Dissertation Writing Structure and Chapters

A doctoral dissertation, like a Master’s degree thesis, is a complex document composed of many sections. Due to its complexity, it is one of the most challenging documents that a student will ever produce, and even with the help of a thorough outline, it can be extremely difficult for PhD students to write a coherent dissertation in the appropriate format with a good sample or template to use. In order to help understand the best way to approach the parts of a dissertation, it’s important to take a look at the different sections and what they represent. A dissertation contains the same parts as a thesis proposal, with the addition of results and a conclusion, which are dependent on the outcome of the proposed research.

Obviously, each dissertation starts with a title, but let’s look at what goes into dissertation writing after the cover page:

1. Dissertation Abstract

The abstract to a dissertation is a summary of the entire paper. Typically, the student will write the abstract last, after the rest of the dissertation has been completed. The abstract states the problem that the researcher examines and very briefly indicates the methodology that was employed to investigate it. Following this, the abstract will summarize the results and preview the dissertation’s conclusion. After reading the abstract, a reader should have complete understanding of what the dissertation will contain and should be able to predict each part of the complete document.

2. Dissertation Introduction

The first section of the dissertation proper is an introduction. Many students are unclear on the difference between an introduction and an abstract since both do a similar job of setting up the complete paper. The introduction is much longer than an abstract, however, and it covers a different set of information. The introduction does not reveal all of the methodology or the conclusion so early on in the paper. Instead, it sets up the topic and explains the problem in depth, leading to a discussion of the research questions and the hypotheses. The introduction typically begins with a general overview of the topic, providing background and situating the reader within the field of study. The background then allows the writer to explain the specific topic that the writer plans to explore. Within this topic, the writer will then identify a specific problem and formulate a problem statement. After explaining why the problem deserves study, the writer will typically identify and discuss specific research questions that will be used to evaluate the problem and explore it in greater depth. From the research questions, the writer will then propose specific hypotheses that the dissertation will explore. Typically, the introduction ends with an outline of the remaining chapters and a preview of what each will contain.

3. Dissertation Literature Review

Following the introduction, most dissertations contain a literature review. The literature review is designed to show the reader what previous researchers in the field have accomplished in order to identify what has already been learned, what gaps remain in the literature, and how the writer’s own research will fill some of those gaps. There are several ways to organize a literature review. Some literature reviews are simply a chronological exploration of what previous researchers have done. Some literature reviews are thematic reviews of different areas of a subject that researchers have previously explored. Still others might examine research by looking at different key researchers and their programs of study. Overall, the organizational pattern used in the literature review is heavily dependent on the purpose of the dissertation and the point that the writer is trying to make from the review.

4. Dissertation (Research) Methodology

The next section, giving the methodology behind the dissertation’s research, is complicated and varies greatly depending on the discipline involved. In a scientific study, for example, the methodology will outline the research protocols and procedures used to collect data, the safeguards put in place to protect participants, and the statistical and theoretical models used to analyze the data. However, in a literary or historical investigation, the methodology might be much simpler and rely instead on the kinds of historiographic methods common to social sciences and the humanities. The exact methodology used is highly dependent on the topic of the dissertation.

5. Dissertation Results

After outlining the methodology, the dissertation turns to the meat of the subject, the results obtained from the actual research that the writer conducted. The method for reporting the results varies markedly according to the subject matter of the dissertation, but the general trend is to outlining the data that were obtained and to present this data in such a way that it is clear to the reader what the writer accomplished and how that information was collected and placed into a workable format. The reporting of the raw data is often given as a summary in the body of the dissertation and then given in full in appendices that provide the full data set.

6. Dissertation Analysis

The results section is closely tied to the analysis of the data. After reporting the raw data, the writer then begins to analyze what that data means by explaining trends, main ideas, and observations made from the data. Depending on the type of data collected, these findings can involve statistical analysis to highlight key trends in the numerical results, or a comparative analysis for humanities-based dissertations that primarily involve literary analysis.

7. Dissertation Discussion

Closely related to the results and analysis is the section of discussion which takes the analysis and uses it to answer the research questions and to discuss whether the hypotheses outlined in the introduction have been confirmed. The discussion is where everything comes together and the preceding chapters work together to paint a portrait of the current state of knowledge regarding the research problem in light of the writer’s research. This section will offer examples and make comparisons to findings from the literature review in order to explain how the research questions were answered and whether the hypotheses should stand or may need to be modified for future research.

8. Dissertation Conclusion

Finally, the dissertation ends with a conclusion that places the discussion in a broader context and indicates paths for future research in order to learn whether the information found in the course of the research conducted for this paper can be universalized or whether it is confined to a limited case. In other words, after reading the dissertation, readers might have questions about how the findings apply to related topics or to the bigger field around the research question. This section acknowledges this and provides some potential paths that future researchers might want to follow to expand on the research that has already been undertaken.

Of course, once you have reached this section, your paper isn’t completely done. You also need to include a bibliography with all of your references and appendices with relevant documents and data. Then, of course, once it is actually done, you need to engage in a defense of your project before a review board who will determine whether you will be awarded your doctoral degree.

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