The essential guide to dissertation writing


A dissertation is a major academic project that showcases years of your research and knowledge in your study area. It’s a unique opportunity to contribute original knowledge and leave a mark on your academic community. In this guide, you’ll uncover valuable insights into each stage of dissertation writing. From figuring out your department’s rules to organizing your work, and from improving your writing skills to understanding the publication process, we offer complete guidance. Whether you’re tackling the theoretical framework, methodology, or the final steps of proofreading and editing, this guide is designed to assist you. It’s here to help you prepare a dissertation that’s not only well-researched and well-written but also impactful, setting you on the path to earning your PhD.

Understanding the terminology: Thesis vs. Dissertation

In academic writing, the terms “thesis” and “dissertation” are often used but can mean different things depending on where you are in the world. It’s important to understand these differences, especially when discussing your work or planning your academic journey.

  • United States:
    • Dissertation. This term is typically used to describe the extensive research project completed as part of a PhD program. It involves performing original research and contributing new knowledge to the field.
    • Thesis. In contrast, a ‘thesis’ in the US usually refers to a major paper written as part of a Master’s degree program, summarizing the research and findings on a particular subject.
  • United Kingdom and other countries:
    • Dissertation. In these regions, a ‘dissertation’ often refers to the significant project undertaken for an undergraduate or master’s degree. It’s usually less comprehensive than a PhD dissertation.
    • Thesis. The term ‘thesis’ here is more commonly associated with the final research project of a PhD. Like in the US, it represents a significant contribution to the field and is more extensive than the dissertations written for undergraduate or master’s degrees.

Understanding these differences is necessary for accurately representing your work and grasping the requirements of your academic program. Whether you’re talking about a master’s thesis or a doctoral dissertation, knowing the right term to use for your academic context is important for clear communication in the academic community.

Forming your dissertation committee and preparing the prospectus

As you move into the core stage of your dissertation, there are several key components to focus on that are critical to your project’s success. This includes strategically forming your dissertation committee and writing a detailed prospectus, along with continuous guidance and evaluation provided by these elements. Let’s break down each of these components to understand their roles and importance:

Forming the committee• Create a dissertation committee including your advisor and faculty members.
• They can be from your own department or others, especially for interdisciplinary research.
• The committee guides you from the beginning planning stages to the final defense.
Writing the prospectus• The prospectus or research proposal outlines research goals, methodology, and topic significance.
• It’s usually presented to your committee, sometimes in a spoken format.
• Prospectus approval allows you to start your research and writing.
Guidance and evaluation• The committee provides guidance, feedback, and suggestions for improvements.
• The committee guarantees your research stays on track.
• They evaluate your final dissertation and decide on the outcome of your defense, deciding if you qualify for a PhD.

Understanding the roles and processes outlined in this table is essential for navigating this step effectively. Each aspect plays a role in structuring your approach and receiving valuable feedback, helping you to improve your research and successfully complete your dissertation.

Moving from preparation to writing your dissertation

After selecting your dissertation committee and finalizing your prospectus, you’re ready to launch on the important step of writing and organizing your dissertation. This stage is essential, as it transforms your research into a formal academic document. Your dissertation’s structure will be influenced by the standards of your academic discipline and the specifics of your research topic. Below is an overview of the various structural elements to consider, designed for different types of dissertations and research approaches.

Structure -HumanitiesDissertations often resemble long essays, focusing on building a clear and unified argument to support a main thesis. Chapters are typically organized around various themes or case studies.
Structure – SciencesThese dissertations have a more segmented structure, including:
• Literature review of existing works.
• Methodology section detailing research approach.
• Analysis of original research findings.
• Results chapter presenting data and discoveries.
Adapting to your topicThe specifics of your topic might need variations from these general structures. The structure should be adapted to best suit the presentation of your research question.
Approach and styleThe approach (qualitative, quantitative, or mixed-methods) and writing style will shape the dissertation’s structure, designed to effectively communicate and justify the research.

