Ph.D. Dissertation Jump Start

Library Workshops

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Demystifying the Dissertation Process

From proposal to defense, this workshop provides strategies for starting and completing your thesis or dissertation.

Developing Literature Review

In this workshop, you will learn the basics of how to structure and write a literature review, with a focus on the thesis or dissertation review.

Research Ethics & The Graduate Student

This session discusses issues related to ethical research. Topics covered include avoiding plagarism, the ethical use of data, and the MSU Honor Code.

Dissertation Template Workshop

This workshop covers the submission process for format review and demonstrates how to use the automated templates to format MSU thesis and dissertations to the requirements set forth in the standards.

These templates were designed to help an author organize and format their documents with minimal effort so that their focus can be on the content. Those who have already started writing or have already defended are welcome to bring their current documents (either on flash drive or email attachment) to start the process of placing their content into the template.

Notetaking Tools and Reference Managers

Importance of Software

The dissertation is the cornerstone of your academic career and as a result will require many hours of diligent work and dedication. Staying organized is extremely important in the dissertation writing process. Selecting the appropriate software early on in the writing process will allow you to stay better organized and on track with your writing and research.

In this guide are listed two potential notetaking tools (EverNote and OneNote) and two reference managers (Mendeley and Zotero). Notetaking software will give you the ability to take notes as you conduct research and even as you write. The primary benefit to using notetaking software versus traditional word processing is the increased focus on organization. One primary characteristic of modern notetaking applications is the ability to sort and categorize notes into notebooks. Another reason to use notetaking software is the ability to share your notes across all your devices via the cloud.

On the otherhand the reference managers listed serve a different function. Mendeley, Zotero, and EndNote provide the ability to sort, organize, and categorize references. Throughout your dissertation journey, you will read many articles related to your topic and it may be difficult to keep track of all of these options. Cloud-based reference managers will give you the ability to manage your references easily and will even store a second copy in the cloud.

Notetaking and reference managers will give you freedom, help you stay organized, and provide peace of mind.


Evernote is a cloud-based notetaking application that is available on all major platforms: PC (web or standalone), smartphones, and tablets. The application possess many features such notebooks, pages, web clipper, and the ability to seamlessly share notes among all devices. Evernote is free for the basic package but does offer a paid version for additional features such as additional storage.

Get Evernote

Evernote Official Tips and Tutorials

Evernote Official Youtube Channel


OneNote is Microsoft's solution to notetaking. It is a characteristically standalone application with limited cloud features as compared to Evernote. OneNote is available on all major platforms including Apple platforms.

Get OneNote

Official OneNote Getting Started Course

Official Office Training Youtube Channel


Mendeley is a cloud-based reference manager that is offered free of charge. The application works seamlessly among all devices including PCs, tablets, and smartphones. Mendeley supports features such as: pdf markup for easy notetaking, one-click bibliography creator, categorization or references, and more.

Download Mendeley

Mendeley's Official Training Page

Mendely Getting Started Videos


Zotero is a cloud-based reference manager, like Mendeley. However, the application is marketed as a free-EndNote alternative. Many features of EndNote are present in Zotero and the list of features continues to grow with each new release.

Download Zotero

Zotero Official Training Page

Zotero Getting Started Video

Dissertation Template

When writing the dissertation, it is important to ensure that the formatting follows the APA formatting guide but also follows the Mississippi State University policies concerning formatting.

The Mississippi State University Library has prepared a Word document to be used a template for the dissertation. Students should carefully read the standards and formatting guide prior to using the template. It is also beneficial to attend the Dissertation Template Workshop that is hosted by the MSU Library. It would be most beneficial to start using the template when beginning to write the dissertation, rather than trying to import an existing dissertation into the template.

Standards for Preparing Thesis and Dissertations

Obtain the Thesis and Dissertation Template

Deadlines and Organization

The dissertation journey is a long and arduous process that requires dedication. It is important to set deadlines and milestones early on to ensure that you stay on track with your research and writing. Deadlines should be realistically achievable in the amount of time allotted. There is no particular guide since every student is different and works at a different pace. You should split the process up into different parts and set a specific date for each part to be completed. Setting deadlines and milestones will ensure that you stay on track, but will also assist in keeping you organized.

You can use software such as Google Calendar or Google Keep. Google Calendar is a great tool that works on all devices and is cloud based. The application provides the ability to manage and track your day-to-day activities and appointments. Google Keep is a to do list organizer that can assist in setting up milestones and deadlines for your dissertation journey.

Google Calendar

Google Keep

Meet Frequently with Dissertation Director

It is important to setup frequent meetings with your dissertation director to stay on track with your research and writing. The dissertation director will be able to point out any potential pitfalls that you may miss during your dissertation journey and offer invaluable advice. Students and professors have busy schedules so meeting frequently may be difficult. However, there are online options available for meeting when face to face simply is not an option.

Setup Face to Face Meetings

Meet Online via Skype

Meet Online via Google Hangouts