If you are looking for a detailed step-by-step guide to write a dissertation for your graduate or postgraduate course, you have come to the right place. From choosing the topic that your heart is set on to the moment you hand in that final draft, the whole process can make you feel jittery and excited and make you question your self-worth with occasional spurts of exhilaration.
Being clear about dissertation writing requirements and knowing the right tips will go a long way in making the process enjoyable and less overwhelming for you. This blog will not only give you a clear framework for your dissertation writing and dissertation structure, but will also lay out the most important tips to write a solid dissertation.
What is a dissertation?
A dissertation is a long-form and well-researched academic paper, submitted at the end of a Bachelor’s or Master’s program. It often helps them form a lasting interest in a particular area of study and exposes them to the various research methodologies and methods in conducting extensive research on a particular area of interest.
A dissertation is often the first full-fledged research that a student undertakes for undergraduate and postgraduate courses.
A dissertation is a formal research work reflecting on the standard research process. It should have:
- Very specific and well-defined research question(s).
- Relevant research question(s) with scope for research.
- Some amount of original thought is evident from how the research question is dealt with.
- A literature review section outlining what other researchers have said about the background of your topic.
- A research methodology or an accepted data collection process for the research.
- Clear resolutions for your proposed research question(s) by the end.
A dissertation is not just a review or an opinion piece of literature. A dissertation needs to persuade the reader but mainly the aim is to convince the reader (or the evaluator, at least) that the author is trying to answer the research question, clearly and systematically, while taking an objective approach. Offering resolutions and showing clarity of thought are extremely important while writing your dissertation. Your dissertation should also flow in a systematic way that one paragraph leads to the other and each section would automatically lead to another.
How long is a dissertation?
The length of a dissertation usually varies from university to university and depends on the program as well. Usually, a Master’s dissertation is around 40-80 pages. It also depends from subject to subject. A doctoral dissertation, on the other hand, is longer and is usually around 100-200 pages and will be around 80,000 words. At the undergraduate level, most universities require the students to write dissertations somewhere between 10,000-and 20,000 words.
Steps in Writing a Dissertation
We have outlined the steps in writing a dissertation below. We have also added some tips along with each step so that you won’t miss out on the important details.
1. Understand the Requirements of your Dissertation
Many students blatantly overlook this step. However, one of the crucial mistakes you could make is by overlooking the steps that come before you start working on a dissertation. So, you might have to hold back that eager academic ache to start researching right away and find all that you need to know before you start. The fact that you are reading this shows that you are already good in that department.
Understanding your university’s requirements for dissertation writing is the necessary base you need before you build up your research.
Your dissertation should, ultimately, be shaped to satisfy your university’s requirements. To prevent losing out on valuable time and research going to waste, you should go through the university’s guidelines very carefully before working on it. To give an example, if you are using a particular method for research, finding out later that it is not acceptable to the university can lead to a lot of trouble. So, first, you need to make sure you are employing the right research methods and that the topic of your research is within the scope of your program.
You should also check if there are any particular fields where the university doesn’t want the students to conduct a study on. You could also check with your supervisor if any particular areas are encouraged for research or if any research methods have weightage over others in the particular year. You should also make your decision to go with a topic based on the word count and the time you would get to conduct your research.
Tips to Ensure your Dissertation Meets University Criteria:
- Ensure whether there are any areas of research from which the University wants you to choose your topic for the dissertation.
- Look for the methodologies acceptable to the university.
- Make note of the word count of the dissertation.
- Make note of the deadlines and other important dates.
- Check the formatting or stylistic requirements for the dissertation.
- Check for the availability of resources from the university – research materials, time and resources allocated for surveys, etc.
- Gauge what kind of support you might receive from your professors and the University before you select a topic.
2. Find a Research Topic
Finding the topic for your dissertation can be overwhelming as it should be a topic to which you would have to stick to for the duration of the course. It should be an area that immensely interests you as you will have to spend a considerable amount of your time reading over the past research papers and other materials pertaining to that area. A deep interest in the subject will definitely make the job far more stimulating. It should also be an area of research in which you want to contribute something positive.
Tips to Find a Research Topic:
- Start with finding the area of interest rather than directly looking for topics:
This is an important tip as many students undermine the importance to lay out all the options and research interests they have before choosing a topic. Before suddenly settling on a topic, try to recognize the broader area of study from which you want to filter down your topic. You could make a list of the areas that interest you.
- Conduct generic research:
It is not a good idea to sit down and read book after book pertaining to a research area of your interest to see if you would like to take up a particular topic. Conduct generic research in the beginning, read across topics, and understand your options before you start your in-depth reading.
- Gather appropriate resources:
This will help you understand the availability of resources in your area and broaden your understanding of the particular area. This is to get a preliminary idea about the existing research on the area and to identify resources that will be useful to you later on.
- Choose a dissertation topic based on preliminary research:
Once you have gathered some materials and developed a basic understanding of the area, you should look for the specific niche within the area you are interested in. Once you have found your niche, selecting the topic for your dissertation would become much easier.
When choosing the topic of the dissertation, it is important to keep in mind that the title should be specific and clear. The title should not be too complex but should be able to express the core of your research problem. The topic should moreover be unique and indicate something new. If you want further help in finding a suitable research topic for your dissertation, you can check out our detailed guide for the steps involved in choosing a dissertation topic.