Now, let’s delve into the key elements of a dissertation’s structure, from the title page to other crucial components, each playing an integral role in preparing a comprehensive academic document.


Title page

The title page of your dissertation serves as the formal gateway to your research, presenting critical information in a clear and organized manner. Your dissertation’s title page is the initial presentation of your academic project, summarizing essential details about you, your research, and your university association. The following elements are typically included on the title page:

  • Dissertation title. The main focus of your title page clearly states your research topic.
  • Your full name. Clearly shown to identify you as the author.
  • Academic department and school. Indicates where the dissertation is being submitted, related to your field of study.
  • Degree program registration. Specifies the degree you are seeking, linked to the dissertation.
  • Submission date. Signifies when your work was finished.

In addition to these main elements, the title page often includes your student ID number for identification within your academic institution, your supervisor’s name as a token of appreciation for their guidance, and, sometimes, the official logo of your university to add formal recognition to your document.

Acknowledgments or preface

The section for acknowledgments or a preface, while often not required, serves as a space to express gratitude to those who have contributed to your dissertation journey. This can contain:

  • Supervisors and mentors for their guidance and support.
  • Research participants who contributed valuable data or insights.
  • Friends and family who provided emotional and practical support.
  • Any other individuals or groups who played a role in your research process.

In some dissertations, your gratitude might be included in a preface section, where you can also give a brief summary or context of your research.

Dissertation abstract: A brief overview

The abstract of your dissertation is a brief yet powerful summary that provides a snapshot of your entire work. Usually, it ranges from 150 to 300 words in length. Despite its brevity, it plays a vital part in introducing your research to readers.

It’s best to write your abstract after completing the dissertation, ensuring it accurately reflects the entire content. The abstract typically includes:

  • An overview of your main research topic and objectives.
  • A brief description of the research methods employed.
  • A summary of the key findings or results.
  • A statement of your overall conclusions.

This section is the first interaction your audience has with your work, presenting a clear and brief overview of your dissertation.

Document organization and formatting essentials

Your dissertation is not only a showcase of your research but also a reflection of your attention to detail and organizational skills. Effective documentation and formatting are essential for presenting your work in a clear, professional way. Let’s dive into the needs of organizing and formatting your dissertation, covering aspects like the table of contents, lists of figures and tables, and more.

Table of contents

Your table of contents acts as a guide for your dissertation, clearly listing each chapter, its subheadings, and the corresponding page numbers. This not only provides a structured overview of your work but also helps in effortless navigation through your document.

It’s essential to include all the main sections of your dissertation in the table of contents, such as the appendices. For ease and consistency, use features like automatic table generation in word processing software, focusing on including significant headings (typically level 2 and 3) to keep clarity without overloading details.

List of tables and figures

In your dissertation, a well-prepared list of figures and tables can significantly improve the reader’s experience. This feature is especially useful if your work is rich in visual data. Here’s how it benefits your document:

  • Easy navigation. Readers can quickly find specific graphs, charts, or images, making your dissertation more user-friendly.
  • Visual reference. It acts as a visual index, giving a quick summary of all the graphical content.
  • Organization. Helps keep a structured and professional look, reflecting the thoroughness of your research.
  • Accessibility. Increases accessibility for readers who might look through the visuals before diving into the text.

Creating this list is straightforward in software like Microsoft Word, using tools such as the ‘Insert Caption’ feature. Although it’s not always required, including this list can greatly improve the clarity and impact of your dissertation.

Abbreviations list

Including a list of abbreviations in your dissertation is helpful if you use many specialized terms. Organize this list alphabetically to make it easy for readers to understand the abbreviations you’ve used. This list is useful for keeping your dissertation clear and reader-friendly, especially for those not well-versed in the specific language of your topic.


