The Dissertation Survival Guide

Invaluable Tips for the Dissertation-Writing Process



“I would make this a requirement for first- and second-year students!”

—Presentation attendee


As many at 50% of doctoral students do not finish their dissertation, and the longer they wait, the less likely they are to complete them.  In her book, Kathleen wrote:

“Life gets in the way…. I sometimes wondered why my clients have decided to wait to get married or divorced, have a child, or make plans to expatriate until they are about to begin writing their dissertations.”

In fact, these very same stressors that have prompted students to seek Kathleen’s help are the same stressors that prevent other students from completing their dissertations. These students remain ABD (all but dissertation)—a somewhat equivocal title in that it indicates both achievement and failure.

This issue has come up countless times during Kathleen’s 35+ years as a dissertation editor. Her many presentations at graduate schools and professional communities in the Bay Area have provided students with helpful guidance to successfully navigate and muscle through the dissertation-writing process. Her counsel includes practical information on basic formatting (such as how to format a block indent) as well as wise guidance (such as the importance of your dissertation committee). This advice has been gleaned from witnessing repeated mistakes and trends, some very easily identified and avoided and others that have only become apparent over the course of time.

With her presentations, as with her book, Kathleen’s goal is to inform and inspire.  She does not focus solely on “how to write a dissertation”—there are plenty of these “how to” books already on the market—but rather, she offers crucial tips offered nowhere else that can make the difference between success and failure. Dissertation-writing is a human endeavor, and it is a process—and this process carries its own unique set of neuroses, which can make writer’s block or math anxiety look like a mild case of hay fever.

The only element that Kathleen insists upon in her informal and interactive presentation is to spend 10-15 minutes addressing the most basic conventions that can ward off repeated mistakes within the text of a dissertation. She always encourages her audience to ask questions throughout about their personal concerns and individual struggles.

Kathleen also shares stories that show her audience that they are not alone in this journey. In fact, dissertations can be and are completed even under the most dire of circumstances. At some point during the process, all doctoral students encounter a moment when they may be very tempted to throw up their hands and say, “I never want to write another paper in my entire life!” In her talk, Kathleen provides the invaluable insight and encouragement that can shepherd students past the point of despair and into a cap and gown!

Presentation Feedback From Students

What Was Most Helpful?

“Most common mistakes in formatting.”

“Reference tips.”

“Dealing with writer’s block.”

“When to bring in an editor.”

“Managing time.”

“How to set up Word.”

“Your tips are helpful and reassuring.”

“I appreciated your quote from Ernest Hemingway. It will help me when I start to get stressed or anxious about being ‘too perfect’ as I write.”

“How/where to use commas, structure lessons, APA style.”

“Letting us know what is easy to do from the beginning so we can save time later.”

“Tips on getting started, especially to start and maintain an APA format.”

“I think you should teach the writing class here—you’re great!”

“Thank you very much for sharing. I hope you come back.”

“Everything was helpful!”


Wright Institute, ongoing workshops on academic writing, dissertation writing and preparation, CVs and cover letters, essays, report-writing

Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California, 2013

Wright Institute Continuing Education (CE) Course for Faculty, Berkeley, California, 2013

Georgetown Alumni Association Webinar, 2011

Golden Gate University, San Francisco, CA,  2011

California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, CA, 2011

The Wright Institute, Berkeley, CA, 2010

California School of Professional Psychology, San Francisco, CA, 2009/2010

Scheduling a Presentation 

 If you wish to learn more about Kathleen Kline, please visit her Web site at She can be contacted at or at (510) 339-1629.