Book by Single, Peg B
Review by Marie Baker
Academic Advisor & Assistant to the Director, School of Accountancy
College of Business
The University of Southern Mississippi

Probably the most anxiety filled part of any doctoral student’s coursework is writing a dissertation. Students may feel overwhelmed at the thought of the many deadlines, decisions and other parts that go along with crafting this monumental work. Advisors may also be at a loss as to how to help students when traditional methods fail. Peg Boyle Single’s book, Demystifying Dissertation Writing, addresses many of the issues that surround the writing of what Single says “should be your worst piece of research you ever write: not that is should be bad, but because all the scholarly writing you do after that should be even better” (p. xvii). 

The basis of Demystifying Dissertation Writing is Single’s system of writing that she developed with the help of her advisor after her own dissertation struggles (p. 2 & 15). Most of the chapters of the book are explanations of the different steps in The Single System of Academic Writing. The first noticeable strength of the book is that Single directs her book at both doctoral students and their advisors (p. xi-xii). Therefore, the book becomes a great resource for dissertation prep courses or “informal writing groups” (p. xi-xii). A second strength of the book is that Single addresses important topics that are not always writing related, such as topic and committee selection and the advisor/advisee relationship (p. 23-47). Single also makes it a point to show students how to be productive while also being realistic about everyday issues that can interfere with one’s writing (p. 11, 12, 19 & 20). Another plus is that Single is extremely thorough in her chapters, while also making the material relatable to her audience. At one point, she asks her readers “…do you need a break to get, or refresh, your large caffeinated beverage? Please do.” (p. 15). Both advisors and students will feel at ease with Single’s process because of this type of down to earth writing style. Throughout the book, Single uses figures to illustrate different steps in the process and what each step means and should include. For example, the figure on page 16 gives the reader a total overview of the system. This is another of the book’s strengths because, as students and advisors progress through the book, there is a place for the students to see their progress and for advisors to help prepare them for what lies ahead (p. 16). A final strength of the book is Single’s belief that the dissertation process means, “entering the conversation” (p. 15). She feels that any engagement in the literature of a topic is becoming part of a larger conversation, one that that will be added to throughout the dissertation process (p. 15). 

Demystifying Dissertation Writing by Peg Boyle Single is a wonderful tool for assisting students through the rocky road of dissertation writing. By using a thorough and relatable writing style, having advisors and students as an audience, addressing the human topics of dissertation writing, providing visual process markers and tools, and believing in student/literature engagement, Single has written an amazing book for both advisors and students alike. I would recommend this book to anyone who works with any graduate students who are considering continuing their studies and those who are already in a doctoral program.

Demystifying Dissertation Writing: A Streamlined Process from Choice of Topic to Final Text (2010). Book by Single, Peg B. Review by Marie Baker. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing. 201 pp., $19.95  ISBN 978-1-57922-313-7
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