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How to Write a Dissertation - Ultimate Guide for Students

September 01, 2021

Students working on getting their undergraduate or postgraduate degree should know how to write a dissertation. It’s the final test they have to pass before officially receiving their degree. And, since writing a dissertation is complex, time-consuming, and requires specific academic writing skills, it might be quite a challenge.  

This guide has all the dissertation guidelines you should successfully complete the dissertation writing process.

The Key Steps When Writing a Dissertations

The best way to learn how to write your dissertation is to create a strategy or a plan that will guide you through this process slowly but surely. You have to be well-organized and prepared to dive deep into this assignment but not let any of your energy go to waste. That’s why you have to learn what is the right dissertation process and how to deal with this task like a professional.

To help you out, we've put together this ultimate dissertation writing guide that will show you just how simple it could be when you've got strong determination and the right guidance. Here’s how to write a dissertation step by step.

Define What is a Dissertation Paper

First things first, you have to be fully aware of the assignment that is in front of you and what is dissertation writing. You should understand what is a dissertation, why is it so important, and why you truly have to invest all your skills, knowledge, and energy into writing one.

By definition, a dissertation is:

  • A research project, completed by a student in any given University, as the final part of their postgraduate or undergraduate degree program.

It sounds simple when we put it like this. But, a dissertation is so much more. Your dissertation paper is a reflection of:

  • Everything you’ve learned during your college education
  • Your current academic capacity and potential
  • Your ability to carry out an independent project of great academic importance

This is because this research project needs to be elaborate, valuable to the academic world, and innovative in findings and questions you answer. So, we can say that a dissertation:

  • Is a student’s independent research
  • Answers innovative questions and proves hypotheses that haven’t been proven before
  • Provides new insight into the given subject matter
  • Contributes the academic world of the selected field

So, writing your dissertation is about more than receiving your degree and moving on to the next stages of your life. It’s also about entering the circle of academics who’ve made valuable discoveries and helped the growth and development of the academic field they’re in.

With that being said, it’s clear that writing a doctoral dissertation is a highly responsible task, both academically and personally.

Find a Unique and Valuable Research Topic

Now that you understand the true importance and value of your dissertation, you should learn how to start a dissertation. Some students find the beginning of the writing process to be the hardest, since it requires doing a lot of research, self-reflecting, and making some difficult choices.

You should find an original research topic.

Finding an innovative and valuable research topic is easier said than done. Why? Because there has been so much research done in all academic field already, that students often struggle to find something they may truly contribute to with new findings. But, you have to be determined and persistent in the process of finding your topic.

Here’s how you could handle this task:

  • think about your wide field of interest and choose an academic field you are motivated to work in Psychology, for instance
  • analyze dissertation examples from this field, just to get a general idea of what other students have written about
  • start brainstorming more specific topics within your selected academic filed e.g. Child Psychology
  • choose one or two specific topics you’d like to do research in and contribute to e.g. Autism

Once you’ve selected your topics, that are still quite wide and general, you should start doing research. There’s no better way of researching for a specific dissertation topic than the following:

  • do extensive reading
  • find credible sources of information, including academic papers, magazine articles, books, scholarly literature, case studies, etc.
  • if you find a specific topic you like, dig deeper into it to see what has and hasn’t been explored

Finally, when you select a narrow scope of interest and potentially determine which way your dissertation topic might go, you have to do one last thing. Try placing your potential topic into the current environment, time, and atmosphere in this field, to find a one-of-a-kind topic that no one has dealt with before.

For instance, if you've started with Psychology, narrowed it down to Child Psychology, and then decided you wanted to research autism as a developmental disorder, you have a chance to do a one-of-kind study in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

You can research how children with autism deal with remote learning, or how their parents are dealing with it, or what consequences the pandemic had for a specific group of children with autism. If you manage to find right questions that haven’t yet been answered, you’ll know you’re made the right choice.

That’s how you find and choose your unique and valuable research topic.

Write a Dissertation Proposal

The next in line of our key steps to writing a dissertation is writing a dissertation proposal. You can't just decide what your topic is and start your research. Instead, you should propose this topic to your university professors, mentor, or committee and see if it gets approved.

So, what is a dissertation proposal?

