What Is a Dissertation?
The incomplete dissertation definition sounds this way: a large piece of work to be completed at the end of a doctorate. The full meaning of a dissertation is a little different. It is an academic argument: a piece of scholarly writing based on the research or data that a scholar has gathered throughout their studies. That is how experts define a dissertation. The goal is to bring all the skills a student has learned together.
The list of skills includes research skills & methodological skills. It is helpful to define a dissertation as a culmination of the assignments and essays that a student has had to write throughout their higher education. This involves collecting data, synthesizing it, and putting it into academic form. It can also be seen as an opportunity to explore a student’s field of study.
The main problems doctoral candidates face while working on their dissertations includes:
- An inability to define the dissertation and its goals properly,
- A desire to postpone their work until the last minute,
- A lack of research skills,
- And insufficient writing skills.
The challenge looks overwhelming. That is why we recommend reading this guide to find out more about the doctoral dissertation meaning and ways to write this paper. Or just simply use our writing services.
How Long Is a Dissertation?
Dissertation length usually depends on the study level and country, but it generally consists of around 15,000-25,000 words for a master’s or MBA level and up to 50,000 words or more for a PhD dissertation.
Font and Size: Use 10-12 point size and some clear font like Arial, Georgia of Times New Roman.
- Left margin: 1.5 inches for all pages.
- Right margin: 1.5 inches for all pages.
- Top margin: 2 inches for Acknowledgments, Table of Contents, List of Tables, List of Figures, each chapter, Bibliography, and Appendices. 1.25 inches other pages.
- Bottom margin: 1.25 inches for all pages.
Spacing: double spacing for body, Block quotations, Footnotes, and Bibliographies. Single for list of tables, list of figures or illustrations, and lengthy tables, within each entry but double spacing between each entry.
Writing a proposal is one of the primary steps in the drafting process of any dissertation. A dissertation proposal sets the stage for the research the author has done. It is like a table of contents/outline for your research.
The proposal will help you write the actual work and should be around 10-15 pages long, depending on the length of the work assigned by your instructor. Be prepared that your data collection and analysis may not go exactly how you plan it. Before embarking on a novel-length dissertation, take the time to create your proposal properly to avoid getting lost in the middle of the process.
Proposal Outline and Length
Because the proposal is the initial step, drafting and outlining it is crucial. Here is a proposal template from experts:
- 2-3 pages Introduction + a summary of your subject’s significance – this is a quick recap of your topic. Highlight the focus of your paper and stress your research question.
- 3-6 pages Methodology – this is how you plan to obtain data and how you will conduct your analysis. This section should reveal the resources, tools, and equipment you will apply, and the amount of time you will dedicate to the project.
- 1 – 2 pages Objectives – this includes a hypothesis of what you plan to prove.
- 6-10 pages Literature review – which works did you use to construct your research? Discuss literature that relates to your topic.
- 1- 2 pages Research constraints – this section should include a disclaimer of the limits to your research. It is critical as some might try to prove or disprove your work.
- 1-page Research timetable – this serves to outline the core sections of your paper. This step consists of gathering information for each subheading.
Keep in mind that the structure of your dissertation proposal will always depend on the specific requirements of your course. Some courses stress that aims and objectives belong in a separate section of the dissertation proposal while they might completely omit the methodology or the literature review section. Make sure to clarify this with your professor.
Dissertation vs Thesis
A thesis states that your paper is most commonly written for a Master’s Degree, whereas a dissertation is most usually written for a Doctorate. Also, a “thesis” is widely used in American terminology, whereas a “dissertation” is more often used in European academic institutions.
Thesis papers resemble the sorts of research papers you write when studying for an undergraduate degree. You need to research a topic, analyze the information you collected, and determine how it relates to the particular subject matter you study. The thesis aims to showcase your ability to think critically about a topic and to knowledgeably discuss the information in-depth. The thesis’ definition is also often interchangeable with the dissertation’ definition.
In a dissertation, you often need to utilize others’ research merely as guidance in coming up with and proving your unique hypothesis, theory, or concept. The main part of the information in a dissertation is written by you.
