Writing A Dissertation

From The Graduate Research Blog

Articles full of expert guidance and advice on improving your writing skills and your time at university

What follows is an in-depth guide on how to write a high-quality dissertation.

We have broken down all the various components into their individual parts so each section is addressed in detail

This guide has been written in plain English, avoiding a lot of the confusing jargon which often accompanies scholarly guides. The intention is to provide learners with a comprehensive but easy to understand go-to resource which can be used as a virtual working manual to aid in completing a dissertation.

By following this step-by-step guide, you will be able to work through your dissertation in easy to manage stages, progressing with clarity and confidence.

Table of Contents

1.0. What is a Dissertation?

2.0. How to Start

3.0. The Perfect Dissertation Title

4.0. The Research Proposal

5.0. Dissertation Research Strategy

6.0. Data Collection Methods

7.0. When to Write the Abstract

8.0. The Introduction

9.0. The Literature Review

10.0. The Methodology

11.0. Data Analysis

12.0. The Results

13.0. The Discussion

14.0. Conclusion and Recommendations

15.0. References and Bibliography

16.0. Do you Need an Appendix?

17.0. Final Thoughts

18.0. So, to Recap…

Top Tips for Writing Your Dissertation

Need Help with a Dissertation? 1

What is a Dissertation?

The dissertation is a long-form academic project or thesis. It is an in-depth piece of critical writing in which students are given the opportunity independently to develop an extended piece of research in a specialty of their choosing. Here, you, the learner, take responsibility for the direction of your study. In this way, the dissertation is unique from all other assessed university work because students are given an unprecedented level of intellectual and academic autonomy. The exact requirements of your dissertation will depend upon the course subject and qualification for which you are studying.

So, we now know that the dissertation is an extended piece of self-directed research, let us consider what this entails exactly. The dissertation is usually your last stage of your studies and gives you a chance to demonstrate your skills in collecting, analysing and forming conclusions about your own research. Broadly speaking, there are three key aspects to a dissertation.

Firstly, your dissertation is expected to be a piece of independent work. You will of course have the support of your dissertation supervisor, but the work is primarily directed, managed and overseen by yourself.

Secondly, the dissertation needs to be original. This can be achieved in a variety of ways. For instance, it might come from original research questions or an original argument or insight into an area of concern, or it might derive from originality in the method you choose to carry out the study and final dissertation.

Most importantly, dissertation writing should be reflective. This means you need to look at your own work with a critical eye. Obviously, there will be critical reflection present in your findings. However, you are also expected to go beyond this and reflect on the research process itself. This means you should seek to identify the limitations of your study as well as discussing other problems you faced as a researcher. All academic research is subject to some limitation or other. You will invariably encounter difficulties in your own study. So this reflective component should be fairly easy to undertake.

The Basic Structure of a Dissertation

Undergraduate dissertations are usually between 8,000 to 12,000 words. A Postgraduate or Masters dissertation between 10,000 and 20,000 words and a PhD Thesis can reach upwards of 100,000 words. Traditionally speaking, an Undergraduate, Postgraduate or Masters dissertation contains five key chapters:

  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Methodology
  • Results
  • Discussion

We shall discuss each of the above in closer detail in subsequent sections. But for now, we will give a brief overview of how the individual chapters work, both individually and together.

The Introduction is there to set the scene. This chapter establishes the context of your research and describes the problem or issue you studied. It provides a rationale for the study. So, you might for example discuss why the topic is important, what is to be gained from studying it, and who will benefit from the research (i.e. professional practitioners or other researchers). Also, the Introduction provides a formal statement of the research questions associated with his study.

The Literature Review provides a fairly comprehensive account of the theoretical concepts related to your topic. This may include a review of related studies which have examined topics similar to yours. You will need to discriminate between content so as to include only the literature most relevant to your project.

The Methodology discusses the research design you have chosen along with the assumptions associated with that design and a rationale for what it has been selected. Usually the Methodology will provide a step-by-step breakdown of the methods and techniques you use to collect and analyse your data. Where applicable, the chapter would also entail discussion of the ethical issues associated with the project.

The Results chapter should be a narrative which presents the evidential findings of your research as clearly as possible. The point here is to transmit information in a way that other researchers understand exactly what your study discovered and why.

The Discussion is where major interpretation of the data generally occurs. Hence the Discussion is arguably the most important section of the dissertation. Here, you should aim to connect the findings to the original research questions and Literature Review. Perhaps you will introduce new ideas which shed further light on the findings, enabling better interpretation. This is also the best place to offer a reflective account of your study (its limitations and difficulties). If you are undertaking applied research, the Discussion also offers recommendations you wish to make for further research.

What Makes the Dissertation Special?

The dissertation is a truly unique part of the university experience. It is the most personal piece of work you will do. This is because you are in control, the master and commander of your own scholarly journey. Of course, this might be a bit daunting to start with though. But as you progress with your writing, it will begin to become extremely rewarding.

Think about it: learning how to write a dissertation is your opportunity to say what you want to say, on a topic you think is important, that you care about. You get to shine a light on a perhaps wholly new area of inquiry. Moreover, this is your best chance to be unrestricted, to really throw yourself into something that you have a passion for. This can be a very agreeable, even enjoyable experience.

Far too much attention is paid to the potential difficulties of the dissertation. True enough, it will likely be challenging; but anything worthwhile is. Overcoming the challenge is where the sense of achievement comes from. Nor does this have to be an ordeal. Do not feel like you have to suffer through dissertation writing. This really is the wrong way to think about it. Rather, you should concentrate on the benefits it offers to your personal development. You should allow yourself to enjoy the process, enjoy the research. Allow yourself to enjoy producing something you are proud of, in being able to immerse yourself in study and produce good work.

How to Start

The first thing to consider, when deciding upon your dissertation topic, is what kind of research project genuinely arouses your interest – and can sustain it.

The topic should also be manageable but also have scope for extended study. Avoid choosing a problem that researchers have spent many years trying, and failing, to solve (and on which you are unlikely to be able to make ground).

Be sure you enjoy your research area. After all, you will be working on this topic for months and months, so it absolutely must be something you like. If you have no passion for your research topic, not only will this probably be evident in your work, it will also make the process into a chore. Moreover, having a sincere interest in your topic will help guarantee you do not dread working on it – or worse, never finish the thesis.

At the same time, however, it is wise to avoid a topic about which you hold strong opinions and beliefs. Any such kind of emotional connection to the topic might suggest an investment in a particular outcome. This can cloud your judgement. Being too tied to a position makes it hard to be objective about it.

This subjective partiality, when spending so much time wresting with an issue which is close to you, can take a toll emotionally. Avoid this pitfall by planning ahead and making sure you set off on the right foot.

Choosing a Suitable Topic

With a big piece of work like a dissertation, you can save yourself a lot of time early on by asking certain questions which will guide you along. Who is my dissertation supervisor? When is the final deadline? And what is the dissertation word limit?

You will benefit from tailoring your subject in line with the answers to the above questions. Do not make things difficult for yourself. Choose something which your department specialises in. Once you have the answers to these questions you can think about structuring a topic within these parameters.

