Introduction to Dissertation Writing
In dissertation writing, a student is expected to perform an independent study, producing a thesis that includes meticulous research, thorough analysis, critical evaluation and a discussion on the underlying concepts along with future scope of study.
Writing a dissertation reaps rewards both in academic as well as professional life. So, in dissertation writing, you need to keep in mind certain ‘rules’ that define the way in which the work should be presented. This article sets forth those standards, including technicalities that are involved in dissertation writing.
How to Write a Great Dissertation (Undergrad, Post Grad and PhD)
A dissertation is developed by following certain steps which are generally common for undergrad, post grad and PhD students. For dissertation writing, you first need to choose a familiar topic, collect all the necessary data from the pile of research notes and finally draft an outline based on the research material. When everything is sorted out, it’s time to knuckle down and start writing.
While writing a dissertation, always remember: poorly expressed thoughts or unclear sentences can ruin a dissertation even it’s well researched. So you need to take one step at a time to accomplish this seemingly endless dissertation writing project. Go through the suggestions below for writing a dissertation of high quality.
- Choosing The Right Dissertation Topic
Choose a topic for dissertation writing that draws your interest. Ideally, you are going to deal with that particular dissertation writing topic for a long time, right from framing its components to publishing the dissertation. So there will always be a chance that the topic may itself become the main hindrance to finishing your dissertation successfully. If you want to exclude all such possibilities of choosing a wrong dissertation writing topic and messing up your entire dissertation writing experience, follow the correct method to select a suitable dissertation writing topic.
Try and create your own dissertation writing topic. Yes, you can definitely take inspiration from already existing dissertation writing topics, but you need to find your voice and reflection in it. The best way to do it is to evaluate your knowledge first.
- Take a pen and paper and write down the areas/topics/subjects that appeal to you.
- After finishing writing whatever was in your mind, mark those topics that you think can potentially contribute to your area of interest.
- Now that you have fewer topics in the list, it is easier to zero down upon some particular dissertation writing topics. Copy these topics on another page and write some pointers under each, applying your basic knowledge. By doing so, you will understand how much knowledge you have about those topics selected. Now simply mark the topic or topics on which you have more knowledge compared to other topics.
- If you have marked only one dissertation writing topic, get ready to conduct preliminary research. If not, then consult with your classmates or colleagues about the prospects of the topics selected. You can also have a formal conversation with your advisor and see what they have to say about the topics.
- After all discussions and analysis, when you reach the end result i.e., settling down on one topic, give yourself a little treat. You have worked hard to single out a dissertation writing topic from the pile of topics; it is time to give yourself a little treat. Go to your favorite diner or watch your favorite TV series.
Some students are just lucky; they become aware of the dissertation writing topic the moment dissertation guidelines are handed over to them. But generally students have to undergo a rigorous selection process to land on the ‘perfect’ topic. However, the time you invest in selecting a topic is always worth it because you settle down on a dissertation writing topic that definitely complements your interest, strengths and intellect.
Before you start further investigation on the dissertation writing topic, you need to assess your choice by asking certain questions to yourself:
- Is this topic right one?
- Are you enthusiastic about the topic?
- Are you well aware of the scholarly literature available on the topic?
- Can you finish writing on the topic within the given time period?
- Does your topic fit in the practical and theoretical context?
- Do you believe that the topic can take you to the expected end results?
When you get positive answer to each question, it is time to start preliminary research on the selected dissertation writing topic.
Pro Tip: Don’t go overly ambitious by involving a large area of research. It is advisable to find a thoroughly researched and argued answer to a small thesis question than to fail in finding the answer to the dissertation question that is too broad and diffuse.
- Planning and Research
Dissertation writing requires you to manage your time and undertake a variety of jobs. If you fail, your final degree will get delayed too. Most courses schedule dissertation at the end, but some have it running concurrently with other modules. In either of the two, you need to have a plan in hand.
- Count how many months you have for the scheduled dissertation submission
- Get a pen and paper, draw a chart while keeping the months name at the left side
- Mark the dates when you have other commitments
- Allocate various dissertation writing tasks to the remaining time
Here is an example of a time-table you can use while writing a dissertation (the months are divided into four weeks)
1st Week 2nd Week 3rd Week 4th Week
Write research proposal
Wait for review from the dissertation writing committee
related to the topic
Complete literature review and conduct the pilot study
Secondary data collection
Sorting the data
Make an outline of dissertation chapters
Start writing the first draft
Christmas and Visit to Family
New Year’s Eve
Start with the first draft
Complete first draft
Discuss the first draft with supervisor
Start with the
Continue with the second draft
Consult with the
Implement all the suggestions and write the final draft
Continue with final draft
This is only an example; you can tweak the time-table according to your feasibility while writing a dissertation.
