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How to Create an Effective Thesis Statement in 5 Easy Steps

Creating a thesis statement can be a daunting task. It’s one of the most important sentences in your paper, and it needs to be done right. But don’t worry — with these five easy steps, you’ll be able to create an effective thesis statement in no time.

Step 1: Brainstorm Ideas

The first step is to brainstorm ideas for your paper. Think about what you want to say and write down any ideas that come to mind. This will help you narrow down your focus and make it easier to create your thesis statement.

Step 2: Research Your Topic

Once you have some ideas, it’s time to do some research on your topic. Look for sources that support your ideas and provide evidence for the points you want to make. This will help you refine your argument and make it more convincing.

Step 3: Formulate Your Argument

Now that you have done some research, it’s time to formulate your argument. Take the points you want to make and put them into one or two sentences that clearly state what your paper is about. This will be the basis of your thesis statement.

Step 4: Refine Your Thesis Statement

Once you have formulated your argument, it’s time to refine your thesis statement. Make sure that it is clear, concise, and specific. It should also be arguable so that readers can disagree with it if they choose.

Step 5: Test Your Thesis Statement

The last step is to test your thesis statement. Does it accurately reflect the points you want to make? Is it clear and concise? Does it make an arguable point? If not, go back and refine it until it meets all of these criteria.

Creating an effective thesis statement doesn’t have to be a daunting task. With these five easy steps, you can create a strong thesis statement in no time at all.

This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.


all but dissertation means

Academia Insider

PhD ABD (All But Dissertation) [the scary reality]

All but dissertation is the equivalent of academic limbo. The scary reality is that there is a huge portion of students who make it to the dissertation stage but simply do not write up their thesis in order to finish their degree.

ABD stands for all but dissertation and refers to a PhD student who has completed all of the prerequisites (such as coursework, and research) but has not yet written up their dissertation.

There are a variety of reasons why people find themselves as an ABD student in this article will go through all of the important aspects of why people do not qualify despite having done most of the work of their doctoral degree.

What does ABD Mean?

ABD stands for “all but dissertation” and refers to someone who has successfully completed all the coursework and exam requirements for a doctoral program, but has yet to complete their final dissertation.

This means that they have often completed:

  • literature review
  • significant amount of research

but have still yet to write up their thesis.

ABD status is important because it signifies that someone has made significant progress towards earning their PhD, but it is not the same as having completed the degree program.

It is important to note that even though someone may be ABD, they are not yet a doctoral graduate until they have successfully written and defended their dissertation.

All But Dissertation: Why Do So Many PhD Candidates Quit?

It’s a surprising fact that many phd candidates quit at the ABD stage, for reasons that vary from personal to systemic.

There are many reasons why someone may not finish their degree and I have seen multiple students become stuck at the dissertation stage because:

  • the supervisor does not help them with revisions
  • they have left to get a job and say that they will “write up alongside a full-time job” – often this never ends up happening
  • they don’t actually need a PhD for their current career directions so focus on growing and networking in their current role
  • being overwhelmed by thought of writing such a large document

One major factor is the pressure and stress that the dissertation process entails.

Writing a dissertation takes a significant amount of time, research, and effort, and requires a student to write diligently every day for multiple weeks to complete.

There are loads of reasons why a PhD is hard to write – check on my YouTube video about the unglamorous truth about writing any graduate thesis.

Additionally, a lack of support from faculty members, financial struggles, and competing priorities, such as work or family, can also contribute to candidates dropping out of their PhD program.

Who is considered an ABD? Dissertation status?

If you are a PhD candidate and have completed all your coursework, passed comprehensive exams, and are now in the process of researching and writing your dissertation, you can consider yourself ABD (All but dissertation).

ABD means that you have finished all the requirements for the PhD except the dissertation. You are then considered a doctoral candidate, and not yet a doctor, until you have defended your dissertation.

ABD is a term used to describe the status of a graduate student who has completed everything for their PhD except the dissertation.

If you have submitted your dissertation proposal, conducted extensive research, and prepared your work for publication, but have yet to defend your dissertation, then you are considered ABD.

Once you have defended and successfully completed your dissertation, you will be awarded your PhD.

How Long Does the All But Dissertation Phase Last on the Doctoral Journey?

The length of the dissertation phase may vary significantly, depending on the program and the individual student’s progress.

Some doctoral programs require their students to complete the dissertation within a certain time frame, while others may not enforce strict deadlines.

I was able to write up my PhD thesis within three months . I had a very tight deadline and I spent eight hours a day in the library working in two sprints until my thesis have been written.

The ABD phase can last for a few months to several years, depending on the research work required, the amount of time the student can dedicate to the project, and the feedback provided by advisors.

