Dissertation & Thesis Writing Guide
While at university, who haven’t undertaken a dissertation or thesis- the most significant assignment that all students carry out as part of their degree completion at university? A dissertation is a document comprising of a student’s findings and assumptions on an issue or subject and is submitted to a concerned authority for acquiring an educational degree. Also, it is considered as a major indicator of a student’s genuine abilities as a researcher.
By developing assumptions and arguments with regards to framed objectives and questions, dissertations are usually divided into chapters that encompass a thorough investigation of an issue or subject. While selecting a topic for dissertations, researchers hold the pivotal role as in most of the cases; the topic selection is based on the interest, acquaintance and knowledge level of a researcher. Since various factors such as time, cost, accessibility, credibility etc. have a crucial function in attaining the successful accomplishment of a dissertation; a huge task is on researchers to negotiate risks arising with respect to selecting an apt and relevant topic for conducting their dissertations. Despite this, an accepted format in drafting theses has to be adopted by researchers as well as performing a dissertation by keeping in mind the given deadline is also as important as topic selection, formulation of objectives and finding results.
Hence, a good dissertation will
- Contain a clear objective that set with regard to a workable question or assumptions.
- Be properly planned and extensively researched.
- Verify that the student possesses a good understanding of important ideas and also, is capable of applying those ideas with a practical point of view.
- Contain observation, critical assessment and discussion more than a simple, direct explanation.
- Provide a coherent and accurate citation.
- Be organized and planned as well as delivered in an accepted academic manner.
1. Topic selection
- Make use of library facilities with which you may get already published journals, research papers, dissertations etc. Acquire maximum background information on your area of interest.
- Be flexible. Talk to your peers, advisors, experts on the fields etc. as they would help you to shorten an unwieldy area and may propose suggestions for narrowing down to a finite topic.
- Select a feasible and workable topic. Delimit your topic from broader and vague area into a narrowed topic since lots of students seem to change their topics as they commence research work. Also, think about time, cost and other possible limitation that you may encounter while carrying out your study.
- Choose a topic that reveals your interest. Opt for a topic that you are ardent about.
- Keep in mind the variables that you are going to work on. Think of how those variables would affect the academic value, length, wideness and depth of your research study.
- Finally, define your selected topic as a focused question for effectively conducting your research.
2. Planning your research
- Plan your research carefully since your research would be the central commitment that you are going to make with respect your course completion.
- Frame a viable timetable and follow it. This is to avoid last minute excuses and confusion.
- Allocate sufficient time for obtaining books and other reference materials. Find enough time for drafting questionnaires and data collection process. Often, attaining primary data would seem difficult and hence, you need to ensure that you keep a good relationship with your sources.
- Submitting a proposal would help you to perform your research study in an effective way.
- Prior to the submission, already find someone for proofreading your draft.
3. Drafting your proposal
A proposal is a logical and brief summary of your planned research study. It encompasses the key issue or problem that you are aiming to cover and also includes a broad area of your study, backing with ample existing knowledge as well as current discussions on the topic. Often, proposal is a negotiated document as the drafting process requires researcher to write, rewrite and resubmit. Hence, consider your proposal as an introduction to your research thesis.
When drafting a research proposal,
- You are establishing a link between your existing knowledge and your thesis work.
- Make sure your proposal does not offer a whole chapter- for instance, not a detailed or comprehensive literature review.
- Keep in mind that your thesis is not a replica of your proposal. You would have to refine the scope, assumption, methods and arguments as you perform your study.
- Bear in mind that your proposal is to assist you to assume in practical implications, no to restrict your points.
- You need to be adept in basic grammar and formattingrules- in proposal writing, usually present and future tenses are followed. Also, avoid writing in first and second person. Do not use dialects, abbreviations, puns, collocations etc. in the proposal. Shun wordiness in the lines as well as complexity and ambiguity. Keep your language simple and jargon-free.
- Follow an approved format, or else the format given you as a template. If you cannot find any guidelines, then ask your supervisor or advisor who will be marking your thesis about their preferences. Write in third person and also, make sure that the voice and person are consistent throughout. Pay attention to page layout, numbering, font style and type, line spacing, illustrations and graphics.
Generally, a proposal will have,
- Title page
A working title to focus on your research study is the core of any title page. However, exact title can only be fixed as you perform the research study. A good title also indicates the sort of study you will carry out. Besides, your personal data including name, course or academic title, supervisor, name of university etc. are generally given in the title page. However, there is likely to be a required format for the title page in your discipline, so you need to check what that is.
- Introduction - Begin with your reasons for undertaking this particular study.
Set your ideas into a theoretical or academic context. By summarizing the problem or issue, you need to elucidate what is the necessity of investigating this issue. Additionally, explain the purpose and nature of your research study. Specify what you are going to achieve.
