How to Write a Dissertation

A dissertation paper predestines a person’s academic journey. After one acquires a doctor of science degree, it is an excellent opportunity for them to look for their dream job. Master’s and Ph.D. degrees boost the possibilities of getting high-status employment in one’s ideal field. That is the reason you will benefit from reading this blog. 

What is a Dissertation?

A dissertation has both incomplete and complete definitions. The incomplete definition claims that a dissertation is a large piece of work that a person is required to complete at the end of a doctorate. The whole meaning of a dissertation sounds this way: It is a long piece of academic writing where a student can present an argument based on original research or data acquired throughout their studies. This paper aims for students to bring forward a combination of the skills they have learned.

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The list of skills incorporates research skills & methodological skills. Another helpful definition of a dissertation is a culmination of the assignments and essays that students have had to write throughout their higher education. This type of writing entails collecting data, synthesizing it, and putting it into a literary form. Usually, it is perceived as a chance for students to explore their field of study.

The primary challenges doctoral candidates face while working on their dissertation include:

  • Inadequate research skills,
  • A desire to procrastinate their work until the last minute,
  • Insufficient writing skills,
  • And an inability to define the dissertation and its goals properly.

The task looks overwhelming. We recommend reading the entire guide to know more about the doctoral dissertation meaning and how to write this paper.

How Long Is a Dissertation?

The length of a dissertation primarily relies on the study level and country. In most cases, it is made up of 15,000-25000 words for a master’s or MBA level and up to 50,000 words or more for a PhD dissertation.

Formatting Requirements 

Font and Size: Use 10 -12 point size and some legible font like Arial, Georgia, or Times New Roman.


  • Left margin: 1.5 inches for all pages.
  • Right margin: 1.5 inches for all pages.
  • Top margin: 2 inches for Acknowledgments, Table of contents, List of Tables, List of figures, every chapter, Bibliography, and Appendices. 12.5 inches other pages.
  • Bottom margin: 12.5 inches for all pages.

Spacing: Double spacing for the body, Block quotations, Footnotes, and Bibliographies. Single spacing for the list of tables, the list of figures or illustrations, and long tables within every entry but the double spacing between each entry.

One of the critical steps in the drafting process of any dissertation is writing the proposal. A dissertation proposal describes the research you want to do, what it entails, how you will conduct it, and why it is of importance. It sets the stage for the research the author has done.

A proposal assists students in seeing how the overall structure looks. A good proposal guides a researcher on ways of organizing their work in each section when writing the dissertation paper. Depending on the length of the work assigned by your professor, a proposal can range from 10-15 pages. You should be prepared that your data collection and analysis might not go similarly to what you have planned. To avoid getting lost in the middle of the writing process, take time to compose your proposal correctly before embarking on the novel-length dissertation.

Proposal Outline and Length

 It is vital to outline and draft the proposal because it is the initial step of writing a dissertation. Here is a proposal template from experts:

  • 2-3pages Introduction plus a summary of your subject’s importance- this is a quick review of your topic. Mention the emphasis of your paper and highlight your research question.
  • 3-6 pages Methodology- this is how you plan to acquire your data and conduct your analysis. This part should disclose the resources, tools, and equipment you will apply. Mention the amount of time you will dedicate to this project.
  • 1-2 pages Objectives – this includes a hypothesis of what you plan to prove.
  • 6-10 pages Literature review- Which publications did you use to compose your research? Discuss literature that connects with your topic.
  • 1-2 pages Research constraints – this section should incorporate a disclaimer of the limits to your research. It is vital as some might try to prove or challenge your work.
  • 1-page Research timetable- this serves to outline the core sections of your paper. This step entails gathering data for every subheading.

It is worth noting that the structure of your dissertation proposal will always rely on the particular requirements of your course. Some courses emphasize that aims and objectives belong in a separate section of the dissertation of the proposal, while they might completely omit the methodology and literature review section. Ensure to clarify this with your instructor.

Dissertation vs. Thesis 

A thesis is a project that marks the end of a master’s program, while a dissertation occurs during a doctorate study. In addition, a “thesis” is used mainly in American jargon, whereas a “dissertation” is commonly used in European academic institutions.

Thesis papers are similar to the types of research papers you write when studying for an undergraduate degree. Thesis papers require you to research a topic, assess the information collected, and determine how it links to your study’s specific subject matter. The thesis intends to display your ability to think analytically about a topic and to discuss the information in-depth intelligently. Usually, the thesis definition is interchangeable with the dissertation definition.

 A dissertation paper requires you to use the works of other scholars as guidance in presenting and proving your unique hypothesis, theory, or concept. You write the primary part of the information in the dissertation.

