Guide to Writing a Dissertation

Guide to Writing a Dissertation


  1. Choose a Good, Well-Defined Topic

If you aren't focused on the topic you're writing about, it will be much harder to create a good paper. That's important to remember when you're looking for the right topic. Don't choose something that's too broad. You need a narrow focus so you can stay on topic and make sure you provide value to your readers as they examine your study.

  1. Do Your Research

Research is the most important part of your dissertation. The information you find on your topic will be transferred to your paper through quotes and properly-cited paraphrasing. Make sure you take good notes during your research time. You want to make sure you understood what you read while researching, and also where the information came from. Taking notes allows for that, and also helps you refer back to anything you might not be clear about when you start writing.

  1. Create Your Thesis Statement

The thesis statement is the cornerstone of your dissertation. It tells the reader what the paper will be about, and what you intend to prove or address throughout the document. Your thesis should be clear and specific, and should let the reader know which "side" you're on or what you will be arguing.

  1. Identify Your Problem, Purpose Statement, and Study Significance

The problem is what your study specifically addresses and hopes to solve or clarify. The purpose statement focuses on why you are conducting your study (i.e. what purpose does your study serve?). The study significance expands on the purpose statement and addresses why the study will have value for the greater community or society. If you can't determine why your study should be conducted or what purpose it will serve, you may have to adjust your problem statement or even your topic to make sure you have a topic and problem statement that will provide value to the reader.

  1. Create Your Research Questions and Hypotheses

The next step is to create your research question(s) and hypotheses. Some dissertations require both, and some only need one or the other. Unless you have specific instructions from your professor, you can choose which you use and how many of each you have. Make sure any questions or hypotheses you use in your paper can actually be studied and relate back to the topic and the problem statement.

  1. Write Your Introduction Chapter

Now you're ready to write your introduction chapter. You'll include your problem, purpose statement, and study significance, along with any other sections required by your professor or school. Many people include some background on the topic, too. Make sure your introduction chapter is a realistic length for the rest of your dissertation. If you have to write a total of 100 pages, your introduction shouldn't be two pages, but it shouldn't be 30, either. Strive for balance.

  1. Use the Research You Did to Write Your Literature Review

Next, you can start writing about all the research you did. Your literature review will likely be the longest chapter of your dissertation, especially if you're relying on it to provide a lot of information for the methodology and data analysis sections that come after it. In some 100 dissertations, the literature review can take up 50 to 60 pages. Your paper may vary, though, so follow the guidelines given by your instructor and make sure you cover past literature thoroughly. You want to make sure your reader has a clear picture of what other researchers have done in the past.

  1. Write Your Methodology Section

The methodology section is where you describe the study you're doing. How you're going to conduct that study and what variables you're using need to be addressed thoroughly and clearly. Your study should be able to be replicated by a researcher in the future, so your methodology has to be explained well enough to allow for that.

  1. Gather and Analyze Your Data

Once you've described how you're going to collect and analyze your data, it's time to do just that. Gather up all the data for your study, whether that comes from the literature review, surveys, interviews, observation, or any other method, and perform your analysis. You want to make sure your analysis is done correctly, so you can feel confident about the results.

  1. Write Up Your Analysis

When you write up your analysis, don't just say what you discovered. Make sure the reader understands how you analyzed the data, and whether there are any parts of the methodology that could not be completed for any reason. You should be clear on what you discovered.

  1. Interpret and Defend the Results of Your Study

Your analysis of the data is important, but you also have to show that you understand what the analysis means when relating it back to the problem, purpose, and significance of the study. Tell your readers what the results mean, and how they affect the problem. Defend what you've done and discovered, and show its value.

  1. Make Sure Your Reference Page is in the Right Style and Covers All Your Sources

Your sources should be properly cited throughout your dissertation, but you also need a reference page that includes all of them. Make sure to cite them in the style requested by your professor.

  1. Edit and Proofread Carefully Before Turning in Your Work

Don't turn in your work until you've edited and proofread it very carefully. You don't want simple mistakes to lower your grade. Reading your dissertation out loud can help you discover awkward wording or anything that doesn't make sense, so you can change it before you hand in the document.


-Depending on the requirements of your university, you may have to defend your dissertation orally. Make sure you understand the work you did and why it has value for the reader, so you can articulate that during your dissertation defense.

-Proofreading your dissertation is much more than just running Spellcheck. You want to make sure your grammar is right and all your sentences flow and make sense. Don't rely on Word or another document program to ensure your dissertation doesn't have errors.

-Start early. It's easy to procrastinate when you have weeks or even months before your dissertation is due, but it takes time to complete it. You don't want to have to rush at the end.

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