Dissertation writing is a major component of many graduate and undergraduate courses and is often a student’s first experience at writing a long-form, well-defined research paper.
If you are looking for a step-by-step guide to writing your dissertation, you have come to the right place. This article provides a clear framework on how to write a dissertation or thesis so that you can avoid unfortunate realizations after weeks of working on it.
Many students find writing Master’s dissertations and thesis for the Ph. D. level immensely daunting, especially if they are new to it. For undergraduate and postgraduate courses, a dissertation is often the first full-fledged research that a student undertakes. It often helps them form a lasting interest in a particular area of interest and exposes them to the various research methodologies and conducting extensive research on a particular area of interest.
Step 1: Clear understanding of the requirements of a dissertation
You might think that this step is rather obvious. However, the most significant mistake many students make is by undermining the steps that come before one actually starts writing a dissertation. Despite the eager academic tickle down your spine, sometimes you might have to take a back seat from plowing ahead with the eagerness to pen all that you know. This will weed out the possibility of any underlying issue in your dissertation after its completion.
Understanding what a dissertation is and what your university’s requirements are the necessary groundwork before you start your research.
So, let’s start with the oft-overlooked basics.
What is a dissertation, anyways?
A dissertation is a formal research work that reflects the standard research process. According to this definition, a dissertation should ascribe to the following pointers:
- A dissertation should be based on a very specific and well-defined research question(s).
- The research question(s) should have scope for the kind of research undertaken.
- The research question should form the very core of your argument and reflect some amount of original thought.
- Understanding what other researchers have said about your area or topic of interest.
- If there is a lack of resources or if your chosen area is new, you could think about alternative ways of data collection.
- Offering clear resolutions for your proposed question(s).
Offering resolutions and clarity of thought are extremely important while writing your dissertation. Your dissertation should also flow in a systematic way, such that one paragraph leads to the other and each section would automatically lead to another.
A dissertation is a formal piece, after all, and should reflect intellectual prowess and the research process.
A dissertation is not merely an opinion piece or literature review. It shares similarities to those in that it needs to persuade the reader. But a dissertation has to convince the reader (or, at least, the professor) that the writer is attempting to answer the research question in an objective and systematic way while taking a rigorous approach.
Understanding the University Requirements
This is a relevant step before choosing an appropriate dissertation topic. You could lose valuable time and a lot of research could go to waste if you haven’t read over the university’s guidelines for the dissertation before working on it. For example, working on a dissertation while employing a particular methodology that is not acceptable for the university or undertaking research that goes beyond the scope of your educational program could only cause trouble for you later on.
Therefore, your dissertation should be, first and foremost, tailored to suit your study program. It is good to understand if there are any areas the university doesn’t promote research on or if there are research areas to choose from, make note of the word count and methodologies that are prescribed. Also, consider your deadlines rationally before you choose a topic. It is always a good idea to stick to research territories that aren’t alien to you if time is of concern to you.
Checking University Requirements: A Checklist
- Area of research – offered or not, any existing restrictions on certain research topics, encouraged areas of research, etc.
- Methodologies that can be employed
- Word count for the dissertation or thesis
- Deadlines and other important dates
- Formatting or stylistic requirements for the dissertation or thesis
- Availability of resources from the university – research materials, time and resources allocated for surveys, etc.
- Support from management – Understanding how much support you will get from your professors and others is essential to gauge before choosing
Step 2: Find a suitable research topic
Finding the topic for your dissertation can be a harrowing process for many as this requires you to select and stick to one specific area for an extended period. It should be an area that immensely interests you as you will be spending a considerable amount of time reading and responding to papers on that particular area. It should also be an area where you feel something worthy to add on to—an area that you believe would satiate and hone your inner intellectual itch.
If you need help in finding the appropriate research topic, you can head over to our detailed guide for the steps involved while choosing a topic for your dissertation writing.
The key pointers to keep in mind while choosing a dissertation topic are briefed below:
- Identifying your area of interest: This is the first main step to consider before you decide on the topic for your dissertation writing. You need to identify the broader area of study from which you can narrow down your topic. You could draw from your current knowledge and identify the areas that interest you.
- Gathering appropriate resources: This will help you understand the availability of resources in your area and broaden your understanding of the particular area. This step will help you get a preliminary idea about the existing research in the area as well as in identifying resources that will be useful for you. Both of these will possibly help you narrow it down to your dissertation topic.
