The 7 “Don’ts” of Dissertation Writing – Part 2

by Wayne Schmidt, EdD, Doctor of Education Chair, College of Doctoral Studies

woman writing her dissertation

It’s time for more talk about the dissertation. Writing the dissertation is the defining element of the doctoral experience—the end point of the doctoral journey. It’s also one of the most difficult academic tasks that anyone can accomplish.

The College of Doctoral Studies has an innovative, embedded dissertation process that gets you started early. Additionally, even though you’ll receive great academic support in the form of rubrics, templates and milestones, there are still ways that things can go wrong.

Previously, we discussed three of our first seven dissertation “don’ts” that are avoidable with some good planning! Here are the last four, focused on how to best manage your committee and your time while you are working away on the dissertation itself:

4. Don’t think it is your chair’s responsibility to teach you.

Your chair is an important figure in your doctoral journey. They provide guidance, feedback, support, criticism and more. However, some learners make the mistake of treating their chair like they have their faculty from courses prior.

The College of Doctoral Studies is committed to helping learners develop and grow from students who complete homework, into scholars who conduct research. By the start of your dissertation process, you are becoming that scholar. As a scholar, you will have to figure some things out on your own. The chair is not your teacher because at this point you no longer need a teacher.

5. Don’t irritate your chair.

Completing a dissertation can be a long process—definitely longer than any class you’ve taken up to this point. You will spend many, many months working with the same chair. The College of Doctoral Studies selects chairs who have professional or business backgrounds along with their academic credentials. Almost all of our chairs are engaged in tasks other than just chairing. It will be mutually beneficial for everyone if you keep a cordial relationship with your chair.

6. Don’t ignore feedback.

In reference to the point above, one of the quickest ways to irritate a chair is to ignore or dismiss the feedback that they worked to provide to you. Sending a version of a document back that does not address track changes or comments directly, or not taking feedback that was given early in the document and applying it throughout the document, is often a surefire way to do this.

This is not to say you cannot disagree with feedback or must robotically do everything your chair says. But such situations require more communication and engagement, not less.

7. Don’t fear the word “no.”

This point doesn’t involve your academic pursuit at all, but rather your life outside. As you work on your dissertation, you need to learn that you need to say “no” to certain things to help free up your time. Maybe it is poker night with your friends. Maybe it is that latest Netflix binge. Maybe you can’t help plan the family reunion this year.

Concentrating your efforts on completing the dissertation will require you to say “no,” but in the end, it will all be worth it!

Looking for more resources for writing your dissertation? Check out our discussions on the topic. For more information about doctoral programs at GCU, visit our website.

More about Dr. Berger:

Dr. Michael Berger has over a decade of experience in higher education and joined GCU in 2004. Dr. Berger participated in the teams that earned HLC accreditation for the current doctoral programs as head of curriculum design and development before moving to the College of Doctoral Studies in 2012. His dissertation focused on instructional techniques that online faculty can use to better connect with their students. He has presented at numerous regional and national conferences on the subjects of higher ed. assessment, online learning and virtual doctoral education. His bachelor’s and master’s degrees are from the University of Dayton and he received his doctorate in education from GCU. He started his doctoral program five days after his daughter was born, so he has experienced firsthand trying to simultaneously balance school, family and full-time employment.

More about Dr. Schmidt:


Dr. Wayne Schmidt attended and graduated from Concordia University in Chicago, Long Beach State University and Arizona State University earning bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from those institutions, respectively. Dr. Schmidt’s doctoral dissertation research focused on using collaborative inquiry as professional development for teachers. He has spent 36 years in the education field with those years divided into two equal halves. The first 18 were spent largely as a junior high school teacher and the second 18 as the principal of a K-8 school in the southwestern part of the U.S. Dr. Schmidt has been the founding chair of two committees in the Pacific Southwest District, the first being the District Testing Committee and the second was the District Curriculum Task Force.

Dr. Schmidt believes the ultimate goal of teaching is to make our students better people. So, whenever possible, he uses whatever the lesson of the day is to springboard into a larger lesson that, hopefully, the students can carry with them outside the classroom. In his spare time, Dr. Schmidt likes to read good mysteries, tinker with computers and play guitar. He has been fortunate enough to travel and has been to nearly all 50 states, Europe several times and Egypt.

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.