Nonetheless, a doctoral dissertation should be much longer due to it containing a significant amount of background and research information, along with each detail from your proposal and how you arrived at your information. A dissertation is a challenging academic paper. It will possibly be 2-3 times the length of a thesis.

20 Outstanding Topics to Kick-start Your Writing

Dissertations in Education

  • The emergence of coding courses for young children and its influence on their cognitive development and their age. A comparative study
  • The future for education post coronavirus pandemic
  • How does working as a taxi driver impact a student’s behavior?
  • The indicators of flossing behavior on the university population
  • How do children benefit from bilingual education?

MBA Dissertation Topics

  • Dealing with the millennial generation
  • Empirical analysis of the company’s performance & leadership
  • A business plan suggesting evaluation of strategy
  • Workplace ethics in a multinational organization like Walmart
  • A business plan focused on the production of musical instruments.

Law Ideas for Dissertations

  • The role of gender and race in the criminal justice system 
  • Evaluating cases filed in the criminal justice field
  • A critical evaluation of law of ommissions liability
  • How the ‘fight and terror ‘has affected criminal laws around the globe
  • A review of criminal negligence connected with the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007 

Technology Dissertation Topics

  • Redundancy & fault recovery on the 4G wireless network
  • An evaluation of apps created for the improved energy efficiency
  • Recent approaches to exploring the behavior of adware, malware, and different viruses
  • The way full-text databases impact the search engine results
  • Recently discovered approaches to risk management based on specific software

A Dissertation’s Research

Prior to commencing your writing process, search for a database and find other works in your field to check the structure of several samples. In case you do not get a hold of a helpful dissertation to guide you in writing your own, you can order online for one. In this way, you will have a custom-made dissertation sample to base your work on or a very well-detailed example that you can use for reference at any time.

Through the research period, you need to plan how the development of your project will occur. The research process must be systematic and practical because no one wants to waste time reading and assessing unrelated sources.

Below are several vital tips that can assist you in getting through the research process:

  • Make a timeline for the research stage. It is essential to seek out a suitable amount of resources for your dissertation to have a full effect. One common mistake that most students make is thinking they need to read and analyze every publication that relates to the dissertation topic. This approach results in students wasting time in the research stage instead of progressing to the actual writing stage. A timeline with clear deadlines is crucial.
Dissertation Timeline
  • Search the right places for sources. One of the best starting places during the research stage is the internet, but it should not be your only option. To add to that, not everything that you find or read is 100% accurate. You should verify the information you discover and ensure that it originates from a trustworthy source. Web search engines such as google scholar can assist you in locating credible academic sources. It is common knowledge that Wikipedia is not a reliable source but can help you discover various credible sources if you check out the list of references on the pages of your interest. Also, librarians are vital in this stage of the project. Visit an actual library and ask your librarian to assist you in finding several exciting and unique publications.
  • Organize your resources. The most incredible way of organizing your sources is by taking notes. This way, you will not get confused and forget some essential sources that could have significantly contributed to your dissertation. Search tools such as Evernote or Penzu will assist you in organizing your chosen sources, preventing you from getting confused and stuck.

Deciding on Structure

In some cases, dissertations might have significant disparities when it comes to their structure. Factors such as location, discipline, topic, and approach might influence a dissertation structure. For instance, dissertations in humanities are often structured like long essays. They contain a general claim which backs up a primary thesis. The dissertation chapters are organized based on different themes and case studies.

In case you are writing a dissertation in the sciences or social sciences,  your dissertation will have distinct chapters, but occasionally you might combine them. For instance, in specific types of qualitative social sciences, the outcomes and discussion will be combined instead of being distinct. The order of sections in your dissertation can also depend on fields and countries. For instance, various institutions demand that the conclusion should come before the discussion section. Also, the structure you select influences the average chapter length of your dissertation.

The following structure is commonly used in sciences and social sciences :

  • An introduction
  • A literature review of your relevant sources
  • A description of your methodology
  • A summary where you write about the results of your research
  • A discussion of your primary results and their importance
  • A conclusion

As discussed earlier, dissertations in humanities are regularly structured more like long essays. Here you compose a claim by assessing all the sources. Rather than the standard structure outlined before, you might organize your chapters around various topics or case studies.

Dissertation Outline

The main stage of writing a dissertation is to choose a topic, question, and title: What is the problem your project is going to solve? Why is it crucial to find a solution to the selected problem? How do you plan on collecting evidence and getting answers?

