The dissertation is the last step a PhD student has to climb to achieve the much-coveted doctorate. But is it that easy? No. It is not at all. Writing a dissertation is the most critical stage of a doctoral student’s academic journey. Students doing PhDs know what the purpose of doing a dissertation is; still, let us see it once more in a few words.
Apart from being an essential part of PhD, a dissertation reflects a student’s knowledge, capacity and adequate skills to do research, logically assemble data and information, critically analyze to yield the desired result, etc. The only condition is that it has to be an original piece of content that will have educational value and contribute new information to the community.
Just as an FYI, do not get confused with a thesis and a dissertation. The two are different. A thesis is a hypothesis or a claim while a dissertation proves the hypothesis. Another aspect with which most students get confused is evidence and proof. All data and information used in the dissertation are the evidence while a critical analysis and presentation are the proof.
Before you start to write a dissertation, there are few things you must know and follow if you want to compose a perfect dissertation paper.
- Know precisely what your university requirements are
Now this is very important. Always remember that universities have specific instructions on word counts, styling and formatting, etc. Your university too will have. Hence, find them out and instead of keeping them in your mind, put them down on a note pad.
- Be attentive to every word your professor says
It is seen that most students face problems because they do not pay attention in the class especially when the professor is discussing the dissertation paper and the topic. So it is always advised to pay attention in the class because most of the times it is seen that the professor guides and give instructions on how to progress with the paper. Jot everything down on your note pad.
- Always ask your professor whenever in doubt
At any point of time, if you are stuck or do not understand anything, always ask your professor and seek his/her guidance instead of asking your friend.
- Structuring your dissertation is important
Every academic paper has their individual structure, and so does your dissertation. And it is essential that you should know it. That is the base of your dissertation as well as your guide. Mentioned here is a typical and common structure that is used
Materials and methods or Literature review
Results or Sources and methods
Discussion or Findings
Remember that every section is important and they have their specific functions.
- Start to work on the very first day itself
If you think that there is plenty of time and you will start tomorrow, then that tomorrow might come when the deadline will be leaving its breath on your back. So start to work from day one.
- Learn to manage your time efficiently
Time is the most important thing that you have to learn to manage. And the best way to begin with the management is dividing it into portions and assigning them to the individual sections. But this is not enough. You should strictly stick to the schedule if you have to finish your dissertation within the deadline.
Once you are done with these steps, it is time to take the great leap. Dissertation writing is tough but not impossible. Right guidance, patience, a quick presence of mind and a positive mindset aids to writing a proper dissertation.
After you are done with the basic preparation, the next is to start with the dissertation writing.
Let us have a look at what needs to be done as a beginning for an excellent paper.
Before you start, there are two points to remember.
- Work and brush up research skills
Once you get the topic, start with the research work. Search for relevant sources of information that will support the proposed argument. If you have the idea that a dissertation is a research paper where you have to put up a collection of information from relevant sources with some relevant quotes, get the idea immediately out of your mind. There needs to be a critical and subtle analysis of them with a precise discussion mentioning the reason why you put them in your paper.
- Fine tune your writing skills as well
With a proper research and analyzing skill, having good writing skill is also important. Why? Because you need to make the paper look formal and decent. Also, your paper must be presentable. Learn the guidelines of academic writing so that you can write in a professional tone, use the language properly, write in a proper form and style and most importantly cite the sources correctly according to your university guidelines.
Now let us see how you can proceed with writing your dissertation.
To most students, writing a dissertation is a highly complicated and confusing task. But it is feasible once you know the path that you must tread on. Here is a brief guide that will make your job easy.
To start with your dissertation paper, plan it our first. That will make the approach for dissertation writing easy, and you will always be on track. Planning out your dissertation also helps in few other things. Let us see them first.
