A dissertation is a major piece of original research work that PhD candidates must complete to earn their doctoral degree. It is much longer and more in-depth than a thesis or research paper. Writing a dissertation is a challenging process that requires extensive research, analysis, writing and editing. This article provides an overview of what a dissertation is, its purpose and components as well as a comprehensive guide on how to write one.
What is a Dissertation?
A dissertation is an independent, extensive research project completed by a student as part of the requirements to earn a doctoral degree. It is the culmination of years of graduate-level work, involving extensive research on an original topic selected by the PhD candidate. Typically between 100-500 pages, the dissertation showcases the student’s subject-matter expertise through a substantial written work based on original research.
The main purposes of a dissertation are to:
– Make an original contribution of knowledge to the field of study
– Show mastery over the candidate’s subject area
– Demonstrate candidate’s ability to theorize, conceptualize research, and critically analyze findings
– Present and defend scholar work to a committee of experts
– Get prepared for an academic career that involves research-based writing
A great guide to dissertation writing at the link
Components of a Dissertation
An abstract is a short summary of a dissertation, usually just one concise paragraph (150-300 words). It briefly introduces the research topic, outlines key questions, explains the methods, summarizes the most significant findings and main conclusions.
The introduction chapter sets context for the topic and research. It begins with background information introducing the broad overall topic leading to the specific research problem. It justifies the relevance and value of the research, reviews previous work in the area and identifies research gaps. The introduction concludes by stating the research aims, questions and/or hypotheses.
This critical analysis of existing literature evaluates what other scholars have written about the student’s research topic or area. It synthesizes major works in the field to position the student’s own research within existing knowledge. The review outlines the current theories, key contributors, agreements and opposing viewpoints, unresolved issues and identified research gaps.
The methodology chapter details how the research was conducted. It provides a framework and rationalization for chosen methods aligned with aims and questions. Every design choice regarding data sources, variables, sample population, data collection tools and analytical techniques is presented and justified. Limitations to the methodology are also acknowledged.
This presents the research findings and analysis without making judgments or drawing conclusions about their meaning. Findings are conveyed through a combination of text, figures and tables in a logical manner aligned with the original research aims and questions. Statistical analysis techniques may also be included where applicable.
In this chapter, key findings are interpreted and discussed in relation to the initial research aims, questions and existing literature. Results are examined from every important angle to construct an evidence-based narrative. Challenges, alternative explanations and suggestions for further research may also be identified.
The conclusion chapter provides a brief summary restating the overall research problem, key methods, most significant results and main contributions and implications in light of previous work. Remaining gaps where more research would be beneficial are acknowledged.
How to Write a Dissertation
Choosing a Topic
Students choose dissertation topics aligned with their field of study and key research interests. Topics are narrowed down through a gap-spotting process within existing literature. A good dissertation topic addresses explored but unresolved key issues that need further investigation. There should also be adequate theoretical grounding and scope to undertake original research.
Conducting a Literature Review
Students must comprehensively review existing academic works concerning their research topic. Through databases like Google Scholar and Web of Science, hundreds of peer-reviewed journal articles, published papers, scholarly books and other academic sources across decades are analyzed. Research gaps and trajectories for an original contribution become visible after thoroughly examining the progression of theories, debates, methodologies and findings on the topic so far.
Developing a Research Question and Hypothesis
The literature review aids in refining a specific research question and hypothesis aligned with gaps spotted in existing works. Research questions frame the investigative path while hypotheses present testable propositions. Aligning these tightly with the literature review sets the foundation for the student to advance knowledge in the field through an original inquiry-based investigation.
Selecting a Research Methodology
Choosing an appropriate methodology depends on the research question, required data, participants, variables, review of successfully utilized methods in similar past studies and practical considerations around schedules and resources. Methodologies usually involve qualitative, quantitative or mixed designs. They outline systematic plans for data collection and analysis techniques.
Collecting and Analyzing Data
The methodology sets the plan but data collection and analysis involves meticulous gathering of relevant data points and evidence and subjecting them to appropriate analytical techniques. For primary data it may mean surveys, interviews or experiments from where raw data is produced. Secondary data can come from existing sources of evidence. Data analysis utilizes statistical, coding or other tools to generate systematic insights.
Writing and Editing the Dissertation
With all the research components culminating, the dissertation writing phase begins. Chapters are progressively written aligned to the standard dissertation structure. Arguments and positionings need to be well-evidenced through gathered data. Academic writing style and formatting guidelines prevail. Attention needs to be placed on coherence, cohesion and flow across chapters. Extensive review cycles and implementation of committee feedback leads to finalizing the initial complete draft.
Completing and Defending Your Dissertation
Finalizing Your Dissertation
After initial complete draft submission to the doctoral committee, a rigorous process of review and updates takes place across a few months. Feedback can necessitate strengthening literature connections, providing more evidenced analysis, suggestions for better data display, queries about methods or conclusions, revising chapter sections or updating references. Multiple drafts get iterated before the final dissertation is approved for defense.
Preparing for the Defense
Preparing for an oral examination in front of the dissertation committee is essential. Answering likely questions, queries and challenges from reviewers across methodology, analysis and findings needs practice. Working closely with the supervisor to anticipate questions and rehearse reasoned responses through mock sessions is key. Slide decks are prepared outlining critical facets of the dissertation journey highlighting key milestones, insights and takeaways.
Defending Your Dissertation
The oral dissertation defense is an examination before the doctoral committee testing the candidate’s subject matter expertise. Questions can range from methodological choices to evidence behind interpretations. Diplomatic yet reasoned clarification and elaboration in the face of criticism is imperative. The aim is to convince reviewers of command over the research and to successfully transition from student to peer. Passing the defense is required to finally attain that doctoral degree.
A dissertation is the pinnacle of a PhD student’s investigative academic journey in their chosen field. It requires identification of original meaningful research avenues through exhaustive reviews of existing works. Rigorously planning and undertaking investigations using disciplined methodologies leads to evidence-based insights that incrementally advance a field’s established knowledge. With perseverance and meticulous effort, a dissertation in all its complexity ultimately manifests into a substantial piece of work showcasing a student’s subject-matter expertise. The entire journey also transforms the student, forging an independent capable scholar.