6 Common Dissertation Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

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A dissertation defense is a rite of passage that graduate students around the world have undergone for centuries. In modern times in the United States, it is quite rare for a PhD candidate to fail, but it is still a possibility, and you can avoid this possibility by being aware of common dissertation mistakes.


1. Making your topic too broad

First-year doctoral students are often motivated to dive into all the major issues of their fields. The ambition is laudable, but often backfires. With such a wide range of topics, it won’t be possible to address the issues in a comprehensive manner. Take your time choosing your specific topic and make sure the topic can be sufficiently researched. For example, RefWorks is a great online educational resource for your articles.

2. Failing to organize

Even before you start your research, you’ll have to collect massive piles of paperwork for your literature review. It is essential to be organized right from the start. A lack of organization can lead you to lose important documents or neglect proper citations. You can use any organizational system you wish, as long as you use it consistently.

3. Not contacting the committee members

During the dissertation process, you’ll be in close contact with your advisor, but remember to stay in contact with other committee members as well. Make sure lines of communication are open with all committee members and be receptive to feedback and suggested changes. They are on your side in this process and are there to help you succeed.

4. Not formatting correctly

Always double-check the dissertation guidelines before formatting your work. Different schools and departments can have different requirements. Double-check the rest of your dissertation as well. Make sure the page numbering, margins, indents and citation style aligns with the guidelines.

5. Inadvertently plagiarizing

No ethical graduate student would intentionally plagiarize, but it can happen inadvertently. Check over your work to ensure that all quotations are properly cited. Remember that ideas also need to be cited, even if they aren’t in quotation marks.

6. Submitting your first draft

No matter how excellent your writing is, you should expect to put your dissertation through several drafts. Even after you think you’ve finally finished your work, set it aside for a week or so, then, read it again with a careful eye. Consider reading it out loud too. When editing, it’s easy for the brain to read what it thinks is there, rather than what’s actually there. Reading out loud minimizes this problem.

Mistakes happen, but as long as you take your time and put in your best effort, you are sure to write a well-written and well-researched dissertation that you can be truly proud of for years to come.


The College of Doctoral Studies at Grand Canyon University fosters a purposeful learning experience for scholar-practitioners. Our school is structured to provide supportive and comprehensive learner resources throughout the dissertation process. Click on “Request More Information” to begin your academic journey.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.