How to write a Dissertation: Step by Step Guide with Examples

When you decide to pursue higher education, at one stage or another, you will come across something called Dissertation. It is an essential part of the completion of many academic degrees. It is work that needs immense hard work, dedication, and persistence. In this article, we will discuss all the various nuances of the Dissertation covering it from A to Z. We will also cite necessary examples for better understanding wherever needed. The article will elaborate on the following themes:

  • What is a Dissertation
  • Importance of Dissertation
  • How to Write a Dissertation 

What is a Dissertation

A dissertation can very rightly be termed as the longest, most difficult, and most important assignment in the journey of a scholar. While writing a dissertation, the student chooses their own topic to research on. It demands in-depth research and it is a project that is stretched over a time period of 3 months to 1 year. The word limit ranges between 10 to 20 thousand words and is organized in chapters. A thesis (synonymous to a dissertation) can either be empirical in nature or a literature-based study. Students work under the supervision of a supervisor, but their responsibilities are limited. They only offer basic supervision and mentoring, but the dissertation is largely independent research that the student does from start to finish.

Why it is Important 

  1. It is a formal piece of academic writing which legitimizes your research. 
  2. It inculcates the habit of research in students. 
  3. Writing a dissertation teaches you many skills such as time management, dealing with pressure, and coping with deadlines. 
  4. A dissertation allows you to pursue your interest and then turn it into an academic piece of work. 
  5. Mentioning that you’ve worked on a dissertation in your CV boosts its value.
  6. It teaches you the skill of analysis and data collection. 
  7. Working on a dissertation allocates discipline to students. 
  8. When you present your dissertation in front of your faculty and peers, you get a sense of pride that cannot be felt elsewise. 
  9. It gives you expertise or a niche in a specific topic or theme. 
  10. Submitting the dissertation is the final step in moving from student to scholar. 

How to write a Dissertation 

As mentioned above, completing a dissertation is a time-consuming task. Many stages need to be checked out before one can say that they have done a dissertation project. Let us write down ALL the steps that we cannot forget in the chaos of such a lengthy project to avoid any confusion. 

  • Before starting the dissertation:
  1. Think about the topic you want to work on 
  2. Write an abstract 
  3. Research: existing literature 
  4. Research Proposal 
  • Writing the dissertation: 
  1. Title 
  2. Acknowledgement 
  3. Contents 
  4. Abstract 
  5. Introduction 
  6. Literature Review
  7. Methodology 
  8. Analysis/ Chapterization 
  9. Conclusion/ Result/ Findings 
  10. Bibliography 

For the best understanding, we will go step-by-step and decode this puzzle of dissertation writing with examples when and where necessary. 

A. The Preparing Stage 

  1. Decide a Topic 

The foremost step is to decide which is the one thing that is so intriguing to you that you would like to write a thesis on it. You should choose a topic that is one of your favorite things or something you’re really passionate about. The closer you are to the question, the more you would dedicate yourself to it. Deciding a topic might sound easy, but believe us, it is not. Take your time and pick a topic you won’t give up even on your worst days, because this is a long-term commitment. 

Let us in this article assume that the topic that we wish to explore is “Movies and Women.” 

  1. Write abstract pitching your idea 

Once you have a fairly rough idea of what you want to do. It is now time to write it down. Your abstract should be a very brief note of around 800 to 1000 words, explaining why you want to conduct this research to your supervisor. Your abstract should reflect your train of thought. Make sure to cover the following pointers while writing your abstract: 

  • What is your topic
  • Why did you choose it
  • How does it contribute to your subject 
  • How do you plan to take your research forward

After you submit the abstract to your supervisor, they will give you feedback. Following this feedback, you should edit or change your topic accordingly. Always remember that your supervisor is your friend and not a foe. Therefore, even their harsh comments are constructive ones. Incorporate the feedback and re-submit the abstract until you and your supervisor are content with it. 

  1. Read the Existing Literature 

Now that you know your topic and your abstract have been accepted, it is time to start your secondary research. Read everything revolving around your subject, ranging from old articles to the latest ones. Since you know what and how you want to do your dissertation, do a focused reading and maintain an annotated bibliography of everything you read. Reading and researching are the main components of a dissertation, and thus make sure to keep track of it. 

