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What Is a Dissertation Paper

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A dissertation is a massive writing project averaging at 200 pages and covering your research on an important topic in your field of major. It is generally required to obtain a Ph.D. or certain graduate degrees depending on the country where you study.

A dissertation serves as a kind of proof that you have learned to collect, process, and analyze data in order to make scientific findings and contribute to the field. But as much as the research is exciting, it is also challenging as it requires much time and effort.

In this blog post, we will share all the tips and secrets of writing a dissertation paper that will be accepted. So, where do we begin? Let’s start our dissertation guide with basics – an outline, and consider every part of it in greater detail as we go.

  • Title Page
  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Glossary
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: Methodology
  • Chapter 3: Literature Review & Research Results
  • Chapter 4: Discussion
  • Chapter 5: Conclusion
  • Appendices

Note that the outline will vary depending on your professor’s requirements, university rules, and specifics of the topic you’re researching. The research design will also influence the outline greatly, and it’s best to ask your professor to confirm the one you’ve chosen suits the purpose.

How to Write a Dissertation

It is totally fine if you need help with writing a dissertation, as this is perhaps the most important academic work in your life. In order to create a professional piece of research, you have to make a plan and match it with your schedule. As we’ve been working on various dissertations from every field you can imagine for years, we're ready to provide you with dissertation guidance that works for all our writers.

Define your goals

A dissertation is a paper that shows a problem that you found in your field of studies and presents some solutions to it. You have definitely chosen a topic but have you already determined the central problem? If not, you need to do it before you start working on your introduction.

Think of the goals you want to pursue in your dissertation, how you can do it, and what you will require to do it effectively. Writing an outline will assist you greatly in this case, as in the course of working on it, you will understand what information you’re missing to answer your questions. Here is what can help you define your goals:

  • Start with pondering over your topic. What interest you the most? What problems should be solved? How deeply has the topic been researched previously?
  • Read some materials on the topic. Perhaps you'll see that the researchers have missed something important, and you can fill in this gap. Or there have been certain limitations that your research can mitigate.
  • Write down all the potential goals that came to your head in a rough draft. Then, after a while, you can elaborate on them or eliminate some parts.

Find proper sources

The core of your paper is research which has to be based on the analysis of various scientific resources. How to find the best references? Make sure they meet these criteria:

  • Credibility. A dissertation is an extremely important paper that may either bring you a flawless academic reputation or completely spoil it if the research you did turns out to be untrustworthy. For this reason, it is essential to look for peer-reviewed journals and refer to them.  
  • Up-to-dateness. Every day, scientists make new discoveries or refute theories that were previously true. For this reason, information found in the 1997 article may no longer be suitable for your research. Generally, it is common to use sources that were published less than 5 years ago.
  • Relatability and comprehensiveness. The information you find should cover all the aspects considered in your dissertation; otherwise, your research may appear one-sided. You should also make sure that all the references you found are directly related to the topic of your paper.

Where to find such sources?

  • Databases. There are many scholarly databases, such as InfoTrac, LexisNexis, PubMed Central, and EBSCO. You can access gigabytes of data in no time by using the search term related to your topic. Academic experts consider these databases the most credible sources of information. By the way, some of them are free or can be accessed with your university password.
  • Library. Each university has its own library, even though it is not very popular these days. We recommend not to avoid this place because it stores thousands of useful scientific materials, and the librarian might be of great help during your search. Of course, going to the library takes more time than surfing the Web, but your efforts will definitely be paid off as not all sources may be digitalized. 
  • Google Scholar. This is a scientific search engine created by Google specifically for students and researchers. You can enter the keywords related to your topic and find many sources.
  • Just on the search engine. You don’t have to go the extra mile to find good resources. There are many scientific journals on the Web. Many of them may have paid access, but you can still find lots of them for free. Besides, you can ensure that they meet the credibility and suitability criteria by reading their abstracts.

Create a comfortable workspace 

Writing a dissertation takes lots of time and effort. Some students spend months or even years working on theirs. It doesn’t matter how much time you personally need; what really matters here is a comfortable atmosphere:

  • Free your workspace, for example, your desk, and a zone around it, so there is nothing that can distract you in the process.
  • Fix the lighting and temperature in the room. Wear something comfortable, but make sure it’s not your pajamas.
  • Always keep some water and snack close to you to remain hydrated and full during your work.
  • Schedule breaks every 30-45 minutes to renew your energy and get some movement.

Proofread your paper

Proofreading your paper is no less important than writing itself. You may not just correct the spelling mistakes or sentence structure but also notice inaccuracies in the information, research process, or conclusions you derived. It is best to:

  • Make sure that the formatting style you stick to is correct. Check the title page, headings, and list of sources because these are the parts that formatting usually applies to. Download some comprehensive formatting guides and refer to them each time you go through your paper.
  • Check your dissertation in plagiarism detection programs. You may accidentally use some phrases you've read during the research process or forget to cite some information, so it’s best to be on the safe side.
  • Read your paper at least once after the writing process is completed. Have a rest for a day or two and then allocate some time for reading. After resting, you will be more attentive to details and ensure that you have eliminated any grammar, syntax, or stylistic mistakes.

