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Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  1,252 ratings  ·  155 reviews
Expert writing advice from the editor of the Boston Globe best-seller, The Writer's Home Companion

Dissertation writers need strong, practical advice, as well as someone to assure them that their struggles aren't unique. Joan Bolker, midwife to more than one hundred dissertations and co-founder of the Harvard Writing Center, offers invaluable suggestions for the graduate-st
Paperback, 208 pages
Published August 15th 1998 by Holt Paperbacks (first published 1998)
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 ·  1,252 ratings  ·  155 reviews

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Jul 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
No, of course you can't write your dissertation in only 15 minutes a day, but there are some days where you want to pretend that your writing project doesn't exist and that you are actually a skilled woodworker (or is that just me), and yet you must/should spend at least 15 minutes working on it, every day, without exception.

I am not at the dissertation stage yet, but it approaches, and I've found the writing process to be increasingly terrifying as I progress through graduate school. This book
Jan 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
lol. haaalp

It worked. I'm duuun
Kessia Reyne
Dec 22, 2010 rated it liked it
A short read (150 pages) that gives some sound advice on the writing process. Bolker acts almost like a writing psychologist, providing helpful, proven tips for getting over that most insidious of dissertation ailments: writer's block. It's a little aged (there is, for instance, an appendix discussing the pros and cons of using computers), but some of the principles are timeless. One tip I've personally found to be helpful is what she calls "parking on the downhill slope": "sketching out in writ ...more
Jul 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
Despite the annoying title and some dated advice (including whether or not to write on a computer), this book offers some useful guidance on the psychology of writing. These tips include setting realizable goals that are rewarded, writing as the process of thinking about a project, writing first, dealing with outside distractions, and my favorite "pay close attention to who you are, not who you might like to be" (76). On the other hand, this book ignores the research process and contributes to t ...more
Sep 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I recommend this book for individuals interested in a realistic approach to beginning the daunting process of dissertation writing. Obviously, as the author points out, there's no way to literally write only 15 minutes a day and still finish in a reasonable time. That said, this book centers upon building a writing habit that is supposed to keep you from drowning when you feel stuck.
Bolker's approach is humorous and realistic, with a lot of tips that can be put to good use. There are instances w
Apr 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who finds it difficult to be disciplined about writing
Excellent book!! I read through the entire book in one sitting, though I will surely re-read most of it many times over the next year. This book is a one-size-fits-all guide to disciplined writing, but only in the sense that it acknowledges that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all guide to writing. Instead it prescribes some techniques for writing, staying on task, and making progress, but also encourages the reader to be a "researcher" of her own working style in order to develop her ...more
Rachel M.
Apr 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: on-writing
Yes, the title is a bit misleading and the appendix on working with computers is terribly outdated, but this is a fantastic read for anyone doing scholarly writing, whether it's a thesis (like I'm attempting), a dissertation, or a piece for a conference and/or publication.

The basic rule is: Write every day, for at least 10-15 minutes (to start), and during that time, never stop writing, even for a moment.

I have high hopes that this writing technique (and the rest of her advice) will help move m
Jan 13, 2021 added it
This gave me the psychological enforcement I think I needed to push forward with the process. The book does leave me with structural questions which i set out to answer. But the guidence was more than beneficial because as the author summarizes it just requires us to put in the work. The physical work, mental work and social work.
Jun 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is a mix of good and bad advice and assumptions. I liked Bolker's systematic approach to free-writing (including free-writing to articulate 'what is my problem with this chapter'), and her advice to take stock and get organized again midway through the writing process. I hated the outdated assumptions about computers (for her, all writing is by hand) and the equally outdated assumptions that women might be questioning whether finishing their dissertation made them unacceptable to their ...more
There are some really helpful insights and tips in this book, but I'm not sure there's enough content here to warrant a full-length book (although it is a very quick read). Many of the strategies the author recommends are things I was already doing. I appreciated that the author was conscious of the fact that there are many routes to the same end which will each be best-suited to different types of people. I also thought it was nice that she acknowledged that some people may encounter difficult ...more
Nasreddine EL Guezar
May 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I probably wouldn't have struggled to finish my MA thesis had I read this book before. While the process of my Ph.D. seems gravely tedious, slow-moving, and pointless, this book liberates me from such and so many other psychological barriers I tend to put between me and my dissertation writing. I wouldn't feel that the book is aged as the content of the book covers, in a brief, frank, and thorough way, all you need to know on your doctoral and writing journey.

Some of the key ideas I took from th
Zoe Brittain
Jul 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
I found the first few chapters incredibly helpful (although I am not sure if they only stood out to be as I am in the beginning of my thesis). Made a significant difference to my ability to produce work and I recommend to anyone struggling with their academic writing.
Jun 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely loved this book. There was much to think about and much to convert into a practice. But the best thing is that they were all said in a kind tone. You don't feel alone when reading this. Also carries a chapter for the supervisor/advisor on how to help the PhD student. ...more
Andy Cyca
Aug 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
[3.75/5] The premise of this book is to present a way to find out your own personal working rhythm, program and style so that you can finish an academic document (thesis /dissertation). Although Bolker does deliver on this promise, the book sometimes feels a bit useless, but not because it's actually bad. I believe that this book is best read twice: once as a regular book, and once more throughout the writing process itself, so that the otherwise excellent advice gets to your attention right whe ...more
May 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: own
Written in 1997, this is a bit outdated book (it has an appendix titled “How the Computer Revolution Affects You and Your Dissertation” which discusses the advantages and disadvantages of using a computer and whether you should use this revolutionary device). However, I can say that I’ve found some parts to be interesting and helpful. Nothing breakthrough, still useful in reminding of some basic strategies we tend to overlook.