I know of one person who took over 10 years to complete their PhD – much of it in the “all but dissertation” stage.

Here is my video on how to write up quickly if you just want to get over the all but dissertation hurdle:

Can You Get a “PhD ABD Degree”?

A PhD ABD degree refers to a student who has completed all the requirements of a PhD program, except for the dissertation.

It is not officially recognized or awarded as a degree but colloquially it is what many people refer to ADB students as.

While it is possible to have a successful career without completing a doctoral program, having an ABD status may limit some potential job opportunities.

Quite often it is recommended that you do not put your ABD degree on your CV if it has been many years of writing.

Should you list PhD ABD on your resume? Academic jobs could be harmed.

Listing PhD ABD (All But Dissertation) on your resume is a personal choice.

It is important to consider what message you want to convey to potential employers and if they see your lack of submission as a negative.

For example, I was able to apply for a job with an ADB because my thesis had been submitted but not yet reviewed. Andy Stapleton

If your thesis is about to be submitted, reviewed, it’s probably okay to put on your resume. However, it is been many years since you had last contact with your PhD program is probably best to leave it off.

Potential employers may view this as incomplete education or lacking the necessary qualifications.

It is your decision whether or not to list PhD ABD on your resume, but it is important to consider the potential impact it may have on your job search.

Endless ABD Status?

Being in an Endless ABD Status can be frustrating for graduate students who have completed their coursework, but have not successfully defended their dissertation.

This can be a difficult phase for students as they are often dealing with limited funding, competing demands on their time, and the pressure of completing their dissertation within a reasonable timeframe.

I know of people who spend up to 6 months waiting for their thesis to be examined which severely limited their career momentum and this is very frustrating.

Graduate school is an already challenging experience, and the ABD phase can make things even more daunting.

Challenges of Being All But Dissertation

Being All But Dissertation (ABD) presents a unique set of challenges for graduate students in a doctoral program.

The pressure to complete the dissertation can be daunting and overwhelming. So much so, that many people do not finish.

The research, writing, and revision required to complete a doctoral dissertation can be time-consuming and mentally exhausting.

ABD status can become a barrier to professional opportunities both inside and outside of academia.

It is difficult to secure academic positions without a completed dissertation, and non-academic employers may not fully recognize the value of an ABD status.

This creates a challenging environment for those trying to navigate this stage of their doctoral program.

My recommendation is that if you are an all but dissertation, you should focus 100% of your efforts on your goal of completion if your circumstances allow.

Many people say that they will return to their thesis after a little break – many people I know and are leaving their thesis for ever after the get a job and move away from academia.

If your current career projection doesn’t require a PhD and you are happy with our PhD there is also no pressure for you to actually finish your dissertation.

all but dissertation means

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.

Thank you for visiting Academia Insider.

We are here to help you navigate Academia as painlessly as possible. We are supported by our readers and by visiting you are helping us earn a small amount through ads and affiliate revenue - Thank you!

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all but dissertation means

Setting The Record Straight: ABD (All But Dissertation) Degree Status

Doctorate degrees are a lifetime achievement that few individuals pursue and complete. In fact, according to leading labor market analytics firm EMSI, only 3.6% of degrees completed in 2020 were doctoral degrees.

It’s not surprising that doctorates are completed by fewer individuals. Doctorate degrees are intensive, requiring the highest levels of scholarly research and writing. For many people, the dissertation is the most challenging part of getting a doctorate degree. That’s why “ABD,” or “all but dissertation,” has entered the mainstream terminology of doctorate degrees. However, the term leaves many confused if ABD is a type of degree or not. 

We’re here to help clarify what ABD means and how it relates to earning your doctorate degree.

Is ABD A Form Of A Doctorate Degree? 

No . High-quality doctorate programs require the completion of a dissertation to earn your doctoral degree (with the exception of professional and clinical doctorates in areas like law and nursing). ABD simply means you have completed all required doctorate coursework, but have not written and defended your dissertation.

While ABD brings you one step closer to completing your doctorate, achieving ABD status doesn't mean you can take your foot off the gas. ABD doesn’t hold academic weight and you can’t be called a doctor until you finish your dissertation. 

Unfortunately, many doctorate students stop at ABD. Let’s look at the reasons why.