To assist yourself with these questions, you need to draft an outline. It should consist of:

  • Title Page objectives- decide up to 3 aims
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Tables
  • List of Abbreviations in alphabetical order
  • Introduction, which includes your research question and hypothesis
  • Literature review – how you establish your research topic and how it fits into the existing field of study. Do not rush! Before writing this part, ask your professor to recommend any sources you can use and about the preferred paper dissertation format.
  • Research -this is the primary part in which students should expound upon their claims of their research problems.
  • Methodology- discuss why you selected these specific methods to answer your research question.
  • Findings- include any projections of where you will end up, along with an explanation and presentation of your data, evidence, or case study.
  • Discussion- discuss the cumulation of your claim: literature, methodology, and findings to create a linkage.
  • Timeframe- A plan that describes how the author will tackle the stages of dissertation writing.
  • Conclusions and discussions- reflect on the research and incorporate recommendations and a final assessment of your research. Do not add new ideas as they should be included in the discussion section.
  • Bibliography/ List of references- a list of all the external sources you used in the research arranged in alphabetical order.
  • Appendices- this consists of things such as questionnaires, interview transcripts, pilot reports, detailed tables, etc.

Keep in mind that you will not have to incorporate all the dissertation sections mentioned in this outline example; it will depend on the prompt, length, goals, etc

Title Page

The title page, better known as the cover page of your dissertation,  should entail the core information about your academic paper. It should have :

  • Title
  • Your name
  • Type of document (dissertation)
  • Department and institution where you study
  • Degree program ( example – Master of Arts)
  • Date of submission

Sometimes the cover page can incorporate the student’s number, supervisor’s name, and the university’s logo. Your department will often educate you on what you should include on your title page and how to format it. In addition, you should check if your university or college has particular requirements for margins, spacing, and font size.

Below is how it should look like :

Dissertation Title Page

Dissertation Acknowledgements 

The dissertation acknowledgment section is where you appreciate those who have assisted and supported you throughout the research and writing process. This embraces both professional and personal acknowledgments.

Example : 

Thank you to my supervisor, Dr. Kelvin B., for offering exceptional guidance and extensive feedback during the entire project. Thank you also to my husband Mike and my children Kelly and Josh for putting up with me being in the office for hours on end, providing guidance, and being a sounding board when needed.

Dissertation Abstract 

An abstract is a sum-up of the whole dissertation. It should give an overview of the research you have done. A dissertation abstract aims to provide the reader with an idea of what the dissertation entails. It also informs the reader of the problem that requires a solution and why it is vital to discuss it. Focus on all the essentials of your proposal and try to include them. Incorporate the hypothesis and research question.

An abstract should comprise of the following essentials:

  • A statement of the problem
  • The research methods you used
  • The primary results or findings
  • The main conclusions and recommendations

Usually, an abstract does not exceed one page( though it can be shorter). Most times, it appears after the title page and the acknowledgments.

Table of Contents 

The table of contents is where you list all of the subsections and subheadings along with their page numbers. The contents page provides the reader with a general idea of your structure. It also assists the reader in navigating your academic paper. One should incorporate all the parts of the dissertation in the table of contents, including the appendices and references. You can use Microsoft word to generate the table of contents automatically.

List of Figures and Tables

If you used figures and tables in your dissertation, you need to itemize them in a numbered list. You can generate this list automatically by using the insert Caption feature in Microsoft Word.

List of Abbreviations 

In case you have used a lot of abbreviations in your writing, you can include them in an alphabetized list of abbreviations. This will be helpful to your reader as he/she will quickly look up their meanings.


It might be a good idea to include a glossary if you have used many highly specialized vocabularies that will not be familiar to your audience.

Dissertation Introduction

This section involves establishing your dissertation topic, purpose, and central relevance and telling the readers what to expect in the rest of the dissertation.

The introduction should:

  • Set up the research topic and give relevant background information
  • Narrow down the focus and define the scope of the research
  • Discuss the existing research on the subject, showing your work’s significance to a broader problem or debate
  • Mention your objectives and research questions and state how you will answer them
  • Provide a summary of your dissertation’s structure

Keep in mind that everything in the introduction should be clear, engaging, and relevant to your research. Once your readers complete reading this part, they should comprehend precisely what to expect from your work.

Dissertation Literature Review

Prior to starting your research, you should conduct a literature review to get a more profound comprehension of the academic work that already exists on your topic.

Conducting a literature review means :

  • Collecting sources such as books and journal articles and choosing the most relevant ones.
  • Evaluating and assessing each source.
  • Drawing connections between the sources to make a general point.

Here you should not only summarize prior researches, but you should also develop a clear structure and argument that leads to a clear root or validation of your research.

For instance, it might aim to show how your research:

  • Addresses a gap in the literature
  • Reinforces existing knowledge with new information
  • Put forward a theoretical debate
  • Provides a new solution to an old and unsolved problem
  • Generates new theoretical or methodological approach to the topic

The literature review usually becomes the foundation for your theoretical framework, where you define and assess the core theories, concepts, and models that frame your research. This section requires you to answer descriptive research questions about the relationships between concepts or variables.