A dissertation proposal is a summary of what your dissertation s going to be and an explanation of why you find this topic to be valuable and worthy. You're writing the proposal to get official approval and acceptance of your research topic.

Therefore, it’s crucial that you know how to write a thesis proposal. Here’s what you have to include in this document:

  • Introduction

You have to introduce your topic, and explain the need for this research, objectives you set, and the question you want to answer.

  • Literature review

Write about the research that has been done before, sources you used as inspiration or guidance, and the findings you’ll base your research on.

  • Methodology

Explain how you’ll carry out the research and what empirical or theoretical research methods you are going to use.

  • Implications

Explain how your research contributes to this academic field and why is it important that you get approval.

  • Bibliography

Include a list of all literary sources you have used in your dissertation proposal.

You must nail your dissertation proposal since you won't get your research topic approved if you write it poorly. Include all the most important information about your proposed topic, and show them you have done enough research to understand how to write a doctorate dissertation and before deciding on this topic. 

You also should ensure there are no mistakes in your dissertation proposal. Edit it and proofread it several times before submitting it. You can find help with this stage online, from different proofreading tools or services that help students with proofreading an essay. Submit your proposal only once you’re sure it’s completely accurate.

Write up a Strong Introduction Chapter

Once you get your dissertation proposal approved and the committee decides your topic is valuable and worth exploring, you’ll go back to thinking about how to write a dissertation. If you look at any dissertation structure template, you’ll see the introduction chapter as an obligatory section.

So, the next step in your dissertation plan is writing a strong introduction chapter. Naturally, every part of the dissertation needs to be strongly written, but your introduction could help you:

  • grab the readers’ attention
  • explain why they should read the whole dissertation
  • introduce your main ideas

Thus, it’s extremely important that you write this chapter professionally, and make a great first impression.

The introduction chapter of your dissertation serves the purpose of introducing your topic. But, it also shows readers why your research is important and what makes it unique, valuable, and noteworthy. To achieve the right effect, you should make certain your introduction chapter contains elements that will make it strong and convincing.

Those elements include:

  • Opening paragraph

The opening paragraph briefly explains what your research is all about, what is your field of interest, and what the topic is, generally speaking. This paragraph should only be a couple of sentences long, and it shouldn't go into too many details, since you'll elaborate on it further.

  • Background 

The next part places your topic into a context and explains to the reader what led to you choosing to do this research. Explain how things currently stand, why you felt the need to do this research, and what gaps is your research going to close. You can look through any phd dissertation example to see exactly how to handle this part of the introduction chapter.

  • The research problem

Next, you tell readers about the research problem. The research problem explains questions you’re raising in your dissertation, and why you feel these questions have to be answered. You tell readers why there’s a need for solving this problem and how answering those questions is crucial at this moment.

  • Aims and objectives

Now it’s time for you to be more specific. Explain how you plan on solving the research problem and answering the research questions. You also set very specific and clear goals that you’ll try and achieve through the research. 

  • Limitations

There's nothing wrong with admitting your research might have some limitations. These limitations should be recognized upfront so that those reading your research don't catch you red-handed. Write about the potential limitations and show you're aware that no research, including yours, is perfect.

  • Dissertation overview

Finally, you do a brief overview of the rest of your dissertation. That means you briefly explain what each of the upcoming chapters in your dissertation will be dealing with. You might want to consider writing this part of the introduction chapter after you finish writing the entire dissertation. You still don’t quite know how to write dissertations, so you should go through the entire process and then see what each chapter was about.

Review the Existing Literature and Compile a Literature Review

The literature review of your dissertation is the next important chapter you have to write. This part is particularly challenging for students and the reason they decide to find help with dissertation writing

So, you should learn how to do a dissertation literature review that’s:

  • a result of a thorough selection you did
  • carefully structured and organized
  • convincing 

The literature review is a summary of all the sources you've used as the foundation for your independent research. It sets the grounds for your research and shows you have used previous author's findings and ideas to come up with your own. 

In this section, you could also provide definitions of certain notions, explain terminology, and describe the theories that other authors have established. 

For each citation or reference, you should learn rules of citing dissertation APA style, or any other style your university requires. You can’t use other people’s words or ideas without clearly stating who said it, when, and where.

