Writing a Dissertation

dissertationA 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.

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 given for dissertation writing, it would be rather gratuitous to procrastinate when 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.

  1. 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.
  2. Once the area is decided on, read through the secondary sources to narrow it down to a particular problem or hypothesis.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Think of the research methods you will use in your work and develop the toolset for each method chosen.
  6. 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 primary data.
  7. 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.
  8. Do a thorough proofreading of your whole dissertation at least twice, even if you have already read over each chapter several times.

Topic Selection

The most important condition for choosing a dissertation topic is that you are passionate about it; since you will have to work with one topic for a long period of time, to write a solid 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, as 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 many 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 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.
  • dis/academichelp.net/check-paper-for-plagiarism/”>Avoid plagiarism, even unintentional instances. You might be surprised to find out how many students have failed to graduate having written a sound dissertation only because of lapses in following a certain citation format properly and this resulting in plagiarism accusations. 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.

Do and Don’t


  • Do consult with your supervisor or mentor regularly.
  • Do make sure that the research method you chose is best-suited for the sample population of your research design and also correlates with the means available to you as a researcher.
  • Do formulate a number of supporting hypotheses that will be either true or false as a result of your findings, depending on whether the main hypothesis is proven or refuted.
  • Do follow a certain standard or formula of the dissertation structure that should be part of your university requirements. Normally, a literature review should not take up more than 35% of your dissertation and the analysis of the findings should not be less than 15% of the written text.
  • Do be critical of the facts, findings and assumptions you quote. It is faulty to think that in your literature review you should only quote the ideas that you agree with. You can just as well present the opposite point of view to demonstrate the ambiguity of the subject and explain why you disagree with this particular opinion by presenting valid argumentation.

  • Don’t base your literature review on sources that come from a different area of expertise. For example, you may study drug abuse from a medical, sociological or psychological perspective and also that of social work. Make sure that the sources you cite relate to the discipline in which you are majoring. If you intentionally use sources from other areas, then make a clear stipulation of that as you cite.
  • Don’t rush into the research without making sure your design is error-free and will demonstrate reliable results. Perform a pre-test or a pilot study of the methodology (when it is something you have invented, not adapted) before conducting the actual field research (when working with the primary data collection designs).
  • Do not simply restate and sum up your findings when writing conclusions. Return to the hypothesis, restate it by either proving or refuting the questions in it, and then outline the area for future research (not necessarily your own) by analyzing in what way the subject can be further researched, or what would the next hypothesis be, or what question is now on the agenda for further research based on your conclusions.

Common Mistakes

  • 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.
  • 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. It’s mostly the content, not the form that counts. Well, everything counts in such a significant paper as a dissertation, so do not overlook even a minor flaw when proofreading your work.
  • Presenting your results in charts and diagrams when your sample population is less than 30 respondents. It is normally considered incorrect 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.

Need Help?

Comment/Ask an Expert

Samples for Writing a Dissertation


or login with

Register | Lost your password?