However, a doctoral dissertation should be much longer because they involve a great deal of background and research information, along with every detail from your proposal and how you arrived at your information. A dissertation is a complex academic paper. It will likely be two, possibly even three times the length of a thesis
20 Outstanding Topics to Kick-start Your Writing
Dissertations in Education
- The categories of drinking styles in college students
- The indicators of flossing behavior on university population
- The role of homework assignments in the lives of international students
- The way working as a taxi driver impacts a student’s behavior
- The influence tutors’ shocking behaviors in fostering creativity in young people
MBA Dissertation Topics
- Workplace ethics in multinational organization like Walmart
- A business plan focused on the production of musical instruments
- A business plan suggesting evaluation of a strategy
- Empirical analysis of the company’s performance & leadership
- Dealing with the Millennial Generation
Law Ideas for Dissertations
- How the ‘fight with terror’ has affected criminal laws around the globe
- A critical evaluation of the law of omissions liability
- A review of criminal negligence connected with the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007
- Evaluating cases filed in the criminal justice field
- The role of gender and race in the criminal justice system
Technology Dissertation Topics
- The way full-text databases impact the search engine results
- An evaluation of apps created for the improved energy efficiency
- Recently discovered approaches to risk management based on a specific software
- Recent approaches to exploring the behavior of adware, malware, and different viruses
- Redundancy & fault recovery on the 4G wireless network
A Dissertation’s Research
Before embarking on the writing process for your dissertation, it would be smart to seek out a database and find other works in your field to check the structure of some sample. If you are not able to find a dissertation that would be helpful to you while writing your own, then you can order one online. That way, you’ll have a ready-made custom dissertation to base your work on or a very well-done example that you can use for your reference at any time.
During the research period, you will need to set up how the development of your project will go. The research process should be methodical and effective because nobody wants to waste time reading and analyzing irrelevant resources.
Here are some important tips that can help you get through the research process:
- Create a timeline for the research stage. It’s important to find the appropriate amount of resources for your dissertation for it to have a full impact. Still, many students make a common mistake: they think they need to read and analyze everything that was ever written in regards to the dissertation topic they chose. That’s why they may spend too much time on the research stage instead of moving to the actual writing stage. A timeline with clear deadlines is important.
- Search the right places for sources. The Internet is a good starting place during the research stage, but you should not be limited only to it. Additionally, not everything you read or find on the Internet is 100% true. You need to double-check the information you find and make sure it comes from a trustworthy source. You can use Google Scholar to locate reliable academic sources. Perhaps not surprisingly, Wikipedia is not a reliable source, but it can help you locate some great publications if you check out the list of references on the pages of your interest. Librarians are helpful at this point of the project development. Don’t avoid the actual library and ask your librarian to help you find some interesting and unique sources.
- Organize your resources. To organize resources, it’s a good idea to take notes. This way you will not get confused and forget some important source that could be great for your dissertation. Such tools as Evernote or Penzu will help you organize your selected sources to prevent you from getting confused and stuck.
Deciding on a Structure
As it turns out, not all dissertations are structured the same way. The structure depends on such factors as your location, discipline, topic, and approach. For example, dissertations in the humanities are often structured more like long essays. They include an overall argument which supports a central thesis. Dissertation chapters are organized around different themes or case studies.
But if you are writing a dissertation in the sciences or social sciences, then your dissertation will have separate chapters, and sometimes you might combine them. For example, in certain kinds of qualitative social sciences, the results and discussion will be woven together rather than separated. The order of sections in your dissertation can also depend on fields and countries. For example, some colleges demand that the conclusion should come before the discussion part. Average chapter length also depends on the structure you choose.
The most common dissertation structure used in the sciences and social sciences is the following:
- An introduction
- A literature review of your relevant sources
- An explanation of your methodology
- An overview where you write about the results of your research
- A discussion of your main results and their significance
- A conclusion
As we wrote before, dissertations in the humanities are often structured more like a long essay. There you build an argument by analysing all of your sources. Instead of the standard structure outlined before, you might organise your chapters around different topics or case studies.
The primary stage of writing a dissertation is to select a topic, question, and title: What is the problem your project is going to tackle? Why is it critical to find a solution to the chosen problem? How do you plan on collecting evidence and getting answers?
In order to help yourself with these questions, you need to draft an outline. It should include:
- Title Page Objectives – decide on up to 3 goals
- Table of Contents
- List of Tables
- List of Abbreviations in alphabetical order
- Introduction including your research question or hypothesis
- Literature Review – how you set your research topic up and how it fits into the existing field of study. Do not hurry! Start writing this part after asking your tutor or teacher about any recommended sources you can use and about the preferred paper dissertation format.
