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Successful Dissertation Writing: Format & Sample

Here is a sample dissertation proposal, grant proposal, and final dissertation template for PhD students:

Sample Doctoral Thesis Proposal

Sample Grant Proposal for Doctoral Thesis

Sample Dissertation Template

What is a dissertation (doctoral thesis)?

A dissertation (doctoral thesis) is a substantial and formal written document that presents the findings of original research conducted by a doctoral candidate as part of their Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) or other advanced degree program. It is a significant and essential component of the doctoral or postgraduate education process in many fields, including the sciences, social sciences, humanities, and more.

  • Purpose: The purpose of a dissertation is to contribute new knowledge, insights, or theories to a specific academic or professional field. Doctoral candidates typically choose a research topic of interest, conduct an in-depth study, collect and analyze data, and then present their findings in a comprehensive written document. This document is expected to demonstrate the candidate’s ability to engage in scholarly research, critically analyze existing literature, and communicate their original research effectively.
  • A dissertation usually consists of several chapters, including an introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion. It is often a lengthy and detailed piece of work, and the specific requirements and format can vary depending on the academic institution and field of study.
  • Example:
    • Topic: “The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare Diagnostics”
    • Thesis: This dissertation investigates the application of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare diagnostics. It reviews the current literature, presents case studies of AI systems, and assesses their accuracy and reliability in medical diagnosis. The findings suggest that AI has the potential to significantly enhance diagnostic accuracy and efficiency in healthcare. However, issues related to data privacy and algorithm transparency need to be addressed to maximize AI’s effectiveness in the medical field.

Key Characteristics

Here are some key characteristics of a dissertation (doctoral thesis):

  1. Original Research: A dissertation involves conducting original research, often in the form of data collection, experiments, surveys, or fieldwork. It should contribute new knowledge or insights to the chosen field of study.
  2. In-Depth Study: Dissertations are typically in-depth and comprehensive, requiring extensive research, analysis, and critical thinking.
  3. Formal Structure: They follow a structured format with standard components like the introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion.
  4. Academic Rigor: Dissertations are held to high academic standards and must adhere to the conventions and guidelines of the academic institution and the field of study.
  5. Significance: The research question or problem addressed in a dissertation is of academic or practical significance, and the findings should have relevance to the field.
  6. Critical Analysis: Dissertations involve critical analysis of existing literature, including identifying gaps or limitations in current research and addressing them.
  7. Contribution to Knowledge: A dissertation should make a substantial contribution to the body of knowledge in the field, whether by testing existing theories, proposing new ones, or addressing real-world problems.
  8. Length: They are often longer than typical research papers, often ranging from 100 to several hundred pages.
  9. Citation and Referencing: Proper citation and referencing of sources are essential to give credit to prior research and avoid plagiarism.
  10. Independent Work: While students receive guidance from advisors, a dissertation is primarily the candidate’s independent work.
  11. Peer Review: In some cases, dissertations may undergo peer review before final acceptance and publication.
  12. Academic Defense: In many cases, candidates are required to defend their dissertation orally before a committee of experts in the field.

These characteristics collectively demonstrate a dissertation’s role as a significant academic or scholarly work that showcases a candidate’s research skills and contributes to the advancement of knowledge in their field.

General Format

The specific format of a dissertation can vary depending on the academic institution, department, and field of study. However, there are common elements and a general structure that most dissertations follow. Here’s a typical format for a dissertation:

