There is nothing wrong with over-communicating (if there is such a thing) with your chairperson. Don’t let anything go unsaid, whether you are preparing for your Proposal, revising your Proposal, or preparing for your Oral Defense. Good communication, written or verbal, will save you from any misconceptions, misunderstandings, and missteps in the dissertation process.

The Proactive Approach

When contacting your chairperson or committee members, focus on a proactive attitude. Make it clear that you are working and making progress on a particular section or chapter and you just need something clarified. As an example, all dissertations are intellectually built on one or more theories or theoretical conceptualizations, which ground the study. With a particular theoretical foundation, the rest of the research design can be built. You could want to use Abraham Maslow’s Theory of Human Motivation and Erik Erikson’s Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development. In contacting your chairperson, you could explain your selection on these two theories and why they seem reasonable. You would not want to ask for permission; just state whether choices makes sense.

With this way of informing the chairperson and getting them to go along with your decision, you are not asking them what theories they think are best. By becoming proactive you will feel more empowered and gain some respect from your chairperson as a critical thinker.

The Informally Formal Way

These days most, if not all, communication is done through email. In the subject line at the top of the message, always include a topic that is stated in context. Continuing with the example above, you could enter “Possible Theories for Your Consideration in the Theoretical Framework.” This would be much clearer than to just write “Theories.”

At the beginning of your memo to the chairperson you will want to address them respectfully, such as Dear Dr. Smith or Hello Dr. Smith or Hi Dr. Smith. Sometimes it is acceptable to just write Dr. Smith. Caution: never refer to your chairperson, committee members, deans, vice-presidents, etc. by their first names unless they specifically ask you to do so. The risk of offending them is too great.

After completing your memo or letter, you can close by using Sincerely, Cordially, or Respectfully, etc. It always pays to be nice. Then you can add your full name, email address, and telephone number(s). It is wise to designate which one is home, mobile, or Fax.

Verbal Communication

All the points I made above are equally appropriate for telephone or face-to-face discussions. One added caveat is to follow-up your verbal exchanges with an email message that summarizes your understanding of the communication.

It pays to communicate well. If you take your time and slowly proof read your written memos and letters, you can expect to always have excellent relationships with your chairperson and committee member, and other academicians.

Recommended citation for this article:

Wargo, W.G. (2015). Good Communication: The Underappreciated Dissertation Skill. Menifee , CA : Academic Information Center .

If you would like additional information about this article, please contact William Wargo, Ph.D. at or (951) 301-5557.

Published by: Academic Information Center , P.O. Box 2501 , Menifee , CA 92586 .