Pro Tip: In reality, no one sticks to his or her plans perfectly. Moreover, as a dissertation writer, you cannot predict the things that might interrupt you during the course of dissertation writing. So always keep a plan ‘B’ with you or give yourself extra time for ‘catching up’ if you fall behind. Also the mechanical tasks like creating the referencing page, sorting the bibliography, in-texting and proofreading will take longer than you expect. Computers and printer do not know that you are in a hurry; they can stop working any time. So always have a technical backup in place while writing a dissertation.
The kind of research you need to undertake for dissertation writing will depend on the thesis question that you come up with. After choosing the dissertation writing topic, you require studying the existing literature for an overview of what all have been published so far in printed and electronic form. This way, you are able to interpret the views that have been put forth in your words. While writing a dissertation, you need to conduct either or both primary and secondary research.
- Primary Research
If you are doing experiment through your research, you should start primary research as soon as you can. It is true that gathering primary research data for dissertation writing is more strenuous and takes longer than secondary research. However, primary research data gives you better results compared to the secondary research process.
Here are the primary research methods that dissertation writers use,
- Interviews (for personal information)
- Observation (to record processes, behavior and growth)
- Questionnaires (to note a pattern in answers)
- Focus Group (to observe the behavior or views of group of people)
- Surveys (to examine answers of the selected group)
The Process to Collect Primary Research Data:
- Select a data collection method from the above or create your own – consult with your dissertation writing supervisor and ensure it goes with your methodology
- Do a test or pilot study as soon as possible so that you can make changes if necessary
- Determine the group or number of people on whom you want to conduct the experiment
- Have a backup plan ready if everyone is not willing to participate
- Retain the records. Don’t throw away anything until you finally receive your grades for dissertation writing
- Follow a method that makes reading your data and notes less time-consuming.
- Secondary Research
Secondary research methods require you to collect existing information through available sources. Compared to primary research, it is, of course, less time consuming and less expensive, but lacks accuracy.
Here are few secondary research techniques —
- Seek information on the internet
- Study existing market reports
- Collect data from existing customer database
- Gather information from various agencies such as industry bodies, libraries, government agencies and local councils.
The Process to Collect Secondary Research Data:
- Once you have an overview of the subject, create some sub-questions that will help you to answer the main dissertation question .
- Seek answers to these questions by using the above-mentioned methods or any according to your necessity
- Do more reading but be selective as well
- Analyze the relevance of information as you go along.
Methodology in dissertation writing implies the ways that help you to get the results. In academic discipline, there are mainly two sets of methods for conducting research while writing a dissertation.
Quantitative and Qualitative
Mainly gathers numerical data
Mainly collect views, responses and attitudes of a group
The frequency of returning customers
Annual sales figures
Industry product sales numbers
Answers to online or phone questionnaires
Customer attitudes towards certain products and services
Formal and informal conversations with customers about their experiences with a brand
Reviews of companies to understand their products and the quality of service
For better understanding of statistical data like size of a market, demographics of customers (age and gender).
For better understanding of attitudes and feeling of certain groups, and noticing any positive and negative changes in an organization.
Pro Tip: There is no hard and fast rule to use one particular method. You can easily combine these research methods to get the desired results for dissertation writing.
- Structure of Dissertation
After selecting one or a set of research methodology(s), focus on the question, ‘what should my thesis look like?’ Sometimes universities provide the dissertation proposal template and the dissertation template for students’ use. Consider using them and understand what your dissertation writing supervisor and dissertation committee expects from you. The following information presents the guidelines for writing a dissertation proposal and preparing the full dissertation.
Dissertation Proposal Template:
If you have not got a dissertation proposal template from your university, here is a dissertation proposal template example that you can use in the course of dissertation writing. This dissertation proposal structure is designed to help you in writing a dissertation proposal.
