How to Write a Dissertation and Get a Degree

How to Write a Dissertation: Definition

A dissertation is a profound academic work involving research that has a scientific contribution to the existing field of knowledge. Typically a dissertation is written by postgraduate students striving to gain a doctoral degree. The aim of the dissertation is to show that the writer has enough qualification to be considered a scientist.

how to write a dissertation

How to Write a Dissertation: What’s So Special

When you are deciding on writing a dissertation, you need to be totally sure that you want to get a degree. This strong desire should motivate you and be a guiding light in the moments of despair. How long does it take to write a dissertation? You need to know that writing a dissertation may take from six months up to four years, and possibly more.

The main thing that distinguishes a dissertation from any other papers you have already written is having to engage in genuine thinking. This means that you use your own ideas instead of recycling ideas of others, and you choose the direction and focus of your paper by yourself. You should be guided by the evidence you need to prove your ideas to the academic society.

The dissertation writing process involves the following activities (the list may vary from one program to another):

  • writing a dissertation proposal;
  • conducting research on the chosen topic and writing the dissertation;
  • publications of articles in several scholarly journals;
  • participation in conferences;
  • defense of the work before a dissertation committee.

To succeed, you will need to develop skills in time management, communication, flexibility, self-motivation, and others. For some programs, be ready to work on several projects at once. You may be expected to complete other parts of your research while working on dissertation text. If you try to make one task and then another, you will see that you have no time for completing them.

The moment you start a large paper like a dissertation, you may get frightened by the volume of pages you need to write. But your confidence will grow as soon as you divide your work into small manageable stages, create a timetable, and start dealing with each step at a time. In the following guide we will tell you how to start a dissertation and lead your writing to a successful finish.

how to write a dissertation proposal

How to Write a Dissertation: Step-by-Step Guide

We will give you a clear idea of all the main points that you need to go through to write a good dissertation. You may be confused about how to write a dissertation proposal or how to tie all parts of the dissertation together. Whatever the problem, follow the steps below and find the answer easily.

Write a Dissertation Proposal

The path to your dissertation starts with writing and submitting a dissertation proposal. How to write a dissertation proposal? Initially, it is the project plan of your dissertation. The main focus of this paper is to convince the dissertation committee that the research you are going to conduct is valuable and worth attention. Some universities and colleges don’t require this type of paper, but it is a great basis for your future dissertation, as it allows you to concentrate on your work and find the main points.

  1. Generate ideas. Create a list of interesting topics and research preferences. Think about which topics from your program were the most interesting for you, and in which areas you excel. A topic that will interest you will be a great motivation for you. Look through the textbooks, course program, and your finished papers and highlight the topics that interest you the most.
  2. Define the possible research questions or hypothesis. This frame will define the purpose of your work. For example, it may be a critical approach to the existing findings, testing a model or theory, or a solution to a particular problem. Leave enough time to think about the issues that shape your hypothesis or question.
  3. Review the literature on your topic. On this stage you need to find background information on the topic and see whether the topic is well developed or not. Mention key thoughts and areas of study that will become a basis for your future research. Also, try to find gaps in the existing base of knowledge and think on whether your work can fill in this gap.
  4. Choose a dissertation topic. One of the most important points when picking a topic for dissertation is originality. On one hand, you can say that everything important was already invented and researched, but on the other hand, mankind has too many questions that should be analyzed and answered. There is no need to reinvent the bicycle. For example, you can apply an existing theory to a new field, or your research may become a continuation of existing studies, or you can compose unique questionnaires that may lead to new important evidence.
  5. Choose research methods, data collection, and analysis. Depending on your research questions and discipline, you need to come up with the most suitable research methods that you plan to use in your dissertation research. Pay attention – disciplines such as literature and philosophy do not require you to write about research methods.
  6. Write a dissertation proposal. Usually, a dissertation proposal consists of a title, introduction, aims and objectives, literature review, methodology, limitations, and a bibliography.

Get Ready for Writing

1. Create a timeline. When the dissertation committee approves your dissertation proposal, you will need to plan your work. It is hardly possible to write a PhD or master’s dissertation without drawing up a plan. A work plan is a kind of scheme according to which the research will be carried out. This scheme will allow you to sketch out the method for writing the dissertation in steps. This will be a great help in managing your time and tracking the progress. You will be able to correct the timeline, as in reality, some tasks may require more time, while others may be done more quickly than planned. Allocate time both for research and leisure time. Reward yourself when you complete certain parts of the project to maintain positivity.

