At a certain point of higher education, every student will inevitably face the necessity to write a dissertation. Unfortunately, no matter how scary it sounds, completing a thesis or dissertation and passing its defense is the only way to prove one’s ability for independent research, to show progress obtained during the educational process, and to persuade the educational establishment’s committee that you are worth being called a graduate. Many students fear dissertations because they differ profoundly from regular essays and research papers; but is it that hard in reality?
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We have good news for you – even if you are a novice in research, you can still complete a worthy dissertation for a good grade independently! All you need is to understand all intricacies of the process and fulfill all requirements and rules for each step of writing. However, starting the dissertation completion endeavor is impossible without understanding what a dissertation is.
Defining a dissertation
A dissertation, or thesis, is an extended form of research that presupposes much independent work in the student’s professional area. Depending on the level of education, dissertations may be written for a Master’s and PhD degrees. Both types demand disciplined and lengthy research on some identified topical issue enhanced with profound background literature research, development of a strong methodology for the actual study, data collection, and its structured analysis. The culmination of dissertation process is the completion of a dissertation report. In accordance with general dissertation requirements and all mandatory components, every research should contain the following chapters:
- (with a detailed description of the research problem, purpose, research questions, significance of the study, and definition of all key terms)
- (a comprehensive and systematic analysis of literature already published in the field of interest)
- (a concise layout of methods used for actual completion of the dissertation process)
- (presentation of actual findings obtained during the independent study and data collection)
- in the context of existing research and theories
- for practice and further research derived from this study’s findings.
However, starting to write the full dissertation report at once is not a common practice; since the dissertation process usually takes up to one year (and for PhD research, it may be several years), the committee should be confident that you will not waste time on senseless, insignificant study or unrealistic research questions and objectives. Thus, the preparatory document should be completed and approved first – a dissertation proposal.
Key points about a dissertation proposal
The dissertation proposal represents an extended, detailed plan for the proposed dissertation research. Requirements for length and components of a proposal depending on the institution and the level of study – it may be 3-5 pages for a Master’s dissertation and up to 50 pages for a Doctoral study. At minimum, this document should contain:
- The problem’s background and discussion of its significance
- A short review of literature existing on the issue
- Proposed methodology for the study
- Target population and sampling plan
- Expected outcomes.
The presentation of dissertation proposal helps the committee and your supervisor to determine whether your research is generally workable; estimation of research objectives and research questions should be properly aligned with the method selected to answer them, while participants of the study from whom the required data will be collected should also be described in detail.
When writing a proposal, make sure you create a holistic image of what the study is, what you are planning to research and why it is important, what data you need for that study and from which source/person it can be obtained. Let’s consider a couple of examples:
- : influence of inmate education on recidivism
- : the influence of race on the choice of counselor
to examine whether receiving education in prison may prevent inmates from returning to criminal activities upon release
The State of Illinois, the USA
retrospective correlational study
Illinois prison records estimating the number of inmates who completed education in prison and repeated arrest records for the estimated population, 2005-2015.
: to determine whether the client’s race affects his or her choice of a counselor and counseling experiences
: A counseling center in Washington, DC
: qualitative interviewing
: Interviews with clients representing an ethnic minority – African Americans and Latino/a users of counseling services.
As you can see, looking at these brief details of research, the committee may obtain the full understanding of what, when, why, and where you are going to research. Such a concise focus may guarantee your research an approval from the committee, which sets you on the actual writing track.
Citing and formatting a dissertation
The process of composition is definitely meaningful and significant, but when focusing on the content of research, some writers sacrifice the form of writing. This is a dreadful mistake, as reviewers focus on both content and form, and will never accept a work formatted wrongly. Both referencing style and format matter in the dissertation’s presentation; the most common citation styles used in dissertation writing are as follows:
- – the most common and widespread format for citation of works in all fields of science
- – not quite common for the dissertations, except for literary criticism and research
- – the most popular formatting choice in the UK and European countries
- – a widely accepted footnoting style of referencing popular in the British universities
- – another broadly accepted style using footnotes for citation
- – a frequently used citation style for legal writing.
