Planning a dissertation isn't like planning a small research paper. Often, dissertations are 100 pages or more, and they can take a very long time to put together. That's especially true if they're for a doctoral level degree, where they have to be defended in front of a committee in order for a degree to be awarded. The idea of writing and defending one can be frightening, but if you focus on good planning you'll be much more likely to provide a high-quality dissertation that will receive a good grade and be easier to create and defend. The planning of a dissertation is about much more than the writing, so start early.
1. Consider the Commitment You'll be Making
The writing of a dissertation can take weeks or months, and it's not something you can just throw together and turn in. It may be possible to get away with rush jobs on smaller papers, but a dissertation must be high quality and has to be something that could, technically, be published when it is completed. It hast to bring something new to the field in which you're studying, and also be something that can be replicated by other researchers. Until you've reached the level of commitment and focus necessary to follow through to the end of a dissertation, it is best not to focus on one. There is simply too much required of a person who is creating and defending a dissertation for the commitment not to be a strong one.
2. Decide What Your Dissertation Will Focus On
When you've committed to getting started on your dissertation and seeing it through, it's time to decide what the focus of that dissertation will be. Simple ideas won't be acceptable, and you'll need to come up with something that either hasn't been done before or that hasn't been done in the same way before. Both of those can be excellent choices, depending on what field your research will be in. By the time you've gotten to the point in your educational career where you're ready to do a dissertation, you'll generally have a good idea of what you want it to be on and what really interests you. Take that interest and turn it into something you can study and that would be of interest and value to others, and you'll have a good subject for your dissertation. Then you can move forward.
3. Do Your Research
Picking a subject is only the beginning of your journey. Once you've chosen it, you'll need to begin the research process. If you can find too much on your exact subject, it won't be specific or unique enough. If you can't find much at all on anything that has to do with your subject in any way, you may not have enough research to create a good literature review. There is a balance to be struck between not enough information and something that has already been done. That's why doing research early on is so very important, so you can find out whether the subject you chose is going to be the right one for your dissertation or whether you need to make changes in order to be successful with the course of study you're planning. Some dissertation literature reviews are dozens of pages long and use a significant number of sources, so make sure you have that level of literature available to you.
4. Make Adjustments to Your Focus
Throughout the course of researching for your literature review, you may find that your focus changes a bit. Some particular aspect of your subject may deeply interest you, or you may have to adjust based on what kind of literature is available to you. Both of those are completely acceptable, and this focus adjustment is a very important step in fine-tuning what you're going to be writing about for your dissertation. Once you've been through that tune-up process, you're ready to get started.
5. Get Permission if You're Conducting a Study
If you're going to be conducting a study that uses human subjects – even if you're just handing out five-question, yes/no surveys around campus or at the mall – your school may require that you get permission to do so. This is done in order to ensure there aren't any ethical laws being broken, and that you're not doing anything that could be damaging to your study participants. For many studies this is only a formality, but if your college or university requires it be sure you get it done as soon as possible. You could be in violation of school policies otherwise, which could cause you trouble with the completion of your dissertation and could result in disciplinary action.
6. Collect Your Data
Collecting your data can take a few hours or as long as several months, depending on what type of data you're collecting and how you're going about acquiring it. For those who are focused on short surveys of random people, an afternoon may be enough to get the appropriate number of responses. Studies that are designed to be much more specific in nature can require emails, phone calls, or postal mailings that can extend the time to conduct the research and collect the data by a significant amount. Make sure you use only ethical methods to collect your data, and that you store it safely.
7. Write Your Dissertation, Chapter By Chapter
With your data collected, you can begin the writing of your dissertation. Some people will couple this step with the data collection, if they have a collection method that is going to take a long time. That allows them to write the other parts of the dissertation (introduction and literature review, as well as the methodology chapter) while they're waiting for the data to come back to them. That's also an acceptable way to handle the writing of your dissertation, and can work well for some studies.
8. Prepare Your Abstract, Front and Back Matter, and Reference List
Dissertations will generally have title pages, abstracts, acknowledgements, appendices, and required forms, along with references lists. Go through any of that you've already created and make sure it's accurate and updated. Add in anything you've forgotten or haven't completed. Then, make sure it all conforms to your required style of referencing, so you don't end up losing valuable points on something that could have so easily been avoided. Once you've done all of that, carefully edit and proofread your dissertation before you turn it in. That can help you catch simple mistakes that could become a problem for you, and avoid sending in a dissertation with spelling errors and other issues. Once your dissertation has been turned in, you'll wait to be contacted regarding whether it was accepted and what steps you'll take next, as these can vary based on your educational institution.