2. Compose a dissertation structure. The number of chapters depends on your requirements, topic, and course. Structure a dissertation according to data you received during your research. Below you can see an extended dissertation structure:

  • Title page
  • Information page
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures and Tables
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Glossary
  • Introduction
  • Theoretical framework / Literature review
  • Research design
  • Research results
  • Conclusion and discussion
  • Recommendations / Advisory plan
  • Afterword / Evaluation / Reflection
  • Reference list
  • Appendices

3. Conduct profound literature research. To write a good dissertation, it is very important to be up to date with the relevant work in your field. This includes reviewing the research, results, facts, ideas, and other important information in your field. Keep in mind that by the end of your literature research you will have studied hundreds of books and articles. Use your library and internet sources. Today you can find a wide list of specialized academic libraries connected with certain fields of science. You will be lucky if your university offers free access to such databases.

When reading sources, store files in structured folders. Use tags that will help you find appropriate information no matter where it is stored. Also, don’t forget to use bookmarks to highlight the important information in the source. Along with this, you can create an empty document where you can write your own ideas and conclusions while analyzing the literature. This will act as a great foundation for your future dissertation text.

4. Conduct the primary research study. If your dissertation involves such activities as interviews and experiments, it is time to make them. Note: all the received data from your primary researches (completed questionnaires, interview tapes, experiment records, interview notes, transcripts, etc.) won’t be a part of your paper, but still should be well organized and stored in your college or university archive.

Write the Dissertation

Here we will highlight the most common chapters of the dissertation.

1. Write the abstract for the dissertation. The abstract acts as a summary of the dissertation and highlights the most important points and conclusions of the paper. Your supervisor, opponents, and dissertation committee will be attentively reading your abstract, as it follows the title page. Make sure that it is written correctly and fluently to make the right first impression.

2. The introduction is also the face of your dissertation. So, how to write a dissertation introduction that will interest the reader? The best way is to introduce the aim of your paper, point out the objectives, tell the basic information about the topic, and invite the reader to move to the discussion on the next pages. Clearly state the research question(s) or hypothesis that you are going to investigate in your paper.

3. How to write dissertation methodology? This section tells the reader about the planned methods that you are going to use in your research to receive certain data and information. The design of this section will depend on whether you are conducting primary or secondary research.
For primary research:

  • Discuss the reasons why you have chosen primary research.
  • Defend and justify the way you have constructed questionnaires, interviews, or experiments (explain what category you have chosen and why).
  • Tell about the participants of the research and how you will be collecting the data.
  • Describe how you are going to conduct the study and where.

For secondary research:

  • Defend and justify why you have chosen this type of research.
  • Explain the assessment schematic (e.g. the author’s main claim, position, elements of bias, analysis of references used, etc.).

Note: If you will be using your own methods, don’t forget to compare them with the existing methods and point out why your method is better. Also, always clearly formulate the limitations of a particular method. Point out in what conditions the particular method gives the best results.

4. Write the conclusions. Usually students underestimate the importance of the conclusion as they think that this part is easy and no one will read it. That’s why you need to know how to write a dissertation conclusion. Find 4-5 statements that highlight your major findings and turn them into a brief text. Then, explain the importance of your findings and point out where it was mentioned in the body paragraphs. Mention recommendations for further research on the basis of your conclusions. Not every dissertation needs recommendations, but if your paper does, tell where you think other people can extend and expand your study.

A finished dissertation has the following qualities:

  • shows a clear overview of the issue;
  • clearly shows cause and effect concepts that explain the issue;
  • presents hypotheses and tests them;
  • proposes solutions to the stated problems;
  • critically assesses existing information;
  • conclusion based on strong arguments and reliable evidence.

Polishing the Dissertation and Defense

1. Edit and proofread the finished paper.

Don’t read your paper as soon as you finish your first draft. Leave it aside for some period of time to keep your thoughts calm. First, you need to edit your work. This means that you need to pay attention to the context, text structure, and logical flow. Make sure that all your statements are correct and well referenced. Ask your tutor to read your text and suggest corrections.

When you are pleased with the content, move on to the visual aspect.

  • Apply the required format for text, citations, and works cited list (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.).
  • Make sure that you have chosen the right layout for the document: font, spacing, page numbering, etc.
  • Look through the tables and other visual material. Are they in the right place?
  • Make sure that you have applied the right number and title. Move tables that don’t directly relate to the context but are still important into appendices.