Aims and objectives are the principal focus of your research study. While writing your aims and objectives, use strong verbs. Furthermore, you will be required to produce sufficient objectives to be able to measure progress towards meeting the aims and objective.
- Include an intention or aspiration; what you hope to achieve.
- Be written in broad terms.
- Specify what you hope to achieve at the end of the project.
Objectives set for performing a study may often follow S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound).
Besides, objectives should:
- Be a goal or a step on the way to meeting the aim; how you will achieve it.
- Use specific statements which define measurable outcomes.
- Literature review - Uses a descriptive writing approach and explains the existing and established theory and research in your report area by providing a context for your work. This chapter shows where you are filling a perceived gap in the existing theory or knowledge and also can propose something that goes against or is controversial to existing ideas. Accurately mention accurately references of all sources that you use in your literature review.
- Methodology - needs to explain what methods you intend to use when researching and developing your research study. Also, provide explanation for how your chosen research methods assist you to successfully carry out your study.
- Scope and constraints - set the boundaries clearly in this section since you may often have too much material to cover, so, you will need to put some limits, for instance, constraints imposed by time, cost or availability of materials etc. that you are likely facing while carrying out your study.
- Timetable - provides an outline of the sections along with a proposed scheduling regarding the completion of different chapters that would include in the dissertation study. Most often, your schedule should be designed to fit in with the university timetable. In the outline, you need to give the suggested chapters headings as well.
- References - imply to the list that acknowledges your sources of information by protecting your work from plagiarism. Additionally, follow an approved referencing guide if you are not directed to follow a specific style.
4. Drafting your thesis
A finished thesis will have,
- Cover page
- Title page
- Statement of originality and authenticity/certificate
- Table of contents
- Contents, list of figures or illustrations
- Chapter 1 - Introduction
- Chapter 2 - Literature review
- Chapter 3 - Methodology
- Chapter 4 - Findings, analysis and discussion
- Chapter 5 - Conclusions and recommendations
- Reference list / bibliography
Most of the dissertations have to be bound and need to have an official cover page. You can get the cover page from your faculty office.
- If a template is provided for the title page you can adopt that given format in the dissertation.
- Contents- title, your name, name of the faculty, qualification for which the dissertation is a part, name of the institute and university, date of submission of the dissertation.
- Choose a working title to concentrate on throughout the research
- The topic chosen for the dissertation should convey the main essence of the research which includes identification of variables under discussion and also the relationship between them.
Statement of Originality and Authenticity/ Certificate
- By giving statement of originality and authenticity of your dissertation, you are confirming your work written by yourself that satisfies your university rules and regulations with respect to Plagiarism and Collusion.
- In this section you should mention the gratitude for the help received from faculties, facilities offered by the institute.
- Mention about the organization or company that helped you in successfully completing the research study.
- The Abstract gives the summary of a dissertation and provides sufficient information on the research topic.
- Depicts the main concept of the dissertation, the aims and objectives, methodology and implications of the research study.
- The word limit should be less than 300 words, and the contents should be intelligible and complete.
- Should mention the key words that are used in the dissertation.
Contents, list of figures or illustrations
- Provides the structure of the research.
- Includes section and subsection headings and its associated page.
- If your dissertation includes figures, list them along with their associated pages in a table of figures.
CHAPTER 1 - Introduction
This chapter makes a case for the significance of the problem, contextualizes the study, and provides an introduction to its basic components.
- Includes a concise explanation of the research topic, the research objectives, aims, and research questions.
- Helps to organize the research proposal and the final dissertation
- The introduction presents the problem that the paper addresses.
- Overview of purpose and focus of the study, why it is significant, how it was conducted, and how it will contribute to professional knowledge and practice.
- Provides the contextual framework of the research and the perceived research gap.
- Motivation for the research- why did you choose this particular topic/question?
- Relevance/Importance of the research
- Purpose and Significance: Describes study purpose in a logical, explicit manner. Provides full rationale for why study is important and how it will contribute to professional knowledge and practice.
CHAPTER 2 - Literature review
This chapter situates the study in the context of previous research, presents a critical synthesis of empirical literature according to relevant themes or variables, justifies how the study addresses a gap or problem in the literature, and outlines the theoretical or conceptual framework of the study.
- Introduction: Describes the content, scope, and organization of the review as well as the strategy used in the literature search.
- Clearly related to the problem statement, research questions and/or hypotheses.
- Reviews of primary sources that are mostly recent empirical studies from scholarly journals.
- Logically organized by theme, subtopic, or variable from broad to narrow (funnel design).
- Synthesizes findings across studies; compares/contrasts different research outcomes, perspectives, or methods.
- Notes gaps, debates, or shortcomings in the literature and provides a rationale for the study.
