Your guide to writing a Dissertation
The crowning achievement of an advanced degree is a dissertation. A dissertation is a lengthy paper written about a research project that the student has carried out. The page count of the dissertation varies according the the degree and the field in which the student is earning his or her degree. The number of pages can be as low as 100, or upwards of 300 pages in length. The dissertation is usually the capstone to the degree program and is written after the student has completed his or her coursework.
Differences Between a Dissertation and a Thesis
In the United Kingdom and much of Europe, the term "dissertation" refers to a project carried out as part of the requirements for any post-graduate degree, such as a master's degree or a doctoral degree (some undergraduate degrees also have this requirement in the final year). However, in the United States, only a project required for completing a doctoral degree is called a "dissertation." A project required for completing a master's degree is called a "thesis."
Goals of a Dissertation
No matter if the dissertation is completed for a master's degree or a doctorate degree, the goal of the dissertation is similar: to prove that the student is an expert in their chosen field and is capable of carrying out research independently. This is important because many students who complete a post-graduate degree, particularly a PhD, will spend a large portion of their careers conducting research, or will need to know how to understand the latest research in their field to stay current in their job skills.
Tone and Audience
The tone of a dissertation is academic. Formal language and longer sentences should be used. The audience is the student's dissertation committee, who will ultimately decide whether the student passes or fails the project. Because the audience is expert, industry jargon and academic terms are acceptable, so long as the student takes care to define their meaning.
Stages of the Dissertation
The student must first devise the research project and receive the appropriate permissions to carry it out. The student will need to develop a dissertation proposal and receive approval from their dissertation committee, as well as an institutional review board at the university if the project involves human or animal subjects. After the proposal is approved, the student carries out the research and writes the dissertation. Once the dissertation is completed, the student submits the dissertation to their committee for approval. In most cases, the student will have to present their research in a public forum and successfully answer questions about the project. This is known as the "dissertation defense." If the committee passes the dissertation and defense, the student will graduate with his or her degree.
Parts of the Dissertation
The structure of the dissertation varies widely by the field. As a result, it is important to look at many examples of dissertations in the field before planning and carrying out the project.
Most dissertations have the following parts: introduction and problem statement, literature review, methods section, results, discussion, and references.
- The introduction discusses the problem and provides background. This portion is important because it justifies the research project and provides context.
- The literature review covers the research that has already been conducted on the subject. After reading the literature review, the audience should have a god sense of what the student is trying to accomplish and how his or her research fits into the overall discussion of the topic.
- The methods (or methodology) section describes the manner in which the student conducted the research. This section must be explained in fine detail and provide references for other research projects that have used similar methods.
- The results section provides the data that the student found as a result of the project. If the methods were quantitative in nature, the student might present the statistical results, for example, as well as any graphs and charts that help to illustrate the data.
- The discussion explains the results, explains the implications of the results, and provides direction for future research.
- The references list each of the research projects used or mentioned in the dissertation.
Parts of a dissertation
Our guide to each individual part of your dissertation will help you understand exactly what is required at each stage, and will provide you with plenty of useful tips and advice for maximising your marks.
The ultimate dissertation writing guide
For a more comprehensive start-to-finish walk through of the dissertation writing process, check out our ultimate dissertation writing guide. Written by a seasoned academic with years of experience in researching, editing and marking dissertations, it will help you get the edge when producing your own piece of work.
Subject-specific thesis/dissertation guides
These brief guides give a subject-specific overview of how to write your dissertation, depending on what field of study you have chosen.
Research proposal guides
These brief guides offer an insight into what you need to include in your research proposal for various areas of study.