In this article, we will explain the step-by-step guide on how you can write a dissertation with ease.
A dissertation represents a comprehensive research document that serves as a mandatory component for attaining an academic degree. Typically, students undertake the task of crafting a dissertation towards the culmination of their academic program, with the primary objectives being to demonstrate their expertise and make a substantial contribution to their respective fields. The successful acquisition of the degree hinges upon the calibre of the dissertation and the effectiveness of its presentation.
Dissertations present a formidable challenge in the realm of research paper composition, demanding a substantial investment of a student’s time, concentration, and intellectual energy. Although they adhere to the fundamental principles of traditional research papers, dissertations encompass aspects that distinguish them from standard research projects. In the following sections, we offer a foundational guide to assist you in navigating the intricate process of dissertation writing, allowing you to tackle this endeavour with confidence and competence while avoiding overwhelming obstacles.
How to Write a Dissertation: The Introduction
A dissertation can be likened to the ultimate academic challenge, akin to a “final exam,” leading to the attainment of specific academic degrees. While the precise procedures may vary across educational institutions and countries, the fundamental process typically involves students collaborating with an advisor to produce a dissertation, subsequently subject to evaluation by experts in the relevant field to determine its eligibility for degree conferment. In many cases, students are also required to deliver an oral presentation on their chosen subject, commonly referred to as a dissertation defence.
The terminology surrounding dissertations can be somewhat perplexing, as different regions employ these terms in distinct manners. For instance, in the United States, the term “dissertation” is associated with doctoral degrees, while “thesis” is used for bachelor’s or master’s degrees. In contrast, in the United Kingdom and Ireland, this nomenclature is reversed, with “dissertation” pertaining to undergraduate degrees.
Dissertations take on various forms, primarily categorized as empirical or nonempirical, contingent on the field of study. Empirical dissertations, prevalent in the sciences, necessitate students to gather original data, with rigorous scrutiny of research methodologies. Nonempirical dissertations, on the other hand, rely on preexisting data, demanding students to deliver original and innovative analyses despite the absence of new data collection.
Notably, while dissertations are fundamentally research papers, their composition demands a level of complexity and technicality exceeding that of other academic papers. Writing a dissertation adheres to a structured format, featuring sections such as literature reviews, appendices, and methodology, among others.
How long should a dissertation be?
Determining the length of a dissertation you want to write is not a one-size-fits-all scenario; it varies based on factors such as the academic level, academic discipline, institution, and geographical location. Nonetheless, here are some approximate guidelines to provide you with a general sense:
- Bachelor’s Dissertation: Typically falls within the range of 10,000 to 15,000 words, equating to around 35 to 50 pages.
- Master’s Dissertation: Generally spans from 18,000 to 22,000 words, which corresponds to approximately 65 to 80 pages.
- Doctoral Dissertation: The most extensive of the three, ranging from 80,000 to 100,000 words, equivalent to 200 to 300 pages. In essence, a doctoral dissertation is akin to composing a book.
It is crucial to bear in mind that these figures are merely rough estimates and actual lengths can vary. For instance, dissertations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields typically tend to be shorter than those in non-STEM disciplines. The specific requirements and expectations of your academic institution and department should always be consulted to determine the precise length expected for your dissertation.
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How to Write A Dissertation: What to Include
The centrepiece of your dissertation’s title page is, you guessed it, your title. Your dissertation’s title should concisely convey the subject matter and directly align with your research question or thesis statement. It should be clear and informative, ensuring that anyone who reads it comprehends the focus of your work.
In terms of formatting the title page, this varies depending on your school and the style guidelines you are following. Typically, you will include your university’s name, your program, and the date. It’s advisable to consult your advisor for precise formatting instructions.
This section, while optional, offers you the opportunity to express gratitude to those who contributed to the creation of your dissertation, akin to a dedication page or an acceptance speech. If you opt to include this section, please strive for a formal and concise expression of appreciation.
The abstract serves as a concise overview of the dissertation, situated at the outset of the paper. It encapsulates the principal themes and ideas explored in the paper, typically providing a brief glimpse into the methodology employed. Abstracts should adhere to a single-paragraph format, typically spanning 300 to 500 words. It’s worth noting that the term “abstract” is frequently used interchangeably with “executive summary,” though they maintain distinct roles: an executive summary delves into the research’s discoveries or conclusions, whereas an abstract does not.