If you don’t know what an annotated bibliography is, we suggest you follow this simple method to maintain one. 

  1. Writing the Research Proposal 

Writing the research proposal is an integral part of starting a dissertation. This step makes it official that this is what you will do in your research and how and when. It is a systematic document that presents the most ideal version of your research outcome. The research Proposal is also a reasonably large document. Therefore, ensure that you cover all these aspects while drafting it: 

  • Title and/or Subtitle 

E.g.: The title can be “Representation of Women in Popular Cinema between 2000 to 2010”

  • Introduction
    • Informing the reader what your topic is most briefly. Stick to 2 paragraphs at most while writing an introduction 
  • Existing Literature 
    • The annotated bibliography that you created will be utilized here. Mention the relevant works for your research, and then state how they correlate and support your argument. This will be the lengthiest part of your proposal. 
  • Research Gap 
    • While reading the existing work, you will discover that some things are missing. A research gap locates your study in the ongoing debates, and you inform the reader how you aim to contribute to it. 
  • Research Question 
    • In this section, you write those few questions that you are trying to find answers to from your dissertation. A research question is also called a hypothesis in some cases. Make sure that you have a minimum of three questions that you aim to respond to via your project. 

E.g.: You can form questions such as

  • Do men and women get equal representation in popular cinema?
  • What roles do women get to play in movies?
  • Are women actors just a showpiece for the male gaze?
  • Research Design/ Methodology 
    • When you take up a research project, you also think of how to take the research forward. You plan for different ways and methods that you will apply to get the relevant data. By stating your methodology, you inform the reader about your data sources and how you plan to find answers to the questions you have cited above. 

E.g.: For your dissertation, you can follow this methodology 

Using secondary sources– existing literature and watching movies (specify the number of movies you aim to watch between the years 2000-2010 + specify the genre and your criteria for selecting the film). 

Semiotic analysis to analyze the movies watched. 

  • Timeline 
    • Make a schedule or deadlines for your research. A timeline will set things in motion, and you will know when to complete a stage of your dissertation. 

E.g.: Your timeline can look something like this: 

Task to be doneTime Allocation 
Data Collection15 days 
Analyzing 1 month
Writing 2 months 
Final Submission 
  • Contribution to the discipline 
    • This will be the last section of the research proposal. Here you will explain how your research contributes to the development and benefit of the discipline and the debates that exist around your topic. 

Similar to your abstract, your supervisor will also review the research proposal submitted by you. Once you receive the feedback, incorporate it into your proposal. The final draft of your proposal will be the one that you will follow. With this, the preparation stage ends, and now comes the part where you actually begin to write your dissertation. 

B. Writing the Dissertation 

By this moment, you should now have the following resources with you. Thus, make a checklist and recheck that you have all you need to sit, write, and complete your dissertation. 

  • Final Title 
  • Existing Literature 
  • Final Methodology 
  • Collected your Data 
  • Roughly Analyzed your Data
  • Thought of Chapters 

Once you are sure that you are in possession of all you need, BEGIN TO WRITE!

  1. Title Page 

Mention the name of your department, the name of your degree, the name of your university and its logo, your name, and the name of your supervisor. 

dissertation examples
  1. Acknowledgement

An acknowledgement is thanks to all the people who helped you complete your dissertation. Some of the usual people are the faculty, your subjects, and the library faculty. 

Acknowledgement
  1. Table of Contents OR Index 

The content table or an index is nothing but you writing the contents of your dissertation in a systematic manner, like this: 

INDEX

Acknowledgement……………………………………….i

Abstract ………………………………………………….1

Introduction ………………………………………………2

Literature Review ……………………………………….4

Methodology …………………………………………….9

Chapter 1 ………………………………………………..11

Chapter 2 ………………………………………………..16

Chapter 3 ………………………………………………..21

Conclusion ………………………………………………27

Bibliography ……………………………………………..30

  1. Abstract 

The abstract you write should be a glance into your entire research. It should tell the reader what to expect while they read your dissertation. Include every significant detail here but only briefly. Restrict yourself to one paragraph and only give a glimpse of the things discussed further in your project. You should write the abstract not in the beginning but in the end. This way, you will know exactly what your study is about. 