  1. Title Page:
    • Title of the Dissertation
    • Your Name
    • Institutional Affiliation
    • Date
  2. Abstract: A concise summary of the dissertation, typically around 150-250 words, highlighting the research problem, methods, results, and conclusions.
  3. Acknowledgments (optional): A section where you express gratitude to individuals or institutions that supported your research.
  4. Table of Contents: Lists the main sections and subsections with page numbers.
  5. List of Figures and Tables (if applicable): Provides a list of figures and tables used in the dissertation with corresponding page numbers.
  6. List of Abbreviations and/or Glossary (if applicable): Includes any abbreviations, acronyms, or specialized terminology used in the dissertation.
  7. Introduction:
    • Presents the research problem or question.
    • States the objectives or hypotheses.
    • Provides context and motivation for the study.
    • Outlines the structure of the dissertation.
  8. Literature Review:
    • Reviews existing research and literature relevant to the research topic.
    • Analyzes and synthesizes prior studies.
    • Identifies gaps or areas where your research contributes.
  9. Methodology:
    • Describes the research design, methods and approaches used.
    • Details data collection techniques, tools, and participants.
    • Explains the rationale for the chosen methods.
  10. Results:
    • Presents the findings of your research.
    • Includes tables, figures, and statistical analyses.
    • Usually, results are organized to address the research questions or hypotheses.
  11. Discussion:
    • Interprets and discusses the results.
    • Addresses the implications of the findings.
    • Considers the limitations and potential future research.
  12. Conclusion:
    • Summarizes the key findings and their significance.
    • Reiterates the research’s contribution to the field.
    • Suggests practical applications or policy recommendations.
  13. References: Lists all the sources and studies cited in the dissertation, following a specific citation style (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago).
  14. Appendices (if necessary): Contains supplementary materials, such as raw data, questionnaires, or additional details that support the dissertation but are too extensive to include in the main body.

Please note that the specific format and guidelines for your dissertation may vary, so it’s important to consult your academic institution’s dissertation handbook or your advisor for precise formatting requirements.

Steps on How to Write

Dissertation Writing Process
Writing a dissertation is a complex and time-consuming process.

  1. Choose a Suitable Topic:
    • Carefully select a research topic that genuinely interests you and is aligned with your academic field.
    • Ensure it’s a topic that is researchable and relevant to your discipline.
  2. Review Existing Literature:
    • Conduct a comprehensive literature review by collecting and reading relevant academic articles, books, and research papers.
    • Take notes on key findings and identify gaps, controversies, or areas for further investigation in the existing literature.
  3. Define Research Questions and Objectives:
    • Clearly articulate your research questions or objectives. What specific aspects of the topic do you intend to investigate or explore in your dissertation?
    • Ensure that your research objectives are well-defined and achievable.
  4. Create a Research Plan:
    • Develop a timeline that outlines the various tasks and milestones you need to complete throughout the dissertation process.
    • Create a work plan that allocates time for research, data collection, analysis, writing, and revisions.
  5. Develop a Thesis Proposal:
    • Draft a detailed research proposal that outlines your research plan. Include information on the research problem, methodology, research questions, and objectives.
    • A thesis proposal is usually accompanied by:
      • A grant proposal
      • New study Institution Review Board (IRB) application form
      • Informed consent form or parental consent form (for minors)
      • Recruitment material (i.e. flyers, posters, email/ newspaper advertisement, letter, or website)
      • Data collection instruments (i.e. surveys, questionnaires etc.)
      • Conflict of interest form
      • Focus group questions (if applicable)
      • Resume/ CV for each participant
      • Conflict of interest form
      • Human subjects training certification for all research personnel (i.e. SBE HSR Course Certification).
    • Seek input and guidance from your advisor and committee members, and be prepared to revise the proposal based on their feedback.
  6. Collect and Analyze Data:
    • Implement your chosen research methodology to collect data. This could involve conducting experiments, surveys, interviews, or analyzing existing data.
    • Ensure that data collection is rigorous, ethical, and well-documented. Analyze your data using appropriate statistical or qualitative analysis techniques.
  7. Organize Your Material:
    • Create a structured outline for your dissertation, including chapters, sections, and subsections.
    • Organize your research findings, literature review, and supporting materials in a logical and coherent manner.
  8. Start Writing:
    • Begin writing your dissertation, following the established structure and guidelines provided by your academic institution or department.
    • Start with the introduction, literature review, and methodology sections. Write with clarity and maintain a consistent writing style.
    • Data Analysis and Results: Present your research findings in a clear, organized manner, using tables, figures, charts, and graphs where appropriate. Explain the significance of your results and how they relate to your research questions and objectives.
    • Discussion and Conclusion: Interpret your results in the discussion section, highlighting their implications for your field of study. Relate your findings back to your research questions. In the conclusion, summarize your work’s significance and its contribution to the existing body of knowledge.
    • Abstract and Title: Write a concise and informative abstract that summarizes the key points and findings of your dissertation. Ensure that your title is accurate, clear, and reflects the content of your research.
  9. Cite Sources Properly:
    • Compile a comprehensive list of references, ensuring that all sources are cited correctly. Be meticulous in following the citation style recommended by your institution or field.
    • Ensure that in-text citations and references follow the guidelines specified by your institution or academic field.
  10. Revise and Edit:
    • Review and edit your work for clarity, coherence, grammar, spelling, and style.
    • Consider seeking feedback from peers, advisors, or professional editors to enhance the quality of your writing.
    • Proofreading and Formatting: Carefully proofread your dissertation to correct any errors or inconsistencies. Pay attention to formatting details, such as font size, line spacing, margins, and page numbering, to ensure compliance with your institution’s formatting guidelines.
  11. Final Review and Submission:
    • Conduct a final review of your dissertation to ensure it meets all the requirements and standards of your institution. Make any additional adjustments or corrections as needed.
    • Follow your institution’s guidelines for the final submission, which may include electronic submission or printed copies.
    • Submit your dissertation to your advisor and committee for review. Be prepared to address their feedback and make necessary revisions to improve the quality of your work.
  12. Oral Defense (if required):
    • If your institution mandates an oral defense, prepare a presentation summarizing your research and be ready to answer questions from your committee members. Practice your presentation and anticipate potential questions.
  13. Celebrate Your Achievement:
    • ¬†Once you pass in your dissertation, take a moment to acknowledge and celebrate your hard work and academic achievement. Writing a dissertation is a significant milestone in your academic journey.
    • In case of an unsuccessful submission, take time and review comments from your instructor or review panel. Revise by incorporating this feedback in your dissertation. Consider seeking feedback from your peers and academic advisor on the revised dissertation before re-submitting for consideration.