Why So Many Doctorate Students Stop at ABD

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There are a host of reasons doctoral students may dropout or take a break at the ABD stage of their doctorate program. Let’s look at some of the most common reasons students stop at ABD so you can navigate these pitfalls:

  • Self doubt: Some students struggle with imposter syndrome and wonder if they’re really qualified to get their doctoral degree. Lack of confidence can leave students feeling unmotivated, causing them to put their degree on pause or dropout all together.
  • Time Management: Once you get to the dissertation stage, you no longer have the structure of a typical course with weekly deadlines. Some students struggle with managing their time and fall behind. If procrastination gets the best of them, it may feel easier to quit than get back on track.
  • Finances: Getting a doctorate degree is a significant financial investment. If students don’t properly budget, or face new financial challenges, they may pause their degree at ABD.
  • Personal Circumstances: Whether students have family or professional changes, some situations that lead to ABD are unavoidable. If students need to take a break, they should put a plan in place for picking up where they eft off.
  • Dissertation Intimidation: Starting a dissertation can feel like a stark departure from the familiarity of taking coursework. At this stage, students are put into the driver’s seat and are responsible for their own progression, which can feel daunting.
  • Difficulty Writing: The dissertation is extremely research and writing intensive. Most dissertations are over 100 pages. If students struggle with focused and scholarly writing, it can be a detriment to finishing a doctoral degree.
  • Lack of Support: Some students feel isolated when they move into the dissertation phase of their doctorate degree. If you don’t choose a program with support services or create a strong peer network, the solitary nature of a dissertation can deter students from finishing.

Earning a doctorate is challenging and rewarding, but do you know what to really expect? Download this free guide for tips and insights to help you prepare for success.

If you started but haven’t completed a doctoral program you aren’t alone. According to the Council of Graduate Schools, almost 50% of students who start a Ph.D. program don’t complete their degree. However, Ph.D. programs only represent one type of doctoral degree. Completion stats vary widely between universities and doctoral degree programs. The biggest difference in successful completion of a doctoral degree is often the university and program a student chooses. If you’re ABD, you need to find a student-centered program designed to meet the needs of ABD students.

Measuring Doctoral Student Success: Average Doctoral Program vs. Student-Centered Doctoral Programs at Franklin University

*Source: First Cohort Data January 2017-August 2021

Are you still feeling stuck at ABD? Let’s look at ways you can set yourself up to successfully complete your doctoral degree.

6 Tips to Complete Your Doctorate—from ABD to Dr.

No matter how long you've been ABD, you can regain your motivation and finish strong. Here are 6 tips that can help you graduate from your doctorate degree program:

  • Get inspired early and start thinking about the topic of your dissertation at the beginning of your doctorate program. If you’re ABD, pick a topic you’re passionate about before restarting your doctorate.
  • Create a plan that maps out steps and milestones to complete your dissertation in your desired timeframe. Being proactive and setting your own deadlines will help you stay on track.
  • Get into a routine so that researching and writing your dissertation just feels like a normal part of your schedule. 
  • Develop a support system —both at home and in your program. Your family and friends can help you stay motivated, while faculty advisors, committee members and peers can make writing your dissertation feel more manageable.
  • Practice self care , because a dissertation isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Most students take anywhere from 1 to 2 years to complete the dissertation, but it can take longer based on the amount of time you commit.
  • Find a student-centered universit y that offers dedicated support, including personal faculty advisors and a student support network, that make it easier to complete your doctorate.

all but dissertation means

Don’t Stop at ABD—Find The Right Program and Complete Your Doctorate Degree

Remember, ABD is not a recognized credential and there are ways to overcome the barriers that prevent many from finishing the work. A doctorate is the academic achievement of a lifetime and is attainable if you stay organized, motivated and dedicated. 

Choosing the right doctorate program is the first way to set yourself up for success. Whether you’re starting from the beginning or picking up where you left off, you need a doctorate designed for your unique needs.

Franklin University offers transfer-friendly online doctorate degrees that help working adults achieve their goals. From start to finish, you can complete your doctorate degree in as few as 3 years, including your dissertation. Franklin doctorate programs accept up to 24 hours of transfer credit, so if you have completed coursework, but not your dissertation, Franklin can help you get over the finish line.

Explore the doctoral programs offered at Franklin to see if there is a program that will help you take your career to the next level.

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All But Dissertation (ABD): A Complete Guide

Published by steve tippins on may 8, 2019 may 8, 2019.

Last Updated on: 30th August 2022, 04:36 am

What does ABD Mean?

The term “ABD” stands for All But Dissertation. This means that you have finished everything in a PhD program except for the dissertation. Someone who is ABD has successfully completed all of the required classwork and any required comprehensive exams. The term itself has no academic standing but is used to tell others where you are in your program.

Having completed in the neighborhood of two years of classwork, it is nice to have something to acknowledge this accomplishment. Many use the term “ABD” to let others know their position in their doctoral journey.

