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An Introduction to Dissertation

A dissertation is an essential part of the assessments required to successfully complete your masters, doctoral, or in some cases the undergraduate degree, depending upon your country and your subjects. Commonly termed as a long project or a thesis, a dissertation is a final year project which contains an extended independent research study done by a student in the area of his interest. It is one of the most complex assessments of your university program and requires much determination and effort.

No matter whether you do a research project for your postgraduate or undergraduate degree, you will need to choose from the three major types of dissertations suitable according to your program/subject.

The types of dissertations are

  1. Empirical Dissertation: This dissertation is all about gathering information. You need to carry out original research which entails planning a research study, collecting and analyzing primary data, and presenting results systematically. You need to follow an ethical and specific guideline while opting for an empirical research dissertation. For example, dissertation for a psychology degree.
  2. Non-Empirical Dissertation: Non- empirical dissertation is all about a student’s ability to extract information from already existing sources, i.e. the secondary research data. In this type of dissertation work of other scholars is placed under close scrutiny to present your point of view and back it up with relevant facts.
    It involves considering the research methodologies of other scholars and evaluating them for formulating a critical judgment about the work regarding its quality, value, practical application, and contribution. Bibliography plays a very important role in the non-empirical dissertation.
  3. Narrative Dissertation: Most of the programs require either empirical or non-empirical form of a dissertation. However, in some disciplines, different methods are used for writing a research project. Fieldwork and labs are a key part of narrative dissertations. For example, in many scientific degrees the subject focuses around laboratory observations for describing all aspects of setting up and analyzing any complex experiment.

Dissertation in different disciplines

The dissertation allows a student to take responsibility for his learnings and produce a substantial piece of work as a new and creative contribution to his subject. Different level of degrees has different features for a dissertation.

Let’s have a look at some of the general features:

  • Undergraduate: Dissertation during an under-graduation program allows a student to develop intellectual and in-depth knowledge in a topic of interest. These programs majorly encourage the use of secondary sources i.e. the broader reading of journals, books, etc. to form a critical analysis of your research topic. However, in certain subject areas, the primary research sources for research like experiments, case studies, questionnaires, etc. are also used.
  • Master’s: A dissertation at the postgraduation level requires a student to necessarily use a specific combination of primary research sources and data. It is a longer piece of writing as compared to the under-grad dissertation and also requires extensive research and study to put forward your own analysis and interpretation of the selected topic.
  • Ph.D.: Working on a doctoral dissertation requires a student to successfully identify and fill up the gap between the existing knowledge on a selected topic. Primary research sources, like consulting historical documentation or archives; producing observed data with the help of experiments; case studies; or questionnaires, are an important element of dissertation during Ph.D. It is important to focus on filling the gap significantly.

Components required for any dissertation

Irrespective of the topic, university, and discipline, the dissertation needs to essentially include the following skills:

  • Deciding, defining, and outlining a research topic. Ensure that your dissertation includes a clear research statement that defines your work from the very beginning. It should be brief and sharp in nature.
  • Formulating a strong research question. Determining the problem in your dissertation is very important. Identify the issue to be researched and then present it factually in the paper.
  • Finding, generating, and collecting relevant information. Relevant information sources are a key component of any dissertation. They allow you to process the work more confidently.
  • Evaluating the credibility of the collected information. Collect information from the sources which are reliable and sincere according to your understanding. Ensure that the data presented is plagiarism free and include the citation in your paper for ethical practice.
  • Observing both the sides of the presented argument. You don’t have to present a single opinion in your dissertation. You can state both sides of the selected topic and support your claim later on in the paper.
  • Arriving at a solid conclusion backed by facts. Facts play an important role in any dissertation. Your observations and data should be backed with logical facts to enhance the credibility of the dissertation.
  • Conclude the paper. A rational conclusion shouldn’t be missed when writing a dissertation. You can highlight the importance of your personal findings together with the topic researched.
  • Organizing and presenting your work ethically, clearly, and logically. Organize your paper in a systematic and structural manner for creating a sensible line of order.

Structure of your dissertation

Before writing your dissertation, it is essential to understand the requirements of your institute regarding the word limit, fonts, and organization of the components. Most dissertations, be it empirical; non-empirical; or narrative, follow the same basic structure.

The standard format of a Dissertation

Title Page
(Name of your dissertation)

Table of Content
(Sequential list of the chapters as they occur in the dissertation)

List of Tables
(if any)

List of Abbreviations Used
(The abbreviations should be arranged in alphabetical order)


Literature Review


Findings & Discussions
(Include subchapter if required as per the topic selected)


(List of books, journals, articles, websites, and other sources used in the dissertation)

(Questionnaires, transcripts, reports, and tables, etc. used in the research process)


The five major components are explained below.

  1. Abstract

Abstract page, also known as 'summary' or 'executive summary' in some papers, usually occupies the dissertation after the title and acknowledgment page. It is basically a summary of what lies within your dissertation. The content of an abstract gives the reader an opportunity to judge whether your dissertation is going to be of interest to him or not. It includes a summary of your research questions, methodology, and results. The word length of an abstract usually varies from 150-250 words long.

  1. Introduction

The introduction is the main body of your dissertation. It is used to explain the background of the selected topic and your reasons to opt for the same. It is a way to attract the reader's interest in your dissertation. This two to three pages long document aims to provide a clear idea about the theme, methodology, and your approach towards the topic. The main purpose is to increase the curiosity of the reader about the main findings/ result of the dissertation. The introduction is where you explain your choices for the entire research process.

Do not add too many personal narratives in the introduction. Stick to one point in each paragraph to keep the introduction clean and organized. You can include pointers like the aim of the dissertation, background, and issues being explored or scrutinized. Also, avoid overstating the importance of your work to represent its relevance to the readers.

  1. Methodology and Discussion

The structure and level of details in an abstract and introduction are quite standard or any dissertation. However, it is the methodology and discussion which differs sparingly from one paper to another. This is the part where you define your empirical or non-empirical approach. The elements in different types of dissertation differ to a huge extent. Thus, it is important to choose one approach after completely understanding the need and suitability of your topic.

  1. Conclusion

The conclusion is an inevitable part of any dissertation. It prevents your dissertation from becoming a pointless interpretation. In simple terms, the conclusion means wrapping up your dissertation with strong points in reference to your research question.

  1. References or Bibliography

Creating a precise and complete list of references is a simple way of providing appropriate attention to the details of a dissertation. Be sure to follow the rules related to providing references in your area of study as per the regulations of your institution. Formatting and cross-checking your references is one of the most time-consuming procedures while writing a dissertation.

Universal standards are used to evaluate these dissertation papers. In advance programs/disciplines you might need to attend an oral examination to present, prove, and defend your point of view in the dissertation. The length of a dissertation varies from country to country and from institute to institute, but normally it should not exceed 12000 words for UG programs and 25000 words for PG programs. It should be processed with a wide left margin to enable binding and double or one-and-a-half spacing.

Ensure that you devote ample time to planning the structure of your dissertation. One should not shy away from asking the guidance of your supervisor at any point in the dissertation.

The ultimate purpose of any dissertation is to efficiently present the acquired knowledge gained by a student during his years at the university. It is your chance to allow your acquired skills to shine through.

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