Consult your Supervisor

Your supervisor will be a good first port of call in these initial stages. You should try and meet with them early on, even if you do not have any clear-cut ideas at that stage. Even a simple conversation is likely to be valuable in some respect. Tutors have guided hundreds of students through similar waters and will very likely be able to guide you in refining your dissertation topic ideas.

Narrow your Focus

When trying to identify your dissertation topic, it is useful to start with a fairly broad scope as opposed to a specific question. Narrow the subject down in line with your interests and expertise and eventually a particular research question will suggest itself.

An essential stage in narrowing focus is to review as much of the available literature as possible. Gather everything that is relevant to the topics and themes you are interested in. As you continue to search for and review the literature, your scope will slowly but surely narrow to favour the concept that you find the most engaging.

It is important to think critically about the literature, considering how it fits in with or diverges from the broader debates and ideas in the particular academic field. Specifically, you want to focus on learning what has already been done what methods have been used.

Look for what works and what does not, identify best practice. Perhaps the most important objective, here, however is to locate a gap in the literature: an area of inquiry which has not yet been covered or has been given scant attention. Usually scholarly articles will telegraph such gaps themselves, so keep an eye out for the “Recommendations for future Research” which often come at the end of journal articles: this will be a trove of great potential research topics and questions.

Get Feedback

Once you have narrowed your focus into a few principle themes and ideas, begin to formulate these as research questions. Next try and synthesise the research questions with the gaps which you have identified in the literature. You should by now begin to see an inroad into the topic. This is the time to go back to your supervisor and discuss your thoughts. He or she should be able to assist you in isolating a specific dissertation topic, based on the research you have already done.

The Perfect Dissertation Title

In many ways, coming up with a high-quality dissertation title is the most exciting part of the project. This is because, at this early stage of development, nothing is set in stone and there is a world of new possibilities in front of you. This is your chance to be creative, to explore the various possibilities available to you. This means playing around with various ideas and seeing what engages you. The point is to find a title which speaks to you, which sparks your interest and which you feel excited about. Really, the title serves to encapsulate the overall idea of the thesis. It is consequently essential that you find the right title for you. After all, you will be spending much time and energy in its presence. However, you cannot expect a suitable title to just fall into your lap. Rather, you need to be actively engaged in looking for a good title.

Relevance to Your Topic

Finding a good dissertation title page is a lot to do with selecting a good thesis topic. The two items are of course intrinsically related. Again, the central idea is what counts. So, how do you find that one great idea? There is no single answer to this question but certainly there are a few simple steps you can take to set you in the right direction.

#1 – Read Around the Topic

First of all, read widely. See what piques your interest. One very useful step is to go into your university library, browse the thesis and dissertations section, looking in particular at recent dissertations. This will be useful in giving an indication of the kinds of dissertations which your particular institution produces as well as the kinds of theses’ titles which attend them. Further, more importantly, almost all dissertations will have a conclusory section which includes suggestions for future research: which is precisely what you are looking for. Recent journal articles likewise give suggestions for further research (though, bear in mind, journal recommendations may be somewhat over-complex for graduate level work).

#2 – Seek the Advice of Others

The next essential piece of advice is to talk with as many people as possible. This includes potential supervisors, fellow students, friends and other people that have completed a thesis. Why would you want to talk to all those different people? So, you can make any informed decision about what you are going to study and write about. You can often profit greatly from other people’s experience and knowledge.

#3 – Use Your Supervisor

The next practical step is seeking your supervisor’s assistance. In this regard there are two obvious approaches. Firstly, you can approach your supervisor with your own ideas for the topic and see what they think. Secondly, you can ask them for suggestions as to a suitable topic. Usually, the optimal solution is a combination of both. Perhaps you come with some ideas about a title page for your dissertation, and they will come back with suggestions on how to improve or refine that dissertation title. Do not be worried if initially you have no ideas. Your supervisor will almost certainly be able to suggest some – that is what they are there for.

Refining the Idea

Once you have done all of the above, you should be situated to start playing around with potential ideas. Jot down some possible research questions. Now, try to make these look like essay titles.

So, for instance, here is a research question:

“How is identity constructed in post-colonial literature?”

Now, here is that same question rearranged into a title:

“An Examination into the Construction of Identity in Post-Colonial Literature”.

Experiment with a range of questions/titles until you alight upon a couple of options that you think might work. Consult with your supervisor again. Narrow down the list until you find one title that is the most interesting to you, relevant to the discipline and amenable to the supervisor.

The Research Proposal

The overall objective of a research proposal is to convince your dissertation supervisor, a busy academic, to take on this research project with you and thus to dedicate their time and resources into developing your writing. The proposal thus needs to be persuasive; it is making an argument. The first issue, then, is to have a clear focus. You have to test out the feasibility of the proposed study, exhibiting an appropriate level of academic sophistication and professional relevance. Getting that balance right is crucial. It is important from the outset that you avoid being too general. You must begin to clarify and to identify the very clear issues that are of most significance and are most likely to produce useful and relevant outcomes. While you will necessarily be working within one overall generic topic, identifying a specific sub-topic is essential.

Your Idea

Make life easy on yourself by selecting a manageable project. A crucial component of persuading the supervisor of your capability is correctly gaging the scope and complexity of the proposed idea. This in itself exhibits good judgement and forethought (and is an element of critical thinking). A proposal which suggests research in an entirely new area is risky, because there are fewer (or no) precedents to refer to and build upon. It will be far harder (though perhaps not impossible) to convince the supervisor to sign-off on some order of research project that has never been done before. Even where a few precursor studies do exist, you may potentially face scepticism. Hence you will need to think of all the potential risks and have a course of action mapped out, clearly outlining how you will proceed. Your proposal must communicate this strategic planning in such a way that convincingly argues that you can take this new piece of work and create something out of it. Always remember, you are making an argument, and this means marshalling evidence to win the reader to your point of view.

Originality

A good research proposal will be original in some way, either in the topics it addresses or the way it intends to approach those topics. If the research is distinctive it has more potential to make an impact and this is what will make your proposal persuasive: because the purpose of the research has been clearly stated. A good way of highlighting impact, in this sense, is to outline how your work will add to the critical dialogue. Your proposal thus needs to talk (briefly) about the contribution your work will have, for theory and practice. Academic contributions are theoretical in nature. Fellow researchers in your area should benefit in some way from the work that you are doing. It might also have some kind of practical contribution, aiding practitioners. In either case, you should emphasise these benefits.

Concept

Your proposal should also include some degree of conceptualisation. By conceptualisation, we really mean exploring the ideas which surround your research project. This will start with a Literature Review. A Literature Review in a research proposal does not have to be extensive, but it should highlight the key scholarly works in your area. So, you want to seek out seminal papers, papers that receive a lot of citations. Also, you will want to include any facts and theories which appear to be of key relevance (those which commonly recur in the scholarly literature).

Theory

The reader will expect some coverage of the theoretical underpinnings of your study. What theory are you using to refine and develop your thinking in your topic area? Theory is extremely important. It helps us explain how variables are expected to relate to each other. Without theory underpinning why we expect things to happen we do not really know if any results that we have are random.

