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November 30, 2007

I only became aware of International Dissertation Writing Month (InaDWriMo) very recently. I missed the boat. But, I did finish writing my own dissertation…or at least a draft of it. So, I guess I participated with knowing it. :)

StyleyGeek (from link above) suggest 45,000 words as a goal. While reading that post, I realized I had no idea how many words were in my dissertation…so I decided to check.


This includes references and captions. Is this a lot for a dissertation? Not much at all? I don’t know. It seemed like a lot write. It is subdivided into three chapters that are all within a few thousand words of each other regarding total count. Each chapter is a stand-alone paper. In other words, there is very little mention or cross-referencing of the other chapters. This is done because they were prepared for publication from the start (one was submitted in July).

This approach is very different from my master’s thesis, which was one long tome that needs substantial tinkering to turn into a submittable paper (sigh…someday). I very much like the approach for my PhD. Why write some 500-page treatise that few people will ever read. Why turn the treatise into publishable papers later, when you can just do that now? If you’re going into academia, you’re gonna need these pubs anyway.

But…I have received comments from a few people that one, long dissertation document provides a much more in-depth study of the particular subject. I’m not sure I agree…at least for my own case. My chapters (papers) do not contain every last little bit of information that I used in the study. These details are included in a substantial appendix, which is referred to throughout the dissertation (appendices not included in that word count above). So, similar to a data repository for a published paper, one can dive into the nitty-gritty if they want. But, I don’t discuss all of it in the text of the paper. It doesn’t need to be there. Like I said…this is the format of published papers, and I am glad that my institution does it this way. I feel way more prepared now to design, write, and submit (hopefully) publishable papers.

Finally…while the number of words is something measurable which can keep you motivated, we should not forget what the real goal is: quality over quantity.

Any thoughts on this matter? How is/was the format of your thesis or dissertation?

Note: saxifraga, over at Rising to the Occasion, participated in InaDWriMo within the context of finishing manuscripts for submission…check it out here.


One Comment leave one →
  1. November 30, 2007 1:56 pm

    The word count as a measure of success doesn’t fit scientific writing very well. Journals always seem to want the paper to be shorter (but to contain more content). (And grant proposals are worse!)

    I wrote stand-alone papers for my dissertation, too. I thought it was good training in the art of writing a publishable paper. (And because I went straight into teaching in a temporary job, rather than getting a post-doc, it was the only training I ever had. Otherwise, I would have been learning a new writing style without the benefit of constant discussions with my committee members.)

    My grad advisor, though, questioned whether it was a good approach. I think she kind of liked the old tomes, and there were things she wanted me to say that weren’t really defensible to our most likely reviewers. (Actually, the comments you’ve received sound like something my grad advisor might say at random during Friday Beer…)

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