Preceding the main body of a dissertation proposal, there are several pages containing the preliminary material. Here is a list of the elements that you need to include before the main text —
- Title Page
- Copy Right Page
- Committee Signature Page
- Tables of Contents Page
After the main text, you also need to include:
The main body of dissertation proposal template is divided into chapters. There is no optimum number of chapters or maximum requirement while writing a dissertation proposal. It depends on the nature of the subject you are handling. But a dissertation proposal template usually comprises,
To explain the purpose of your research, little background of your area of study and reasons for undertaking this subject
Aims and Objectives
Aims define what you have set out to achieve at the end of the study, whereas objectives describe the measurable outcomes of the study
A summary of the research you have done so far, explaining the existing and established theory
To explain the scope of the study and all the research methods you intend to use to get the desired results
Scope and Constraints
How this study contributes to your discipline, and limitations you will face while conducting this study
The list of resource you plan to use in your study
Design the timetable keeping university timetable/academic year and deadlines set by your department in mind
Outline of Dissertation Chapters
Give outline of the proposed structure of the dissertation along with the suggested chapters’ headings and one or two paragraphs about the proposed content
Cite the sources you have used so far in an alphabetical order
Use this dissertation proposal template when you need to develop a fully-grown dissertation proposal.
How to Structure a Dissertation:
As we have mentioned earlier, there are certain conventions in structuring dissertations. The university will hand out a dissertation template so that you can determine what sections should go into your dissertation. Your dissertation writing supervisor will also assist you in creating a layout and structuring the dissertation. But before you check with your dissertation writing supervisor, you should know how the basic dissertation writing components look like. There are variations according to various disciplines. However, a basic framework would be:
Title of your dissertation, your name, course name, date, name of supervisor
One paragraph summarizing the whole dissertation
Expression of your gratitude by thanking those who helped you in your study
Tables of Contents
Chapter and/or sections and sub-sections with their respective page numbers
Tables of Charts and Tables
List the titles of tables, charts and diagrams that you used in your study with their respective page numbers
Tables of Figures
Enlist each figure and illustration included in the body of dissertation with respective page numbers
Main Body of Dissertation
10% of main text – a dissertation introduction to your thesis question/problem with a brief outline of your work
25% of the main text – explanation of the gaps, issues and contradictions in existing literature on your research topic
15% of the main text – description of research methods, data collection and data analysis methods you selected and an explanation why these methods are useful for your research.
10% of the main text – results you found so far in your words, showing you have answered your thesis question and proved your hypotheses
Discussion and Recommendations
25% of the main text – interpret your own understanding of the results your research show and give suggestions on what needs to be done in this area
15% of the main text – explanation that you fulfilled the desired aims in relation to your hypotheses
The complete list of sources correctly formatted
Evidences which confirms the originality of your work, subsidiary material or any information that is too large to be included.
You can refer to our ‘samples’ section to gain more dissertation writing knowledge; you can also find specific dissertation introduction example, dissertation methodology example or conclusion example for reference. You can easily download these dissertation writing samples with just the click of a mouse, without spending a single penny.
Pro Tip: The dissertation writing structure described here is general. When you compose a dissertation, you should always check with your dissertation writing supervisor or faculty of the department to know the specific requirements. You can also request them for dissertation writing guidelines.
- Content and Formatting Style
Since dissertation is a ‘formal’ document created to demonstrate the students’ knowledge, understanding and skills, its contents must be expressed in a certain style. The style requires the students to present the content in third person singular active form.
For example: ‘Marketing sits within the wider base of the social sciences, and while it cannot because of its nature employ the techniques, formulate and laws of the pure sciences, it should aspire to a ‘scientific’ level of objectivity.’
This is an example of an objective statement - the way you should express in dissertation writing.
However, of late, the guidelines have changed and the writers are requested to present their thoughts in the first person active which require you to write, ‘I conducted the research in order to test……’
Here are the recent guidelines that you need to follow while writing a dissertation:
- Always check with your university dissertation writing committee or supervisor about their preferences. Make sure you maintain the same voice and person throughout the content. Remember, whatever style you are asked to follow, aim to create content that is an easy read without any heavy words and jargons.
- Break down your sentences in short if you have a habit of writing long sentences. Include simpler words and phrases in dissertation writing. Instead of adding on clauses or making sentences heavier, introduce the next point in the next sentence.
- Some phrases need to be avoided in dissertation writing which are follows:
Better phrase for the same purpose
Additionally (or also)
In order to
Due to the fact that
In the first place
A considerable number
Whether or not
- There should always be an introductory sentence(s) and concluding line(s) while doing dissertation writing. You should introduce your idea in brief at the beginning of the paragraph, then elaborate in the body and connect it with the next chapter’s introduction in the concluding sentences. This improves the quality of writing as you ‘smooth out’ the transition from chapter to chapter for the audience.