Writing a dissertation is a significant undertaking, and it’s essential to stay organized, manage your time effectively, and seek guidance and feedback from your advisor and peers throughout the process.

10 Common Mistakes to Avoid

Dissertation Writing Mistakes to Avoid
Writing a dissertation is a challenging task, and there are several common mistakes that students should avoid to ensure the quality and success of their work. Here are 10 key mistakes to steer clear of when working on your dissertation and their solutions:

  1. Lack of Clarity in Research Questions:
    • Mistake: Failing to clearly define your research questions or objectives can lead to a vague and unfocused dissertation.
    • Solution: Take the time to articulate your research questions precisely. Ensure they are specific, measurable, and relevant to your field.
  2. Poor Literature Review:
    • Mistake: A weak literature review that lacks depth, coherence, or relevant sources can weaken the foundation of your research.
    • Solution: Conduct a comprehensive literature review, analyzing and synthesizing existing research. Show how your work contributes to the existing body of knowledge.
  3. Inadequate Methodology:
    • Mistake: Choosing an inappropriate or poorly explained research methodology can undermine the validity of your findings.
    • Solution: Clearly describe your research methodology and justify your choice. Ensure it aligns with your research questions and provides reliable data.
  4. Data Collection Issues:
    • Mistake: Inaccurate or insufficient data collection can compromise the quality of your results.
    • Solution: Be meticulous in collecting data, double-check data accuracy, and maintain detailed records. Consider using established data collection tools and techniques.
  5. Weak Data Analysis:
    • Mistake: Inadequate data analysis or misinterpretation of results can lead to incorrect conclusions.
    • Solution: Use appropriate statistical or analytical methods to analyze your data. Seek guidance from experts in your field if needed.
  6. Lack of Organization:
    • Mistake: Poor organization and structure can make your dissertation challenging to read and understand.
    • Solution: Create a clear and logical outline with well-defined chapters, sections, and subsections. Use headings and subheadings to guide the reader through your work.
  7. Plagiarism and Improper Citations:
    • Mistake: Failing to properly attribute sources or plagiarizing content can result in serious academic consequences.
    • Solution: Cite all sources accurately and consistently using the appropriate citation style. Use plagiarism detection tools to check your work.
  8. Neglecting the Revision Process:
    • Mistake: Submitting a first draft without sufficient revision can result in a document with errors and inconsistencies.
    • Solution: Review and edit your work multiple times, seeking feedback from peers and advisors. Pay attention to grammar, style, and clarity.
  9. Lack of Significance and Contribution:
    • Mistake: Failing to demonstrate the significance of your research and its contribution to the field can weaken your dissertation.
    • Solution: Clearly articulate how your work adds to the existing knowledge and its potential impact on your field or related areas.
  10. Poor Time Management:
    • Mistake: Procrastination and poor time management can lead to rushed, low-quality work.
    • Solution: Develop a realistic timeline and work plan. Allocate time for research, writing, and revisions. Stick to your schedule to ensure steady progress.

