We theoretically and experimentally studied the dispersion effects in an actively mode-locked inhomogeneously broadened laser. In the positive group velocity dispersion (GVD) region, the laser generates incoherent pulses. Self-phase modulation and resonant dispersion impede reduction of the pulse duration when the GVD is small or near zero. A single, stable, soliton-like pulse can be generated only when the GVD is within a certain range of negative values. When the negative GVD is too small, the laser generates only multiple soliton-like pulses because of excess gain filtering. When the negative GVD is too large, the soliton pulse-shaping process fails, and the laser generates only incoherent pulses due to insufficient gain filtering. In the experiment, we characterized an actively mode-locked inhomogeneously broadened Nd : silicate glass laser and confirmed this GVD dependence. The laser generated self-sustaining, soliton-like pulses as short as 77 fs.