Table of Contents
In this section, you’ll find a comprehensive listing of chapter titles, headings, and subheadings, along with their respective page references. Additionally, the table of contents encompasses supplementary segments, including the bibliography, appendices, and optional components such as a glossary, a list of abbreviations, or a compilation of figures and tables.
List of Figures and Tables
In research-intensive dissertations, a multitude of visual elements, including figures and tables, are often employed. When your dissertation incorporates a substantial number of these visual aids, it is advisable to provide a comprehensive list of these elements along with their corresponding page numbers at the outset of your paper. Think of this as akin to a table of contents specifically dedicated to images and charts.
In the same vein, if your dissertation you want to write extensively employs abbreviations, it is advisable to provide an alphabetically arranged key at the outset of your document, elucidating the meaning of each abbreviation. This practice holds particular significance when your dissertation employs abbreviations unique to a specialized field, potentially unfamiliar to readers from other domains.
A glossary serves as a reference that defines complex terms utilized within your paper, functioning akin to a concise dictionary. Analogous to the list of abbreviations, the glossary proves invaluable when your work employs technical jargon that may not be readily comprehensible to readers who lack expertise in your specific field of study.
The initial chapter of your dissertation, often referred to as the “core chapter” and considered the paper’s de facto beginning, serves as the foundation upon which your research is built. In this section, you establish the focal point of your investigation and furnish readers with the essential contextual information necessary for comprehension. Within the introduction, you unequivocally present your thesis statement or research query, offering a sneak peek into how your paper will expound upon it.
Typically, the introduction adheres to a structured format in which each subsequent chapter is afforded a concise summary. While delving into the specifics of your methodology and approach should be avoided at this stage, you should provide a broad outline. Additionally, it is incumbent upon you to elucidate the existing state of research pertaining to your topic, thereby situating your dissertation within the larger scholarly landscape.
A common guideline suggests that a dissertation’s introduction should encompass approximately 10 percent of the entire paper’s length. For instance, if your dissertation spans 20,000 words, it is recommended that your introduction comprise roughly 2,000 words. Nevertheless, this is a rough estimate and may fluctuate based on individual circumstances and preferences.
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Throughout the course of your research, you will have meticulously gathered and analyzed both primary and secondary sources that pertain to your chosen subject matter. In essence, a literature review entails the critical assessment and commentary on these sources. It goes beyond mere summarization of their findings by highlighting inherent shortcomings and establishing meaningful connections among them.
A pivotal component within a literature review is the identification of a research gap, denoting specific facets of the topic that have yet to receive adequate scholarly exploration. These elusive “blind spots” often serve as the most fertile ground for crafting dissertations, with the primary objective being the augmentation of these areas through the introduction of new data or insightful analysis. The literature review should offer a comprehensive elucidation of this research gap and elucidate how your dissertation endeavours to address and rectify it.
Furthermore, a crucial facet of the literature review involves delineating your theoretical framework, which encompasses the existing theories upon which your own research is built. Put simply, the theoretical framework encapsulates all the foundational knowledge pertaining to your subject that has already been substantiated or established in the scholarly discourse.
The methodological section elucidates the approach undertaken to conduct the research, enabling the reader to assess its reliability. It delves comprehensively into the procedures employed for data acquisition, test administration, and data analysis, along with the rationale behind the chosen methodologies. Additionally, it enumerates the tools and equipment utilized during the research, providing precise details regarding the locations and timelines of the conducted tests.
Furthermore, this section offers insights into any encountered challenges or setbacks during the research process. If the subject matter inherently contains biases, it explicates how the chosen methodologies were designed to circumvent or mitigate these biases effectively.
The core segment of your dissertation is the results chapter, where you delve deeply into your discoveries. Within this chapter, you will showcase your data or original analysis, complemented by visual representations such as graphs or charts.
In empirical dissertations, organize the results section by examining individual data findings, and thoroughly analyzing each one separately. In nonempirical dissertations, structure this section around themes, patterns, or trends that have emerged during your research.
Remember to establish a clear connection between your findings and the central research question or thesis statement. This linkage is vital for providing context and relevance to your research outcomes.