Selecting one of the styles is usually the task of the university or the supervisor, not the student. However, even if the citation style is left to the researchers’ discretion (which is very rare), it is vitally important to stick to one style and follow it throughout the work. If you jump from one style to another one in different sections, the work is likely to be graded poorly and returned to you for refinement.
Besides the citation style, you should also think carefully about the overall format of the dissertation as a document. Theses and dissertations, as well as other academic assignments, are traditionally submitted both in the printed and digital format, so neglecting margins, spacing, and font instructions is not an option. Check your university guide for the format specifics, but if you have none, follow the most common format rules:
- Type the document on the standard A4 paper
- Use double spacing (or 1.5 spacing if it is specified) throughout the entire document
- Format headings and subheadings according to the referencing style you are using
- Use well-readable fonts (Times New Roman, Arial) of font size 12
- Don’t use italics and bolding without need
- Make sure to include all sections and pages into the document
Speaking about the components of dissertation as a document, it is necessary to include all additional pages that do not affect the dissertation’s content directly, but contribute to the overall correct appearance of the file:
- Title page with all writer credentials, the name of professor, the university for which research is conducted, and the project’s title
- Table of contents
- List of figures
- List of tables
- Declaration of originality
- References appendices
Depending on the contents and size of your dissertation, not all these sections may be necessary for your specific work, but overall, if the paper is large and comprehensive, they may all be appropriate.
Is abstract important?
An abstract is a short annotation to your research usually coming on the second page of your dissertation, right after the title page. As a rule, it is the only thing read by professional researchers or reviewers to determine whether the study is worth studying in detail. Hence, you should do your best for making an abstract comprehensive and detailed enough to reflect all specifics of your dissertation. In a one-page text, include such basic elements as:
- Identification of research focus
- Motivation of research and rationale behind the study
- Ways in which the study was conducted
- Summary of findings and results
- Major conclusions and recommendations.
This short synopsis of the dissertation’s key aspects helps professionals to see whether your work is relevant to their study, and if the abstract is written well, you may guarantee your work many scholarly citations.
The dreadful image of defense as an awful ordeal is indispensably connected with the process of producing a dissertation. What seems absolutely logical and entirely scholarly for you may be misunderstood or simply disregarded by the committee of experienced researchers. Indeed, this stage of research completion is indeed a challenge, since the very defense is directed towards revealing all flaws and weaknesses of the study and the candidate. The only piece of advice here is – relax and get ready for the defense. This event is a test of your knowledge and confidence in your research value; once you are able to prove it is logical, coherent, significant, and makes sense – the degree is yours. Here is what you should know to be fully ready for this test:
- The defense itself usually takes up to two hours dedicated to the discussion of the student’s research purposes, testing of methods’ reasonability, and scrutiny of findings
- Successful completion of the defense is possible if you prepare together with your supervisor, a person experienced with defenses, and get ready for potential challenges and confrontations
- Defenses end better if the researcher involves with the committee early in the writing process through a series of academic interchanges, so that they know the candidate and his/her work well before the day of actual defense
- It is much wiser to perceive the defense more as a ceremonial ritual than an exam, which will add you confidence and will help to streamline a productive discussion.
Additional tips for effective completion of dissertation reports
Now you’re done, congratulations! Here, we have collected all valuable tips and recommendations an expert writer may share with a novice beginner to simplify the process of completing a dissertation. A couple of finishing tips to make the entire composition easier are as follows:
- – instead of envisioning it as immediate self-expression. The dissertation should be built carefully, block by block, so you cannot expect quick and easy completion of such profound research work by pouring ideas spontaneously.
- – with the help of writing, you can arrange ideas and sequences in a helpful way. Laying out your ideas in writing helps to organize ideas that cannot be simultaneously held in your head for long.
- – during a conversation, the interlocutor is always able to give you feedback regarding whether you sound understandably or not.
Readers cannot ask for clarification, so you should always make sure that your writing is concise and explicit.
Good luck with all dissertation aspects and hurdles! In the end, after you reveal perseverance, hard work, and attention to detail, you will surely be content with an obtained degree, which is truly worth the trouble.