- Make an impressive dissertation proposal
A dissertation proposal is essential as it states what you are going to do, why you are going to do and how you are going to do. You must try and make the dissertation proposal as impressive as you can so that the committee approves it. It might not be a mandatory thing; still, it is helpful as it guides you. Discuss with your supervisor over this, and he/she will help you improvise on the points so that when you write the original dissertation, it is flawless. A dissertation proposal is short and states only the important things. The actual dissertation is a much longer paper, and each section is in details with further headings and sub-headings.
- Choose a topic that interests you
Ask yourself which chapters and topics were interesting to you, what made you study them, which aspect did you like that rose curiosity? Only then you will be able to find a topic in which you will have the interest to do it as a dissertation because, since this requires a lot of reading and research, an uninteresting topic will be boring. Choosing an interesting topic will make you know more and seek for more information, and you too will also give your heart to the writing.
- Choose a suitable title
After you are done with the topic selection, start making a title. It should be impressive and speak on what you are going to write about and prove in your dissertation. Decide on which angle you want to make your approach and stick to it throughout the paper. Make sure that you ask your dissertation supervisor to check it. He/she will help you to make your title better.
- Start with making an outline
Following the structure of a dissertation paper, start with making an outline based on it. Start with putting down a question that will answer the purpose of the section. After you are done with the outline, start writing the sections in details. Adjust your headings, sub-headings, titles, etc. as you proceed.
- Make the title page
State your title here. Use this opportunity to tell your reader about what you are doing in your research. Be concise and specific over here with a choice of only the necessary words. If there are any guidelines or format in your university for this, check it immediately.
- Write the abstract carefully
An abstract is the summary of the research that you have done. Mention in brief why you did, how you did, what the results are and what is your conclusion. Check if there is any word limit. If there is any, stick to it always. If there is none, just make it a page long only putting the necessary things. Remember, it might also be examined as an individual document. It is not necessary that you have to write this segment at the beginning. You can write it at last even after you are sure what you are writing in the paper.
- Acknowledge all the people
This is the section where you thank all the individuals who have helped you to write this dissertation. Mention the names of the main contributors. To understand more, read different acknowledgements of other people. You will get an idea of how to write this section based on different paper.
- Make the list
This is a section where you will have the table of contents that reflects the structure of the dissertation. Put a list of all figures, tables, diagrams, abbreviations, technical terms, etc. that you have used in the paper in this section. It is essential that you be careful of the page numbers when you list down the items.
- Give an informative introduction
To start with the introduction, ask yourself what are you going to examine or study here and what theories or concepts are you going to implement to do it. Ask what issue your paper will handle, why at all it is a problem, importance of finding a solution, etc. Write what is the background of the problem and also state what do you expect and assume. Like the abstract, you can write the introduction at last as well after you write. Introduction expands the abstract.
- Break down the main body into three main parts
This is where you mention all your research, the methods that you have used for analysis and the results that you have got. It has three main parts.
- Literature review
State here the present condition of research in your area. Write if there are any areas which you need to refer to a strong support. Mention if there is any space remaining where more research is necessary. Review the research process in this section.
- Methods to be used
This is the methodology section. Here you state all the ways and process that you have used to collect all the substantial resources and the methods that you will be using to get the results. Remember that the methods employed are quantitative, qualitative or can be the mixed method process. This depends on the type of dissertation that you are doing which is based on the topic that you are writing.
If you are using the quantitative method, focus on the hypothesis, research questions, put data on the population and sample that you have analyzed, the instruments that you have used, how did you collect the data and from where, how did you analyze the data, etc.
If you are using the qualitative method, mention the setting of the background, the research questions, the participants of this research, how you have chosen them, based on what, the process of data collection and analysis, etc.
Be careful to maintain the logical structure over here.
This section mentions what your results are, what you have found. You discuss over here why the results are so. This section depends on which category of the subject the dissertation is on. This section is significant as it reflects your intellect, your understanding and analyzing capacity. State the questions once more over here and discuss the results in the context.
