How to Write a Dissertation
A dissertation is arguably the most important factor in determining whether or not a student successfully graduates. While the overall performance during the whole course is obviously important, a student cannot successfully obtain a degree unless he or she properly writes and defends their dissertation at the end of the last year of their studies. No matter how diligent and bright a student you may be, a failing dissertation is likely to be an insurmountable obstacle to gaining the profession you have decided to major in.
A dissertation is a document submitted in support of one’s candidacy for a degree or professional qualification, presenting the author’s research and findings. It is a lengthy academic paper that normally involves extensive research from both primary and secondary sources, and the ability to critically assess the findings based on the students’ skills, creative approach to thinking, and specific knowledge acquired throughout their academic career. Needless to say, writing a dissertation is an extremely challenging and time-consuming activity that requires full dedication to the process and knowledge of the specific academic requirements for dissertation writing.
Steps for Writing a Dissertation
3-8 months is the time normally given to prepare one’s dissertation for defense. Sometimes this period is extended in time for over a year of studying. But, with this much time allocated for dissertation writing, it would be rather gratuitous to procrastinate with starting your dissertation, or approach the process without a firm schedule being developed. You need to consider the following stages of dissertation writing when planning your research.
- List all the subjects and courses you undertook as part of your major and think of a specific area of research within your major about which you would like to form a hypothesis.
- Once the area is decided on, read through the secondary sources to narrow it down to a particular problem or hypothesis.
- As the problem is identified and the hypothesis is formulated, prepare a dissertation proposal, in which you outline the importance and actuality of your further work.
- When the proposal is approved by the committee, plan your future work by creating a detailed outline of the chapters your dissertation will consist of.
- Think of the research methods you will use in your work and develop the toolset for each method chosen.
- Write each chapter of your dissertation, moving from theoretical review of the literature, including the previously done research on the subject, to the practical part of your research that may include collecting the primary data.
- As each chapter is being refined in accordance with your supervisor’s comments, move on to the concluding chapter. Sum up the results of your findings, evaluate their importance and link them to the theoretical approach you have initially discussed.
- Do a thorough proofreading of your whole dissertation at least twice, even if you have already read over each chapter several times.
The most important condition for choosing a dissertation topic is that you are compassionate about it; since you will have to work with one topic for a long period of time, to write a good dissertation you must stay interested in its subject throughout the whole research and writing process. Sometimes, if you get stuck and cannot narrow down your subject to a particular topic, formulate three issues that you would like to study most, and turn them into questions – this may help you decide on the topic as well. However, it is important to know your limits and capabilities when picking a dissertation topic, since you will have a set time to finish your project. It is also crucial to be honest with yourself and know your capabilities; when choosing a topic, decide whether you can complete it with certainty given your requirements..
Key Points to Consider
- With a dissertation being an extremely important and extensive academic paper, it is absolutely necessary to dedicate enough time to each of the stages in the dissertation writing process. Hurrying to move to the actual practical part of your research is not advisable, since a thorough literature review is crucial when making sure that your hypothesis is up-to-date and has not been previously resolved. The first preparatory stages of the dissertation writing normally take up about 30% of the time allocated to you.
- The question of what sources to choose for your literature review and how to distinguish between reliable and unsuitable sources is also a pivotal point in your preparation for the research. Your sources need to be relevant both date-wise (no older than 5-7 years) and content-wise (written in your area or discipline and particularly related to the subject of your research). The accessibility of such sources is an aspect of your research that you have to think of at the very beginning when choosing the area for your research.
- Learning how to cite your sources properly is important in the initial stages of research because returning to every source you have used in your review and trying to locate where you found a particular fact is a time-consuming and tedious task which a lot of students trap themselves into. Cite the sources properly from the beginning, or make special cards with the facts you are planning to use. This is actually useful when you are not sure how to organize your review – you can toss the cards around and see where each fact suits the whole review better.
- Avoid plagiarism, even unintentional instances. You might be surprised to find out how many students have failed to graduate, having written a good dissertation, only because of lapses in following a certain citation format properly and this resulting in plagiarism accusations. Of course, your instructor or supervisor should be able to point out this problem while you are still working on the drafts. However, it is best not to rely on this too much and make sure to include the name of the original thought or finding every time you mention a concept that is not made from your own conclusions.
Dos and Don’ts
- Writing each chapter as a separate paper without linking it to the previous chapter and work as a whole. Your dissertation needs to demonstrate integrity and continuity of all chapters, and every new subsection has to logically follow from the previous one.
- Heavily relying on one type of academic source in your literature review. You need to demonstrate your ability to analyze and work with a variety of academic and non-academic sources: peer-reviewed journals, manuscripts, research reports, financial overviews, interview recordings, and many more, not just the textbooks or handouts you used in a certain class.
- Not following the general requirements for the format, number of sources and length of each chapter, is also a critical mistake that many students make when it comes to dissertation. It’s mostly the content, not the form that counts. Well, everything counts in such a significant and major paper as a dissertation, so do not overlook even a minor flaw when proofreading your work. There is just too much at stake to be dismissive about details like format and structure.
- Presenting your results in charts and diagrams when your sample population was less than 30 respondents. It is normally considered wrong to draw any sort of percentage graphs from less than 100 respondents, since such a chart or graph will not be sufficiently representative. However, it is still useful to present your data for analysis in an organized manner, grouping findings into tables, columns, and schemes.