- Research – the main part in which a student should elaborate upon their ideas of their research problem.
- Methodology – explain why you chose these particular methods to answer your research question.
- Findings – add predictions of where you will end up along with a description and presentation of your data, evidence, or case study.
- Discussion – discuss the cumulation of your argument: literature, methodology, and findings to create synergy.
- Timeframe – a schedule explaining the way a writer will handle the stages of dissertation writing.
- Conclusions and recommendations – reflect on the research and include recommendations and a final evaluation of your research. Do not include new ideas as they should go in the discussion!
- Bibliography/List of references – a list in alphabetical order of all of the external sources that you used to do your research.
- Appendices – this includes things like questionnaires, interview transcripts, pilot reports, detailed tables, etc.
You will not have to include all of the dissertation sections mentioned in this outline example —it will depend on the prompt, length, goals, etc.
The title page, also known as the cover page of your dissertation, should contain all of the main information about your academic paper. It should have:
- Your name
- Type of document (dissertation)
- Department and institution where you study
- Degree program (example – Master of Arts)
- Date of submission
In some cases, it can also include your student number, your supervisor’s name, and your university’s logo. Your department will usually let you know what you should include on your title page and how you should format it. You also need to check if your university or college has special guidelines for margins, spacing, and font size.
Here is how it should look like:
The dissertation acknowledgements section is the area where you thank those who have helped and supported you during the research and writing process. This includes both professional and personal acknowledgements.
Thank you to my supervisor, Dr Steven R., for providing excellent guidance and extensive feedback throughout this project. Thank you also to my wife Kate, for putting up with me being in the office for hours on end, for providing guidance, and for being a sounding board when required.
An abstract is a summary of the entire dissertation. It should give an overview of the research that you’ve done. The purpose of a dissertation’s abstract is to give the reader an idea of what the dissertation is about and why the problem in it is important to discuss. Consider all of the elements of your proposal and attempt to include them. Include your hypothesis and research question.
An abstract should contain the following elements:
- A statement of the problem
- The research methods you used
- The main results or findings
- The main conclusions and recommendations
An abstract is usually not longer than one page (though it can be much shorter). It typically appears after the title page and the acknowledgements.
Table of Contents
In the table of contents, you need to list all of the sections and subheadings along with their page numbers. The contents page gives the reader an overview of your structure. It also helps to easily navigate your academic paper. In the table of contents, you should include all parts of your dissertation, including the appendices. To generate a table of contents automatically, you can use Microsoft Word.
List of Figures and Tables
Here you need to itemize figures and tables in a numbered list if you used figures and tables in your dissertation. You can generate this list automatically by using the Insert Caption feature in Microsoft Word.
List of Abbreviations
If you have used a lot of abbreviations in your dissertation, you can include them in an alphabetized list of abbreviations. This way readers will be able to easily look up their meanings.
If you have used a lot of highly specialized terms that will not be familiar to your reader, it might be a good idea to include a glossary. You may list the terms alphabetically and explain each term with a brief description or definition.
In the introduction, you should set up your dissertation topic, purpose, and main relevance, as well as tell readers what to expect in the rest of the dissertation.
The introduction should:
- Establish the research topic and give necessary background information
- Narrow down the focus and define the scope of the research
- Discuss the state of existing research on the topic, showing your work’s relevance to a broader problem or debate
- Clearly state your objectives and research questions, and indicate how you will answer them
- Give an overview of your dissertation’s structure
You should remember that everything in the introduction should be clear, engaging, and relevant to your research. By the end, readers should understand exactly what to expect from your work.
Dissertation Literature Review
Before you begin your research, you should conduct a literature review to gain a deep understanding of the academic work that already exists on your topic.
Conducting a literature review means:
- Collecting sources such as books and journal articles and selecting the most relevant ones
- Evaluating and analyzing each source
- Drawing connections between the sources to make an overall point
Here you shouldn’t simply summaries existing studies, but instead you should develop a clear structure and argument that leads to a clear basis or justification for your research.
For example, it might aim to show how your research:
- Addresses a gap in the literature
- Creates a new theoretical or methodological approach to the topic
- Offers a new solution to an old and unresolved problem
- Proposes a theoretical debate
- Strengthens existing knowledge with new information
The literature review often becomes the basis for your theoretical framework, in which you define and analyze the key theories, concepts, and models that frame your research. In this section, you can answer descriptive research questions about the relationships between concepts or variables.
