If you’re currently taking a PhD, then you’ll know how long it takes to develop years of research, and now you’re at the final stage – writing a dissertation.
As a researcher, since your main task is to communicate your research in a clear and effective manner, you should provide clear explanations and try to avoid wordiness and repetition, so keep it simple! Make sure your paragraphs are short and to the point, break the dissertation down into manageable sections, and cut out any unnecessary jargon. Since heavy blocks of text will cause the reader to lose focus, make it easy for the reader by writing manageable chunks of text that adhere to the required structure set out in your university’s submission guidelines.
Whether you’re just preparing to write a PhD dissertation or have a steadily approaching submission date, this article will provide some key information on how to write it and what to include.
Of course, once you’ve finished the writing process, it is good practise to hire an editor to take care of the final stage – preparing it for submission. It won’t take an experienced academic editor much time to edit a dissertation, and after finding someone competent, you can be sure they will identify and correct anything amiss regarding language, style, referencing, and citation.
How long does it take?
Writing a successful dissertation also requires planning, time management, and an efficient writing regime; hence, it is paramount that you have a structure in place to get started and break it down into manageable sections. For the entire writing process, you should give yourself ample time to complete it. Most PhD students will spend a year or more writing their first draft after spending a year or two compiling their research and conducting an extensive review of the existing literature.
It’s worth dedicating between 10 and 20 hours a week to writing your dissertation, so I recommend making a daily routine, setting a few hours aside each day, and working in specific locations where you feel the most productive. Set yourself realistic goals to accomplish, whether daily or weekly, and understand that it’s normal to occasionally work long hours or feel drained after periods of intense writing. Always remember to take breaks, don’t get hung up on the finer details, and take some time out if you find yourself stagnating!
After constructing a skeleton structure, including a list of chapters and main sections, try to write your dissertation one chapter at a time. If you’ve already discussed your chosen topic with your supervisor and conducted your research, then you’ll have most likely written most of your Methods and Results sections already, so that would be a great place to start since you don’t have to write the dissertation chronologically.
The following section will highlight a typical structure for most PhD dissertations:
What should I include?
All dissertations follow a specific structure laid out by the institution. This section lists all the required sections of a PhD dissertation.
First, it is worth thinking about the dissertation being split into five main chapters, each with their own set of sub-sections denoted by sub-headings. After the Title page and subsequent Table of Contents and List of Figures and Tables, the Abstract briefly summarizes the research and how it contributes to the existing literature on the topic in question.
The dissertation can then be broken down into the following sections:
The Introduction provides an overview of your research and details the background and problem of the study. In simple terms, it explains WHY you conducted your research. In this introductory section, you will also state your research aims, objectives, and questions. The Introduction section also includes a Literature Review, which serves to contextualize the study using the existing literature and identify gaps in the research on the topic.
This Methodology describes WHAT you did to compile your research and HOW you conducted your study. Major elements of this chapter include stating how you compiled the data for analysis, whether through questionnaires, interviews, or experiments, as well as how the participants were recruited. It is also important to justify why you chose the specific methods to gather your data, as well as state any problems you might have experienced.
The results section is where you report the main findings of your research study. Since you need to provide evidence of the data collected, make sure you include detailed and accurate Figures and Tables with appropriate titles. In this section, rather than discussing and interpreting the results, an emphasis should be placed on in-depth reporting of the results, statistical analysis, and how the results answer your research objectives and questions.
This is the penultimate section of your dissertation. Here, the results are interpreted and dissected to examine WHAT the results mean and how they are significant to the study in question. Here, you will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the study, as well as the validity of the results. The Discussion also includes a summary of your key findings and contextualizes them within the framework of previous research studies. You will additionally explain whether there were any limitations to your study and whether the results explain your hypothesis or contradict previous researchers’ findings.
The final chapter comprises the Conclusion section of your PhD dissertation. Shorter than the discussion section, the Conclusion comprises elements such as recommendations for future studies and states the strengths and limitations of your study.
After this, you’re almost done! The remaining sections of your dissertation will include a References section, in which all citations are provided as references according to the required style guide (e.g., Harvard, Chicago, APA, MLA, etc.), and an Appendix section, where you will include copies of any materials, such as questionnaires, letters and forms sent to participants, and copyright information.
Making an impact on your dissertation
Rather than writing a dissertation from start to finish, create a skeleton outline that details all the necessary chapters and sub-sections. Then, start with the section you feel most comfortable writing about; for example, this could be the Methodology or Results section, if you have already conducted the research study. You could then make a list of the existing research and attempt to link it to your research builds upon it.
Since it is fairly easy to get stuck on the minor details, if you get stuck, move on! Simply turn to another section and create an outline. If you find yourself stagnating, don’t be afraid to seek help from your supervisor or academic services department, who have a wealth of experience and resources to advise you on how to proceed.
As you progress through the sections, consider both the style and content. Ask yourself whether the content is appropriate for each section and review your writing to ensure consistency of language, terminology, and presentation. If your writing seems bulky or wordy, consider breaking it down into shorter paragraphs or writing in a simpler manner. You can also ask a friend or colleague to scan your content to compare it with theirs and confirm it aligns with the submission guidelines.
Also, remember the importance of taking breaks. Stepping back from the writing process will allow you to think about the content and what could added, subtracted, or modified further.
What do examiners look for?
To gain a deeper understanding of your progress, put yourself in the examiner’s shoes. What do they want to see, and what would they consider as potential pitfalls?
Overall, examiners look for consistency, readability, and clear presentation. Therefore, in sections such as your literature review, the examiner will be pleased if you demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of the field, and after writing up your results in a clear and logical manner, you should also provide solid arguments and draw relevant conclusions of your results. An editor is useful at this stage, given that they will identify any incoherent areas and improve the overall accuracy and clarity. What examiners don’t want to see are gaps in the research, overly wordy material, poor presentation and use of English, and inconsistent citations or a lack thereof.
Further, you can make life much easier by avoiding procrastination; instead, conduct effective time management by setting daily/weekly/monthly plans and not allowing yourself to be distracted by external influences (e.g., your telephone, social media, etc.). Therefore, it is good practice to work in comfortable locations that boost your productivity. When you sit down to write, aim to write continuously, and remember that nothing is concrete; you can always rewrite sections later.
Once you have spent adequate time writing all the required sections of your PhD dissertation, you have finished your first draft! Well done! Then, after going through it with your supervisor, it would be wise to turn to a professional editor to prepare the final copy for submission. Academic editors have a wealth of experience when it comes to appropriate use of English and specific formatting for style guides. They will also add some flair to your writing while ensuring accurate and appropriate content, as well as coherent citations and references.