- Choosing a dissertation title: Once you have gathered some materials and developed a generic understanding of the area, you could narrow down your area of interest into a particular niche. Once you have found that particular academic territory, choosing your topic according to your preferences should be easy enough.
|The topic/title of your dissertation should be: |
Specific: The title should not be vague; it needs to be well-articulated and precise.
Clear: The title should not be too complex. It should touch upon the core of your research question.
Unique: The title should indicate some amount of novelty. If it sounds like a generic title, the first impression is going to be bad.
Objective: A title should show objectivity. It need not reveal the whole scope of your dissertation. Its purpose is only to tell the reader what your dissertation is about clearly.
Step 3: Preparing a Research Proposal or Abstract
Most universities require the students to form a research proposal or abstract so that the dissertation can be approved for further work. At this stage, it is not expected that you form an extensive literature review. What is important is for you to show that you have identified a clear gap in research that makes it possible for original research. Forming an idea of the research methodology you are going to carry out is also important. You could outline whether you are going to carry out a qualitative or quantitative analysis and the ways in which you will collect the required data.
The goal of the research proposal is to show how you plan to carry out the research and to indicate the scope of your research. The research proposal or abstract is a result of the preliminary research and is intended to show that “you have done your homework”. The abstract shows that you have a clear idea about the existing research and how your dissertation or thesis would contribute towards it. This would mean that you have identified the gaps in the research in order to add to it. It could also be that you are disproving the existing literature and proposing a new framework.
Even if an abstract is not needed for your program, it is always a good idea to lay out the framework for your dissertation and the direction it is going to take, so that you can stay on top of it.
Step 4: Crafting a strong introduction for your dissertation
A strong introduction is a necessary prerequisite if you are working on a dissertation. The introduction chapter presents the scope and premise of your dissertation. There is no linear way for dissertation writing. One could always go back and write an introduction at the very end when the framework of the dissertation is very clear. Nevertheless, many universities ask their students to submit the introduction along with the first three chapters once the proposal is approved.
A good introduction to a dissertation should include the following:
- A brief background to the area or niche of the study: This explains the overall area of the research and the scope or needs for further research in that area. This explains why or how your dissertation fits in or differs from the existing literature.
- The problem statement: This shows your critical understanding of your area of research. This part is important as it shows that you can identify the existing gap in the literature.
- Stating the research question: The importance of stating your research question clearly cannot be undermined. The resolutions that you seek to draw from your research or the aim of the research are expressed through this. Your research question needs to be precise and relevant.
- The significance of the undertaken study: This indicates whether you can identify the relevance of your study and how it will contribute to the existing research in the area.
- 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.
Introductions are basically how you sell your dissertation. If the introduction is rather bland or not on point, it could undermine your whole dissertation.
Step 5: Literature review and methodology
This is a step to be followed once you have carried out your research. It is important to keep in mind that a literature review is not just a summary of other literature. The literature review should follow systematically and should be relevant to your topic of research.
A literature review is, in short, the skeleton of your research. A good literature review offers verisimilitude to your arguments.
A good literature review will have the following attributes:
- It offers a synthesis of the existing literature instead of summarizing it. In other words, a good literature review will connect the dots of the existing literature with the topic of your dissertation.
- It points out the existing research gaps while connecting the existing research. This means that the problem will be outlined along with the review.
- It states the methodology and research design that your dissertation will follow through with and the reasoning for that, which could be derived from the adequacy or inadequacy of the previous research.
Step 6: Carrying out research and presenting findings
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 out in your original thought. This part aims to provide resolutions to your research questions.
For this, you might require a methodology chapter. This chapter explains how your research is carried out. This part could discuss the analysis methods you used while conducting your research, your data collection, and your analysis strategies. This section explains all decisions you have made while conducting your research.
Once you are clear about your research design, you can start collecting the data. This means conducting interviews, if any, hosting surveys, etc. In your research methodology section, you can describe the techniques you have used to gather data for your dissertation.
A good dissertation writer would always provide clear and solid resolutions to the research question(s).
Finally, in the results or discussion chapter, you can present your findings. This is the chapter where you offer a resolution for your research question and conclude your dissertation.
For this article, we have compiled the steps to write a dissertation so that the whole process would become less intimidating for you! Ultimately, all academic endeavors are about human satisfaction (including the researcher’s), and stressing through a whole semester is not worth it if you are not satisfied with your work by the end of it. A dissertation tests a researcher’s resilience and the process can become so much easier if you have a clear idea about the steps in dissertation writing.