A glossary is an invaluable addition to your dissertation, particularly if it includes a variety of specialized terms. This section should be alphabetized for ease of use and contain brief descriptions or definitions of each term. By providing this, you guarantee that your dissertation remains accessible to a wider audience, including those who may not be experts in your specific field of study. It helps clarify complex jargon, making your research more understandable and engaging.

Preparing the introduction of your dissertation

The introduction is your opportunity to delight your audience’s interest and set the stage for your research. It acts as a gateway, leading the reader into the heart of your work. Here’s what an effective introduction includes:

  • Presenting your research topic. Begin by introducing your research topic. Provide essential background information to help readers understand the context and significance of your study. This includes historical perspectives, current debates, and relevant theories.
  • Limiting the scope. Define clearly the limits of your study. What parts of the subject will you examine, and what will you leave out? This helps to focus your study and guide your audience on what to expect.
  • Reviewing existing research. Discuss the current state of research in your field. Highlight key studies, note existing gaps, and illustrate how your work connects to and expands the existing body of knowledge.
  • Stating research questions and objectives. Clearly articulate the research questions you aim to answer or the objectives you seek to achieve. This provides a roadmap for your investigation and sets the expectations for your findings.
  • Outlining the dissertation’s structure. Briefly describe how your dissertation is organized. This overview helps readers navigate through your work and understand how each part contributes to the overall narrative.

Remember, the introduction should be interesting and informative, giving a small but exciting preview of your research. By the end of this section, your readers should clearly understand what your research is about, why it is important, and how you will approach it.


Review of literature

In conducting research, the literature review is a foundational element. It allows you to achieve an in-depth understanding of the academic work already done on your topic. This involves a systematic process, guaranteeing that your review is wide and unites with your research objectives.

The steps in this process include:

  • Identifying relevant literature. Find books and academic articles that are relevant to your research topic.
  • Evaluating source reliability. Assessing the authenticity and trustworthiness of these sources.
  • In-depth source analysis. Performing a thorough analysis of each source, focusing on its relevance and quality.
  • Outlining connections. Identifying links among sources, such as themes, patterns, differences, or unexplored areas.

A literature review is more than just a summary of existing research. It should present a structured narrative that explains the need for your study. Its objectives include addressing knowledge gaps, applying new perspectives, and proposing solutions or new viewpoints to ongoing debates.

By thoughtfully selecting, examining, and synthesizing literature, you set a solid foundation for your research. This validates your study’s importance and integrates it into the broader academic conversation, showcasing its unique contribution.

Framework of theories

The theoretical framework of your research often arises from your literature review. This is where you detail and examine the essential theories, concepts, and models that form the basis of your study. Its primary roles are:

  • Contextualizing your research. Positioning your study within the existing academic landscape, connecting it to relevant theories and concepts.
  • Guiding research methodology. Informing the planning and structuring of your research to match with the basic theories.

This framework is important as it not only provides an academic context to your research but also directs your methodological approach, offering clarity and structure.

Research methodology

The methodology chapter in your research paper is key in explaining how your research was conducted. This section not only outlines your research procedures but also shows the reliability and validity of your study. It’s essential to detail your actions in this chapter clearly and productively to demonstrate why your approach effectively addresses your research question. Your methodology should encompass the following elements:

  • Research approach & methods. Clarify whether you’re using a quantitative or qualitative approach, and specify the research methods used, such as a case study or a survey.
  • Data collection techniques. Describe how you collected your data, whether through interviews, surveys, experiments, or observations.
  • Research setting. Provide details about where, when, and with whom your research was conducted, offering context to your data.
  • Tools and supplies. List any specific tools, software, or equipment you used, such as specific software for data analysis or laboratory instruments.
  • Data analysis procedures. Explain how you analyzed the collected data, mentioning specific techniques like thematic analysis or statistical evaluation.
  • Method explanation. Critically evaluate and justify your chosen methods, explaining why they are suitable for your research goals.