The discussion section serves as a crucial bridge, placing the findings presented in the preceding chapter into a broader context. It goes into the significance of the collected data for the subject matter, its alignment with the established theoretical framework, and its potential implications for reshaping our understanding. These are the key areas that the discussion section elaborates on.
Moreover, this section offers an open platform for addressing any unforeseen discoveries or unexpected outcomes encountered during the research process. Emphasizing transparency in this context can bolster credibility and present an opportunity to share personal perspectives and insights on the research journey.
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In line with the customary practice in research papers and dissertation conclusions, this concluding chapter serves the purpose of synthesizing all the key elements. It represents the final chapter among the core sections and should involve a reassessment of your thesis statement or a definitive response to your research question. It’s crucial to bear in mind that the conclusion should refrain from introducing fresh data or evidence but, instead, focus on summarizing and reinforcing the previously presented findings.
The bibliography section in the dissertation you want to write compiles comprehensive citations for all the sources utilized in your work, accompanied by their publication details. In APA style, it is referred to as the reference page, while in MLA, it is termed the works cited page.
These bibliographic entries adhere to specific formatting guidelines depending on the chosen citation style.
The appendices encompass segments of supplementary content that, while not integral to the main text, remain pertinent to the subject matter. While essential materials find their place within the body of the paper, supplementary materials, such as maps, interview transcripts, or ancillary explanations, should be located at the end of this section. Each discrete element of content in this section is denoted as an appendix, with the singular form being “appendices.”
How to Write a Dissertation: Step-by-Step Guide
Selecting a Dissertation Topic
Selecting a dissertation topic may seem straightforward, but it is a pivotal decision that significantly impacts the success of the dissertation you are to write. Depending on your field, your dissertation advisor may suggest a topic, or you may need to formulate one independently.
Begin by immersing yourself in recent scholarly work within your field to pinpoint areas that warrant further exploration. Seek out gaps in the existing literature or lingering questions that demand answers.
Once you have identified several research directions or questions of interest, assess their feasibility given your available resources. Engage in a dialogue with your faculty advisor to discuss your ideas and integrate their valuable feedback into your decision-making process.
Perform Initial Research
To commence your dissertation journey, it’s imperative to undertake preliminary research. Depending on your specific field, this may involve visiting archives, scrutinizing scholarly literature, or conducting laboratory experiments.
Utilize your initial research to refine your research question and topic. Be diligent in taking copious notes, especially in areas where there is room for further exploration.
Engage with Secondary Academic Sources
A dissertation serves as a testament to your expertise within your chosen field. Consequently, immersing yourself in a substantial body of scholarly work related to your topic is imperative. Typically, dissertations encompass a dedicated section or chapter for a literature review.
Initiate the process by compiling a comprehensive inventory of books, articles, and other scholarly publications early on, and continue expanding this list as you progress. Rely on the references and citations within these works to pinpoint pivotal literature. Additionally, meticulous note-taking throughout this phase will significantly facilitate the subsequent writing process.
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Craft a Research Proposal
In the majority of doctoral programs, the preliminary step before embarking on your dissertation journey entails the creation and defence of a research proposal. The specifics regarding the length and format of your proposal are contingent upon the nuances of your academic field. In many disciplines, a typical proposal spans 10 to 20 pages, encompassing a thorough exploration of your research topic, the chosen methodology, and a comprehensive review of secondary academic sources.
It is worth emphasizing that your faculty advisor’s input will prove invaluable in the transformation of your proposal into a well-structured dissertation.
Go into the World of Research
Doctoral dissertations stand as a testament to original contributions within your chosen field, with your research forming the bedrock of this contribution. The shape your research assumes is intimately tied to your academic discipline. In the realm of computer science, it may involve delving into intricate datasets to unravel the mysteries of machine learning. If your path leads you through the corridors of English, it could entail a deep exploration of unpublished works by poets and authors. Psychology may guide you towards crafting experiments designed to probe the intricacies of stress responses, while in the field of education, your journey might involve the creation of surveys to gauge student experiences.
As you embark on this research odyssey, remember the vital role that can be played by your faculty advisor. Their guidance can often illuminate the path ahead, directing you towards valuable resources and suggesting areas ripe for further exploration.
Seeking Inspiration from Dissertation Examples
The task of crafting a dissertation can appear daunting, especially when transitioning from the realm of seminar papers or master’s theses. A dissertation is, in essence, akin to crafting a comprehensive book. However, fret not, for there exists a valuable resource to illuminate your path – examples of dissertations.
