Expert Tips on Writing a Dissertation

In truth, dissertations are just extended or lengthy essays, and they are usually the last academic task a student has to complete as they near the end of a study program or, in the case of post-graduate students, as part of a research project. In fact, the word “dissertation” is often misused and applied to papers that are actually thesis papers. In any case, by the time you get to writing a dissertation you should be well accustomed to writing academic-style essays so the structure of these will be familiar to you. Then, all you have to do is apply your mind to writing an extended essay but in the format that generally pertains to dissertations. 

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How to Get Started

The preparation work that goes into writing a dissertation differs in a few ways from the process of writing shorter scholarly pieces. Primarily, this is because the type and amount of research that is required has a very important role in formulating the actual proposal, the point at which the majority of dissertation projects begin.  

Essentially, dissertations come in two distinct types:

  • The one where the content is taught,
  • The one where the content needs to be researched.

Of these two types, the first involves responding to one or more questions the writer is given and it is similar in structure to most types of academic essays: This means it is made up of:

  • An introductory section (or chapter)
  • A main body
  • A concluding section or chapter.

The other dissertation type (the second one) is one where it is necessary to freshly research a topic i.e. explore all its facets from scratch. This essentially means identifying a suitable topic and focusing on a specific aspect of this topic. Obviously, the chosen topic is one that you will have studied in some detail and one in which you have a particular interest. Writing a dissertation on this topic will mean widening and deepening your knowledge in the subject area by virtue of the extensive research you will need to do. The next task is assembling a proposal setting out the research work you plan to do, drawing attention to any new or original angles or approaches you have discovered or intend to take. Once you have received approval for your proposal you can then proceed as you would in the case of the first type of dissertation (using material you have been taught).

Do bear in mind that, regardless of the dissertation type you will be writing, any sources you use will need to be accurately and carefully referenced in the bibliography section of your paper. Furthermore, all references will need to be formatted and presented in the style your professor specifies or in the style your college or university stipulates. By this stage of your academic career, you should be familiar with citation and referencing (since students do not write dissertations at the start of their academic careers). However, you will need to take more care with citation and adhere strictly to the rules in your dissertation, not least because you will be dealing with a larger amount of sources. More probably than not, your paper will be subject to more stringent marking so it is advisable to look back over the relevant style manual!

Moving Forward

Once the research part is completed, you should (almost) be ready to start writing. Planning a dissertation before you start writing it is an essential part of the process. This is because, as would have become evident to you with other academic projects you have done, a well-developed plan helps get your thoughts and ideas into good order and it helps you work out where you should place supporting evidence. Either way, it would be necessary for you to do this when putting together the proposal for your dissertation project.   

Once your thorough plan is in place, you can start writing your dissertation according to the standard essay structure you are no doubt familiar with. Nonetheless, as previously mentioned, this will need to be changed and adapted to some extent to suit your dissertation’s requirements. Therefore, it may help to look again at this structure – as it progresses through its various stages – so that you can see exactly how the structure of an essay differs from that of a dissertation.

The Structure of a Dissertation

The Introductory Part

The introduction chapter in dissertations is extremely important because it is not only the place where you (almost always) present your paper’s thesis statement but this section needs to have a really sharp focus and it needs to connect to the methodology section of your paper. Connecting these two chapters in a logical manner is critical, as is the necessity for you to stick to the central idea throughout. Straying from the central idea or the general theme to any significant extent can make your main argument(s) weaker and, in turn, your entire dissertation. As is the case with most academic essays, your introductory section should end in a way that links, transitions, or leads into the main body. A good transition from the introduction will allow your thoughts and ideas to be taken up early on in the first body paragraph. This will give cohesion to your paper. 

The Dissertation’s Main Body

In the case of dissertations, the paper’s main body is usually comprised of a number of chapters (as opposed to paragraphs) and each of these will cover a distinct and different part of your chosen topic. On average, dissertations tend to have three chapters although this is not a definitive number since a lot depends on other factors e.g. the length of the paper, how narrow or wide-ranging the topic you are addressing is, and so on.  

Each chapter will, needless to say, be divided into as many paragraphs as are necessary. You need to make sure that there is a clear link between each of the paragraphs and chapters and your main theme or argument while simultaneously addressing the sub-section or division indicated by the chapter title or heading.

Something else that is of the utmost importance is that your argument and all aspects of it are fully supported with reliable evidence. This is primarily because your argument will have been developed from what you discovered during the research stage and this should be clear from the evidence you offer to support it. Remember that quotations will need to be analyzed, particularly where these are taken from primary sources. This can highlight other significant areas that you can use to continue building your main argument and improve the originality of the work you are doing since it will show it is textually sound and well-founded. This is where most of the marks for a dissertation are earned.

The Concluding Chapter

Dissertation writers should not think of the concluding chapters to their papers as a task that can be crammed in at the last minute or a part that can be added on hastily once the bulk of the paper is coming to an end. To some extent, it is best to keep thinking about the end section from the moment you begin the project. This is because your main argument is continually building up to the conclusion. Therefore, this last chapter should have all the elements described below:  

  • A summary of your findings and thoughts as these developed in your dissertation.
  • A drawing together of how you have been thinking to reflect the inferences you have drawn.
  • A word about the limitations of your dissertation project and any areas that might need further research or study in the future.

If you need any additional proof of how important the concluding chapter in a dissertation is, then remember this section is the last one your evaluator is almost sure to read. So leave a good and lasting impression on them!

A Few Final Thoughts and Tips

When you have finished writing, proofread your work thoroughly so that you do not throw away any marks as a result of careless punctuation, spelling, and grammar errors.

It can really help to read the work you have written out loud or invite one or more friends to give you some assistance. The fact is that when a written piece is very familiar to you, you are likely to see what you want or expect to see as opposed to what is actually there. 

Try not to leave the writing of your paper’s bibliography until you are nearly out of time since this is an integral aspect of a paper like this. Hence, it should evolve in a coherent manner along with your research work.