Methodology

The next section of writing a research proposal would be the Methodology. We should think about this as “proposed methodology”, because, at this stage, we are not certain as to the exact methods we will use. Rather, we would talk about the data that we would like to collect to enable us to address our research questions. However, we do not necessarily know if this is the final type of data we will be interested in. Because we have not yet conducted the research, we do not know exactly what methodology will be best suited the results in the field. So, at this stage, the “proposed methodology” would address questions about how to collect relevant data for the research and how we plan to analyse that data. A good tip, here, is to read books on academic methods, citing where appropriate to back-up the suitability of your chosen approach. Referencing is paramount in when it comes to writing a research proposal. Make sure that you understand the nature of Referencing. If you are making truth-claims in your proposal you should be referencing those statements with other academic works. This builds evidence into your position.

Length

A research proposal should not be overly long. You should be able to describe your research area and your research question in a page or two. It is good practice to learn to communicate your ideas to people in a short amount of writing. Also, do not consider your proposal to be final; it will change during the research process. Do not worry about your proposal being perfect; it just has to demonstrate enough competence to persuade your supervisor. The supervisor will be looking to see whether you have the competencies, experience and knowledge-base to see the project through.

Dissertation Research Strategy

Conducting dissertation-level research can at first be a little bit of a daunting prospect. Initially, you might find yourself in what seems like a chaotic environment, in which no clear starting point is apparent. Contrarily, perhaps there are multiple contrasting ways of thinking about your research topic and you do not know exactly where you stand among this diversity.

Do not worry.

Feeling somewhat at sea in the beginning is perfectly normal and development will take some time. The research environment is highly complex and does not easily lend itself to a neatly linear process. What you need to do is locate an academic pathway through this complexity, isolating a through-line which lets you see what you are trying to do and allows you to narrow your focus. This is precisely what a research strategy is: the through-line that will guide you along the way.

Which Research Strategy is Best?

In formulating a research strategy, it is important to have a clear idea of what it is precisely that you are trying to achieve. At base, any piece of academic research is making an argument. This argument is conceptualised around problem which is deemed to be important to the particular discipline.

Of course, not all problems will be relevant for all disciplines. This means that identifying a problem which is relevant to your subject is a principle concern in your research strategy. This will ensure that you start out in good stead, by placing your research problem in the right scholarly orbit.

There are a few simple steps that will help you alight on a suitable problem. First off, you will want to read scholarly literature related to your topic. You will start to notice that certain key themes and ideas come up regularly. You should note these down. These key points will soon come to exhibit connecting points, which will serve to pull your focus in a certain direction. This is important because it will give you an anchor point to begin with and save you from pursuing irrelevant material.

When it comes to research strategy types, coming up with a quality strategy is important because a thesis, as a long-form and reasonably complex piece of work, tends to have multiple (and, generally, related) problems and thus contain multiple arguments.

The best way to ensure you manage all of these problems efficiently is to approach them strategically. This entails figuring out how the various pieces of your research will thread together, how you will unite the respective arguments and conclusions. You want to know at least broadly, in advance, how the key literature complements the conceptual framework, how this particular methodology is superior to others, and how both the above help you to conceptualise, and consequently shed light on, your research problem. The point here is to maintain a clear grasp of how and why the conclusions of your analysis make sense and what the connections between them include. The objective of the research strategy is to keep track of these arguments, provide you with a degree of clarity and, more importantly, direction as you progress. This is extremely useful seeing as one generally commences a research project without knowing what the outcome will be. Approaching this uncertain territory in a methodical way accordingly helps impose an element of order upon it. So, you want to attempt to work your way through the research process in a systematic fashion, accumulating knowledge as you advance, thus piecing together associated assumptions which lead you to your final conclusions.

One important strategic move is to make the most use of available resources. Librarians and online resources point can you in the right direction. For example, there are numerous academic databases which archive articles that relate to a particular topic or subject area. These databases limit the pool in which you are searching, using specific search criteria to help you locate relevant research material.

Knowing what information is most relevant is thus vital when starting out. The best way of narrowing down what information will be most useful is by identifying key words and the concepts. An efficient means of narrowing focus in this way might be to compose a mind map. Start with a broad topic in the centre and work outward by adding any related topics. You will want to consider by what variables the topic may be narrowed. For example, by viewpoint, time frame, location, experience, gender, or any other factors you think are relevant to the project. This mind-mapping exercise will help you to select what topic you should focus on as well as to brainstorm what keywords you should search (in the journal archives).

Once you have selected and narrowed your topic from the mind map it is helpful to chart the keywords, to see how they might fit together and what related concepts they suggest. When you are searching the database using different keywords will give you different results every time. Hence it is useful to make a note of your searches in case you want to come back to them.

So, a research strategy is essentially a simplifying framework which gives you a structured and systematic method of sorting through information. It is a way of clarifying your vision, which puts emphasis on the overall substance of the research project as opposed to the finer details (which will be filled in later).

Data Collection Methods

The term “data” is the plural of “datum”. A datum is a piece of information, so data are pieces of information. As such, data is a term which encapsulates a very broad range of meanings. After all, almost anything might be considered a piece of information, depending upon the way one looks at it. This is what data collection methods are all about: they give us specific and systematic ways of looking at information. They allow us to organise and process information in a structured and consistent manner.

Numerous different kinds of data collection methods are available, but two very broad overarching categories may nonetheless be identified. These relate to primary and secondary data.

Primary data concerns information gathered first-hand by, you, the student. This can include a wide array of different methods, such conducting surveys, interviews, field observations, laboratory experiments, and many more.

Secondary data are pieces of information not gathered by you, but which come from other sources. Here we may list censuses, government statistics, organisational records, and other academic content.

Obviously, these different kinds of data are best fitted to different purposes. Choosing the right kind of data is therefore important in deciding upon one’s data collection methods.

One of the first items to consider is whether existing (secondary) data may be used or new (primary) data must be generated for analysis. Using data that already exists saves much time and effort in a research project. Many kinds of data are readily available to the researcher. These include records, historical data and existing data sets collected for research purposes. Such secondary data sets are becoming increasingly common and are thus more likely to be used in your work. So, collecting data will be required for students who are carrying out a primary research project.

Students who are carrying out a secondary research project, such as an extended Literature Review, will produce two or three literature review chapters, with the purpose of presenting what other researchers have found. Other information may come from original research found in secondary sources, such as scholarly journal articles. The authors may have collected their own data via scientific experiments, observations and surveys; they may also use data collected by other researchers, analysing them in a new form.

You need to be forward thinking in deciding upon data collection. You should start out by making a data collection plan. This is a broad roadmap of the various major stages to be taken. This begins by identifying your data needs. This relates to research question: you need to figure out which kinds of information would best answer or help to explain your research problem.

Next, you must select the type of data collection approach and measurement that will be employed. You will then need to select, adapt or develop data collection instruments. Developing such an instrument can be time consuming and highly complex. Hence this approach is probably best avoided at undergraduate level – unless one has a demonstrably workable and necessary instrument. It is advisable to use established data collection instruments. Consider how you will record any information collected and set up a system for analysing and storing your data. Make sure to factor into this plan enough time to negotiate access to the research site. Finally, one needs to develop data collection forms and procedures, to test them (in the manner in which they are intended to be employed).