Dissertation Outline Structure

As we promised, let’s talk about the dissertation plan in more detail. Making an outline is important for each written task, and for a dissertation, it is specifically essential. First of all, this paper is rather big, so without structure, you may get lost in your ideas and research information. Secondly, it will definitely make the whole working process easier and more orderly.

Here are more reasons why writing a dissertation outline may help you:

  • Writing a dissertation is not an ordinary academic task. Therefore, lack of experience creates some difficulties for a novice researcher. Competent planning and approval of your outline by the professor will allow you to avoid a number of problems, like having to rewrite a dissertation from scratch.
  • The more detailed the plan and its individual elements are, the easier it is to implement the academic dissertation writing algorithm. Each goal that you set forms a certain section, subsection, etc. The conclusions are a reflection of the goals set at the beginning of your research. Roughly speaking, your dissertation layout is like your roadmap. It will lead you through the whole writing process and may help you if you get stuck on some chapters.
  • You will see if you have everything you need to start writing. When creating an outline, it’s important to write down what sources you’re planning to use in each section. This will not only show you if you have enough of them for each section but also allow you not to look through the same articles again by accident.

Now let’s see what you should include in each part of your outline.

1. Dissertation Title Page

In general, the structure of your title page depends on the cover page format you have chosen or that was assigned to you. For example, the Harvard title page will contain slightly more information than Chicago or APA one. On this page, a student usually includes the following information:

  • A topic of the dissertation
  • Student’s Name
  • University
  • Professor’s Name
  • Location
  • Date
  • Number of words

Irrespective of subject and formatting style, a title page is an essential part of dissertation structure.

2. Dissertation Acknowledgements

Before the main chapters of a dissertation, the readers will need to see a short acknowledgment. This is a short piece in which you can thank all the people who were involved in this process or helped you write your paper one way or another. In their acknowledgment for dissertation, students usually thank their research advisors, university workers, friends, parents, and even God.

This is the part in which you are allowed to use 1st person pronouns and an informal style of writing. This section is technically not considered a part of the dissertation and will not be assessed by the examiners. This is just your opportunity to acknowledge those who were by your side during this difficult period of your academic life. You can complete this section once you finish your dissertation.

3. Dissertation Abstract

You may be wondering what is an abstract in a dissertation and how long it should be. If you were assigned lengthy research papers before, you have definitely written abstracts too.

Just like in any other paper, an abstract is a brief summary that includes the essential points of the whole paper. It is usually between 250 and 500 words long and is written in one paragraph or small subsections. At the end of it, you should include the main keywords (5-6 will be enough).

Writing a dissertation abstract, do not forget to cover the following points:

  • Research objective
  • Methodology
  • Research findings
  • Implications/Conclusions

There are two answers to the question of what is an abstract in a dissertation and what it is for. An abstract informs the potential readers what this paper is about, what was considered, what conclusions were made, and so on. It is also important for scientific databases as your paper will be found more easily with the help of keywords, and the person reading the abstract will understand whether the content of the dissertation is useful for their own research.

4. Table of Contents

This is a list of all the parts of your dissertation with page numbers where these sections can be located. It is an essential part because a well-structured dissertation contents page will guide a reader through your paper easily and show them what you have considered during your research.

In case you are wondering how to write a contents page, note that you can create it automatically after you’re done with your dissertation. You have to label all the headings in your document properly in order to be able to do it. It is best to read a quick guide or watch a YouTube tutorial before you start writing to create a contents page easily once you’re ready.

5. List of Figures for a Dissertation

This section always comes after the table of contents and enumerates all the figures you included in your paper so that the examiners can find them easily. If headings for the figures are formatted properly, this list can be created automatically, just like the table of contents.

6. List of Abbreviations in the Dissertation

An abbreviation table is a list of abbreviations you have used throughout your paper. Each of them should come with a definition. Abbreviations listing is important for those who will read your paper in the future and are not aware of the abbreviations common in your field or used to shorten some terms specifically in your paper.

7. Glossary of a Dissertation

A glossary list is a collection of terms that can be found in your dissertation. Each term should come with a short but comprehensive explanation. If you google some students’ dissertations, you will find an example of glossary lists. You can look at how they are formatted, but note that each glossary differs depending on the topic.

8. The Introduction

The introduction is one of the most important parts of your dissertation. In this section, you should formulate a problem you are going to study in the form of a research question and state the goals you want to pursue during the research.

Also, you need to present some background information justifying your choice of the topic. Show the way you found the gap or the need to research the issue and the way you are planning to do it.

Finally, in your intro, you have to explain how your research can contribute to the theoretical framework of the problem and what is the value of your study. Overall, the introduction usually takes approximately 10% of the whole dissertation.

9. Dissertation Methodology

In this section, you will have to present the methodological approach you have chosen for your study. You will need to explain which method you have selected (interview, observation, questionnaire, etc.), whether it is qualitative or quantitative, and why it is suitable for your topic.

Also, in this section, you should demonstrate what you are going to do and how exactly you will apply methodological methods to get the results of your study.

