Writing a successful dissertation often comes down to being smart about deadlines: not just setting and meeting deadlines but also being reasonable and realistic about them.

Dissertations demand self-discipline. They're extremely large projects. While you may have a dissertation advisor or a dissertation committee to oversee your work, the bulk of your dissertation dissertation work is completed independently. You're the one who conducts research, analyzes data, and writes up findings. To complete this kind of large-scale work on your own, you need to be motivated and disciplined. But you also need to be kind to yourself.

Setting deadlines that you can reasonably meet is thus key to dissertation-writing success.

Set multiple deadlines or checkpoints before the big one

There's probably one big deadline that looms large for every graduate student: the date by which you need to file your dissertation. But working towards that huge deadline without checkpoints or smaller deadlines in between is a surefire way to end up feeling completely overwhelmed.

To avoid feeling like you’ve only got one major deadline, break your dissertation down into smaller, discrete sections and set deadlines for each. You might, for instance, give yourself a certain amount of time to complete each chapter.

Work backwards

To figure out the ideal timing for your deadlines, work backwards from your dissertation due date. Be sure to leave a few weeks before your filling deadline to solve any last-minute problems that might arise. From there, work backwards through the stages of dissertation writing and set deadlines for each phase. For instance, you might set a deadline for when you'll turn your completed dissertation draft over to your committee, a deadline for when you'll complete your bibliography and citations, deadlines for completing polished drafts of each chapter, deadlines for completing rough drafts of each chapter, deadlines for completing research and data analysis, etc.

Be generous

Don't set deadlines that you can't reasonably accomplish–that's just setting yourself up for failure. Instead, be generous and kind to yourself, and be realistic about what you can accomplish.

Find out your institution's policies

Your school might set particular deadlines for you. Find these out and plan your personal deadlines around them. And be sure to leave yourself some wiggle room. For instance, if your school requires you to submit a final dissertation draft to your committee by June 15, consider making your personal deadline for that milestone a bit earlier–say, June 7. That way, you'll have extra time built in for unforeseen emergencies.

Involve your dissertation advisor

Unfortunately, one of the big factors in meeting deadlines is one that you can't control: your dissertation advisor. Be aware of your advisor's habits when you're setting deadlines. Do they take forever to give you feedback on a draft? If so, take that into account. And if your advisor is amenable, let them know about the deadlines that you're setting for yourself, and remind them about those deadlines as they approach.


When you meet a dissertation deadline–whether big or small–take a moment to celebrate. Reward yourself with a treat, an afternoon off, or anything that will make you feel good and keep you motivated.

A dissertation consultant can help you set deadlines that will work for you and keep you moving forward with your dissertation. Call us today to find out how we can help–and don't forget to inquire about our comprehensive dissertation editing, dissertation formatting, and data analysis services while you're at it!
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