Book by Carol M. Roberts
Review by Brenda L. Banks, Ph.D.
School of Music
University of Washington

Only 40-50% of doctoral students ever finish their dissertations, becoming overwhelmed by a momentous task that is not unlike summiting a mountain.  How encouraging, then, to make the climb with this competent guide. Building this manual around a mountain climbing metaphor, Professor Roberts, who has some mountaineering training and, more importantly, years of experience guiding doctoral students at the University of La Verne’s program in Organizational Leadership, writes as she directs students to write -- simply, concisely, and in a natural tone free of jargon.

This is a useful book both for advisors of doctoral students and for students themselves. It should help advisors encourage uncertain students new to dissertation writing, with its detailed advice, liberal doses of motivational quotes, and an insider’s view of what faculty expect from the dissertation student. Many tips are engagingly practical, such as “buy a surge protector” and “do not borrow software.”  A list of “common errors” is also helpful, allowing students to learn from the mistakes of other students. The book is comprehensive, moving from how to choose a topic and a faculty advisor, through preparing the proposal meeting, selecting a methodology, and constructing the document’s basic components. The high point of Roberts’ manual is its ultimately empowering demystification of the oral defense. But she does not stop there; instead, she goes on to discuss how to overcome the emotional letdown students can experience after successfully defending and submitting a dissertation, a topic that other authors might easily overlook.  

Students who have successfully completed dissertations often point to their academic advisor as the one person who consistently provided encouragement. This is unlike faculty committee members whose roles must be to provide tough critical assessment of the student’s work. Doctoral student advisors will certainly benefit from the book’s strategies to better encourage students through this long and arduous process, even if the advisors will not be as actively involved as the faculty who will evaluate the dissertation.  (Moreover, advisors of doctoral students should consider reading some of their students’ completed dissertations and observing a dissertation defense, if they have not done so. These steps will help advisors better prepare their students for what is ahead.)  

The Dissertation Journey suffers occasionally from an overly basic approach that might put off doctoral students who should know more about graduate-level writing than Roberts sometimes assumes. Additionally, the mountain climbing metaphor may be used a little too often. Moreover, although Roberts distinguishes between the quantitative and the qualitative dissertation, her background in organizational management necessarily favors the former. Thus, she may try to cover too much ground here. Those seeking a practical guide for writing qualitative dissertations may want to look at Piantanida and Garman's book entitled The Qualitative Dissertation. But for advisors of students writing quantitative dissertations, this book provides a wealth of useful information and motivational strategies to see the task through to completion.


Piantanida, M. & Garman, N. B. (1999). The Qualitative Dissertation: A Guide for Students and Faculty. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

The Dissertation Journey: A practical and comprehensive guide to planning, writing, and defending your dissertation (2004).  Book by Carol M. Roberts.  Review by Brenda L. Banks. Thousand Oaks, CA:  Corwin Press, 248 pp.  $32.95 (paperback) ISBN: # 978-0-7619-3887-3
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