I found ten articles on the phenomenon and added opt out to the “definition of terms,” added the ten articles to the references using, of course, APA style, and skimmed the articles for related topics which I kept in an outline–I refer to the outline as buckets. I took notes on the sub-topics (reasons for opting out which were a guess at this time) and kept those separated by folders. So I was building my outline one folder at a time. I was guessing that family was a reason to opt out and that career growth was a reason and the glass ceiling was a reason and bosses and organization culture…you get the idea.

The beauty of doing it this way is that some days when you’re dog tired but know you have to do something you can keep plugging away on the grunt work. Then you can save your high energy days for theories or themes or summaries. Another good reason for doing it this way is that it prevents you from investing too much time going in the wrong direction. One of the things I thought would be a big part of my research was the decision making process and decision theory. Turns out to have nothing to do with it so I’m glad I didn’t waste all kinds of time exploring that.

Keep the outline in front of you at all times to keep yourself focused. Add to the outline/TOC as you go along.