To recap, the data collection in primary research can be time-consuming and needs to be well thought out to avoid collecting more data than you can use. It is essential that you ask for your supervisor’s guidance when it comes to data collection. They will be able to point you in the right direction, ensuring you do not waste valuable time. Remember, the more effort you put into the data collection stage, the better quality the data are going to be. Good planning is the essence of good research.

Quantitative and Qualitative

Methodologically speaking, academic convention identifies two main kinds of data, quantitative and qualitative.

Qualitative data come in numerical form – they are to do with quantities. These relate to non-numerical information. On the qualitative side, then, you have open questions (for example, responses on a questionnaire); data that do not collate neatly into unambiguous units of measurement (as with numbers). In sum, qualitative data relate information that is not otherwise easily parsed.

Quantitative data may be subdivided into continuous/variable data and discrete data. Continuous data would relate to numerical values along a scale whose range could be any of an infinite number of decimals. Discrete data would be something in which a finite number of choices were at play.

Deciding upon whether you will need quantitative or qualitative data is a crucial consideration in determining what kinds of data collection methods you use within your study. Obviously, the process of gathering statistical information will be quite different from that of collecting soil samples. There are as many collection methods as there are sources of data to collect.

You need to determine which kind of data is most appropriate to conceptualising your research problem. This means you need to consider what type of data will best offer explanations for a certain phenomenon. For example, if you were trying to determine how second-generation immigrants feel about national identity in their adoptive country, soil samples from beneath their homes would not shed much light. Here, an interview would surely better serve. Contrarily, if you were investigating the iron-content of soil in a park, say, giving questionnaires to people sat upon the grass would probably not yield appropriate data. You need to tailor the method the objective, and the objective will be determined by the Research Question.

When to Write the Abstract

A Dissertation Abstract is a brief comprehensive summary of the content of a thesis or academic document, which comes at the very beginning of the work. Because the Abstract is the first part of the work the reader will see, it has an important role in setting the reader’s expectations. Thus, it is an opportunity for you to outline the parameters of the work (say what it is doing and why) and thus to establish the genre of the research. Hence an Abstract is not merely prefatory. It has the practical function of substituting the entire text in library and digital archives, allowing researchers quickly to determine the content and significance of the text. For this reason, an Abstract must clarify the results of the research. It will tell the reader what the paper’s findings were.

A Comprehensive Summary

As a comprehensive summary, the Dissertation Abstract must be composed after the rest of the work has been completed – when one has all the information required to summarise the contents of the paper. Generally speaking, most Abstracts include four principal components: the purpose, the methods, the results and the conclusions/implications. Around half of the words count will be spent telling the results and discussing their implications. Usually, the Abstract is around 100 to 150 words long. This is not very many words at all, so one needs to exercise considerable verbal economy, packing as much meaning as possible into the few words available. One needs, then, carefully to balance concise writing with density of meaning.

Structure

We may establish certain further characteristics which make a good Abstract for a professional dissertation. One should use the active rather than passive voice. It is written in the past tense, seeing as it is relaying information about a study which has been completed. An Abstract conveys as opposed to evaluating information (this is to be done in the main body of the work). You are reporting the contents of the study and what its purpose was. You are not engaging in analysis. A good Abstract will identify all of the main issues under study in one sentence, including a general description of the problem. So, you want to open with a sentence which is optimally explanatory, reporting all the key points in a clear and efficient way. Do not waste precious words by repeating the title. Be sure to include the most important findings, concepts or implications. The point of the Dissertation Abstract is that another scholar should be able to read it and determine immediately if that paper is relevant to their own research. Hence it functions somewhat like an index card. It may be helpful to think about the structure of the Abstract as mirroring the overall structure of the Thesis, in microcosm of course.

Most pieces of academic writing composed according to standard form will have an Introduction chapter. An Introduction chapter establishes the relevance of the study and provides certain essential information which the reader will need to contextualise and understand the rest of the dissertation.

The Introduction

Writing an introduction is an important skill for any university student. In order to do this, you need to know what functions an Introduction is supposed to fulfil. Put in the simplest terms, the Introduction is an answer to the reader’s question: what is this work all about and why does it matter?

Your first priority, then, is to makes life easier for readers: by telling them what the general subject matter is. Secondly, unless the research topic is generally well known, you might also need to provide additional background information to help guide and set up the issue. How much background will depend on the specific subject matter and what you can assume about your intended audience.

Remember, after having read the dissertation introduction, the reader should know exactly what this dissertation is about, what its main arguments are, and the relevance of those arguments within the field. The Introduction, then, is supposed to remove ambiguity; it clarifies all the essential information required to understand the rest of the work.

State Your Thesis

As the first order of business, the Introduction must make clear the principle thesis (the core argument) of the dissertation. It is essential that when you state your main thesis the reader have a good idea of what you are saying and why. Hence an Introduction might begin something like this:

This paper looks at whether (insert research question). It does this by examining (insert research topic). In addressing this issue, this paper employs (insert methodology), arguing that (insert proposition).

As you can see, the Introduction is very expository: it gets key information across quickly and plainly. Following the above format, within the first few sentences, the reader has ascertained a great deal of information about the academic study. They know what the core themes are, the main research question, subject matter, methods of data collection and crux of the argument. Now that they know what the paper is all about, you might want to explain how you intend to organise and expand upon the above component parts of the thesis. Thus, the Introduction might map out the rest of the dissertation, acting as a guide which lets the reader know what to expect in the remainder of the work.

The Introduction establishes a set of expectations for the reader. This is good practice because it brings the reader to a certain interpretive stance, one which you have determined in advance. You want to do your best to fulfil those expectations, so make sure that you actually do in the essay you said you would do in Introduction. Or, put another way, make sure that on completing the dissertation that you correctly describe in the Introduction what it is you have done.

Because the Introduction is intended to pull the threads of the dissertation together, it is generally written after the rest of the work is completed. This is because, on completing the core research, you will have a better idea of what the precise significance of your study and findings was. An important aspect of identifying significance is locating a niche for your work, showing how your work fills a certain gap in the scholarly knowledge. Remember, you are outlining your research territory and situating your thesis specifically within that territory, as bridging a specific knowledge gap.

Introduction Structure

While the above passage offers a template, it is not prescribed or mandatory; it is only a suggestion. There are many ways to write an Introduction; it really depends on the genre of the research project. You may wish for instance to start your writing with an intriguing quote or a bold statement, something that catches the reader’s attention and sparks their interest. Do not forget that your readers will have to dedicate time and energy into reading your work. You need to persuade them, to win them to your side. For this reason, merely reeling off expository statements may come over as rather dry. Rather, you want to find a balance between conveying information and exhibiting some element of verbal flair.

A good way to go about finding this balance is to start with the above template and then build upon it. Get all the key information down first and then work at putting some sheen on the prose. Good writing will help in creating a persuasive argument. As long as the Introductions includes a statement of the core problem, the primary research questions, an outline of conceptualisation and methodology, and perhaps something on the scope and significance of the work, you can arrange it any structure you wish.

Recap

So, the Introduction sets the stage for the rest of the discussion and structure of the document. It is not the place to begin describing in detail arguments, analysing data, or providing other kinds of information that really belong in the main body of the essay. The Introduction is for setting up the main argument, providing background and context so the reader is best prepared to understand and follow the arguments which follow in later chapters. Hence the dissertation introduction should be reasonably brief, like an opening statement. In a dissertation of 8000 to 10,000 words, it usually will carry an approximately 10% weighting.

