I often get asked this question, "How do I know when I’ve finished my dissertation?"- the quick answer, of course, is this, "when they hand you your diploma."

Ok, but aside from that, how do you know when you’re "done" writing or "done researching" or "done revisions"? After all, in a way, isn’t the dissertation a living document and one that can keep growing and evolving over time?

Yes, it will evolve and grow over time. The distinction is that this should happen after they’ve handed you the diploma.

If you have been writing the dissertation for years, you’ve probably already lost sight of the end.

You need to clearly determine how much more you need to write, research, or do in order to get this project finished.

If you’ve just started to work on the dissertation, you need to outline some objective markers which will help you recognize the end.

An objective marker may be, "I’m done the first draft when I have 150 pages written."  (Notice we didn’t say 150 perfect pages or 150 absolutely stunning pages, we said 150 pages.)

Another objective marker may be, "I’m done with the literature review when I have traced this topic for the past 20 years, and completed this in 20 pages of writing."

The point is you have to recognize the end; otherwise you’ll never know when you get there. And this can keep the dissertation hanging around for years and years, long past the time you should have finished it.