In this section, it’s necessary to link your methodology to your research questions or hypotheses, showing how your chosen methods are tailored to uncover the answers you seek. By thoroughly detailing your methodology, you not only support the credibility of your research but also provide a roadmap for others who may wish to replicate or build upon your study in the future.

Presentation of research findings

The ‘Results’ section of your research paper should clearly present the findings obtained from your methodology. Organize this section logically, potentially around specific sub-questions, hypotheses, or identified themes. This part of your paper is for factual reporting, so avoid including any subjective interpretations or speculative comments.

The format of your results section—whether standalone or combined with the discussion—varies depending on your academic discipline. It’s important to consult your departmental guidelines for the preferred structure. Typically, in quantitative research, results are presented distinctly before delving into their interpretation. Key elements to include in your ‘Results’ section are:

  • Presentation of findings. Clearly outline each significant result along with appropriate statistical measures like means, standard variations, test statistics, and p-values.
  • Result relevance. Briefly indicate how each finding correlates with your research questions or hypotheses, noting whether the hypothesis was supported or not.
  • Extensive reporting. Include all findings that are related to your research questions, even those that may have been unexpected or different from your initial hypotheses.

For additional information, such as raw data, complete questionnaires, or interview transcripts, consider adding them in an appendix. Tables and figures are valuable inclusions if they help in clarifying or highlighting your results, but should be used carefully to maintain focus and clarity.

By presenting your results effectively, you not only validate your research methodology but also lay the groundwork for the subsequent discussion and analysis within your paper.


Following the presentation of your research findings, the next essential section in your paper is the ‘Discussion.’ This segment provides a platform for you to delve into the significance and broader implications of your research findings. It’s here that you’ll interpret your results completely, discussing how they align with your initial expectations and the theoretical framework based on earlier sections. Linking back to the literature you reviewed earlier helps contextualize your findings within the existing body of research in your field. In your discussion, consider addressing these key aspects:

  • Interpreting results. What is the deeper meaning behind your findings? How do they contribute to the existing knowledge in your field?
  • Significance of the findings. Why are your results important? What impact do they have on the understanding of your research topic?
  • Acknowledging limitations. What are the limitations of your results? How might these limitations affect the interpretation and relevance of your findings?
  • Exploring unexpected outcomes. If you experience any surprising results, offer possible explanations. Are there alternative ways to interpret these findings?

By thoroughly exploring these questions, you not only demonstrate a deep understanding of your research but also show how it fits into and contributes to the broader academic conversation.

Conclusion: Summarizing and reflecting on the research findings

In the conclusion of your dissertation, your main goal is to briefly answer the central research question, providing your reader with an ideal understanding of your key argument and the contributions your research has made to the field.

Depending on your academic discipline, the conclusion can either be a brief section before the discussion or the final chapter of your dissertation. This is where you summarize your findings, reflect on your research journey, and suggest routes for future exploration. The structure and focus of your conclusion may vary, but it generally includes:

  • Summarizing key findings. Briefly restate the main discoveries of your research.
  • Reflecting on the research. Share insights achieved and how they have shaped your understanding of the topic.
  • Recommending future research. Identify potential areas for further investigation that your research has opened up.
  • Highlighting research significance. Articulate the importance of your work and its implications for the field.

Your conclusion should not only tie all your research threads together but also highlight its necessity and relevance. It’s your opportunity to emphasize what new knowledge or perspective your research has introduced and how it lays the groundwork for further study in your field. By leaving a lasting impression of the significance and potential impact of your work, you commit your readers and contribute to the ongoing academic discourse.


Defending your dissertation

Once your written dissertation has been approved, the next step is the defense, which involves an oral presentation of your work to your committee. This is a critical stage where you’ll:

  • Present your work. Explain the key aspects of your dissertation, highlighting your research findings and contributions.
  • Answer committee questions. Engage in a Q&A session where committee members will ask about various aspects of your research.