The Literature Review

The literature review chapter (not to be confused with a literature review dissertation) is one of the most difficult pieces to write. It is complex and there are multiple things that you as the author are trying to do and which the reader will expect to view. One of the reasons it so difficult is because you have to write with the authority and sophistication of an experienced scholar. It can therefore be an intellectually challenging chapter to write. You need to pull together theoretical perspectives and conceptual debates from previous research perspectives. Furthermore, you have to write in others’ voices. That is, you must use other scholarly texts in order to construct an argument and, somehow, through doing that, still pulling together a coherent argument of your own.

What is the Purpose of a Literature Review?

The purpose of the literature review in a dissertation is to establish the scholarly significance of the research problem by showing what previous research and analysis in this area has found. Generally speaking, then, you need to demonstrate that you have a comprehensive awareness of the subject area, that you have considered it from a wide variety of angles. You are required to be able to see the broader debates in the field, to be able to see what the big discussions and issues are. You need to be able to see what the connections are between papers and between authors. You need to identify which author has generated a range of discussions and how authors connect or disagree with each other. You are also required to show how research is connected either theoretically or by a particular perspective, or perhaps a particular way of looking at that research or using data in a particular way.

The main objective, then, is to illuminate the conceptual connections in the field, to chart how different scholarly works talk to each other. In addition, you must demonstrate that you are conscious of and understand the key gaps in the research: particularly the gap that your research is going to bridge.

Component Parts

We can identify three main components to writing literature reviews. All three components are important. First of all, you cannot write a literature review without reading. You must read widely and systematically. Secondly, you need to understand how to write a literature review in an academic format, and what goes into it. The third component is citation: citations play a very important role in helping you construct not only your argument as well as your identity as a scholar.

Iterative Process

One of the important things to think about in writing the literature review is that it is an iterative process, something you come back to over and again. The literature review is the scholarly foundation of the work and as such acts as a touchstone for proceeding chapters. Begin by reading widely and making notes of all the literature works you read. It is especially important that you write down any quotes that you think will be significant to your study. Doubly important is that you take a reference for every quote noted: do this exactly as you would in an ordinary essay (with a full bibliography). This way, you will have your dissertation bibliography already underway. It will also help you in keeping your thoughts clear and orderly. Keep these notes filed and in tidy fashion. This will save you a great deal of time in the long run when you need to find a passage or quote whose relevance has only just become apparent. This will be very important later down the line, because you might come back to that article in the later stages and need to reread it. Again, the literature review is an iterative endeavour. You will necessarily go through a process of initial thoughts, from reading, writing, going back to articles, getting different thoughts, maybe finding new discoveries, and writing again; so, you will be revisiting papers and readings. Keep track of what you have been reading.

Another important consideration is that writing a literature review is in a certain sense an incremental process. As you begin to read and to understand the field, to see what the debates are, the more confidently you will progress. Towards the end of your thesis you will be much more confident about the area that you are researching, because you will have developed expertise as you go along.

Reading

The only way you can find out what is happening in the literature is through reading. The more you read the more familiar you are going to become with the literature resources. At the beginning, this might all seem overwhelming; but as you read and you begin to see the same authors appearing, the same points being made, and arguments against a particular point, you will be able to work out what is happening in the field.

Where relevant (and possible) always try and go back to the source documents. Not only is this good in terms of seeing what was written originally but you will find that your confidence will increase if you have read the original source. This way, you are not just relying on other people’s interpretations. You want to begin to master how to read critically, how to develop notes and how to relate your notes to the research that you are conducting.

Another important consideration in the literature review is the genre. You need to understand how the chapter will be written and what will go into it. You need to realise that the literature review is made up of a number of arguments and these are all sub-claims in your overall thesis argument. An essential claim in this respect is the need for this research to fill a knowledge-gap. The scholarly need for your own research will be justified based on your assessments of the research that has been really conducted in the field. You need to demonstrate to the reader where the current scholarship is lacking. You also need to show how the literature points in a certain direction in relation to the gap which you intend to bridge.

The Methodology

What you reader wants to hear in this chapter is what your research approach is, why you have chosen this specific approach, and how you have developed your research design out of this approach. You need to convey how all of the above aligns with your overall research problem and purpose so that everything fits together. The methodology chapter, then, must present an argument for why you have chosen to follow this particular methodology and not another one.

As with any other argument, you will generally present a main claim, which would be around your research approach and analysis. This would be accompanied by subsidiary claims, which might be around a particular methodology or design or data collection method. For instance, if you choose to use open-ended interviews as opposed to surveys, you are effectively making an argument for the value of open-ended interviews over surveys (in measuring the particular phenomenon in question).

Before beginning the write-up, it is useful carefully to consider your main claim and sub-claims of your study. You should think these through thoroughly, getting your ideas straight. Perhaps use index cards to plot the evidence you will need. This will help you arrange your ideas in a coherent way, thus aiding you to construct an argument. As an example, with open-ended interviews you would look to find in the scholarly literature evidence indicating that this particular approach has been used in other research projects to access this kind of data. You might note down such parallel studies on the index cards, marking down key advantages and disadvantages therein. Thus you would use these sources to show that the way you have set up your project is in line with the way other scholars have conducted comparable research before. Such sources constitute evidence that your approach is likely to be reliable and therefore successful.

Structure

A methodology, like other chapters in an academic dissertation, begins with an introduction. In the introduction, you want to link to the previous chapter, to establish continuity. You also want to identify the purpose of this chapter, to let the reader know your intention. Complementing this, you may perhaps include a roadmap which details for reader exactly what the chapter will include and in what order. The bulk of the research methodology will be made up of a number of different sections, which commence with the broad and progress to the specific. Finally, you would have a concluding paragraph where you include a summary of the key points (that is, your key arguments). Here, it may be useful to emphasise the key message of the chapter, linking this in some way to the next chapter, again providing continuity, cogency and thus coherency.

Focus

A key focus of the methodology, around which the rest of the chapter will rotate, is the research paradigm. A paradigm is a specific kind of pattern, example or model. Hence a research paradigm is a pre-established way of conducting research. As such, it is a broad term and can relate to a good many different concepts and approaches. For example, qualitative and quantitative approaches represent different paradigms, as do structuralism and post-structuralism, rationalism and empiricism, positivism and post-positivism, realism and idealism, and so on down the list. The particular research paradigm selected will depend on your discipline and department. The research paradigm determines your theoretical framework. Hence the objective in defending your research paradigm is to prove its appropriateness for researching the problem at hand and achieving the purpose of the research and development. Again, recall that you are making an argument. You need to persuade your reader of your position. Accordingly, you want to cite sources which demonstrate that other studies in the field successfully employed similar approaches to your own.

Design

Another crucial part of research methodology is the research design. This is the architecture of the academic study; it shows the reader how everything fits together within your research paradigm. So, if you were conducting qualitative research, a key assumption of this paradigm is that people’s experiences are central in determining how they make meaning out of the world. As a result, you would want to use a narrative research design as your approach, because this fits within the qualitative paradigm. For, the assumption in narrative research is that people’s stories are important in how understand their environments. These narrative accounts, the paradigm holds, can tell us something useful about society because they are products of that society. Thus, in this instance, you are not looking for objective, factual data about what people know. Instead, you are looking for subjective data about how people know what they know; their experience of that knowledge. If contrarily you were looking for data on what people knew, you probably would not use a narrative paradigm. You would use a different approach; perhaps using surveys, questionnaires or whatever else best fitted your overall purpose.