The methodology chapter, or section, is the place where you explain how you conducted your research. This way readers will be able to assess its validity.
You should generally include the following:
- General approach and type of research you conducted; it can be qualitative, quantitative, experimental, or ethnographic research.
- Which methods you used for collecting data; it can be interviews, surveys, or even archives.
- Specified details of where, when, and with whom the research took place.
- Which methods you used for analyzing the data; it can be either statistical analysis or discourse analysis.
- Which tools and materials you used; it can be computer programs, lab equipment, or something else.
- If there were any obstacles you faced while conducting the research, write about them and explain how you overcame them.
- An evaluation or justification of your methods.
Your aim in the methodology is to accurately report what you did, as well as to convince readers that this was the best approach to answering your research questions or objectives.
After you write about your methodology, you need to write about the actual results of your research. You can structure this section around sub-questions, hypotheses, or topics. Only report results that are relevant to your objectives and research questions. In some disciplines, the results section is strictly separated from the discussion, while in others the two are combined.
For instance, for qualitative methods like in-depth interviews, you can present results along with your discussion and analysis, while in quantitative and experimental research, the results should be presented separately before you discuss their actual meaning.
In this section it is a good idea to include tables, graphs, and charts. But you need to think about how to present your data. You shouldn’t include tables or figures that just repeat what you have written – they should provide extra information or they should usefully visualize the results in a way that adds value to your text. You can include full versions of your data, such as full transcripts of the interviews you cite, in an appendix.
This is the part of your dissertation where you need to discuss the meaning and implications of your results about your research questions. You need to interpret the results in detail, discussing whether they met your expectations and how well they fit within the framework that you built in earlier chapters.
If you encountered any unexpected results, then offer explanations for why that might be. It’s a good idea to consider alternative interpretations of your data and discuss any limitations that might have influenced the results. The discussion should reference other scholarly work to show how your results fit with existing knowledge of the subject. You can also make recommendations for future research or practical action.
In the conclusion part, you should clearly answer the main research question. It’s a good idea to finish your dissertation with a final reflection on what you did and how you did it. The conclusion also often includes recommendations for further research. In this section, it’s vital to show how your findings can contribute to the field they relate to and why exactly your research matters. What new things have you added?
Here you need to list details of all sources that you have cited in full. It’s important to follow a consistent reference style as each style has strict and specific requirements for how to format your sources in the reference list. First, learn the requirements of your style. The most common styles used in UK universities are Harvard referencing and Vancouver referencing. Your department will often specify which referencing style you should use – for example, psychology students tend to use APA style, humanities students often use MLA, and law students always use OSCOLA. Make sure to check the requirements, and ask your supervisor if you’re unsure.
Your dissertation itself should contain only essential information that directly contributes to answering your research question. All documents that hold extra information but do not fit into the main body of your dissertation, such as interview transcripts, survey questions, or tables with full figures, need to be added to the appendices section.
Once you are finished with the dissertation chapters and extras, it is important to consider one more critical stage – proofreading & editing. Take some time away from the dissertation writing process after it is over.
The difference between proofreading and editing is that proofreading focuses on the ‘shape’ of the document, while editing focuses on the ‘essence’. Proofreading requires you to fix any formatting, grammar, and structural issues. Editing is not about rewriting or changing anything, but re-reading the text several times to determine its efficiency. When proofreading and editing, mind the logical connection between every argument; decide if there are any gaps in the content provided and add any necessary details gathered at the research phase. Here are some pointers:
- Decrease the volume of the dissertation chapters that have useless information: the clarity & quality matter more than the quantity in this case.
- Fix grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.
- Proofread the text. Try to notice any stylistic or logical mistakes and consult a dictionary or thesaurus along with free or paid apps to ensure the quality of your final draft. Seeing flaws may be complicated for writers.
- Get dissertation writing help, or at least some peer feedback, to guarantee a better score on your paper.
More Dissertation Tips: Defending the Work!
The defense is a significant milestone in the closure of your graduate career. There are three main steps to take before, during, and after your defense:
- Before: Make sure you schedule everything in advance. Be ready to address any questions about your work and follow all graduate school rules and deadlines.
- During: Prepare your presentation, answer every question, and try to be patient during the defense to identify any weakness in your data collection process or research.
- After: Celebrate! Provide copies of your dissertation to your friends and colleagues for fun!