Writing a dissertation in fifteen minutes a day of course sounds a bi
Jul 21, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: dissertation
Title is mostly a hook not actual advice. Main idea is to get the job done you need to write every day probably by setting up a page goal every day. That is not to say this isn't a useful book as a pep talk on how to start and keep writing, but it could just as easily be how to write a novel in 15 minutes a day. Some nuggets, but not super advice. It is an engaging book on a dry subject lots of fun terms for things and lots of blast from the past including diskettes and CDROM as a luxury item. W ...more
Dec 31, 2014 rated it liked it
I picked this up at the UW bookstore because, I'm horribly, inexcusably behind on writing my dissertation and oh yes hahaha, surely 15 mins a day will do the trick. Clearly, the title is somewhat misleading--as Bolker admits--but the book does contain practical advice to help keep Scaredy Squirrels like me on track when we're too embarrassed to call up our committees for a little extra hand-holding. ...more
Jul 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Yes, most of it seems to be common sense, and yes, if you have any kind of decent writing practice in place and/or a reasonably sane advisor there will not be much that's new here. But it's a great little book to have around for those moments (and they are many) when you do think your dissertation is trying to kill you. ...more
Mar 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
How had I not read this book already?!! This would have made writing my thesis a very, very different experience. I suggest that anyone faced with academic writing of any kind, not just a dissertation, should read this book. It's most helpful in its suggestions about how to cultivate and organize your thought process by writing. ...more
Chighaf Bakour
Jun 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book has been my companion for the past year and I will probably continue to use it for a while. The title is misleading. Of course you cannot write your dissertation in 15 minutes a day! The book applies to any big writing job and deals with everything related to the writing process, from psychological aspects to dealing with distractions. Great book for any writer
Tam Nguyen
Oct 19, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: for-college, writing
I rate 3.5 for this book. It has some interesting ideas and practical advice. I find some inspirations too. But I would want to know more about "reading for research" process, which is the critical part. And how to structure the arguments in a dissertation is also important to me.

Jan 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Mostly good, a little general in places, with advice that has mostly - but not completely - aged well.
Jul 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great, quick read. This should be required reading for all incoming PhDs in any field.
Jul 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Read this book because it appeared in a free library (where you swap books) and nothing else was super appealing -- had heard a bit about it previously from a Habitica forum. Quick read, and worthwhile if you're working on any kind of big writing project, especially but not exclusively in academia.

Some of the advice will be familiar if you've read writing advice before, but still useful to see again. A little out of date e.g. "If you are one of the last people in America without an answering mac
May Helena Plumb
I really want 4.5 stars for this one. Definitely recommend. It's a short read (I read it twice in a row, just to absorb it better), and I think it'll be useful. I'm reading this the summer after my first year in a PhD program (linguistics). Maybe I'll remember to come back in 5 years or so and update my review :)

As others say, it's an older book, so all of it's mentions of "word processors" and "laptop computers" are completely out of date. It's also true that there's not much real *concrete* ad
Dec 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Old but gold. Despite the clickbaity title, the book offers a nice peek into the psychology of writing. And not just a dissertation, a lot of advices are applicable to general writing. The chapter "the best dissertation is a done dissertation" and "life after dissertaion" has some beautiful paragraphs regarding crafting one's written piece. I very much look forward to such experiences.

I found this book to be a cure for my writer's block. Not only it offers effective writing advices, it makes me
Oct 04, 2017 rated it liked it
I thought it was useful. The hard copy stuff is all so outdated, but her advice spans across such a wide variety of aspects of the process that I feel like you’re bound to find something good for you in here. I liked her odd bits of advice about imagining parts of the process being finished and how you’ll feel- that stuff wouldn’t occur to me. She also hilariously suggests seeking help at the university counseling center more times than I’d have expected. All in all, a pretty good overview of th ...more
May 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
I read this entire book (granted, it's only 199 pages) in an evening at a time of feeling particularly stuck with my dissertation. I can now say that I feel less stuck, and more understood than before I read it! The book did its job. It's well-written, the author is empathetic, and it's a great "big picture" perspective for when tasks just seem too overwhelming.

That being said- as others have noted- it was written in 1997 and is very technologically outdated. I doubt anyone is saving their work
May 10, 2021 rated it really liked it
It is a great book that I originally bought to find some insight while writing my Master's thesis. I started looking at this book and found that there is a lot of advice that is helpful for other writing as well. I have been using this book to help me better my writing process in general and found that my writing is better and quicker now.

I love the idea of free writing that is brought up in the book. I often find that I have many thoughts whirling around in my head, which makes writing clearly
Calli Johnson
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
I've read several books on writing and this is the best. Although somewhat dated around technology, it provides great, concrete options to explore to increase the possibility that the dissertation will get done. This shouldn't be a spoiler to anyone however: you can't write a dissertation in 15 minutes a day. I'm recommending this to everyone, especially if you e gone through a bad MA thesis experience, like I have. It is possible to write something that doesn't feel like torture, or so this boo ...more
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“It’s more common for the students I’ve worked with to read too much than to read too little. They use reading as a distraction, or as a way to avoid having to think their own thoughts, or as a magic charm: “If I read everything in the field, then I’ll be able to write and be sure I haven’t missed anything.” 4 likes
“One of the most common problems encountered among the students I counsel is biting off too large a topic or question for their dissertation. Don’t feel like you’re cheating or slacking off if you end up reducing the size of your project.” 0 likes
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