Finally the conclusion is here. But if you think that you can breathe a sigh of relief then you are wrong. There are more things left. In this section, you summarize what you found. You also mention what remains unsolved and what and where further research can be done. Always make the conclusion compelling and intense. Never introduce any new idea over here.
Use your university recommended style to write this section. Mention all the citations used. Be very careful while writing this section. Missing any citation will lead you to plagiarism. Tally this section with all the in-text citations.
This section mentions those studies which a reader can go through, which if put in the paper would disturb the flow of the paper, occupy space, etc. Refer the appendices within the content to make sure that the reader can follow it correctly.
Few tips on how to approach your dissertation and ensure it’s an excellent work
- Making a good research
You need to make a very active research when you have to write a dissertation. This is because the research determines how well you will be able to develop your paper. So you have to conduct it efficiently and accurately. You have to be methodical in your research approach. You cannot waste time in the research process looking for information at unnecessary sources.
- Start by making a schedule. It is vital that you must find enough resource, but you should also know where to stop. Allot a certain period and stick to it. You do not have to read every article that you find about the topic.
- You must know what the right places to look for useful sources of information since you do not have any time to waste. The library is a good place to start. You can also have a look over the Internet, but make sure that the information given there is genuine and trustworthy. Ask your supervisor to guide you. He will also mention which books you can read to get information. Look for those books. Also, show him the sources that you got on the Internet. He will guide you on what to use and what not to use.
- While you decide which information you are going to use, check how much necessary it is. Remember to select only the strong ones. Weak ones do not have a chance of good analysis which will not give a good support to your topic. Make a check with your supervisor for his consent.
- With this, you need to organize all your notes. While you choose your information, make a note of the information sources because you will have to put them in the reference list and as in-text citations. Put small notes down if needed beside the sources. Logically put all the notes together. See that the entire idea must flow through the following paragraphs.
- Keep in mind that while you are proceeding with your paper, you might come with questions that might need further research. So be prepared to revisit the library.
- Writing an argument
This is the section where your examiner and readers will be looking forward to. So you have to mention few things here. You will have to say other researcher's work as a support which you have collected. Specify the reasons why the topic is worth for researching, why your applied method of analysis is perfect, why your conclusions are valid, etc. Engage in criticism. Try to give a new point of view.
After you are done with writing the dissertation, filling in all the details of the outline that you made, give some time gap before you start editing and proof reading. This is of particular importance because else you will not be able to spot all the errors. In this gap, lets us remember few things.
- It is always better to write your dissertation in the sequence, but if you want, you can first write the sections that you know and can complete quickly. Plan it and write it. You can arrange it later. If you have got any information on a particular section, immediately note it down. You will save time.
- Plan the section before you write it. Note down all the necessary points when you make the outline of your dissertation. This helps you to remember what you want to write. Assume that you are writing a short essay before you start with the individual sections and sub-sections. This will help you to compose better.
- Be careful to keep the word count in mind. Excess word count will not fetch you any extra marks, but you might lose marks in the process. Keep the sections to the point. This will help you to maintain the word count as well.
- Use online tools if you require checking for plagiarism, paraphrasing, referencing format, etc. You can also look out for dissertation writers to correct your copy and make it better.
- Remember you need to make several drafts. Write the first draft and check it. Be free of all distractions. Strictly stick to the time line. Strictly follow the outline as well. This will more or less make your dissertation stand.
- Also remember that you have to communicate with your examiner and readers through your writing. Hence it should be powerful and impressive. You should be able to raise curiosity in your readers. They should find your writing interesting and stick to reading it till the end.
- Effective communication of ideas and your writing style is very critically connected to one another. Just due to ideas being poorly expressed, a good research will be jeopardized.
- With repeated drafting, your paper will be refined yielding a flawless paper.
- Go through different scholarly articles. Look how they have structured their work. They to learn new vocabulary from them and incorporate it into your paper. Learn about proper punctuation.