Where does the Methodology sit?

So, to recap, the methodology essentially sets out for the reader the precise approaches, procedures and instruments you intended to employ in your dissertation. This chapter may be written fairly early on, seeing as it does not depend upon the outcome of your work. Rather, it sets the parameters within which the project will be undertaken. The methodology allows you to justify your chosen research methods. In this chapter, you should state your research question and how it relates to existing literature. You should describe how you will investigate your research questions (are you using interviews, questionnaires or diaries, for example?). You will explain why these methods are suitable in helping you to answer your research questions, why you are using these and not other methods. You want to detail the limitations of your chosen approaches. Here, you would also address any relevant ethical issues. Remember, it is expected that your methodology chapter will include references. There are a number of scholarly texts which cover the strengths and weaknesses of different research methods. If you want to score top marks, you should refer to some of these in relation to the methods that you have chosen. This demonstrates critical reflection and shows that you are aware of the limitations in your selected approach.

Data Analysis

Analysis is a particular way of thinking about, and therefore writing on, a given topic. There are several different ways you can approach an analysis, though certain underlying principles may be identified. Foremost, becoming good at analysis is a matter of academic practice. It is a skill one learns through repetition and refinement.

Reflexivity

Another key step in improving your analytical thinking and writing is to cultivating an awareness of your own thinking processes. This means developing the study skills you already have and removing any habits that get in the way. One such habit, which is all too tempting, is to form an opinion before fully considering the case. This is a very natural, human thing to do; but it does not make for good analysis. Rather, you need to learn to suspend your judgement. Analytical thinking requires you somewhat to remove yourself from the topic you are analysing, to take a step back, to slow down. Often when we approach a topic we are familiar with, as is the case with the dissertation, we already possess certain assumptions and preconceptions about that topic. With analysis, however, you need to separate yourself from these preconceptions so that you can approach you subject matter with a clear, objective mind before you start. Hence analysis is inherently reflective; it involves self-scrutiny – being on guard against your own pre-judgement.

Breaking down the Data

So, at base, when we analyse something we are breaking it down and explaining it. In the analysis chapter, therefore, one is essentially taking the key data from the study and cutting them apart, regrouping and reorganising the findings in order to come up with some kind of data analysis. So, you are taking the close findings and seeking to identify all the constituent components of the whole. You want to figure out how these various parts fit together, what their interrelations are and how they operate. A good way of thinking about this is to pose the following questions: How do these various parts work together? Why do they work together this way? Once you begin to understand the relationships of the parts to each other, you will begin thinking about the causes of these relationships. Having established all the above, you should start to see what the meaning behind the data is.

How and Why?

The analysis chapter of a dissertation looks at questions of how and why. Such questions can be applied to any text which serves as the focus of study. Under the definition of “text” we may include a wide variety of objects and artefacts, including poems, music, clothing, films, sculpture, painting as well as traditional written works. analysis looks to explain how the text does what it does. We are going beyond merely looking at what a text means, and examining the nuances of how it goes about creating that meaning. This is the key component of the analysis section of a dissertation.

Structure

The structure of a good dissertation analysis chapter, generally speaking, will start with the obvious, putting forth the broader details of the case at hand. It will then progress to increasing degrees of sophistication, unearthing the less obvious aspects of the findings. This is what is known as an inductive or top-down approach. Think of this as an inverted pyramid, with each successive stratum of the pyramid representing narrower and narrower focus. Your overall objective, here, is to drive down to greater levels of complexity in your work. The more legitimate complexity you can uncover, the better the analysis is going to follow. It might help if you consider that the opposite of analytical writing is descriptive writing. Descriptive writing simply conveys what is there. It does not explain why it is there; hence it does not unveil layers of complexity.

The Results

One of the key things to understand about the results chapter of the dissertation is that you are not presenting all of your data. Rather, what you are trying to do is organise and present the data in a certain way for the reader to understand. These are two distinct steps. Most dissertations will probably collect far more results than are possible to (or even relevant) to show. Hence you need to work out what the key results are. So, seeing as the actual analysis of data takes place prior to the written thesis, you need to tell the reader what you have done by reporting on the analysis process.

One, very common way to do this would be to go back and work out your results according to the research questions. There are other ways of organising the data depending on the kind of research paradigm at play. If for example you conducted a survey you would present the data according to the questions that you asked. Essentially, you need to think about how to organise the data so that your reader can process them in clear and digestible chunks. Perhaps you might arrange the data chronologically, in the order that the results emerged. If you are looking at your results thematically, however, you may decide to present the source data by theme.

Presentation

In the results section of a dissertation we want to convey our data in the most accessible form, making them easier for the reader to understand. This means that the results can potentially be a highly visual chapter of your work. This is an important concern. You need to think about interesting ways of presenting this data so that your reader can process it visually as well as through the mediation you give in the text. So, you might want to present data in boxes with narrative profiles of your participants, tables with themes, descriptions, diagrams, graphs, images, or whatever else might service your objectives.

You want to think creatively about how best to present the data so it is clear, comprehensible and engaging. There are many different ways to present data in interesting and creative ways. Search and read through other dissertations and published papers to find good examples. Remember, your tables and figures should be understandable without reading the rest of the thesis. If you were to present the table or the graph in isolation, the reader should be able to understand what the question was and what the result is.

Prose Style

The results need to be written in a particular way. At this stage your focus should be descriptive, on describing your main findings. Your objective is to show the results of your analysis. Here you absolutely must employ precise language. How much attention you pay to precision and accuracy is what will give your reader confidence in your results.

Structure

In terms of structure for this chapter, start with a paragraph and not with a visual representation of the data. Make sure you show relevant tables and figures after they are mentioned in the text. At the beginning of the results section, explain any missing data or problems with collecting the data, then explain the main result and address your hypothesis. After that, explain all other trends in the data which might be interesting to the reader.

To recap, the dissertation results section describes the findings of the research, any problems you encountered with the data, the main result of the research, as well as any other interesting trends you identified in the data. The results chapter should only contain the outcomes of the experiment. Do not write your interpretation of the data in this section. Interpretation of the meaning of the results is addressed in the discussion chapter.

The Discussion

The discussion chapter in a dissertation is where you begin to interpret, pull together and synthesise the findings of your study. So, here, you are looking at the close results and explaining what they mean. In so doing, it is advisable to refer back to your research questions so as to connect your discussion to the original thesis idea. Another way might be to return to the literature and pick up on key themes; then show how your results and can be interpreted in the light of these main themes. You need to think about how you are going to present this discussion chapter. What is the story you want to tell?

Closure

At some point in the dissertation discussion you want to and find closure on your research questions. This means your reader must be able to see that you have somehow answered those research questions. You want to show how your findings fit the literature, the theory and (where applicable) the practice. Remember, the discussion chapter will usually relate back to the Results. Hence you might want to summarise those findings (from the Results) at the start of the discussion. What you are doing is describing where your findings fit into the broader patterns, principles and relationships at play.