2. Prepare for the defense.

Typically, the defense consists of a visual and oral presentation of your dissertation. Consider the fact that the dissertation committee has already read your paper, or at least looked through it and knows about your research. Try to focus your presentation on the key points of your dissertation and why you think that it is important. Accompany your words with a PowerPoint presentation.

how to write a dissertation discussion

How to Work With Your Supervisor

If you have the ability to choose your own supervisor, sample different supervisors and ask students that have already written dissertations to share their point of view. It may be a lecturer or supervisor from your previous courses or just a professor from your department or university who seems to have the same interests. In a perfect world, the supervisor should be interested in your topic and be a person that is pleasant to work with. But in reality, it may be not so positive. If it is possible, try to find out what the professor thinks about his or her role as supervisor, how they like to work, how much time they can give you, and what is expected from you and your dissertation.

Yes, a supervisor can assist you in writing your dissertation. But at the same time, he or she has classes and other university activities. The main role of a supervisor is to help you with the design and organization of your dissertation. But they won’t do everything for you. Get prepared before the meeting: make a list of ideas, suggestions, plans, considerations, finished chapters, etc. Your supervisor will respond to your ideas and navigate you in the right direction. If you offer little, you get little. And the more you offer, the more you get. Every supervisor expects to see a student interested in research and writing the dissertation, so show your interest and initiative. To sum up, remember the following points:

  • Check formal requirements for dissertations at your course.
  • Try to talk with a prospective supervisor if you have the ability to choose.
  • Schedule meetings with your supervisor and meet face-to-face.
  • Get prepared for each meeting with the supervisor.
  • Don’t get upset if the supervisor criticizes your paper – it is a means for improvement!

Dissertation Sample Analyzed

In the following dissertation sample our expert has analyzed the design of a dissertation. Please, note that this is only a part of a dissertation. We have emphasized the peculiarities of the title page, copyright page, abstract, and references. From our samples you can see what points you need to consider while writing these chapters. On our website you can find more dissertation examples that may also help you.

Click the images to see their full size.

how to start writing a dissertation

how to prepare dissertation

how to come up with a dissertation topic

how to finish a dissertation in a week

Tips on How to Do a Dissertation

  • Start writing a dissertation as soon as possible. Try to write any idea that comes into your mind (use a recorder in your smartphone or take a notebook wherever you go).
  • It is very important to keep good relationships with your supervisor. Contact your supervisor in person to effectively work on your dissertation. Don’t rely on internet communication only. It is essential to schedule regular meetings with your supervisor and show your results face-to-face. In such a way the supervisor will remember your face, your work, and will give more attention to your dissertation.
  • Store all questions and ideas in one place. All recommendations and comments that the supervisor gives you during your meetings should also be saved.
  • If you need to conduct preliminary research (interviews, field study, etc.), you may be asked to show evidence (interview transcripts, completed questionnaires, contact details of participants, etc.). So make sure that you have this primary search information in a clear format and at hand.
  • If you are required to publish several articles, don’t postpone it. Writing a scientific article requires certain skills, so it may take time if you haven’t written articles at all.
  • Be realistic. If you don’t want to get into a depression on the long way to your dissertation, you need to be realistic about your skills, knowledge, and resources.
  • If you have planned to do something in 3 days, but it has been revealed that you need more time – shift your timeline accordingly.

how to pick a dissertation topic

Mistakes to Avoid while Dissertation Writing

  1. Weak time management. A dissertation involves a great number of researches and other activities that require time and diligence. Procrastination and postponing tasks may lead to a rush and stress.
  2. Poor research. A dissertation is not a paper where you retell or summarize information that you have found in literature. Your aim is to provide a thorough analysis of relevant information.
  3. Lacking an academic voice. Your paper should follow strict principles of academic writing. Your tone of voice, style, and format – everything should correspond to the requirements of your educational institution.
  4. Underestimating the dissertation committee. There is no need to be afraid of the dissertation committee members, but some students think that they know more about the topic and the committee won’t be able to fairly evaluate the paper.
  5. Procrastination. If you feel that you are procrastinating too much, maybe you have trouble with the timetable, a loss of motivation, perfectionism, personal problems, etc. Once you have identified the signs of procrastination, think on what you are doing wrong and what keeps you from writing.
  6. Don’t think that you will finish a dissertation in a week. That is, unless you plan to spend this seven days without eating and sleeping. And still it is unlikely that you will make dissertation that will be approved by your supervisor.

To conclude, writing a dissertation is a feat of real heroes. You will need to overcome writer’s block, wisely plan your time, use your communication skills to build good relationship with your supervisor, apply your academic writing skills and gather your knowledge in particular topic, use all your courage to survive the defense, and finally, receive the desired degree. All of this will be worth your efforts!

Hopefully, our guide will help you create a great dissertation on your own. If you consider all the points that we have highlighted in our article, you will raise your chances to get a high mark. We wish you all the best on the path to your degree!


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