correcting grammar

7 Dissertation Writing Tips to Avoid Common Grammatical Mistakes

By Dr. Klem

Dissertation writing can be daunting and many students are fearful of the process. It is a different way of writing and thinking for this highest level of education a person can obtain. When a dissertation is not approved by your committee, the reason can be traced, usually, to the student’s failure to follow the official format guidelines of the school, to miss some APA formatting or to fail to fully edit the document – among other issues (such as alignment for example!) . I have compiled a list of the most common mistakes students make in formatting and submitting their dissertations to assist you!

  1. “As shown in the Publication Manual 6th edition, the word datum is singular, and the word data is plural” (p. 96). Plural nouns take plural verbs, so data should be followed by a plural verb. Example: Each datum matches the location of an object to a coordinate on the map. Although we have compiled the results, these data are the focus of another report and are not described here. Try to practice this or scrub your own document for these potential issues!
  2. The United States is abbreviated as U.S. only when used as an adjective: U.S. Navy, but in the United States. Use a period when abbreviating the United States as an adjective (U.S. Marines or U.S. Senator).
  3. If you reference or quote a theory in the body of your work, include an in-text citation. This notes the author and year of the source in which the theory appears (Iida, 2021). One tip I like to give is to keep track of your citations as you read articles for your literature review or to look for a gap in research.
  4. Eliminate first person (I, we, our, etc.) since you are not relating a personal experience. A personal experience requires a personal relationship. If you are relating a personal experience use “I or me.” However, if you are only giving a personal opinion do not use first person. Example - The researcher has worked with the population for 25 years. CORRECTION - I have worked with the population for 25 years. Or This researcher selected fifty participants. CORRECTION - Fifty participants were selected! Never use "this researcher, this learner,” etc. This is not proper grammar and is referred to as anthropomorphism or an anthropomorphic response (giving human like qualities to non-human things). A common example is “This study seeks to”. The study is not seeking, the researcher is! In a dissertation, only use first person in the "role of the researcher" section in chapter 4 of the dissertation unless your school states otherwise (and many do).
  5. If the source has three or more authors you use the first author's last name and the words et al. (without italics) for every citation even the first (APA, 2020, p. 266). Here is an example, (Cummings et al., 2022). Do not list out all authors for your in-text citation. All authors will be listed in the reference page.
  6. Spell out numbers one through nine that appear in the body text. Use Arabic numerals to express numbers 10 and above. (Iida, 2021).
  7. Be sure to use the appropriate tense in your doctoral study! Your proposal will have what you will do in the future, and your completed manuscript will convert future tense to past tense. In addition, different sections of a dissertation use a different tense. The verb tenses commonly used in dissertation writing are present (simple present), simple past, present perfect, and future. Let’s review them so you can use them correctly.
    1. present (simple present) – use words like examines, relates, presents, describes. These keep the writing in the present and tells the reader this is what this study will do. Commonly used in the abstract, summaries, introduction, conclusions or discussion, and theoretical framework sections of the dissertation.
    2. simple past – use words like conducted, participants had, was used, are relevant to and shows a connection to the past research and the current research. These words discuss previous events. Is commonly used in the methods and results, conclusions or discussion, limitations,
    3. present perfect – use words like conducted, investigated, has shown to demonstrate the connection between previous research and your research. These words and others show that the past research is still relevant to the current research. This is commonly used in the literature review (chapter 2 of the dissertation).
    4. Future (modal auxiliary) – these words tell the reader what you, the researcher are suggesting for future research. Words like should conduct, may be, will likely are used to suggest future research. This is commonly used in the recommendations and implications section of the dissertation.

The best tense is usually suggested in the APA manual and by your school. Make sure to use the templates and guides provided by your school to master the tense your school would prefer for each section. You can read more about tenses here Ensuring your work is free from errors before submission will help you get a clear pass from your committee. As always, our editing team remains available anytime to assist you as well! Whether you would like coaching to learn yourself or an editor to just get it done, we are happy to assist.

Happy Writing!

Dr. Klem


Krupa, T. 2012). Data Is, or Data Are?

Iida, P. (2021). The concise APA handbook: APA 7th edition. Information Age Publishing, Inc.

Dr. Pam Klem, Editor for Dissertation Prep

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