As a dissertation is a formal academic piece, after all, the topic should reflect the objective specificity of academic language.
3. Prepare a Research Proposal or an Abstract
Many universities want their students to write a research proposal or dissertation abstract so that it could be approved for further research. At this point, an extensive literature review or a thorough understanding of everything around the research topic is not expected of students. Instead, it is important for you to indicate that you have recognized a clear gap in the research and you see a possibility for further research in that area for providing a dissertation overview. You could mention the research methods you will employ in your dissertation abstract and mention whether you intend to carry out a qualitative or quantitative analysis and data collection methods.
Tips for Writing a Dissertation Proposal:
- Show an understanding of existing research in the field:
Your abstract or proposal should show that you know some background about your topic of research and have done your preliminary reading.
- Clearly indicate the gap in research:
Your proposal or abstract should show that you understand that there is a scope of research under the area you consider. Indicating the gap in research or outlining the research problem clearly tells the reader you know what you are talking about.
- Outline research methodology:
The proposal should outline the research methodology that you intend to carry out. This informs the examiner about how you are planning to derive the results for your study. If there are any surveys or questionnaires that you plan to carry out, you could mention some details. What is important in a proposal is that you show you know the process of the research and how you will go about it.
- The proposal or abstract should set the tone for your dissertation:
The proposal would be the reader’s first impression of your dissertation. Therefore, it should be written in a clear and objective way, while reflecting the rigorous approach you are going to employ for your dissertation.
Writing an abstract even if your program doesn’t require it is a good idea as it will help you stay on top of how your dissertation is going to pan out.
The primary aim of the research proposal is to tell the reader or evaluator what your research is going to look like. It shows your future plans for your work and your own perceptions of it. It should clearly indicate the scope of your proposed research. The research proposal or abstract can be written after your preliminary research, once you are sure of how your research is going to look like. The abstract should show that you have a clear idea about the existing research and the ways in which your dissertation or thesis would add to it.
4. Craft an Introduction for your Dissertation
Introductions are basically how you sell your dissertation. If the introduction is bland or rather vague, it could undermine your whole work.
A strong introduction is a hallmark of a good dissertation. The introduction chapter informs the reader about the scope and the premise of your dissertation. Moreover, many universities demand their students to submit the introduction section of their dissertation along with the first three chapters, once the proposal is approved.
Tips for Writing a Good Introduction for your Dissertation:
- Start by providing a short background to the chosen area of your study:
This provides the reader with the necessary information they need about the background of the research and why there is a need for further research in that area. This will tell them why or how your dissertation would fit in or differ from the existing literature.
- The problem statement should be clear:
The problem statement shows your critical understanding of the chosen topic for research. It is important to show that you can recognize the existing gap in literature.
- Stating the research question:
This is a step without which your dissertation would be incomplete. The conclusions that you seek to draw from your research or the goal of the research are derived from this. Your research question should be precise, clear, and relevant.
- The significance or the purpose of the undertaken study:
This indicates whether you can identify the relevance or purpose of your study and how it will contribute to the existing research in the area.
- Providing the outline of the literature review:
Drawing instances from your literature review and what will be considered from those will help the reader form an idea about what to expect from your dissertation.
5. Literature Review and Methodology
A literature review, in short, forms the backbone of your research.
A literature review is not just a summary of existing literature in a field of study. It should follow systematically and should be related to your topic of research. It should add verisimilitude to your arguments and convince the reader that the author is qualified to carry out the research.
Tips for Writing a Good Literature Review:
- Offers a synthesis instead of a summary:
A good literature review should always synthesize the existing literature instead of offering a mere summary. A good literature review will connect the dots of the existing literature with the topic of your dissertation.
- Points out the problems with existing research:
A literature review should identify the research gaps while analysing the existing research. This means that the problem will be outlined along with the review and indicate some original thought.
- Use of methodology:
The literature review sheds light on the methodology and research design that your dissertation will follow and also offer the reasoning for that. The reason could be derived from the methodology used by the previous research while dealing with a similar area.
6. Carry Out Research and Present Findings
A good dissertation writer would always provide clear and solid resolutions to the research question(s).
Once you have laid out the introduction and literature review, you will have a solid understanding of the framework of your research. This is the stage where you develop your research and unleash your original thought. This is the part that will offer solutions to your research questions. You might have a methodology chapter that sheds light on how your research will be carried out.
Once you are clear about your research method, you can start the data collection. This includes conducting interviews, if any, hosting surveys, choosing a sample to study, etc. In the Research Methodology section, you will talk about the methods—qualitative or quantitative—that you have used to gather data for your dissertation. At last, in the Results or Conclusions chapter, you can present your findings from the research. This is the chapter where you offer a resolution for your research question and conclude your dissertation.
We hope our blog has helped you to better understand the steps involved in dissertation writing. The tips and the explanations will, for sure, make the process less overwhelming for you! Ultimately, a dissertation or any academic endeavour should be about human satisfaction (including the writer’s), and stressing through a whole year won’t be worth it if you are unhappy with your work by the end of the day. Knowing the tips to write a good dissertation and how to go about it would certainly help you as you go ahead with your academic journey.