However, this should not be a destination. ABD should just be a way to tell people where you are on your journey, similar to telling someone that you just passed the hardware store on your way home. Home is your destination, not the hardware store.

Can You Get a “PhD ABD Degree”?

The short answer is no, there is no such thing as a “PhD ABD degree.” Rather, the term “PhD ABD” is used to refer to a place in one’s journey towards getting a PhD.

Another term that has begun to be used to connote a similar message to “PhD ABD” is “PhDc” (also expressed as “PhD(c)” or “PhD-c”). This term has gained popularity recently but there is concern about its use. The APA has expressed concern that the general public may not know what the term means and believe that the holder has completed her/his PhD. Similarly, the term “ABD Degree” makes claim to a degree that was never completed.

When a similar question was asked online, one user commented, “A PhD that’s All But Dissertation is like an espresso that is All But Coffee. It’s hot water with a bit of sugar, thus defeating the entire purpose of the exercise.”

Neither PhD ABD nor PhDc represents the achievement of a degree, so the use of either in a formal setting, such as your CV or in correspondence, should probably be avoided. Avoid making claims like holding an ABD Degree.

However, a new type of degree has arisen lately for those who stop their studies having completed all but their dissertation. This gives people something to show for their time in the PhD program. Called names such as Certificate of Doctoral Completion, this is a way to allow students who leave a program to do so with a degree–albeit, one not nearly as esteemed as a PhD. This may serve the purpose as an ABD degree.

All But Dissertation: Why Do So Many PhD Candidates Quit?

close-up shot of an open laptop in a college classroom

Around 50% of those who start a PhD program do not finish . Many of those who do not finish get to the All But Dissertation stage before they leave their program. Why would someone leave a PhD program after such a big time and effort investment?

There are many reasons why people leave at the ABD level. Among the reasons are:

Lack of funds

Getting a PhD takes time and money. For many people the money (or access to loans) can run out. If that happens, there may be no other option but to leave.

External obligations

Life happens and situations change. Maybe you have had two kids during the process and they need your time and attention, perhaps your aging parents need your care, or maybe your Aunt Melville died and left you her $30 million estate. We cannot predict the future, and valid reasons may arise to leave a program.

Bad situations

There are many stories about abusive advisors/mentors in PhD programs. There is an uneven power distribution between committees and doctoral students. This can turn into a reason to not finish a degree.

Realization that they don’t want/need a PhD

One of the things that you learn in PhD classes is critical thinking and asking questions. What is not part of these programs is solving problems. You learn to answer questions and leave the application/problem solving to others.

Some people get to the ABD stage and determine that they are more suited to being advocates and solving problems than answering questions, giving them an incentive to go out and begin solving the problems that they see. The world needs both types of people.

All But Dissertation: How Not to Stay There

Many people get stuck at the ABD phase of the journey and do not finish their degree. Most of the time, this leaves them with nothing to show for the considerable amount of coursework they completed.

If you decide to leave a program at the ABD stage, having loans can make it seem worse.  Eight months after you stop attending school, student loan payments kick in. No one really enjoys making student loan payments, and they can seem even worse if you left a program without a degree.

Here is my advice for powering through the all but dissertation phase and earning your degree.

Know what’s coming

close-up shot of a big pile of books

When you were taking classes, your program was laid out in front of you. You knew which courses to take when and what grades you needed. As you enter the dissertation phase things are not as straightforward. You should read everything that your school provides on the process and become familiar with any templates that are provided. A good template can signal to you what sections are needed in each chapter and save you time.

Also understand the review process for the work you submit and plan accordingly. If it takes two weeks for your committee to review your Prospectus , then work on finding more literature for your eventual Chapter 2. If your Proposal is being reviewed, start preparing your IRB submission. Be as efficient as possible.

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Interested in more helpful tips about improving your dissertation experience? Join our 5-day mini course by email!

Work every day

There is a book titled “Writing Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day.” The idea is that you need to work on your dissertation consistently, everyday. I find that people who put time in on a regular basis, daily if possible, tend to move forward faster than those who put in a lot of time on an irregular basis. If you have large amounts of time between sessions, you have to spend time remembering where you were. Make writing your dissertation a habit and you will move beyond the ABD stage.

Ask for help

In our society, we’re often taught that asking for help is a sign of weakness. But if you want to complete your PhD program, you’d better let go of that belief and recognize that asking for help is both wise essential for your success.

man and a woman having a discussion in an outdoor café

If you are in a graduate program there are people out there who can help you if you ask. For example, librarians can help you find material and save you lots of time. If your writing needs help, most schools have Writing Centers and if that is not enough, a good academic editor can save you a lot of time and help you move forward.

