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How to Write Your Best Dissertation: Step-by-Step Guide

Academic Success

❶Use the Table of Contents to help you improve your manuscript.

Table of contents

Structuring sentences
Step 1: Write a winning dissertation proposal
Finding your style

Some PhD students spent 8 or 9 years full-time in graduate school working on many small projects because no one project was viable enough for an entire thesis. The only reason their thesis committees let these students graduate is because the students had been in school for so long. Your question will probably evolve over time, but the more clarity you have about the purpose of your thesis, the more efficient your research will be. The details of each stage will vary slightly depending on your field, but for most thesis writers the stages are, first, idea collection, second, editing and data analysis, and third, polishing.

Perfectionists like me will particularly benefit from dividing their writing into discrete stages. The purpose of the first stage of writing is to get as many ideas as possible on paper, without judging, editing or formatting your document.

By allowing yourself to collect your ideas without criticism, you can spark your creativity and overcome the fear of imperfection that may be holding you back from starting to write your thesis. It is during the second stage, editing and data analysis phase, that you need to be rigorous with your writing and editing. At the end of the second phase your goal is to produce a manuscript that has a clear structure and a logical flow of arguments so that you can submit it to your supervisor for review.

In the final polishing phase, you need address the feedback from your committee and fill in any gaps in the logic. Some advisors are either too busy to mentor you properly or are micro-managers who want daily updates on your progress. The role of your advisor is to mentor you so you learn how to be an independent researcher, not to hold your hand for the rest of your life. Your advisor may or may not be a good mentor, but you need to be in agreement regarding the direction of your research because you need their approval to graduate.

If you have disagreements with your advisor, or you have a dead-end project, it may take several meetings to determine the overall direction of your thesis. The most effective way to meet with your advisor is to schedule meetings far in advance and come to every meeting with a clear agenda.

If your advisor is a difficult person, continue to be proactive about planning meetings and developing solutions to your problems. Just get something down on paper. Listen to music that puts you in the mood to write. Watch a short video that motivates you to take action. Visualize all the things you will do once your thesis is done. They may even start to form cohesive sentences and paragraphs.

Overtime, your warm-up period will get shorter and shorter until clicking into writing gear becomes an automatic habit. When I started writing my thesis, I thought I had to begin with the abstract, then the introduction, then an in-depth literature search, then chapter one, chapter two, on and on all the way to the conclusion. By definition, the abstract is a summary of the highlights of your thesis, and therefore you should only be able to write a quality abstract once you finish all of your chapters.

Starting your thesis by writing the most difficult chapter first is like trying to deadlift a pound weight without any prior training. Instead, start writing your thesis by writing the easiest section first—the methods section. The methods section is the easiest section to get started and the quickest to finish.

Start here to get a few pages under your belt and boost your confidence before you try any heavy lifting. If you put this phrase in your calendar it will either lead to you taking a nap, surfing the web, or staring at a blank computer screen.

Once you decide on the order in which you will write your chapters, continue breaking them down into smaller chunks. Writing in several short bursts is more efficient than writing in a few, long extended periods of time. If you ever tried to write for several hours in a row, you may have noticed that your concentration becomes weaker after about minutes. Writing requires creativity, and it is difficult to sustain your focus for several hours in a row over the course of months or even years until you finish your thesis.

If you have a hour block of time in your calendar, resist the temptation to glue yourself to the chair for the entire period. These rest periods are crucial. Many students get sudden insights when they are away from their desks and they become more efficient when they return to work. Bad writing habits are tough to break. If you try to eliminate your bad habits overnight, your brain and body might rebel against you.

A better strategy is to change your habits slowly and one at a time. Instead, take on one, complete it or master it, and then move on to the next tip.

The toughest part of writing is the beginning. The sooner you start writing your thesis, the easier writing it becomes. The fifth point matches my methodology, I always start with easy section first and then go for a hard section in ascending order.

It will increase your confidence and motivate you to write more and more. Todd, Bannister and Clegg, , p Start writing at the beginning of the project Many people find it useful to keep a research notebook in which you can record: Points from the literature or other sources that you are consulting. Your observations and impressions. New ideas as they develop.

Problems that you come across. Keep records of your reading at the preliminary stage Keep an accurate record of the bibliographical details of all the material that you read - doing this as you progress will save an enormous amount of time at the end of the project. Check that you know the referencing system specified by your course and get into the habit of using it.

Always write the full bibliographic details on the top of any photocopies or print-outs. Keep a running bibliography in alphabetical order as a computer file or card index. Note in your research diary when you read a particular source. Use software that is available to you to manage your references, e. Do lots of reading A final year project, like many other forms of assessments, needs to be located within the existing literature in that area.

Typically you will read: Classic studies in your chosen area. Recent studies published as books or journal articles. Research methods and methodology texts. Social theory relevant to your approach. For example, there are, to varying degrees, references to: Be organised and keep notes The process of thinking about the dissertation topic and methods is an evolving one.

You might want to keep a record of: Questions or ideas that interest you. Possible ways of researching these. References to follow up at a later stage. Sources of information that you have found useful. Notes on articles and papers you have read or programmes you have seen or heard.

When should I begin to do this? Recap The first task is to establish your overall area of interest. Clarifying your Ideas What is the overall area of your interest? Write a paragraph that would give someone else a clear picture of the issues. How has your interest developed over time?

