Often, university students will be required to write a dissertation before graduating. So, if you're pursuing a degree, it's best to prepare for this inevitable task. Depending on your location, a dissertation can also be referred to as a thesis. In some countries, however, a thesis means the final paper written by a Ph.D. student.
So, what's a dissertation? Is it different from an essay? How does a dissertation differ from a thesis? Is writing a dissertation hard? Those are some of the most frequently asked questions among students in institutions of higher learning.
Aside from finding answers to the said questions, this article will also provide a comprehensive step by step guide on how you can write the best dissertation. The goal here is to see you win.
What Is a Dissertation?
Many degrees end with this paper. The primary goal of a dissertation is to test your research skills. So, you'll have to come up with a researchable topic. Although your tutor can offer guidance, dissertation writing is pretty independent. You'll be mostly working on the assignment alone.
Besides identifying an appropriate research question, you'll also explore the topic in detail, identify the best research tools to use, and generally manage the project. In other words, it's a platform to not just write about your discipline but also to prove you can practice.
Submitting a well-researched and appropriately formatted dissertation is work. The truth is you can even take months to complete a top-of-the-class dissertation. You'll also spend countless hours in the library researching your proposition. So, make sure to buckle up.
In addition, a dissertation is a pretty important part of your studies. Therefore, you must select a topic that excites you to submit a well-written paper. The score determines your overall grade.
Notice that alternatives to dissertations exist in some institutions. For example, you might have an extended essay writing assignment. Alternatively, you can be requested to carry out a learning project.
Dissertation vs. Thesis
Did you know that the words dissertation and thesis were coined from Latin words? 'Dissertaire', one of the Latin words, means to continue to discuss. The second word is 'disserere', which roughly translates to examine and discuss.
On the other hand, the original Latin word for thesis means to place a preposition. It comes from the Greek word 'tithenai', which means to place.
Differences Between a Dissertation and a Thesis (Fundamental)
While you'll write your thesis before graduating from a Master's program, thesis assignments are often assigned to students undertaking doctoral degrees.
Research is another huge difference between a dissertation and a thesis. A thesis paper is founded on existing research. In contrast, doctoral students have to find new researchable topics and start their projects from scratch.
Differences between a Dissertation and Thesis (Structural)
The structure used when writing a dissertation is often different from that of a thesis. Here are the main differences:
- In most cases, a thesis will have at least 100 pages
- A dissertation can be 2 to 3 times longer than a thesis
- The student is the attributed author of a dissertation
- The hypothesis or concept of the dissertation is founded on previous research work
Although often used interchangeably, there are clear-cut differences between a dissertation and a thesis. Often, usage depends on your location and the university as well.
For instance, in the UK, a thesis assignment means researching, compiling, and submitting your findings on a completely original idea. A doctoral thesis is often the gateway to attaining a Ph.D.
On the other hand, a dissertation will be part of a broader postgraduate research assignment. You've got to read extensively to demonstrate you understood what was taught in class. After submitting and approval of your dissertation, you can then get a Master's degree.
In the US, however, the opposite is true. Thesis papers are often shorter. They are preliminary research assignments performed before getting into the doctorate level. In other words, you'll have submitted a perfectly written dissertation before being handed your doctoral degree. Contrastingly, you'll write your thesis to earn a Master's degree.
As mentioned earlier, the difference between a dissertation and a thesis depends on pre-defined usage in a specific university. See the below examples:
- Georgetown University in the US: Dissertation and thesis are used to mean adding to one's field of knowledge
- The University College London: A thesis precedes all research degrees (EngD, MD(Res), MPhil, or Ph.D.).
- The University of Edinburgh: The difference between dissertation and thesis varies with the department. The university provides guidelines to help learners differentiate the two assignments. Therefore, students often refer to course handbooks in order to know what's expected of them.
Bottom line: Either assignment happens at different points in the life of a graduate student. Although the two are often used interchangeably, that's not acceptable in academia. So, it's intelligent to know when to use which word.
How to Write a Perfect Dissertation
There are guidelines to follow to hand in a perfectly written dissertation. Remember, writing a dissertation is taxing. Also, it's time-consuming and can take longer to complete.
However, it's possible to write a dissertation in 1 month without compromising on the quality. An easy way is by hiring a writing service. Alternatively, you can follow the below step-by-step guide.
Step 1: Craft a Killer Dissertation Title/Topic
A solid dissertation topic is like a cornerstone. It forms the foundation upon which you lay your arguments. So, it's essential to choose your title carefully.
Aside from choosing a title that resonates with your specialty, make sure it's also clear, unique, and beneficial. So, what's the meaning of those three attributes?
Having a clear title means the reader will quickly understand what the research is about. In other words, you choose the wording carefully to avoid ambiguity.
An easy way to craft a clear title is to ensure your topic reveals what you'll be researching, who is involved, and what (context/place) of the study.
