Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How to Write a Good Dissertation?

A dissertation is a common academic requirement and serves as the main qualifying criterion for gaining a master’s degree or a PhD in several countries. Knowing how to write a good dissertation is crucial towards academic success during and after graduation. Yet, most students remain sadly unaware of the basics of writing an acceptable dissertation. Even though most universities have specific requirements and instructions related to dissertation writing, the foundations remain the same. In this document, I will try to cover the main areas that a dissertation is generally expected to address.
There are 3 main elements that any good dissertation should concentrate on – the structure, the contents and the language. Each of these is equally important and can make or break your dissertation. The following sections outline a few important points about these elements.
The overall structure of dissertations is similar across most universities irrespective of the subject you are specialising in. While certain aspects of the dissertation might be different depending upon your choice of specialisation, the following section outlines the mandatory common elements:
  1. Abstract - This is the very first portion of your paper and is written before the beginning of the actual dissertation. The aim of this section is to introduce your work to the readers. This should not be longer than 200 words and should explain the basic idea behind your research in clear, lucid sentences.
  2. Introduction - This is the first part of your actual dissertation. This should give a clear idea of what you plan to do in the coming sections and the rationale behind the subject choice. It is very important to explain the objectives and goals of your research in this section. It is also a good idea to mention how the remaining part of the dissertation is going to be structured.
  3. Literature Review - This is one of the most important parts of your dissertation. The objective of this section is to conduct a comprehensive study to understand the theory behind the subject. This study is usually conducted through secondary sources like books, journals and internet. The key towards conducting a good literature review is to begin with the objectives of the research and then set about proving them in theory. By the end of the literature review, you should be in a position to define the hypothesis for your research and build a framework for the work.
  4. Methodology - This section outlines the methods which you plan to follow to gather the data relevant for your research. Data can be gathered through primary or secondary means. Gathering data through primary means involves direct interaction with the participants through surveys, interviews, observations and so on. There are several qualitative and quantitative methods defined to accomplish this. While explaining about the type of methodology you plan to follow, you should touch upon the rationale behind choosing that particular methodology and how you plan to accomplish it.
  5. Data Analysis - Once the methodology is finalised, the actual data gathering and analysis needs to be conducted. This section is meant to give information about the data collected and its analysis. Analysis can be done manually through excels and spreadsheets or, in more complex scenarios, with the help of tools like SPSS or Nvivo. The analysis should be logical, clear and conforming to the objectives of the research.
  6. Discussion - This is the section in which you discuss the results obtained by analysing the data gathered. You should also discuss whether the data analysis has been successful in accomplishing your research goals and if there were any anomalies or deviations from the expected results.
  7. Conclusion - This is the concluding portion of your dissertation in which you discuss the learning and outcomes of your research. You should also mention any difficulties encountered by you during the research and the future research that can be carried out in this area.
  8. References - This is one of the most important aspects of the dissertation. It is very important to provide references to the sources of your information. There are several referencing styles which are accepted by universities. You should find out the style which you are expected to follow by your university and make sure you conform to it. The references need to be provided in between text (in-text reference) as well as at the end of the dissertation (bibliography). Failing to do so will count as plagiarism which is grounds for severe penalties in universities across the world.
The most important thing to remember about the content of your dissertation is that it should be logical and meaningful. Each section should follow from the previous one in a sequential manner and statements should be substantiated with data. Overall, the dissertation should work towards accomplishing the research goals defined at the beginning. It is also important not to take statements you read at face value. Any theory you quote should be followed by evidence. Also, you should aim to strike a balance between description and analysis. You should demonstrate knowledge and understanding of your chosen topic.
The language of your dissertation should be formal and written in third person as far as possible. It is important to articulate your ideas clearly and succinctly. Do not ramble or repeat points. While usage of simple sentences is permissible, it is very important to remember that the sentences should be coherent and logical. Wherever required, you should use points and numbers. Last but not the least; it is very important to make sure that your dissertation is free of grammatical errors, punctuation and spelling mistakes. Use word’s built in spell-checker to ensure your paper is free of such mistakes. It is always a good idea to have someone who has a good command over English read through your document before you submit it.

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