Post-defense, the committee will reflect and subsequently inform you of your passing status. It’s important to note that by this stage, the most significant issues with your dissertation should have been previously addressed. The defense typically serves as a formal acknowledgment of your work’s completion and an opportunity for constructive feedback, rather than a final test or assessment.

Publication and sharing of research

As you move from finishing your dissertation to publishing your research, it’s important to navigate the publication process effectively. This involves several key steps, from selecting the right journal to handling ethical considerations. The table below briefly outlines these stages, highlighting the actions you need to take and the important factors to consider at each step to guarantee a smooth and successful publication journey.

StageKey actionsConsiderations
Choosing the right journals• Identify journals relevant to your research.
• Consider impact factors and audience.
• Decide between open access and traditional publishing.
• Relevance to topic.
• Reach and reputation of the journal.
• Cost and accessibility of publishing.
The submission process• Prepare and shorten your dissertation for publication.
• Follow specific formatting and submission guidelines.
• Write a compelling cover letter.
• Commitment to journal standards.
• Clarity and impact of research presentation.
• Effective communication of the study’s significance.
Overcoming challenges• Engage with the peer review process.
• Respond to rejections constructively.
• Be patient with the publication timeline.
• Openness to feedback and revisions.
• Strength in the face of rejection.
• Understanding of the time-consuming nature of academic publishing.
Ethical considerations• Ensure originality and proper citation.
• Clearly define authorship and acknowledgments.
Avoiding plagiarism.
• Ethical recognition of contributions.

Completing your research publication is a vital step in your academic journey. The guidelines in the table are designed to streamline this process. Each stage, from journal selection to ethical considerations, is key to effectively sharing your work with the wider academic community. Approach this process with care and attention to detail to successfully publish your research and contribute to your field.

Finalizing your dissertation

Before finalizing your dissertation, certain elements are essential to ensure its academic rigor and integrity. Here’s a brief guide to these key components.

Reference list

A comprehensive reference list is a must in your dissertation. This section acknowledges the sources you’ve used, safeguarding against plagiarism. Consistency in citation style is critical. Whether you use MLA, APA, AP, Chicago, or another style, it should unite within your department’s guidelines. Each citation style has its unique formatting rules, so keeping to these specifics is important.

Here you can look at another one of our articles, which is about correctly using quotations in writing.


The main body of your dissertation should directly address your research question in a focused and concise manner. To keep this clarity, additional materials can be included in the appendices. This approach guarantees that the main text stays clean while still providing essential background information. Items typically included in the appendices are:

  • Interview transcripts. Detailed records of interviews conducted during your research.
  • Survey questions. Copies of questionnaires or surveys used to gather data.
  • Detailed data. Extensive or complex data sets that support your findings but are too large for the main text.
  • Additional documents. Any other relevant documents that contribute to your research but are not critical to include in the main body.

By using appendices for these materials, you confirm that your dissertation remains focused and reader-friendly.

Proofreading and editing

The quality of your writing is as important as the content. Give enough time for thorough editing and proofreading. Grammatical errors or typos can significantly detract from your dissertation’s credibility. Considering the years invested in your research, it’s vital to guarantee your dissertation is polished and error-free. Professional editing services, such as those offered by our platform, can be valuable tools for improving your dissertation to perfection.


Wrapping up your dissertation marks a significant landmark in your academic journey. It’s a reflection of your hard work, research abilities, and commitment to your field. Each section, from the detailed literature review to the critical discussions, contributes to a broad and insightful scholarly work.
Remember, your dissertation is not just a requirement for your PhD; it’s a contribution to your field that can inspire and inform future research. As you finalize your work, from proofreading to possibly seeking professional editing, do so with a sense of accomplishment and confidence in the impact your research will have. This is not just the end of a significant chapter in your academic life but also the beginning of a promising future as a contributor to the world of knowledge.

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