Design a Rigorous Research Strategy and Conduct Research

Your research might be the most important part of your dissertation. It’s the part in which you gather and analyze the data, and then use it to draw conclusions and present your findings.

Many students get discouraged at this stage since it's all very new and unfamiliar to them. They even start googling “write my dissertation for me”. But, this guide will help you stay encouraged and do the research on your own.

So, decide how you plan on conducting the research:

  • do interviews
  • do surveys
  • create and distribute questionnaires
  • apply established theories to your data
  • test theorems
  • perform case studies

Chose the methodology you find most suitable for your dissertation needs and conduct your research using the tools and resources it requires from you. If you’re not sure which methodology to use, do some more reading and research to see how other students or authors have dealt with similar tasks.

Present the Findings of Your Research

Once you successfully conduct your research and analyze the data you’ve gathered, you should be able to use that data to answer your research questions. That means you will have to present the results of your research.

So, write an elaborate description of the steps you took during the research and the data and results you’ve gathered. Use charts, tables, and images to back up your findings. Explain what each step of the research revealed and how it helped you answer your questions.

For instance, one can say:

  • To the statement number 8, "My children developed a new learning issue during the pandemic.”, 55% of the surveyed parents answered “Yes, I completely agree”, 25% answered “Yes, I somewhat agree" while only 5% answered, "I completely disagree”. This shows us that…

Present how you reached your conclusions and answer every question you raised in the first part of your dissertation.

Write a Dissertation Conclusion and Discuss the Implications

The final part of your dissertation is your conclusion section. You use this section to briefly review what you managed to achieve through your research and what implications does the research carry.

In essence, you explain the key elements and findings once again, but this time you focus on the importance and value those findings carry. Tell them what you think about the impact that your findings can have on future research and what new questions can be raised from them.

Edit and Proofread the Dissertation

After all chapters and sections of your dissertation are finished, you now should  enter the final stage. That stage is the editing and proofreading stage. 

Your dissertation is an official academic document you’re submitting to esteemed professors and committee members. It needs to be written accurately and professionally. That means you cannot submit it before you do a thorough analysis of what you’ve written and then do the necessary editing and proofreading.

Here’s what this implies:

  • Editing

Read each chapter of your dissertation several times, analyzing the content. Think about how you’ve structured your dissertation, how you’ve organized arguments, and whether you’ve presented your ideas properly. Take a look at as many examples to see how long are dissertations and whether you should cut some parts out. 

Then, make changes you feel need to be made to improve your dissertation draft.

  • Proofreading

Analyze the entire text of your dissertation looking for mistakes in grammar, spelling, or punctuation. Do it with the help of a friend, an online spell or grammar checker, or other tools you find available. There are even research paper writing services that offer proofreading assistance. Don’t try to do it all on your own, since you will almost certainly miss at least one typo, which can degrade your entire dissertation.

Also, don’t forget about the text in your footnotes, charts, tables, and image titles.

Editing and proofreading is your final chance to polish your dissertation before you submit it for review. Use this stage wisely, and don’t try to complete it in a day. Allow yourself at least a couple of days to do it thoroughly and check for every detail.

Get feedback

Finally, your dissertation is ready and completed. But, will you send it to the committee straight away? We wouldn't recommend you doing so until you show your dissertation to at least one other person that is credible to give you feedback on it. 

Most students decide to consult:

  • a friend
  • a colleague
  • their mentor

But, make sure your friends and colleagues know how to write a phd dissertation before they start making comments on yours. Each person will give their honest opinion and suggest additional changes if any. It’s up to you to decide whether to take their advice or not.

So, after getting the feedback, one might have to go back to step 9 and do some more editing and proofreading. Acknowledgment of the dissertation quality from your mentor should be most important for you, so focus your attention on their feedback.

Once you're done reviewing the received feedback, you can submit your dissertation to the official committee, and hope you'll receive a positive answer from them.

How to Write a Dissertation: Dissertation Guide Summary

We hope this article helped you understand what is dissertation writing and how to approach it like an experienced academic writer. As you can see, it is a complex process that requires one to go through several phases of preparation, research, and writing. But, with our step-by-step guide, this process should be simplified enough for you to write your dissertation with ease. Use it and start working on your dissertation with confidence.