To avoid these mistakes, it’s essential to stay organized, seek guidance from your advisor and peers, and allocate sufficient time for each stage of your dissertation writing process. Seek support and guidance from your academic advisor throughout the process, as their expertise can be invaluable in producing a high-quality dissertation.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are answers to the questions related to dissertation writing:

  1. How do I choose a suitable dissertation topic?
    • Consider your personal interests and strengths.
    • Ensure the topic aligns with your academic field.
    • Identify gaps or areas needing further research.
    • Discuss potential topics with advisors and professors.
  2. What is the ideal structure and format for a dissertation?
    • Typically, follow this structure: Title Page, Abstract, Introduction, Literature Review, Methodology, Results, Discussion, Conclusion, References, Appendices.
    • Check your institution’s specific formatting requirements.
  3. What’s the difference between a literature review and a systematic review in a dissertation?
    • A literature review provides a broad overview of relevant research.
    • A systematic review follows a rigorous methodology, aiming to comprehensively analyze all relevant studies on a specific research question.
  4. How do I formulate clear and research-worthy research questions?
    • Ensure your questions are specific, focused, and relevant to your field.
    • Seek input from your advisor and peers to refine them.
  5. What research methodology should I use, and how do I justify my choice?
    • Choose a methodology that best suits your research questions and objectives (e.g., qualitative, quantitative, mixed methods).
    • Justify your choice based on its appropriateness, feasibility, and alignment with your research goals in the methodology section.
  6. How do I ensure the ethical conduct of my research?
    • Obtain institutional ethics approval if your research involves human subjects.
    • Follow ethical guidelines, provide informed consent, maintain participant anonymity, and securely store data.
  7. What are the most common pitfalls to avoid in data collection and analysis?
    • Clearly define data collection procedures to minimize bias.
    • Double-check data for errors and missing values.
    • Use appropriate statistical methods and software for analysis.
  8. How do I effectively manage my time and stay motivated throughout the dissertation process?
    • Create a detailed work plan with milestones and deadlines.
    • Establish a daily or weekly writing routine.
    • Seek support and accountability from peers, advisors, or writing groups.
  9. What are the best practices for citing sources and avoiding plagiarism in my dissertation?
    • Use a recognized citation style (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) consistently.
    • Attribute sources for direct quotes and paraphrased content.
    • Employ plagiarism detection tools to check your work.
  10. How do I address feedback from my advisor and committee members?
    • Review feedback with an open mind and respond professionally.
    • Revise your work based on their suggestions.
    • Maintain regular communication with your advisor to address concerns.
  11. What are the potential challenges in defending my dissertation during the oral defense?
    • Prepare a clear and concise presentation of your research.
    • Anticipate potential questions related to your research and methodology.
    • Practice your oral defense with colleagues or advisors.
  12. What resources and support services are available to assist me in the dissertation writing process?
    • Utilize academic libraries, research databases, and software tools for data analysis.
    • Attend writing workshops, research seminars, and dissertation boot camps.
    • Seek guidance and mentorship from faculty members, academic advisors, and experienced peers.

In conclusion, the key to writing a successful dissertation involves thorough planning, clear research questions, rigorous methodology, ethical conduct, effective time management, structured writing, quality data analysis, open communication, and continuous revision and proofreading.