  1. Introduction

The dissertation introduction should introduce your topic to every reader- a scholar or a layman. Introduce your topic by telling why you choose it and what is the relevance of this topic in today’s world. An introduction is the first formal thing someone reads about your dissertation, therefore ensuring that you capture the reader from the beginning. An introduction is a piece of writing that is not very academic. Thus, you can experiment with it. You can start with a poem, quote, news headline, dialogue from a movie, etc., to capture the audience from the get-go. The best way to write an introduction is to revisit it in the end when you have completed writing your dissertation. You will know what you have to tell your readers and what you have to conceal from them. 

  1. Literature Review 

The existing literature is one of the most essential parts of writing a dissertation. It is a well-known and obvious fact that whatever topic you have chosen is not entirely unique. It cannot be that no work has ever been done on this topic apart from yours. Therefore, by writing a chapter on existing literature/ literature review, you inform the reader that all of this has been said and done before. You are using these arguments to build up your research. Writing a literature review also allows you to accredit all the scholars you have learned from and taken inspiration from. Thus, make sure that you spend sufficient time writing this section. 

Write it in such a manner where you first state the work, then its main argument, and then bind it all together by telling how this work has helped you in your thesis. 

  1. Methodology 

This is a technical section and a comparatively shorter one. Here, you should tell your reader how it is that you’re doing your dissertation. Tell them about the process and the rationale behind it. It is important to highlight your methodology because this informs the audience about your work process. 

You can express how your dissertation is secondary research based on a semiotic analysis of movies. Give reasons why you chose the time period of 2000 to 2010 and why and how you selected the movies you wish to analyze. 

  1. Analysis OR Chapters 

Analysis or the various chapters that you divide based on the topic is written elaborately. Any chapter will have the most detailed narrative. Here is where you point out your main arguments and back them up with literature, data, and your own analysis. This is the section where you will spend most of your time. Make sure that you always include relevant and contemporary examples to substantiate your argument so that your reader can correlate your theory to reality. 

Since in your dissertation you are looking at “Representation of Women in Popular Cinema between 2000 to 2010”, you can divide your analysis chapters along the following lines:

Chapter 1- Mainstream depiction of selected movies

Chapter 2- Reiterating stereotypes via movies 

Chapter 3- Feminist Interpretation of the movies 

You can focus on one aspect of your analysis in each chapter and build up your argument slowly and coherently. 

  1. Conclusion OR Result OR Findings 

The last portion of your dissertation writing should bring everything together and tie up any loose ends. The concluding chapter should summarize everything so that each of your research questions (from the proposal) gets answered here concisely. The answers/results/findings to your research will be highlighted here again so that the reader ends reading your dissertation with a clear mind and straight answers. We know that you must be tired by now, but don’t get lazy on this last step. A firm conclusion is as vital as a great introduction. Therefore, we recommend that you come back to write the conclusion after giving yourself a breather. This will allow you to write more directly. 

  1. Bibliography  

Like we said earlier, a dissertation cannot sustain in a vacuum. It relies on the existing body of literature and research. Therefore, it is imperative to credit the original authors who inspired and helped you in your thesis. A proper bibliography is an essential element of a dissertation because, without it, your work will be considered plagiarized, which is a crime in the world of academics. 

If you are working on Google Docs or Word. In that case, the application makes your work easier because they help you create your Bibliography. 

How to add citations in Google Doc: Tools → Citation

How to add citations in Word Document: References → Insert Citations 

But for those who want to cite manually, this is the basic format to follow:

  1. Author’s Name with Surname mentioned first, then initials 
  2. Article’s Title in single or double quotes
  3. Journal Title in Italics 
  4. Volume, issue number 
  5. Year of Publication
  6. Pages 

Example: Syrkin, A. 1984. “Notes on the Buddha’s Threats in the Dīgha Nikāya”, Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, vol. 7(1), pp.147-58.

Also Read: How to write Sociology Assignment

https://gsas.harvard.edu/degree-requirements/formatting-your-disertation

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