- During research, you will come across many articles and journals. Few of them are good reads and many of them will require immense concentration and attention to understand. Go through these materials and content that you find enjoyable to read and assess how the writers have put forward their thoughts, reasoning and understanding through their words. You will be required to apply those techniques while writing a dissertation.
How to improve your dissertation writing
Once the first draft of your dissertation is done, there is a lot of scope for improvement. While writing a dissertation, keep in mind that only the dissertation writing supervisor and the dissertation committee are not your audience. You will be judged by lot of people even by your colleagues. So you should try to make it easier for everyone, even those who boast zero expertise over the subject. Here is what you need to do:
- Use clear signposting at the beginning of chapters and create a link between the chapters so that readers can easily relate to the information presented in your dissertation writing
- Before you have a brainstorming session with your dissertation writing supervisor, take the responsibility to ensure that your dissertation has everything that readers expect from it. Create a list of questions that you want your dissertation to answer. Start reading your dissertation and scribble down comments, suggestions, criticisms and new ideas in the margin and simultaneously tick off those questions of which you get answers
- While revising dissertation, note whether you are increasing or decreasing the word count of the document while keeping the target word count in mind. You can always exclude those portions, sentence(s), paragraph(s) if it seems unnecessary to you.
Pro Tip: You should not start writing a dissertation by undermining your work; by apologizing for poor results or complaining about time constraints. Always be optimistic. If your study has any constraint, analyze it in the weakness part.
Universities publish their own set of guidelines for students to follow. A dissertation must carry these requirements in order to be accepted by the dissertation writing committee. Guidelines vary from one institution to another. You must check with your dissertation writing supervisor or faculty department regarding dissertation formatting. Here are few dissertation writing formatting guidelines that you must know before you start writing a dissertation.
Totally depends on the nature of the subject and research you have conducted
Minimum one inch of each side; few universities requires different parameters such as:
Top: 2.50 cm, Bottom: 2.50 cm, Left: 3.17cm Right: 3.17 cm
One and half spacing/single spacing/double spacing (any of them)
From sections of Abstracts till the main text, use i, ii, iii, iv and so on. For main text, use 1,2,3,4, and so on
Title Page and Copyright Page
Mandatory, no page number required
Times New Roman (or any font preferred by your university)
Word or PDF form
Chapter and section headings
Start each chapter on new page
List of References
Any referencing style directed by your university (you will find referencing style guide on your university website)
Appendix Title: bold and outlined, each appendix on a new page with numbers such as Appendix 1
Proofreading and Editing
Editing and proofreading are integral parts of dissertation writing formatting so you should give plenty of time to enhance the quality of the content.
Make sure you have included everything that you intended while planning the dissertation. Ask yourself:
- Have you achieved the results?
- Do your chapters reflect the clear meaning of what you intend to convey to the readers?
- Do your chapters flow in a manner that can be understood by anyone without any expertise?
- Does your dissertation demonstrate a clear structure?
- Does your dissertation follow the pattern set by your university?
- Does the content reflect that you have done in-depth research?
In case, your first language is not English, this is going to be a problem for you because your English will certainly not be up to the mark. You have two choices to get your job done then —
- Take help from a friend
Perhaps, a fellow student whose first language is English. Make sure your friend has plenty of time to read your dissertation, and can help you to improve the quality of writing.
- Hire an editor
Frankly, prices vary from one service to another. You need to decide which one is feasible for you.
As you have seen in the above dissertation timetable, we have given one whole week for proofreading to make sure that you have no error in the document. This stage is likely to take longer than expected. You can save two weeks for proofreading if you think you need even more time.
A warning: Do not keep proofreading for the last minute or when you are tired.
Pro Tip: Dissertation formatting styles described here are general. You need to check with your dissertation writing supervisor or dissertation committee for specific guidelines for dissertation writing formatting.
A dissertation should be the reflection of your own ideas, thinking, knowledge that took birth from the ideas of other writers, researchers and experts. It is essential that you acknowledge the contribution of those who helped your ideas to take shape. When you use someone else’s work as evidence to back up your own reasoning in dissertation writing, you should signpost clearly to the readers the original source of the idea that you are using in dissertation writing. This helps the readers to distinguish your own ideas and those you have taken as inspiration.
But citing sources/referencing requires a lot of hard work, and this is the most reason for losing precious marks in dissertation writing. So you need to correct your understanding; ask your supervisor whenever you are unsure.
This is how you can perfect your referencing —
What to do before starting to write?