By perusing these examples, you can gain a realistic perspective on what to expect and gain insight into the specific requirements of your academic discipline. Don’t hesitate to consult your advisor to inquire about recent dissertation examples within your department.
It’s worth noting that while doctoral candidates often immerse themselves in monographs and articles, dissertations are sometimes overlooked. Yet, exploring well-crafted scholarly works, especially critical scholarship within your field, can provide you with a valuable benchmark for your own dissertation-writing journey.
Creating Your Dissertation Chapters
When you reach the point of composing your dissertation, you’ve already achieved significant milestones. You’ve selected a research topic, defended your proposal, and carried out extensive research. Now it’s time to structure your work into chapters.
The format of your dissertation will largely hinge on your specific field of study. Your department is likely to provide you with dissertation guidelines that dictate the overall structure of your work. In numerous academic disciplines, dissertations typically encompass chapters dedicated to the literature review, methodology, and results. However, in some fields, each chapter can function much like a standalone article, contributing to the overarching argument of your dissertation.
To begin this process, it’s often advisable to tackle the chapter in which you feel the most confident. Begin by expanding upon the literature review that you initially outlined in your proposal. Provide a comprehensive overview of the existing research in your field, elucidate your research methodology, and carefully analyze your results.
Consulting Your Advisor
Throughout the dissertation journey, maintaining regular meetings with your advisor is crucial. As you write and refine your chapters, consider sharing them with your advisor for valuable feedback. Your advisor can assist you in pinpointing any issues or areas that require improvement, helping you shape a more robust dissertation.
Close communication with your advisor not only enhances the quality of your work but also bolsters your confidence as you prepare for your dissertation defence. Additionally, it may be beneficial to share your work with other members of your dissertation committee for diverse perspectives and insights.
Crafting Your Introduction and Conclusion
In an unconventional twist, consider composing your introduction and conclusion as the final steps in your dissertation journey. Your introduction serves as the compass for your project, outlining its scope and your innovative contributions to your field.
Many doctoral candidates find it beneficial to revisit their initial dissertation proposal when drafting the introduction. If your project has undergone significant evolution, don’t hesitate to reshape the introduction accordingly. Provide essential background information to set the stage for your dissertation, and offer a glimpse into your methodology, research objectives, and anticipated results.
The conclusion, often the briefest section, encapsulates the essence of your work. Summarize the key findings and elucidate how your dissertation enriches the academic landscape of your field.
Refining Your Draft
Congratulations on reaching the draft stage of your dissertation. Now, it’s time to embark on the rigorous process of editing.
For many doctoral candidates, editing can prove more demanding than the extensive research and writing phases. With most dissertations spanning a minimum of 100-200 pages, some even stretching to 300 pages or beyond, meticulous editing is paramount.
As you edit, break down your work chapter by chapter. Look beyond mere grammar and spelling, focusing on crystal-clear communication. Identify and rectify repetitive passages while fortifying the weaknesses in your argument.
The journey of writing a dissertation often feels solitary, with months or even years dedicated to a singular topic. However, the infusion of feedback can fortify your work.
Throughout your dissertation journey, expect to receive invaluable feedback from your advisor and committee members. Many departments also facilitate peer review groups, offering an additional avenue for constructive critique.
External reviewers will pinpoint perplexing sections and propose enhancements. Be diligent in incorporating this feedback into your writing and editing process, as it will enhance the quality of your work.
Defending Your Dissertation
Congratulations! You’ve reached the pinnacle of your dissertation journey—the defence. Your advisor’s decision to schedule the defence is a vote of confidence in your abilities, so view it as a culmination rather than a high-pressure examination.
The format of your defence varies by department. In some disciplines, you’ll present your research, while others entail in-depth discussions with your committee.
Step into your defence with unwavering confidence; you are now an expert in your chosen topic. Answer questions succinctly and address any potential weaknesses in your study. Upon successfully passing the defence, you’ll earn your well-deserved doctorate.
Undoubtedly, writing a dissertation is a formidable undertaking—only approximately 55,000 students earned a Ph.D. in 2020, as per the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. Nevertheless, it’s an achievable feat when you break down the process into manageable steps.