You dissertation chair and committee are resources as well. Ask the members of the committee for guidance (read: What to Do if Your Advisor is Ignoring You ).

If you are looking for more hands-on help, a dissertation coach can help you towards the finish line.

Be good to yourself

Graduate school is not a sprint. It can be a long, grueling process so you need to take care of yourself along the way. You don’t want to reach the end and be so burned out that you aren’t able to use the degree you worked so hard for.

Self care is very important. Try to add simple things like taking a walk of talking to a friend to your routine. This can save your sanity and help you move forward. For more on this see my article on self care .

Realize your progress

It is easy to get lost in the vastness of writing a dissertation and not realize how much you have actually accomplished. Sometimes it is good to stop and look back at what you have accomplished. For example, you have finished all of your coursework and comprehensive exams. You have done a great deal. Now you get to concentrate on something that truly interests you.

Reward yourself for genuine progress. Rather than paying attention to how much time you spent writing, set mile markers such as writing 2,000 words, finishing a draft of your Chapter One, or addressing all of your committee’s comments.

All But Dissertation: Summary

You have the chance to be one of the 2 percent of the population with a doctoral degree. Take care of yourself on the journey, stay dedicated to the process and call on all available resources. You can do this!

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Steve Tippins

Steve Tippins, PhD, has thrived in academia for over thirty years. He continues to love teaching in addition to coaching recent PhD graduates as well as students writing their dissertations. Learn more about his dissertation coaching and career coaching services. Book a Free Consultation with Steve Tippins

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Choosing your dissertation chair is one of the most important decisions that you’ll make in graduate school. Your dissertation chair will in many ways shape your experience as you undergo the most rigorous intellectual challenge Read more…

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ABD: All But Dissertation

There are many milestones throughout the process of earning a Ph.D. One of the most significant is becoming “ABD” which is academic shorthand for “all but dissertation.” This stage is also sometimes referred to as PhD.abd.

This designation, earned after completion of coursework, represents a significant achievement on the road to earning a doctorate. Moving on from being a graduate student to being classified as ABD marks a significant transition in your education, one that brings with it challenges as well as opportunities. 

While becoming All But Dissertation is an accomplishment in itself, keep in mind that there is a lot of work ahead of you. Once a doctoral student is distinguished as being ABD, the realities of graduate education gain clarity and also greater urgency. Before embarking on the dissertation stage of your doctoral career, it’s a good idea to be well-informed about the sometimes-treacherous terrain ahead. 

young woman typing on her laptop in her home office

These are some commonly asked questions about becoming ABD, or All But Dissertation: 

  • Why is being All But Dissertation significant? 
  • How long are you All But Dissertation?
  • What are the challenges of being All But Dissertation?
  • What happens next?

Significance of ABD

Earning the designation PhD.abd is no mean feat. Becoming a All But Dissertation means successfully completing qualifying exams, comprehensive exams, and all coursework in your plan of study. Beyond checking all of the necessary boxes, being cleared by your department to start your dissertation is a major vote of confidence in your ability to meet the challenges of the work ahead. 

Being All But Dissertation will also earn you a degree of recognition within academia. While not yet a peer, a grad student who is ABD will be given more opportunities in professional forums like conferences and journals . In some fields, students who are All But Dissertation can even find success on the job market, though their employment will be contingent on degree completion. 

african american student shaking hand with another colleague

You have been judged and found equal to the task–well done! Now, the real work–making your own contribution to the body of knowledge in the form of your dissertation–can begin. I vividly remember when my dissertation advisor compared getting a Ph.D. to scaling Mount Everest. Being designated PhD.abd is like making it to base camp–you’ve gotten closer to a doctorate than most people ever will, but there’s still a ways to go. 

How Long Does the All But Dissertation Phase Last?

So how long does a graduate student remain ABD? Eighteen months to three years is standard, though the data on this are skewed by attrition rates. Most programs require completion of the dissertation within a set amount of time , usually six years. As with so many aspects of graduate education, completion depends on a number of mitigating factors that are not limited to, but include: 

  • Your Advisor. Some dissertation advisors set a firm schedule with a strict timeline, while others believe that slow and steady wins the race. Neither of these is better than the other, but make sure that your advisor is aware of your graduation goals and you’re on the same page. 
  • University Resources. Issues with travel and research funding, lab space, and institutional review board (IRB) or research ethics board (REB) approval can all cause delays in starting your research, and, unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to speed things up. Sit tight and be patient. 
  • You. In many ways, the All But Dissertation student is the deciding factor in the length of time a doctoral program takes. 

woman with long hair and eyeglasses typing on her laptop

No matter how well supported you are, a dissertation is arduous, solitary work. It’s hours and days and months of writing and research, trial and error, failure and success. It’s a journey, and a singular opportunity–try to enjoy it. 