- Learn the ways how other writers have convinced people to agree to their decision. Learn their techniques. See how they have broken the paragraphs and gave meaning to them.
- Try to abstain from repeating a single word. Repetition cuts down on impression. Use new words with the same meaning.
- Know where to stop with the paragraphs. It is useless to put unnecessary words to increase length. If you fall short of word count, try to incorporate substantial information. Check this out with your supervisor.
- Cut short on your sentences. Long sentences are confusing. Both you and your readers will get lost by the time you will reach the end of your sentence.
- Introduce new ideas and points in new sentences. Connecting words can be used at the beginning of new sentences to link to the previous sentence or paragraph. Keep sentences simple. Never complicate it. It is always good to use simple words to construct a sentence.
- Before you use any abbreviation, specific terminology, etc. make sure that it is appropriately used in the sentence. Any wrong usage will put your impression down in your examiner’s eyes.
- Most importantly while constructing sentences, give priority to your most heavy weight supporting ideas. Provide them with a full sentence.
- Referencing and Bibliography
This section carries much weight and is pretty much important. Your dissertation is your original idea, but you will have to refer to other writer's idea in support of your topic and the arguments that you place. As said before, you have to mention all sources in the reference list.
- There are two types of sources that are used. One is the primary source of information which includes the non-academic materials like interviews, statistics, newspapers, journals, etc. The secondary sources analyze the primary sources and mainly consist of academic articles.
- Take a lot of care while referencing. Carefully go through the guideline put down by your university. If in doubt, ask your supervisor for an explanation. Remember that any tiny flaw will mar your performance totally. Be consistent and pay attention.
- Editing and Proofreading
This is the final and crucial stage of your dissertation. This is where you must remove all flaws and errors to make your dissertation a perfect piece of writing. Know the difference between editing and proofreading. Editing is based on the essence of the content while proofreading builds on the form of the paper.
- First, edit your paper and then proofread it. See to the logical flow of the paper. Fill any gaps that you find.
- After you finish writing, it is suggested that you take a break and forget what you have written. Start to review your work after a good time’s gap. Bring out the outline that you had made and start by reviewing your work as a whole. Ask yourself if you have developed a clear argument, if you have given a clear answer to the question that you have raised in your dissertation title.
- If you find that the answer is different and has shifted focus from what you had originally framed, try to reframe your dissertation topic and subsequent title. You do not have to be afraid. See if all the concepts are clearly defined. Check if your work has clarity. This will stop the reader from getting confused. See that everything is mentioned in details.
- Next, move on to review the paragraphs one by one. Check if the paragraphs match your heading or the sub-heading that you have given. The opening lines must introduce the idea to the reader. The paragraph must ensure the reader to read the next paragraph.
- Review each sentence and check for errors like punctuation, spelling, typing mistakes, etc. check all quotation marks – single and double quotes, check for homophone errors i.e. similar sounding words with different spelling and different meanings check for apostrophes.
- Check for grammatical errors very carefully especially errors with tenses and verb agreements. Seek for everything that is unnecessary and cut it off.
Few final words…
- Try to get feedback on your dissertation. Give it to your supervisor to read and ask him to point out errors. He will point out the grey areas where you need to rectify the things.
- Be sure to know when your dissertation will end. That way you will not be discouraged or feel clumsy.
- Do not race for being perfect. It will ruin your effort instead. Your dissertation does not have to be a master piece but makes it perfect and flawless. It just needs to be a correct one.
- Take breaks in between your writing. Continuous writing will tire your brains, and you will not be able to compose your paper properly.
A perfect dissertation is a combination of many elements. To produce a perfect dissertation, you must give equal importance to all the aspects of the paper starting from knowledge in the subject, choice of topic, the amount of relevant research, writing skills, knowledge of editing and proofreading techniques, etc. A perfect dissertation never stands on a single pillar. All components are equally necessary to provide a stable base to make the dissertation stand.
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