Aside from exploring your options around something you love, a good dissertation topic must be original. After all, a dissertation paper presents something new in academia.
So, make sure your topic isn't answering a question that has been answered elsewhere. Consequently, the context of your dissertation automatically becomes new.
A well-crafted topic often results in research that will benefit the academic field. Consequently, the ripple effect is felt across different aspects of life like agriculture, medicine, business, and so forth. So, you'll have to ask yourself how your topic will benefit the society or the academic space.
Where to Fetch Dissertation Topics
- The Library: The University library database is a reliable source of information. Performing an online search of a few keywords will reveal the extent to which the topic has been explored. It also helps you to find existing gaps in your topic of interest.
- Existing Theories: Search for existing theories in your field. Then, scrutinize for gaps and start from there. You can also check on new theories and get ideas as well.
- Professional Interests: Work around your career goals. Which aspect of your profession excites you? Are there changes you'd be happy to see in your job?
- Other Dissertation Pieces: Already submitted dissertations can be excellent sources of inspiration. A great place to start with is ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Globalor American Doctoral Dissertations. They've got an inexhaustible database. Depending on your course, you can order previous dissertation pieces then rush to chapter five of the document. You'll find recommendations for future research which you can use to craft an exciting dissertation topic.
- Attend Oral Defense Sessions: It's possible to fetch ideas from discussions that happen during defense sessions. So, ensure you attend as many as possible.
- Fellow Students, Professionals, and Faculty Members: Consult with them for suggestions about viable topic ideas.
- Professional Journals: Narrow down your search to journals in your field. You'll not only find exciting topics for today but also for the near future.
- Conferences and Seminars: Here, you can find authors and presenters to get researchable topic ideas.
- Outside Research Agencies or Professional Research Organizations: Excellent resources include the 10 Regional Educational Laboratories (RELs) and the American Educational Research Association (AERA). They often conduct research continuously. So, you can easily find a researchable topic idea from their enormous databases.
- Leading Scholars in Your Field of Study: You can tap into their expertise through a call or physical meet-up. They are often open to discussion about what they are doing and can be reliable sources of topic inspiration.
- Your Workplace: Which challenges can you identify in your current job setting? Is the problem researchable, and would the topic be interesting if you were to pursue it?
- References: These include handbooks and bibliographies e.g.
- A Handbook of Research on Teaching ideal for educational research
- Harvard Educational Review is another excellent source for academic research
- Review of Educational Research
- Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education (NSSE)
- The Internet: There's no end to the information you can get from the internet. You'll want to set apart enough time to perform searches, think through what's available, and get interesting topic ideas.
Step 2: Write a Convincing Dissertation Proposal
After finding an excellent dissertation topic, the next step is to seek approval to write your dissertation. So you've to write a proposal to convince the committee that your research is worthy undertaking. Before they give you the go-ahead, they'll want to:
- Verify you've got an appropriate dissertation topic.
- Scrutinize your literature review to confirm you've read extensively
- Check on your methodology options (your data collection, analysis, and presentation plan).
Side note: Some schools exempt learners from proposal writing. However, it's intelligent to develop an outstanding dissertation proposal and discuss it with your research mentor. You'll be astonished at how easy the process will be since you'll get valuable feedback. Consequently, you'll be having a general idea of the right way to go.
Further, writing a convincing proposal will help you quickly write the first three sections of your dissertation, i.e., the introduction, literature review, and methodology.
The format of a dissertation proposal often depends on what's outlined in the university's guidelines. However, here are the minimum requirements (dissertation proposal outline) to help you write a clear, easy-to-follow proposal.
The introduction is often the first chapter of your dissertation proposal. Here, you state your research problem, provide some background information, and explain the study's significance.
The Literature Review
Before you even start the introduction, you'll have done some preliminary reading. Often, you'll dig into various sources, especially when hunting for an ideal dissertation topic. You'll also want to establish existing gaps before settling for any title. Consequently, writing the literature review becomes straightforward.
In this second chapter, you simply summarize research findings from other sources. Also, you identify and cite the gaps in those studies. Sometimes, the amount of helpful text can be enormous. Therefore, consider paraphrasing in order to write concisely.
The methodology provides a window for you to convince the committee or research mentor that you've already thought through and prepared your dissertation's structure. It's in this section that you also state your preferred data collection and analysis methods.
You'll have the conclusion as the last chapter of your dissertation proposal. Since the study is still in its formative stages, you can't deduce your findings. Instead, you state the expected implications of your research.
The Bibliography/Reference List
Lastly, you'll create a bibliography or reference list in order to cite your sources. In addition, ensure you format as per guidelines provided. If you'll have a bibliography, make sure to indicate all your sources, including those not mentioned in the proposal. Conversely, you'll only include sources cited in your text when writing your reference list.
