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Dissertation Writing Guide

Dissertation Writing Guide

Dissertation Writing Guide

A dissertation refers to a research project that a student is required to complete as part of their undergraduate or postgraduate degree. A dissertation lets students present their results pertaining to a proposition or question that they select themselves. The primary aim of a dissertation is to analyze the research skills that students have gained during their tenure at university, and the assessment determines their final grade. Even though students generally receive some guidance from teachers and professors, the dissertation project is for the most part independent. A dissertation reflects your skills and ability as a budding researcher and is also a method of examining your knowledge of a particular subject.

Types of Dissertation

There are two types of dissertation. They are empirical dissertations and non-empirical dissertations.

  1. Empirical dissertations refer to dissertations that entail collecting data, for example in life science subjects
  2. Non-empirical dissertations refer to those dissertations that are based on existing data. While writing a non-empirical dissertation, you need to ensure that you do not just express what critics are saying, but you should also critically analyse the work and offer something new.

Length of a Dissertation

The length of a dissertation tends to vary between countries and is also dependant on study level. It is usually between 10,000-12,000 words at undergraduate level, 15,000-25,000 words at master’s level and up to 50,000 words or more at PhD level.

Oral examinations or vivas

For Masters and PhD degrees you will have to give an oral examination, also known as viva, which is short for viva voce, which in Latin means ‘live voices.’  At times, the viva begins with you giving a short presentation of your dissertation to your professors, and is then followed by some questioning/answering.

The Key Parts of a Dissertation

A dissertation consists of the following parts:

  • Abstract: An abstract is essentially a short synopsis of your dissertation. An abstract consists of a research question in addition to chapter outlines and your conclusion.
  • Research Question: The research question is the primary question which defines your area of research that you have undertaken and forms the basis of your research. You should write the research question in the introduction to your dissertation. 
  • Literature Review: Literature Review is an integral part of a dissertation as it gives a general idea of all the research work that has been done on your chosen subject. This is important as it lets your professor know that you have done comprehensive research in your chosen area and you are aware of the existing literature that is available on the subject. It also helps to place your research within the larger area of the subject.
  • Chapters: Chapters are very important and form an integral part to your dissertation. A good dissertation should be divided neatly into chapters. You should ideally have five chapters in your dissertation but do check with your supervisor. Each chapter should focus on a specific topic and should be well researched backed by relevant examples, facts and data.
  • Bibliography: The bibliography is the last section of a dissertation and lists all the references that you have used while writing your dissertation. A bibliography is written in an alphabetical order. It is advisable to divide the references into books, journals, internet resources to make the section neat and tidy.

How to Choose a Dissertation Topic?

One should keep the following points in mind while choosing topic.

  1. Relevance: Ensure that your dissertation topic is relevant.
  2. The topic of dissertation should be unique and not overlap with your peers. This tends to devalue the uniqueness of your dissertation.
  3. Consult with your supervisor while choosing your topic: Your supervisor may assist you in discovering a suitable research topic.
  4. Once you have selected your dissertation topic, get it approved by your supervisor.

What are the principal Research Methodologies?

Research Methodologies refers to the various processes that are used to gather data and information in order to write a dissertation. It comprises of a plethora of processes. Listed below are some of the most popular research methods.


Interviews are a popular means of acquiring qualitative information. There are several kinds of interviews such as formal interviews, informal interviews, open ended interviews, close ended interviews etc. In formal interviews, the same questions are asked to everyone. An informal interview has a conversational style. In an open-ended interview, the questions are purposely open-ended while closed interviews have pre-determined question and answers where the interviewee has to select one of the answers provided.

Historical Research

 There are four key sources for carrying out this qualitative research.

  • Archival sources and very old historical documents that are preserved in libraries, archives etc
  • Secondary sources which refers to books, newspapers and journal articles
  • Governmental reports such as census data etc
  • Literary sources such as autobiographies, memoirs etc.

Surveys are undertaken to divulge quantitative results about populations. Examples of surveys include census, market research analysis, polls etc.

Case Study

A case study is an example of qualitative methodology wherein various theories are applied to real life scenarios in order to determine if these theories are effective or not.

Theoretical Analysis

This method entails the use of theories and is used for subjects like Philosophy, English, Comparative literature, gender studies etc.

Steps to Writing a good Dissertation

  • Topic is of utmost importance
  • Prepare a strong research question.
  • You should ideally have five research chapters in your dissertation.
  • Each chapter should focus on a particular topic.
  • Writing style should be clear, simple and effective
  • Cite all the references that you have used while writing your dissertation.
  • Check for grammatical errors, spellings, punctuation, construction of sentences and paragraphs etc. Proofread your dissertation to ensure there are no errors and last but not the least edit your dissertation and ensure that you stick to the word limit.
  • Writing a good dissertation would help you in your academic career and in life, so be creative and write a well-researched dissertation.
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