Challenges of Being All But Dissertation

For a graduate student, “ABD” is a fraught state of being, and understandably so. With all of your coursework (and close scrutiny by a battalion of faculty members) completed, you’re now the captain of a ship heading into uncharted waters–and sometimes your boat can feel like a very leaky vessel. 

There is a perception that graduate students who have completed their coursework are “almost done,” and that could not be further from the truth. It’s more accurate to see starting your dissertation as the halfway mark to earning a Ph.D., though it’s a significant milestone. 

Though statistics are not publicly available, attrition rates are high in doctoral programs. Completing all of your coursework moves the needle and shifts the odds of completing the degree in your favor. It also pays to choose a faculty advisor you work well with and to consider your dissertation topic carefully. At this point, every decision you make matters. 

stressed out student with his head down in a book in the library

Additional challenges of being All But Dissertation are external. The world outside of academia tends to encroach on your time more once your coursework is done because you’re not “in class.” Do everything you can to safeguard your time and give yourself time and space to devote to your research–you’ll need every moment of it. 

What Happens Next?

Let the dissertation commence! Once you have been declared ABD, there is much to be done. It’s a good idea to hash out a plan for this phase of your graduate program. Before you dive into the dissertation, you’ll need to formalize your choice of dissertation advisor and set up a regular meeting schedule that fits into their faculty workload. While you may have an inkling of what you want your dissertation research to entail, you’ll need to do some academic legwork to make sure your topic is feasible and bring your working knowledge of the subject up to speed. 

After that, you’ll set off from base camp and begin climbing Everest in earnest. Consult your advisor and other faculty members to marshal the resources you’ll need. Begin acquiring books, articles, and all the other materials pertaining to your topic. Prepare yourself to be in the thick of it; having a sound strategy for tackling such a monumental task can make all the difference. 

Being ABD is both an accomplishment and a challenge. It’s not easy, but you’re not alone. This is a well-traveled path; seek advice and learn from the triumphs and pitfalls of those who came before you. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, but rest assured that making it this far means you have what it takes to go the distance. 

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Courtney Watson, Ph.D.

Courtney Watson, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of English at Radford University Carilion, in Roanoke, Virginia. Her areas of expertise include undergraduate and graduate curriculum development for writing courses in the health sciences and American literature with a focus on literary travel, tourism, and heritage economies. Her writing and academic scholarship has been widely published in places that include  Studies in American Culture ,  Dialogue , and  The Virginia Quarterly Review . Her research on the integration of humanities into STEM education will be published by Routledge in an upcoming collection. Dr. Watson has also been nominated by the State Council for Higher Education of Virginia’s Outstanding Faculty Rising Star Award, and she is a past winner of the National Society of Arts & Letters Regional Short Story Prize, as well as institutional awards for scholarly research and excellence in teaching. Throughout her career in higher education, Dr. Watson has served in faculty governance and administration as a frequent committee chair and program chair. As a higher education consultant, she has served as a subject matter expert, an evaluator, and a contributor to white papers exploring program development, enrollment research, and educational mergers and acquisitions.

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How to Finish Your Dissertation in Half the Time

Learn how to avoid the pitfalls preventing you from finishing your dissertation faster.

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Dr. Courtney Watson In the News

“ See It for Yourself ” in With Good Reason: Beyond the Book July 22, 2022

“ I Thought You’d Never Ask: Consent in Contemporary Romance ” in New Frontiers in Popular Romance (McFarland) June 13, 2022

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“How to Finish Your Dissertation in Half the Time”

What Does All But Dissertation Mean? [2024 Guide]

While researching doctoral programs, it’s common to wonder, “What does All But Dissertation mean?”

What Does All But Dissertation Mean

All But Dissertation (ABD) status is a common label applied to students who haven’t finished their doctoral programs. A dissertation is a graduation requirement at many colleges and universities. It involves several years of research and writing and is considered one of the most challenging aspects of earning a PhD.

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If you’re hoping to earn your PhD, it’s important to know how ABD status can affect your academic journey and professional goals.

What Does All But Dissertation Mean?

student taking ABD degree

All But Dissertation (ABD) means that a doctoral student has not yet finished their dissertation, but they have completed their required coursework. The dissertation, or final research project, is a core graduation requirement in most doctoral programs.

While earning a doctorate, a student must meet several criteria to qualify as being ABD. These are the requirements for ABD status:

  • You’ve completed all required coursework.
  • You’ve taken any qualifying or comprehensive exams.
  • You have not finished writing or defending your dissertation.

