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A dissertation or thesis is a long work of academic writing consisting of original research. It is usually a 100–300 page long document, written as part of your PhD or master’s degree. In this article, we’ll tell you how to write a dissertation that is worthy of publication.
While there are some differences between a dissertation and a thesis, they’re more or less similar where writing is concerned. So for the purpose of this article, we’re using the terms interchangeably.
A dissertation is not only the longest academic document a student writes but also the most intensive and difficult one. It tests your ability to:
Your supervisor is your primary guide while writing your dissertation. From questions on the style and structure of your dissertation to the methods you’re planning to use, consult them about every major problem you face.
However, as far as basic writing is concerned, we can help you out just fine! As your editors and proofreaders, we’ve compiled five tips to help you with dissertation writing. But before we start, let’s take a look at the chapters of a dissertation.
The number or order of the dissertation chapters may vary depending on your school or discipline. Universities may choose to drop certain sections or add new ones, but we can discern a common structure of a dissertation across all of them.
Dissertations in sciences and social sciences tend to follow this structure:
We’ve written separately about how to write each of these dissertation sections. If you’re looking for detailed tips on how to write these sections of a dissertation, head over to this guide.
But if you want expert advice on how to write a dissertation, this is the only guide you’ll need!
The marking scheme reflects what aspects of your dissertation are considered most valuable by your university. It also tells you how the instructor will grade individual sections of your dissertation. Once you know exactly what the assignment is, you can do a better job at writing your dissertation.
For example, the Mathematical Institute at the University of Oxford offers 10% of total marks to coherence. In its dissertation guidelines, the institute clarifies that a thesis with clear and interconnected aims, results, and conclusions receives the highest grade for coherence.
Your department’s marking criteria will tell you what you’re expected to achieve in your dissertation. In order to write a dissertation worthy of publication, you need to remember these guidelines and follow them closely.
While this doesn’t strictly come under “how to write a thesis”, it’s an important tip. Most people will tell you to pick a dissertation topic you’re passionate about. While this is certainly essential, what’s more important is that your topic is of interest to your future employers.
This is closely tied to your attitude about dissertation writing: don’t do it just to score a good grade! Always remember that you’re writing to create new knowledge in your field. Someday, other students or even researchers will refer to this for their own research. Your dissertation should be useful to students, researchers, as well as organizations working in your field.
Your dissertation is your contribution to your chosen field of study. Naturally, your employers will want to quiz you on it, or even see it. So, choose a topic that benefits organizations. This way, you have a 100-page proof of your value to the institution of your choice!
Choose a topic you’re passionate about, but also one that’s useful to other people, and by extension, can help you get a job.
The different dissertation chapters outline the story of your research.
In this story,
So, it makes sense for this story to have a clear direction. Most students go wrong in the introduction and literature review, which are the first couple steps in writing a dissertation.
Your literature review isn’t just a summary of existing research, but an expert synthesis and analysis of it. Identify a few key problems or hypotheses in your literature review and structure the chapter around them, rather than haphazardly tying things together.
The problems you come across in the literature review will help you develop the research questions in your methodology section. Derive your questions from the literature review and use them while collecting data.
Complement these questions by identifying a few key themes in your results sections. If you have the option, organize your results section around these themes. Use the key points from your results to structure your discussion and recommendations. This will make it clear that you have made an effort to connect different sections of your dissertation.
Way to get that 10!
This is where we get into how you can write your dissertation step by step. Let’s start!
The abstract is a brief overview of your work where you sum up all the chapters of your dissertation. It tells the reader what to expect from your dissertation.
Since this is the first piece of writing your committee members are going to read, it needs to be impressive. It should make them want to read further!
The abstract is the last thing you’ll write, after you’re done with the rest of your dissertation chapters. You can’t make a trailer before the movie has been shot, right?
Tips to write an abstract for your dissertation:
Your dissertation has to be useful to other researchers, and the introduction is your space to tell them how. But in order to do that, you need to introduce the reader to your specific subject. So, you need to lay down the background information, give them the required context, and then state your problem statement.