Whenever you plan to use books, articles or other forms of sources in dissertation writing, make sure you include full publication details of each relevant text. The details are as follow:
- Surname(s) and initial(s) of the author(s)
- The title of text
- The date of publication
- If you are using a chapter of an edited book, include book’s title and editor(s), the publisher and place of the publication
- If you are using a paper, the title of the journal and volume number
What Referencing Style to Use?
You will find different referencing conventions on the internet. But you don’t need to learn all of those because each university has its own preferred format. So you should check with faculty department and supervisor for further details.
Two Ways to Cite Sources
There are two places where you can cite sources,
- Within the text
- Reference list
- Citing Sources within the Text
When you cite sources within the text, you are expected to include name(s) (surnames only) of the author(s) and the date of the publication. The information should in brackets placed appropriately in the text.
The seminars are often part of humanities courses and can provide opportunities for students to develop the communication and interpersonal skills that are valued by employers (Lyon, 1992)
The above reference demonstrates to the readers that the point being made took the inspiration from Lyon published in 1992. Here is an alternate format you can refer to,
Knapper and Cropley (1991: p. 44) admit that the willingness of adults to learn is affected by their attitudes, values and self-image and that capacity to learn depends greatly on their intellectual and skills
Page number has been added to give the readers the opportunity to find the particular place in the text where the point is made. You should always include page number(s) in in-text citations when you are referring to a direct quotation from another’s work in dissertation writing.
- Citing Sources in Reference List/Bibliography
The reference list should be in alphabetical order at the end before appendices. Here are the main principles of citing sources in reference list:
Book references should include surnames and forenames of author(s), the date of the publication, the book title, the place of the publication, the name of the publisher. Follow the same order when you are using Harvard referencing style. Here is an example,
Knapper, C.K. and Cropley, A. 1991: Lifelong Learning and Higher Education. London: Croom Helm
Paper and Articles within an Edited Book
When you are citing a paper or article within an edited book, you should include the edition and the title of the book and the first and last page numbers of the article or paper. You should follow the same order if you are asked to use Harvard referencing style. Here is an example you can refer to:
Lyon, E.S. 1992: Humanities graduates in the labour market. In H Eggins (ed), Arts Graduates, their Skills and their Employment London: The Flame Press, pp. 123-143
When using journal articles, you should include the name and volume number of the journal and the first and last page numbers of the article. Here is an example of journal article citation using Harvard referencing style,
Pask, G. 1979: Styles and strategies of learning. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 46, pp. 128 – 148
Other Forms of Publication:
Books, papers and articles and journal articles are most popular forms of publications used by students in dissertation writing. You may want to use other types of publications such as PhD dissertations, newspapers, translated work, encyclopedias and websites. The above mentioned rules also apply on referencing for all types of published sources.
Pro Tip: No matter what kind of referencing style you use, you should ensure you have used correct punctuation like, bold, italics and CAPITALS in a consistent manner in your reference list and within the text.
Quick tips on how to write a good dissertation
No matter how prepared you are, it always seems impossible to reach the end line while writing a dissertation. You envy those students who have already handed over their copies, and want to know their secrets. Nothing much, you need to have a personalized game plan for success, which is as follows below:
- Break down your work
As we have already shown in dissertation writing timetable, break down the task into smaller chunks, this will help you to achieve the goal in lesser time.
- Don’t take too much of a break
It is better you have a timetable ready in front of you and follow it to complete the task. But sometimes, students find difficult to continue researching and writing, so take a break. But do not stretch one week’s break to one month. It will be difficult for you to concentrate again.
- Don’t go for perfection
Some students want their first draft to be the final one. This is exactly the problem. You need to understand that rewriting is the part of writing. Knowing it will help freely make progress in the content and look forward to alter things later on.
- Move to next section, if you get stuck
Do not linger on a section for long. In case, you are finding difficulty in writing the ‘Literature Review’ section, you can leave that for now, and move onto the next section, which is ‘methodology’.
- Fight the urge of leaving the job mid-way
There will be many times when you get the feeling of running away from this never-ending task. This is when you should put up a fight with yourself, and encourage yourself to continue writing. You should fight through these tough spots and force yourself to sit on the chair until you make some progress.
- Take notes carefully
If you keep the record of the sources you intend to use, you don’t need to revisit the sources again when you actually need it. Hence, you will find yourself less prone to future troubles. The most important aspect of taking notes is to avoid plagiarism.
- Ignore your audience at first
While writing your first draft, write it for yourself. Once you finish writing your first draft, you should bring your audience into the picture and tweak your dissertation writing according to their expectations.
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