The methodology section is where you describe how you conducted the study. This helps readers to evaluate its validity.

Essentials to include in a methodology section:

  • Overall approach and the kind of research you conducted; could be quantitative, descriptive, correlational, experimental, or qualitative research
  • Which methods you used for collecting data; could be interviews, surveys, observations, or documents and records
  • Specified details of the research area, the participants involved, and the time frame and dates for the research.
  • Which tools and materials you used: could be computer programs or lab equipment 
  • In case there were any complications you faced when conducting the research, mention them and explain how you overcame them.
  • An evaluation or justification of your methods

In the methodology, your goal is to report what you did accurately and persuade readers that this was the best approach to answering your research questions or objectives.


You should write about the actual results of your research once you complete writing the methodology section. You can structure this section around sub-questions, hypotheses, or topics. Discuss the results that are relevant to your objectives and research questions. Some disciplines prefer that the results and the discussion section be strictly separate, while others recommend the two be combined.

For example, for qualitative methods like detailed interviews, you can describe results along with your discussion and analysis. At the same time, in quantitative and experimental research, the outcomes should be displayed separately before discussing their definite meaning.

To make it easy for the readers to comprehend the results use tables, graphs, and charts. Critically think of various ways of presenting your data. It is worth noting that graphs, tables, and diagrams are used to give extra information or visualize the results in a way that adds value to your piece. Do not use them to repeat what you have already stated in your text. You can incorporate the full versions of your data, such as complete transcripts of the interviews you cite, in an appendix.


This section requires you to explain the meaning and repercussions of your outcomes about your research. You need to discuss the results in-depth and tell the readers whether they met your expectations or not. In addition, explain how well they fit within the framework that you developed in earlier chapters.

In case you got unpredictable results, then explain what might have led to such an occurrence. Considering alternative explanations of your data and discussing any limitations that might have impacted the outcomes is a great idea. The discussion should cite other academic works to showcase how your results fit with the existing knowledge of the matter. To add to that, you can make recommendations for future research on the specific subject.


This section needs you to respond to the primary research question. You need to conclude your dissertation with a final reflection on what you did and how you did it. Most times, the conclusion incorporates recommendations for future research. This section requires you to critically showcase how your findings can contribute to the field they relate to and why your research matters. Was your study of value? 

Reference List

This part needs you to list the details of the sources you used in full. It is essential to follow a consistent reference style because every style has particular and strict requirements for formatting your sources in the reference list. Thoroughly check the requirements for your style. The most common styles used in UK universities are Harvard referencing and Vancouver referencing. Usually, your department will lay down which referencing style you should use. For instance, psychology students primarily use the APA style. Humanities students usually use MLA, and law students often use OSCOLA. Ensure to check the requirements and ask your supervisor if you are uncertain.


The dissertation paper should consist of only vital information that directly contributes to answering your research question. You might have extra information such as interview transcripts, survey questions, or tables with complete figures that do not fit in the main body, and this is where appendices come in. Add extra information that might distort the flow of your main body in this section.

Post-Writing Process

Proofreading and editing is the most crucial stage to consider after completing the dissertation chapters and extras. Take some time away from the dissertation writing process once it is done.


Proofreading and editing have a slight difference: proofreading concentrates on the document’s ‘shape,’ while editing concentrates on the ‘essence.’ Proofreading needs you to correct any formatting, grammar, spelling, and structure errors. Editing does not require you to rewrite or fix anything; instead, it needs you to re-read the entire piece to ascertain its proficiency. As you edit and proofread, pay attention to the logical connection between each idea, find out whether there are any gaps in the content provided, and add any necessary details gathered at the research phase. Below are some pointers:

  • Reduce the volume of the dissertation chapters with irrelevant information: the clarity & quality are vital than the quantity in this case.
  • Correct the grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes; you can use grammar checkers such as Grammarly and Hemingway.
  • Proofread the paper. Keenly look for any stylistic or logical errors and consult the thesaurus along with free or paid apps to ascertain the quality of your final draft. Sometimes it is difficult for writers to see their paper’s flaws.
  • Get dissertation writing assistance or at least some peer feedback to guarantee a better score on your paper.

More Dissertation Tips: Defending the Work!

The defense is a vital milestone in the closure of your graduate career. There are three primary steps to take before, during, and after your defense.

  • Before: Ensure you schedule everything in advance. Be prepared to address any questions about your work and follow all graduate school rules and deadlines.
  • During: Prepare your presentation, answer each question and try to be patient during the defense to determine weaknesses in your data collection process or research.
  • After: Celebrate! Offer copies of your dissertation to friends, family, and colleagues for fun!

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