Can you identify incidents or experiences that have generated your interest? These may be personal or professional, or to do with current work priorities. Are there any key writers who have shaped your interest or whose views conflict with yours? Where would you like the work to lead in the longer term? Is this research connected with work you currently do or would like to do at some stage? Does anyone else have an interest in the topic you choose for your study? This may not be a problem but it is important to recognise if there are others with interests in the work.

Narrowing down the Focus! What are the questions to which you want to find answers in your research? You might have a hypothesis — i. You may, on the other hand, want to couch your interest in terms of an exploration of issues, attitudes or experiences, or as a question.

Write a list of all the questions you want to answer and group them into priorities or hierarchies and show the connections between them. At this stage you may want to do some weeding out of overlapping or less relevant questions. It is helpful to list your questions and then to answer why you want to know the answer and how it will help you to pursue your overall enquiry. Where is any work currently being done in this area? Can you identify any specialist collections of literature?

Are there particular people associated with them? What do you know about what is currently known, written about or researched in the area? How are you going to track down the research and theory to support your study? Talk to tutors on the course to see if anyone can help. Case Study 3 Researching the voluntary sector Time management and work planning Dissertations usually have a long lead in time so it is essential that you think about the various stages of work that need to be undertaken and get into good habits early on in the process, for example with keeping records of searches undertaken, ideas that crop up and material to be sought after and incorporated.

Your will need to allow time for the following: Personal Development Planning You will probably also be involved in Personal Development Planning PDP linked to Progress Files and you may want to link your dissertation work to your PDP as you will be using a diverse range of skills to complete the dissertation and you may be able to identify how you have progressed or acquired new skills or learning. For example you may use skills related to: Kevin Bonnett Sociology Summary Ideas for topics can come from a variety of sources - staff, other students, past modules and essays, the media or the Internet.

Choose a topic that will sustain your interest over the coming year. Choose a topic with some background and existing literature to it. Consider methods you would like to use, and theories you would like to explore. Write things down as they happen, from your initial ideas to problems and your own feelings about the project. Use Evernote , Penzu , or another online tool to write down notes about your impressions, as well as the sources you plan to reference.

Now, you're left with the most important stage of the dissertation writing process: It's surprising to see that many students have some level of confidence during the previous two stages of the process, but they crack when they realize they don't really know how to write a dissertation.

Everything is easier when you have a plan. You already have the dissertation proposal, which is a preliminary outline for the actual dissertation. However, you still need a more detailed outline for the large project.

Did the research stage lead you in an unexpected direction? Make sure to include the new points in your outline. The first chapter should include a background of the problem, and a statement of the issue. Then, you'll clarify the purpose of the study, as well as the research question. Next, you'll need to provide clear definitions of the terms related to the project.

You will also expose your assumptions and expectations of the final results. In this chapter of the dissertation, you will review the research process and the most important acknowledgements you've come down to.

This part of the dissertation is focused on the way you located the resources and the methods of implementation of the results. If you're writing a qualitative dissertation, you will expose the research questions, setting, participants, data collection, and data analysis processes. If, on the other hand, you're writing a quantitative dissertation, you will focus this chapter on the research questions and hypotheses, information about the population and sample, instrumentation, collection of data, and analysis of data.

This is the most important stage in the whole process of dissertation writing, since it showcases your intellectual capacity. At this point, you'll restate the research questions and you will discuss the results you found, explaining the direction they led you to. In other words, you'll answer those questions. In the final chapter of the dissertation, you will summarize the study and you'll briefly report the results.

Don't forget that you have to explain how your findings make a difference in the academic community and how they are implied in practice. Explain why you suggest this research and what form it should take. Use the recommended citation style for your field of study, and make sure to include all sources you used during the research and writing stages. You'll need another timeline, but this one will be focused on the writing process.

Plan how to complete your dissertation chapter by chapter. When you have attainable goals, it will be easier for you to write the project without getting overwhelmed by its length and complexity. There is no life-changing advice to give at this point. You just need to stay away from distractions, stick to your timeline, follow the outline, and complete the first draft.

You already have what it takes; now you're ready to do the real work. Now that you've completed the first draft of the paper, you can relax. Don't even think about dissertation editing as soon as you finish writing the last sentence. You need to take some time away from the project, so make sure to leave space of at least few days between the writing and editing stage. When you come back to it, you'll be able to notice most of its flaws. There is a substantial difference between editing and proofreading:

Purpose of the dissertation introduction:

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How to Write Your Best Dissertation: Step-by-Step Guide. Discuss few alternatives of the dissertation title with your mentor before you start writing the proposal. Structure of the dissertation proposal. If you want to make the proposal convincing, its format has to be clean and easy to follow.

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The major myth in writing a dissertation is that you start writing at Chapter One and write straight through. This is seldom the case. The most productive approach in writing the dissertation is often to begin writing those parts of the dissertation with which you are most comfortable.

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Guide to undergraduate dissertations in the social sciences. Content. About this site; How to start your dissertation 1 A key part of success in dissertation-writing is being organised and systematic in your approach and the earlier you can adopt this, the better. How to write your dissertation it's time to knuckle down and start writing. You need not necessarily start at the beginning – in fact, introductions are often easier to write .

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Choose the type, level, urgency, and length to start off. Basically, dissertation writing is the culmination of your studying. That is why you have to be extremely attentive. Here, we will do our best to give you some tips on how to create an easy-to-defend dissertation by using your time and skills in the most effective way. Writing a dissertation can be one of the hardest tasks a university student has to accomplish – but it will come to an end. You might even come up with a new question and start working on it.