Knowledge Claims

The discussion chapter is where you make specific knowledge claims. That is, you are seeking to establish the contribution your thesis makes to the field your topic focuses on; stating that, as a consequence, these are the claims I now may make – this is how my research contributes to existing knowledge. Another important component of the discussion is to show the originality of your work. You want to refer back to the literature, emphasising where your work is different and how it bridges a gap in the scholarly corpus.

Synthesis

The discussion is a synthesis of the Results with previous chapters (such as the Literature Review, Methodology, and so on). So you are trying to place the findings back into a particular context which explains them in some form. The point is to illustrate how your research conforms to or deviates from established scholarship. Here you are required to take the findings extracted from your source data and try to make sense of them. The discussion chapter discusses and evaluates conflicting results. So, perhaps in your findings certain items fitted neatly but certain others did not. This is where you would discuss such issues in your paper.

You might also discuss unexpected findings, that you have difficulty accounting for in your study. Here is also where you would identify weaknesses and limitations of your research. You would further explain the implications of your findings, why they are important and how they affect our understanding of the topic at hand. This is also your opportunity to revisit the conceptual framework and discuss how useful it was – in terms of understanding the original research issues.

Structure

In terms of structure, while there is no implacable template, you probably want to follow a funnel approach, starting broad then narrowing down. This would involve a written summary of findings to begin with, then an interpretation of those findings: explaining what they mean so the reader has a clear idea. Next you would compare those findings to the literature (here is the synthesis). You might then expand further the implications of your findings, looking at how they improve, add to or otherwise change the field of inquiry. Hence there is an evaluative aspect to the discussion, you are appraising your own research by means of a critical and clear overview. Accordingly, here is where you would put any recommendations for future analysis. These recommendations could relate to practice, policy, future research, or what have you.

The dissertation discussion is an extremely important chapter in the thesis. This is where the core substance is. This is where your reader really wants to find out what you know. Moreover, if someone were to cite your dissertation this would be the chapter they took from. Upon completing the discussion, it is good practice to go through the chapter with a red pen and play the devil’s advocate. Wherever you have made an argument, make a counter argument. The purpose is to see whether or not your results stand up to critical scrutiny. At this stage in the dissertation, you may be fatigued or perhaps somewhat numbed to your own research. This is why the discussion chapter, more than most, benefits from a fresh pair of eyes. Enlist someone else to read the chapter and offer critique, again making the counter claims to your own arguments. This process may be difficult, but it will make your work far stronger in the long run.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The Conclusion is basically an evaluation where you take a step back and review the research process. Here, we say where and how the study would have been stronger, sharing with the reader your critical assessment of the results. Importantly, the Conclusions chapter is generally not the place for introducing any new material. Rather, you should be looking to make sense of the material that you have already presented in the thesis. If for instance, after completing the Results, you find new academic material which greatly elucidates your findings, you cannot refer to this unless you go back and build that source into your Literature Review (so the reader is already familiar with the topic).

So, the conclusion pulls everything together for the reader. This is where you summarise your entire project, showing in an evaluative way how everything fits together; that there is an alignment with what you set out to do, how you went about doing it, and what you found out. It is important to establish that your findings justify the rationale which you offered at the beginning of the project. At root, you are trying to show that what you found is significant and important. In addition, you are seeking to demonstrate that the evidence marshalled to uphold the arguments in the thesis do indeed come down to this particular point. In sum, you are explaining how and why the project all makes sense.

Structure and Format

It is necessary to point out that there are many different and equally effective ways of writing a conclusion. That said, it is very likely your conclusion will contain a restatement of your thesis and a clarification of the broader significance of the research project. You are reminding you reader of the purpose of the study. You are writing with persuasion in mind. You want to hammer the point home: to say, in light of the evidence presented, I have come to this conclusion. Hopefully the reader shares your perspective. Usually, the Conclusion affords an opportunity to be less general than in your initial chapters. At this stage, it should be more specific to the arguments in the body of your work.

In terms of the how your order your content, it is worth noting that there is some interplay between the Results, Discussion and Conclusion chapters. You might, for example, include the critical evaluation of the research project in this section rather than in the Discussion. Similarly, you may wish to place recommendations for future research in this section. You might use this section to pose new questions which came out of the research. Indeed, this is an effective and commonly used way of ending of an academic text.

Finally, the principal function of the Conclusion is to get across a key message. The key message relates the main point that your thesis seeks to get across. If you are not precisely sure as to what this main point is, ask yourself: if somebody had to cite your thesis, what is the message you would like them to include?

References and Bibliography

When writing a piece of academic work you will be researching and reading a lot of texts written by others. The work of other scholars is essential in aiding you to formulate your own ideas and arguments in your dissertation. Moreover, it is essential in lending evidential weight to your case. This is standard practice in academic writing. Thus any good dissertation will necessarily make extensive use of references. Be aware that it is imperative you acknowledge the sources of information in your text. This has the dual function of helping you to avoid plagiarism as well as crediting the person who did the original work.

In most cases, referencing systems possess two key stages. The first is citation: this is where you identify in-text (in the body of your thesis) any use of another person’s words or ideas. The second is referencing: this comes in a separate section at the end of the thesis, in the form of a bibliography, an alphabetised list of works referred to and/or cited. The bibliography thus provides the reader more detailed publication information about the source, such as the title of work, publisher and city of publication. To summarise, referencing entails the practice of identifying the sources you have quoted, paraphrased or otherwise used in your work.

Conventions and Styles

There are particular conventions or rules to referencing in academic writing. These vary according to the particular referencing system. There is a wide variety of different styles of citation established by various academic and professional organisations. Common styles include Chicago, Harvard, MLA, Oxford, and OSCOLA. Each citation form has published a guide (in print and online) outlining all the details of how to use it. Despite distinctions between the various systems, they all have the same overall objective: to allow the reader to see the connections between your work and other scholarly papers. In effect, referencing constitutes the recognition that your work builds on the research and ideas of many precursor scholarly works. Citation accordingly enables the reader to identify links between the many literature and articles which informed your work.

Practical Example

Let us consider how referencing works in practice. Here, we will use the (very common) Harvard style as an example. If you are copying a statement, transcribing it from another text, you need to put quotation marks around the abridged content, “like so”. This shows the reader that you are quoting someone else. In all events, you need to indicate the source of the information in brackets at the end of the sentence or with a footnote or endnote. The particular format of the citation will vary depending on the referencing system in use (check with your department for details). Often, though, some variety of author-name, publication date and page number is employed as with the following from Animal Farm:

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” (Orwell, 1945: 55).

These details are there to lead the reader to the full information on the appropriate text, in the bibliography at the end of the document. So, going to the bibliography, we would reference the above citation thus:

Orwell, G. (1945). Animal Farm. London: Secker and Warburg.

As a final note, it is worth pointing out that the judicious use of references in your dissertation can lend serious clout to your argument. Teachers will be paying close attention to the sources you use and how you use them. If you show evidence of going above and beyond, finding elusive or rare sources, or otherwise bringing new secondary material to bear, you will impress.

Do you Need an Appendix?