Basically, your introduction tells the reader what you’re researching and why it’s important.
Here are your guidelines for writing a thesis introduction:
Additional tips for PhD dissertations:
A literature review is your review of the existing literature around your topic in order to identify a knowledge gap. This helps you understand the existing academic work in your niche and connect your own research to it.
We’ve already mentioned how you should write your literature review to make your thesis more coherent, so we won’t repeat that.
Tips to write a literature review:
The methodology section explains the methods that you used to undertake your research. This allows the researcher to assess the credibility and validity of your dissertation.
Research methodology is where you use the data from your literature review and apply it to the external world. In your review, you identify knowledge gaps or problems and develop some hypotheses. These help you choose your methods of data collection, such as preparing questionnaires.
Your research methodology should include:
So, your methodology is the dissertation chapter where you lay out your methods and processes, and defend your use of them.
Tips to write a research methodology:
The results or findings section is where you report the main findings of your research. It includes nothing but simply what your methodology discovered, so don’t put any analysis here.
While it is preferable to organize this section based on themes or categories identified in the literature review, consult your supervisor on this. Organizing findings in this manner is the norm in historical and qualitative research, but may not be acceptable under your discipline or university guidelines!
Tips to write the results section:
In this dissertation chapter, you elaborate on the importance and relevance of your results. Yes, you literally “discuss” your findings and explain what they mean for your research as well as the larger field of study.
Explaining your findings in this section showcases your ability to analyze raw data and present that analysis.
Since the structure of a dissertation varies across disciplines and universities, the chapter makeup is also prone to change. So, the discussion section may be combined with the results section in some cases. Refer to university guidelines and sample theses, and consult your supervisor if you’re confused about this.
The conclusion is the last chapter of your dissertation, in which you answer your main research question and conclude your central argument. You should also explain how your research is an original contribution to your discipline.
A dissertation conclusion should be very concise, usually about 5–7% of your total word count. So if your text is 15,000 words long, the conclusion shouldn’t be more than 1,000 words.
Based on the structure of your dissertation, recommendations may be a part of this section or may be a separate chapter altogether. But for the purpose of clarity, we’ll address it separately from the conclusion.
Based on your research findings and analysis, you present some recommendations for further research or practice in your field. This is the most important part of your thesis because it is part of your original contribution to your discipline.
Your recommendations are proof of your ability to structure solutions, so organizations take a keen interest in this dissertation section. If you want to write a dissertation that gets you employed, you need to offer valuable recommendations.
You may also score a bonus mark for your recommendations by dividing them under separate labels. These labels can vary based on your topic, but you should develop them with the intention of covering multiple levels in an organization.
For example, a dissertation on the career development of LGBTQ+ folks may offer recommendations on various grounds such as policy changes, social awareness, and psychological support.
So, make sure you develop recommendations targeted towards agents within the professional sphere at multiple operational levels. In this way, your solutions have a wide reach and impact.
Tips to write dissertation recommendations:
Don’t underestimate the importance of editing and proofreading your dissertation before you turn it in. It is your responsibility to ensure that the thesis you submit is error-free and polished.
While you may think you’ve nailed dissertation writing, everyone is prone to mistakes! The worst thing is, we’re not very good at spotting the mistakes we make, and this is precisely why we need academic editors.
Your thesis requires two levels of editing: micro editing and macro editing. Micro editing is similar to copy editing. The editor checks your dissertation for language usage, spelling, punctuation, and grammar. They also review your word choice, sentence structure, and use of technical terms.
Macro editing looks at your dissertation as a whole. Here, the editor checks whether your chapters are organized properly and whether there is a logical connection between them. They also check the thesis for consistency across your thesis chapters.
You may choose to handle this yourself, but given how important a document your dissertation is, this is always a risky move. As dissertation editors and proofreaders who have helped thousands of students with their theses, we always recommend that you get professional help.
After all, it doesn’t make sense to do your best during research, only to lose marks over grammar and formatting mistakes!
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