CHAPTER 3 - Research methodology
This chapter situates the study in a particular methodological tradition, provides a rationale for that approach, describes the research setting and sample, and describes data collection and analysis methods.
- Introduction: states research questions, hypotheses, and variables (if relevant). Describes organization of chapter.
- Research design or tradition: Describes research approach used with rationale for its suitability for addressing the research questions.
- Research setting/context: Describes and justifies selection of the research setting, with background information on research settings.
- Theoretical/conceptual framework: Outlines theory that is tested in study or conceptual framework that informs the study.
Research sample and data sources:
- Explains and justifies type of sample used and how participants were selected (including population, sampling frame, and sampling procedures for quantitative or mixed methods studies).
- Describes characteristics and size of sample (all) and/or data set (quantitative/mixed methods only, if applicable).
- Describes how the rights of participants were protected, with reference to conventions of research ethics.
Instruments and Procedures:
- Quantitative and Mixed Methods: Describes and justifies type of instrument(s) such as survey, etc., gives name/source, explains concepts measured calculation of scores/values.
- Qualitative: Describes and justifies any instruments used, such as interview, focus group or observation protocols, with reference to appendices.
- Data collection: Describes and justifies data collection methods and procedures, including how, when, where, and by whom data were collected.
- Data analysis: Describes and justifies methods and statistical tools (if applicable) used for analysis. Discusses measures taken to enhance study validity. Summarizes results of pilot studies, if applicable.
Limitations and delimitations: Identifies potential weaknesses of the study and the scope of the study.
Summary- as overview of methodology: Outlines methodological type/approach, research setting, sample, instrumentation (if relevant), and methods of data collection and analysis used.
CHAPTER 4 - Findings, analysis and discussion
This chapter organizes and reports the study’s main results or findings, including the presentation of relevant quantitative (statistical) and/or qualitative (narrative) data.
- Introduction: Provides a brief summary of and rationale for how data were analyzed. Describes organization of chapter according to research questions/hypotheses, theoretical/conceptual framework, or thematic scheme.
- Interpretation of graphs
- Measures obtained are reported clearly and accurately, following standard procedures.
- Results are presented in a logical manner in both statistical form (through tables and figures) and narrative form that reports and explains the statistical results. Some tables and figures may be deferred to the appendices.
- Headings are used to guide the reader through the results according to research questions, variables, or other appropriate organizational scheme.
- Findings build logically from the problem, research questions, and design.
- Findings are presented in clear narrative form using plentiful quotes, stories, and “thick description”. Narrative data are connected and synthesized through substantive explanatory text and visual displays (charts), if applicable, not simply compiled.
- Headings are used to guide the reader through the results according to research questions, themes, or other appropriate organizational scheme.
- Inconsistent, discrepant, or unexpected data are noted with discussion of possible alternative explanations.
CHAPTER 5 - Conclusions and recommendations
This chapter interprets and discusses the results in light of the study’s research questions, literature review, and conceptual framework, concluding with recommendations for policy and practice and action plan (if applicable).
- Introduction: Provides an overview of the chapter’s organization and content.
- Summary of the study: Provides a “stand alone” description of the study to include a brief overview of the problem, purpose statement, research questions/hypotheses, methodology, and summary of major findings, with an emphasis on answering the research questions.
- Discussion: Provides an in-depth interpretation, analysis, and synthesis of the results/findings.
- Relates the results/findings to the larger body of literature and the conceptual/theoretical framework from Chapter II, as well as interpretive themes or patterns that emerged from analysis (qualitative). Reflects on study’s contribution to the field
- Restates the study’s limitations and discusses generalizability of the findings to broader populations or other settings and conditions (if applicable).
- Implications for policy and practice: Recommendations for change in policy and practice based on the results and findings. Recommendations for specific action planning and next steps, if applicable.
- Recommendations for future research: Describes topics that may need closer examination and may generate a new round of research questions for further study.
- Concluding statement: Ends the dissertation with strong, clear, concise “take-away message” for the reader.
- Include all works cited in the dissertation in alphabetical order by author and follow the format advised you to undertake. There is APA, MLA, Harvard etc. reference guides to assist researchers.
- Include list of journals, books, websites that you have read (you may or may not have cited it in your actual writing/chapters).
- Research instruments used, additional statistical data or other materials, with each item given a letter or number and listed in table of contents
- Interview transcripts
- Survey/Interview questionnaire
- Any additional information
Writing and format
- Scholarly (i.e., the language is accurate, balanced, specific rather than overly general, tentative regarding conclusions, grounded in previous scholarship and evidence).
- Direct and precise.
- Clear and comprehensible, without excessive jargon; specialized terms are used correctly.
- Logical and coherent, with smooth transitions between sections and chapter summaries.
- Proper use of citations, quotations, and paraphrasing to avoid plagiarism.