Often when conducting a long-form piece of academic research, where a vast array of information is in play, there will not be the requisite space or appropriate location within the thesis body to include certain items. These items might be exceptionally elaborate, large, irregular, or otherwise clutter the text. This is where the Appendix or Appendices come in, as a place for extra material which, for whatever reason, does not sit appropriately in the text.

An appendix is, then, an additional piece of material which is added at the end of an academic work, after the References section. The Appendices are there in order to present supplementary information that will help the reader in understanding the overall research project. Hence the information in question is non-essential inasmuch as the overall thesis would still make sense if such materials were omitted.

That said, the information in the Appendices needs to be relevant and useful. This is not a place to “dump” reams of digressive materials. Instead, it is a place to consolidate the core material of the thesis with supporting peripheral content.

Supplementary Materials

Supplementary materials can come in a wide variety of content forms, including formulas, questionnaires, diagrams, maps, charts, tables, figures, pictures or whatever else might aid your thesis.

Generally, but not always, the Dissertation Appendices are where raw data would be found. The point of adding this material at the end is so not to disrupt the fluency of the thesis body by interposing overly detailed materials mid-text, thus breaking the flow and distracting the reader.

Consider that, if you have conducted qualitative interview or questionnaire-based research for your study, you may have twenty-plus pages of raw data that you need to include with your thesis. Positioning this vast amount of material in the middle of the dissertation would not only be illogical it would be cumbersome and disruptive. Putting the material in the Appendices gives the reader the option to examine such additional (potentially extensive) material in detail should they choose to do so.

Length

In terms of length, Appendices usually do not factor into the overall word count of the main thesis, meaning there is a good deal of leeway in what you can include. It is best practice, though, to keep the additional content to a reasonable quantity, only including items which will significantly add to the reader’s understanding of the research.

Remember, any material included in the thesis will constitute a part of the overall argument. You want to be selecting items which support and so strengthen your case. The Appendices, then, are a critical tool which works as a complement to the core argument and a point of reference for the reader.

Preparation

In preparing your Appendices for Dissertation, it is advisable to be very methodical in your format. You will want to organise your supplementary information, arranging it in a coherent manner which is chronological to the order in which it appeared (as citation) in the thesis.

Usually, different types of information will be catalogued into separate appendices. For instance you may have a selection of images, on the one hand, and a selection of (links to) audio clips, on the other.

Each appendix must have its own page with the appendix name capitalised and centred at the top margin. All appendices must have a name. If there is only one appendix, simply title it “Appendix”. Where multiple appendices are used, they should be named “Appendix A”, “Appendix B”, “Appendix C”, and so forth.

In correspondence with this, you would cite your appendices in-text according to the letter assigned each item. So, for instance, if we were referring to a particular piece of raw data, for instance an interview, we would say, “as the first respondent stated . . .” and we would add (Appendix A); and so on, following the letters down the line in alphabetical order. As with a standard citation, this makes it easy for the reader quickly to locate the material you are referring to.

Presentation

Appendices are where presentation and organisation skills will be particularly useful. If presented tidily and logically, Appendices can make for a colourful and engaging addition to a piece of academic writing.

This is especially the case where visual content (photographs, paintings, pictures) are in question. As a consequence, the Appendices represent for the reader a (a potentially quite welcome) break from a vast block of text. Accordingly, while sticking strictly to relevant materials, be creative with the Appendices you include.

Final Thoughts

The Importance of a Dissertation

For undergraduates and postgraduates, your dissertation will be the most important piece of writing you will complete towards your degree. It is certainly the longest and most demanding.

Many students find the prospect of an extended piece of academic research daunting; but there is no need to feel intimidated. Your dissertation is an opportunity to spend a good amount of time exploring a topic you feel passionate about.

So, to Recap…

3 Important Steps for Choosing Your Dissertation Topic

Do Your Research

Pick an Interesting Subject

Don’t Panic!

Where to Begin

It is vitally important to carefully decide upon the right dissertation question. Pick a question that:

  • Sustains your interest
  • Lends itself to a longer word count
  • Provides you with an opportunity to demonstrate your strengths

Consider the Question

A carefully considered dissertation question should ultimately enable you to get top marks.

Avoid dissertation questions that:

  • Have been too widely covered by other scholars
  • Are too obscure
  • Are outside your area of expertise

You need to tread a delicate balance. Something too well covered will make it very difficult to offer anything new to the topic. Conversely, an obscure topic will make it difficult to find adequate research materials. This is where your dissertation supervisor comes in.

As an academic professional with in depth knowledge of the relevant discipline, your supervisor will be able to steer you toward a suitable question. In addition, tell your supervisor you are aiming for a first-class grade. They will be impressed by your ambition and will be able to guide you in the right direction for that extra level of achievement.

What Next?

Once you’ve chosen your question, it is time to get seriously acquainted with your chosen topic. Attaining a first class dissertation means achieving a grade of 70% or higher and this equates to knowing your subject thoroughly, to the extent that you can meaningfully add new insight to the body of existing scholarship.

The easiest way to do this is to read as much relevant literature as possible. You will almost certainly benefit from reading journal articles because this is where the most current research is located. As you read, keep a notebook to hand at all times and try to identify consistent critical approaches across the literature.

Attempt to deduce why certain perspectives seem to recur. Is there an overall ideological position evident in the scholarship? If there is, why do you think this is so? If unsure, ask your supervisor. On the other hand, you can look to discover if observations that you consider important appear to be omitted in the literature.

It might even be useful to ask your supervisor if there are any particular areas of your research question that they feel are generally neglected by the academy; this will give a good indication of a topic that is of scholarly significance but which bears further investigation.

At the end of every week, try to type up your notes into broadly cogent prose, arranging them by order of specific relevance (“Introduction”, “Literature Review”, “Case Study”, etc.). This need not be anything too rigorous; rather, see these notes as scaffolding for the final product.

Having a body of writing already composed will make it physically and psychologically easier to finally get started with the first draft.

Top Tips for Writing Your Dissertation

Pace Yourself

Armed with ample and well organised notes, half the battle to write a first-class dissertation is already won. Arrange your notes into a sensible chronology and begin to expand upon them, fleshing out the details piece by piece. It is important not to rush this process. Give yourself a good deal of time, so that you can think through your analyses carefully.

For example, if you give yourself at least four months of writing time, you can work your way at a manageable speed through one paragraph per day. This is a very agreeable working pace and will allow you to deliberate on the things you say. Insight comes from consideration and consideration requires time. Do not expect necessarily to have a “Eureka!” moment. Instead, expect your dissertation to come together gradually, building to an integral whole.

Talk to the Experts

Confer with your dissertation supervisor as much as possible. In fact, speak with as many experts as you can find. Attend academic conferences, email specialists in the field, and make your presence known to the relevant people. Time permitting, academics are usually keen to discuss their subject with passionate students.

Many students will only write one dissertation in their lifetime. It is worthwhile giving one hundred percent and achieving the best result you can. A first-class dissertation is as much a product of passion as it is of planning.

Finishing Your Dissertation

Before you hand in your dissertation, make sure you’ve taken the time to make the finishing touches:

  • Abstract
  • Acknowledgements
  • Appendices, bibliography, table of figures
  • Proofread
  • Table of Contents & Page Numbering
  • Binding

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