10. Reviewing Literature and Reporting Research Results in Your Dissertation

After reviewing your sources, present the information relevant to your research. Be sure to point out the studies that came to similar conclusions or contradicted each other. Once you see the big picture, you can move on to describing your findings.

You will have to showcase the results of the study for each of your questions and hypotheses. Just generalizing and giving an overall answer to the research question, in this case, will not be sufficient. Results should be presented objectively and be based only on data from your research. You should also compare your findings to those from the literature you reviewed.

11. Discussion Section

Discussion is one of the last sections of your dissertation. In this part, you will need to touch upon the significance of your research and the results obtained. You will have to fit the findings into the context of the overall study. Simply put, you have to argue why your research results are important for your field and how they can be used.

However, you will also need to disclose possible shortcomings, limitations, and complications of the study. Showcasing the study limits, you can also demonstrate the gaps that can be filled in future studies. Besides, you can make them into separate sections.

12. Conclusion

You have come to the final part of your paper – the dissertation conclusion. It should not be too long (approximately 7-10% of the whole paper) but provide the essential general information and research details. Overall, you have to do the following in your conclusion:

  • Give the reader an understanding of study results and why they are significant.
  • State whether the goals mentioned in the introduction were met.
  • Restate the answer to the research question.
  • Explain how you contributed to your field with your study.
  • Provide recommendations for the studies on the topic that will be conducted in the future.

13. References List

A list of sources is an extensive part of a dissertation. First of all, it shows that you have done a huge research and analysis. Secondly, a properly formatted references page wins you some points.

How to format a list of references?

  • First of all, it has to be in alphabetical order.
  • Secondly, you should be formatted strictly according to the formatting style chosen for your paper.

Include authors’ names, articles/books/etc. titles, publication year, publisher, and pages used. You will have to include some additional information depending on the style.

The Average Dissertation Length

The length of a dissertation depends on the requirements of your institution. In general, the average Ph.D. dissertation length is 150 to 300 pages, but it depends on your field.

The average length of a Ph.D. dissertation by major is:

  • If it’s a paper written in the Humanitarian field, the average length is 300 pages.
  • STEM dissertation will be shorter than the above-mentioned one, being around 200 pages.
  • The social sciences paper will take around 250 pages.
  • Finally, medicine papers of this kind are around 300 pages.

You may be a little scared by your future doctoral dissertation length, and it’s totally fine. It’s like creating a book. Many researchers call this paper the academic work of their lives. With proper strategies and a positive approach, you will cope with it as a true professional!

Dissertation Format

Each university has its own requirements for academic papers. Even though there are generally accepted rules, each university can decide on such aspects as the paper length, formatting, and so on. Here are the common formats adopted in the US universities:

MSU dissertation format

Michigan State University has an extremely strict stance on formatting. You will also need to run a thorough grammar and spelling check before turning in your dissertation. Also, be sure that you submit it using your official name, not a nickname or abbreviated name.

Speaking of format, MSU has several general requirements:

  • A paper must be double-spaced.
  • There should be no blank pages in the document.
  • Title Page and Abstract are not numbered.
  • There is no rule concerning the font. But it is advisable to write in size 10 or 12.

UF dissertation format

The University of Florida also has its own strict requirements. Here are some of them:

  • 12-point Arial font must be used for theses and dissertations.
  • The text should be aligned left.
  • All the pages have to be enumerated with Arab numerals.
  • Most of the text must be double-spaced. However, tables, figures, and headings should be single-spaced.

Please note that UF provides a template that you can stick to while formatting your paper. You can find it on the university website.

UGA dissertation format

The University of Georgia has adopted its own Style Manual that provides the general requirements. For more detailed criteria, students will have to contact their department. Here are some of the basic rules from this manual:

  • Rare fonts must not be used as they make the reading process more difficult. The recommended fonts are Arial, Courier, Helvetica, and Times New Roman.
  • All the margins of the paper have to be 1”. If a student would like to print out their work, it can be 1.5”.
  • The Abstract Page must not be numbered.
  • The body of the paper and Abstract must be double-spaced.

UCSD dissertation format

University of California San Diego has templates both for Masters and Ph.D. dissertations. A student can get acquainted with both documents on the official university website. In general, formatting rules are the following:

  • All the names of the committee members have to be included on the title page.
  • Pages from Title to Abstract have to be numbered in Roman numerals.
  • Only full lists of authors are allowed in the sources on the reference page.
  • Introduction and Conclusion are optional, and their possible inclusion depends on the department.

Overall, you will have to find out which style you must stick to. It can be Harvard, Chicago, or APA dissertation format, and sometimes even less widely-used style. You will then have to find a detailed guide to meet all the demands. Just remember that college dissertation formatting is left for the consideration of each educational institution.

Dissertation Examples

We understand that knowing the dos and don’ts of dissertation writing is not always enough. Sometimes, it’s easier to understand how to approach the writing process by reviewing an example. For this reason, we have created our own database of sample dissertation papers for your convenience. You can review the structure, the dissertation format sample, and how writing experts approach different topics when working on their research.


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