Students who have ABD degree status are not yet considered doctors. They may plan to complete their dissertations in the future or may have stepped completely away from their doctoral programs.

ABD status is not a term that’s included on your degree or transcript. It’s a way of explaining where you are on your academic journey. If you’re applying for a professional role, you might use ABD to indicate to the company that you have finished your doctoral courses.

If a student fails to finish their dissertation, and it’s required by their doctoral program, they will not be able to complete their PhD.

What Is an ABD Degree?

PhD student taking ABD degree

The term “ABD degree” is not used by any colleges or universities because there is actually no such degree. Stating that you have an ABD degree could be misleading, as you haven’t yet earned your doctorate or PhD.

ABD status is an indicator that a doctoral student’s degree is still in progress, with the dissertation being the only outstanding requirement. Many people refer to a PhD ABD to explain that they’ve completed the necessary courses and exams for their program. All they have left is to complete their dissertation.

Why PhD Candidates Quit

doctorate student working on her dissertation

In addition to answering the question “What does ABD mean?”, it’s also helpful to address why some students have this status. The most common reasons include:

  • Low confidence . Doctoral programs are often intimidating, and the student may feel that they lack the ability to successfully complete a dissertation. They might also question their selected research focus.
  • Poor time management . The dissertation stage of a doctoral program is unstructured and requires the student to work more independently. Students who struggle with managing their time may procrastinate.
  • Lack of resources . Graduate school is expensive, and students may need to return to full-time employment before finishing their degrees. They may also struggle in schools with inadequate support programs.
  • Personal circumstances . An illness can significantly delay the completion of a dissertation. Some students have to shift their focus to family members or childcare.
  • Writing skills . Dissertations usually require students to write at least 100 pages about their research topic. This process can be especially difficult for those who don’t enjoy writing.

These challenges may cause students to drag out their dissertation projects or drop out of their doctoral programs altogether.

How to Complete Your Doctorate Degree

student taking Doctorate degree doing research for dissertation

Although ABD status can be discouraging to some, doctoral students can still move on and finish their degrees. Following these tips may help you make steadier progress:

  • Set up a designated workspace that minimizes distractions.
  • Choose a dissertation topic that you find engaging.
  • Create a schedule with specific times to conduct research and write.
  • Establish milestones for when you’ll complete certain stages of your dissertation.
  • Reach out to academic and personal support systems for help.
  • Build in breaks to disengage from your dissertation so you don’t suffer from burnout.

How long does it take to write a dissertation ? Students aren’t expected to complete their dissertations in a matter of months, so it’s beneficial to give yourself credit for your achievements and pace yourself on the journey.

Earning Your PhD Degree

student completing her PhD degree

Completing a PhD program is an incredible accomplishment, even for online doctoral programs in education without dissertation , but it’s easy to get overwhelmed along the way. Having the status of ABD PhD acknowledges your hard work of completing all of your coursework requirements. All that’s left is to move forward and tackle your dissertation.

Some colleges and universities offer All But Dissertation programs that are designed for students who are struggling to complete their dissertations. They offer a high level of support during the research and writing process.

If you’re ready to finish your PhD, searching for ABD completion programs online could be a strategic next step in your academic journey.

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What’s worse than getting a ph.d. in today’s job market not finishing one..

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When I first began my Ph.D., I kept hearing other graduate students bandy about the term “ABD,” but I had no idea what it meant. Arrested Botox Detonation? Anointed Between Demigods? I didn’t dare ask, because Rule No. 1 of Grad School Fight Club is that you never admit that you don’t know something in public. (“Oh, Phenomenology of Spirit ? I’ll have to re -read that this semester.”)

Eventually, I figured it out: ABD stands for “all but dissertation,” a description of a student who has finished coursework and passed comprehensive exams, but has yet to complete and defend the doctoral thesis. Today, the Ph.D. Completion Project estimates that the ten-year completion rate (that is, someone’s status a decade after they begin) is 55–64 percent in STEM , 56 percent in the social sciences, and 49 percent in the humanities. Not all Ph.D. dropouts advance to the dissertation stage before they leave—but since the project’s charts start leveling out around Year 8 (the dissertation begins in Year 3 or 4), it’s safe to assume a hell of a lot do.

Aside from the obvious professional consequences (it’s hard enough get a job with a doctorate!), there are also psychological ramifications to leaving grad school without finishing. Last month, Jill Yesko, an ABD in geography, took to Inside Higher Education with a wrenchingly honest look at how she and many of her fellow ABDs feel:

Only in the parallel universe of academia is it possible to log years of Herculean scholarship, write and defend a complex dissertation proposal, and – upon failing to complete one’s dissertation – come away with nothing to show but the humiliation of not being recognized by the academic industrial complex for one’s blood, sweat and uncompensated toil.