Note that the proposal is a summary of your dissertation. So, you may not necessarily get into the details of the research. Nonetheless, you've to convince the committee that you're conversant with what you want to undertake. Once approved, you'll be free to move to the next step.
Step 3: Writing the Introduction of Your Dissertation/Thesis
The introduction will either invite the reader to dig deeper into your paper or kills their morale. Therefore be sure to craft a compelling introduction chapter. To achieve that, simply focus on answering the what (you'll be researching) question and the why (importance of the research) question.
That said, make sure to exclude any information that answers the how question. That way, you'll be sure to have a high-quality introduction chapter and a winning dissertation as well.
Step 4: Writing Your Dissertation Literature Review ( the Theoretical Framework)
As mentioned earlier, you've to conduct an initial literature review when writing your dissertation proposal. At that point, however, it's often a shallow examination of existing literature.
In-depth exploration happens you get into the literature review section. Extensive reading is essential not just to provide a summary of existing literature but also to:
- Identify existing gaps and limitations in previous dissertations
- Discuss the relationship between existing sources and deducing own view from identified patterns, themes, and conflicts.
- Propose a solution to the research problem
- Discuss your research methodology
- Find data to strengthen existing information about the research topic
Apart from journal articles and textbook chapters, industry reports are other valuable sources of information. Also, performing quick keyword searches on Google Scholar can reveal existing literature about your topic. Alternatively, you can look up from Jstor and Wiley Online Library.
When surfing the internet, consider using tools like Mendeley to store your resources. These referencing tools also help you to export your citations in different formats like APA with minimal hustle. Consequently, you save time you'll and also write your dissertation quickly.
Step 5: Research Design and Execution
In the introduction, you were answering the what and why questions. In the research design and execution chapter, you'll now answer the how question. In the process, you'll also effortlessly answer the where, when, and with whom questions. As you tackle the mentioned questions, you'll also find yourself discussing your methodology strategies.
In other words, you'll get into details about:
- The research approach which can be qualitative, quantitative, experimental, mixed approach or ethnographic
- Your dissertation philosophy e.g. positivism or interpretivism
- Data collection methods used e.g. surveys, interviews, archives
- Data analysis strategies e.g. discourse, statistical
- Tools used during research e.g. lab equipment and computer programs
- Challenges faced plus techniques used to overcome them
- Your research design
It's prudent to prepare for the data collection step adequately. Aside from setting a budget, allocate enough time since some data collection strategies like in-person interviews are time-consuming.
Also, don't expect everything to flow as per your initial plan. For instance, you might not get back all the questionnaires from the respondents. While audio data must be transcribed, quantitative survey data will need to be cleaned and presented in the correct format. So, make sure to prepare for such eventualities.
Step 4: Presenting the Dissertation Results
Next, you present your dissertation results which often comprises two sections—the result and discussion chapters. The results chapter is just a representation of raw data. Therefore, you don't disclose why you included the data or the meaning of the presented information.
Aside from conciseness, aim at logically presenting your data. You can use tables and figures to explain your results in an easy-to-understand manner. Also, remember to write the chapter in the past tense.
The discussion chapter comes next. It gives an insight into the data you collected by explaining the relevance and importance of your dissertation findings. When writing the discussion chapter, make sure to link back to your literature review and research questions.
Sometimes, the results and discussion chapters are merged into one. Whether you write them separately or include them in a single chapter often depends on the university or your field.
For instance, in empirical research, the results section comes first. On the other hand, the two areas are interwoven in most qualitative dissertation research papers. So, remember to verify with your advisor how to best handle the chapter.
Step 5: Write the Conclusion Chapter
Often, the conclusion is the last chapter when writing a dissertation. However, sometimes it'll come before the discussion. In that case, the conclusion is a brief analysis of your findings.
If the conclusion is the last chapter of your dissertation, make sure to lay bare your research findings. Ensure the reader will easily relate with what your main argument was correct from the introduction chapter. Also, help them see the kind of contribution your research will make in the academic world or society. Lastly, include recommendations for future research.
Step 6: Include a Bibliography
The bibliography is the last section of a dissertation. This is where you cite all your references. Make sure to use the appropriate citation style when listing your sources.
Step 7: Editing and Proofreading
Lastly, you'll want to proofread your work for errors, structure, and coherence. You'll also be checking whether you've applied the correct referencing format. In case you're short on time, you can hire professional editing services to help with this. They'll not only proofread, but they can help fine-tune your dissertation to ensure you hand in a top-notch paper.
Writing an award-winning dissertation is possible. Also, adequate preparation can help you write a dissertation quickly. That being said, ensure nothing distracts you. You might have to turn down offers from friends and family for you to focus on the project.
Also, write consistently and keep consulting with the committee or research supervisor. Nonetheless, rest is also vital. So, if you feel overwhelmed, please take a break. After all, it's your dissertation.
Some useful tips to followwhen writing your dissertation