Many programs do disown their dropouts, refusing to write letters of recommendation and often cutting off all contact. But the anger, disappointment, and betrayal Yesko expresses here reveal far more about the lasting emotional damage that leaving graduate school can cause. It is, in fact, especially wrenching to students who never envisioned a life outside of academia (and, often having gone directly from college to graduate school, have never lived one). In recent years, many , many online resources have sprung up to offer academic cast-asides the support they otherwise lack.

Speaking of which: Reaction on IHE to Yesko’s piece—and her solution, to offer a new kind of degree between an M.A. and a doctorate—was a snide pile-on. “Can we make sure that the Certificate of Doctoral Completion also comes with a little plastic trophy and a large green ribbon signaling excellent participation?” sniped one commenter. Added another: “These degrees aren’t soccer trophies for young childrens [ sic ] whose spirit might get crushed. Terminal ABD has a meaning: Failure.” And you, dear reader, may also feel, right this second, as if those who leave Ph.D. programs simply couldn’t hack it.

Maybe they couldn’t. But that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Dissertations—some 250 pages of original research in the humanities, and topping 400 in the social sciences—are objectively, indisputably difficult. It sometimes takes years just to collect data or comb through the necessary archives, and then the damn thing must be written, often in total isolation. Dissertations are not impossible, but they are very hard, and most people in the world—including, perhaps, you, my friend—cannot complete one.

There are innumerable reasons for this, and I know them all, because when I quit academia , I started working for a company that “coaches” dissertators who are blocked, stalled, or simply in need of some practical guidance. Thus, I happen to have firsthand knowledge of the countless obstacles put in the way of ABDs—by outside forces, and by themselves—because it is my job to.

First, the outside hindrances: Some advisers are helpful and supportive. But many run the gamut between absentee, excoriating, and micromanagerial. There are the advisers who retire, leave, or even die. Then there’s the total lack of preparedness for such an extensive and rigorous project: A seminar paper is a 5K fun run; a dissertation is an ultramarathon . And in the social sciences and STEM fields, there are data sets or experiments that simply fall apart.

Then there are the inner hindrances, the ones that cause procrastination, and then shame, and then paralysis. Here’s my favorite: believing, erroneously, that one must read and master every single word of existing scholarship before even beginning to write. Here’s my least favorite (which happens to my clients all the time): refusing to turn in any chapter that isn’t perfect, and thus not turning in anything at all—which results in the adviser getting irate, which puts even more pressure on the student to be even more perfect, ad infinitum . This is how dissertations are stalled, often forever.

So what can be done to fix this? The Izzy Mandelbaums of academia may argue the system is fine the way it is : In a field that requires extended independent work to succeed, the trial by fire of the dissertation is an apt initiation. (“All aboard the pain train!”) But does it have to be this way? I see no reason why, for example, more dissertation advisers couldn’t be enthusiastic about seeing early drafts, to provide guidance and support. Some already do this (mine did), but far too many of my clients say their advisers won’t even look at anything that isn’t “polished.” Every adviser who says this is part of the problem.

Another step in the right direction would be not just to hold dissertation workshops, but also to make them mandatory. A lot of grad students are simply too paralyzed (or ashamed to admit they don’t know what they’re doing) to attend one of their own volition. A mandatory workshop frees them to get the help they need, without having to admit they need help.

And, most importantly, though I’m not sold on Yesko’s idea for an in-between degree, Ph.D. programs need to stop disowning the students who do not graduate. Whatever inconvenience a jilted adviser suffers from an ABD is nothing compared with the ABD’s fractured life and career. The least an adviser can do is write a letter. And, finally, along with the current drive to require programs to publicize their real (i.e., full-time) job placement rates , so should they be compelled to list attrition.

Finally, here’s what ABDs can do to help themselves. Dare to stop reading and start writing, and revel in an early draft that is an unabashed hot mess. Realize that the greatest misconception of dissertation writers is that the project must be perfect. In fact, for a career academic, the dissertation should actually be the worst thing you ever write.

Sure, the best way to avoid the psychic wounds of not completing the dissertation is to squeeze that bad boy out any way you can. But we must also remember that students leave Ph.D. programs for innumerable reasons, usually complex combinations of things in and out of their control. Terminal ABDs will work for much of their lives to overcome what is at best a sense of lingering incompleteness, and at worst lasting anguish and damage. But it is the academic establishment’s treatment of those who fail initiation—disowning, shame, refusal to reveal attrition—that is one of its dirtiest secrets. 

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