wikiHow to Write a Dissertation

Five Methods:Building Necessary SkillsStarting OutUnderstanding Your AudienceWriting Your DissertationEditing and Last Considerations

A document that presents the author's research and findings and is submitted in support of candidature for a degree or professional qualification is called dissertation or thesis. The term "thesis" is usually used for Ph.D. (doctoral) or M.Phil. level degree in UK.

Method 1
Building Necessary Skills

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    Build academic and language skills. Before you can start writing a dissertation, you will need to have developed your skills to a point where you will be able to write a dissertation. This high level of academic work requires exquisitely honed language skills, as well as the ability to analyze and process information at a level appropriate for original research. Make sure that your skills are up to the task before beginning, otherwise you may not be able to complete the dissertation and you will certainly cause yourself a great deal of stress.
    • Many programs require that you are not only very capable of speaking your own language but another or several others as well. This can span from other modern spoken languages (like French, German, or Mandarin) to dead spoken languages (such as Latin or Greek) to non-spoken languages (such as programming languages).
    • You will need to be excellent at tracking down information, processing it, understanding where information is missing, and finding solutions to the problems that those holes present. This is often much more difficult than it sounds.
    • You will also need to have developed writing skills which will be conducive to producing a dissertation. These documents are often as long as books, being anywhere between 30,000-100,000 words. It is difficult to write something so long, in-depth, and descriptive.
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    Build time management skills. Writing such a complex document while often still taking classes, working as a teacher’s or lab assistant or teaching undergraduate classes can be challenging at best. There is a reason that there are so many jokes about how grad students never get to sleep. You should relax and sleep every now and again, because the stress is not good for you or your work, but in order to fit everything in you’ll need to be very good at knowing how to balance all of these activities.
    • Try to set aside time when it is impossible or incredibly difficult to work in order to relax. For example, listen to audiobooks or podcasts while you drive to school. You can catch up on your favorite websites using your phone, laptop, or tablet while you eat lunch and dinner. Exercise while waiting for search or test results (you’d be surprised how much energy you’ll get from doing a few squats!).
    • Sleep on a regular schedule. This will be incredibly challenging at times, but sleeping on a regular schedule (even if it’s a little less sleep than you might normally get) will make you feel more energized and focused than sleeping longer hours irregularly.
    • Use browser add-ons like StayFocused. You’ll be thankful later.
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    Learn to cope with stress. If you can’t cope well with stress, you will have a very difficult time with graduate school in general and an even harder time with writing a dissertation. Learn to manage your stress and release it in a healthy and effective manner before starting on a dissertation.
    • Good ways for grad students to ease stress are to exercise, listen to music, or watch a funny video. All of these are easily fit into complex schedules. What you’ll want to avoid as a grad student, however, are stress-reducing activities like watching TV (which will suck up large blocks of time and stress you out more) or eating (which will likely make you gain a great deal of weight).

Method 2
Starting Out

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    Understand the purpose of a dissertation. When you begin your dissertation, it is important to understand the purpose it is meant to serve. In understanding the larger goal of the exercise, you can more carefully craft your paper to demonstrate that you have achieved said goal and are deserving of those coveted post or pre-name letters.
    • A dissertation will prove your ability to produce original research with original, impactful ideas. One of the main things you will be expected to do after getting your advanced degree is furthering your field by producing new ideas which solve the problems previously present in the discipline. You will need to prove that you are capable of making these significant contributions and your dissertation will be your first major step.
    • A dissertation will demonstrate your knowledge of research design. You will need to show that you can perform research in a way that is acceptable for your discipline. This means coming up with tests that properly correspond with your hypothesis, accounting for variables, and accurate methods of collecting data, among other things.
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    Consider if this is right for you. A life of serious academic work is not for everybody. While for some people it will bring great joy, others will feel unfilled. Because of the amount of work involved and the stress that comes with it, you will want to be sure that this is really what you want for your life.
    • People are often goaded into pursuing higher degrees by their parents, who generally just want what they feel is best for their child. However, this may not be what’s best. If your parents have pushed you into this, you will need to seriously consider if your parent’s wishes should guide your life decisions. It is your choice, in the end. Not theirs.
    • There is no shame in choosing not to pursue this degree. As already discussed, not everyone is suited to the life it will bring. It also should not be considered a waste of time or money, as the additional training is often not only useful but still looks good to many employers.
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    Decide your topic. Before you begin, you will need to decide on a topic that is right for you. Remember, you will be working on this for a very long time. It needs to be something that you find interesting or you will have a very unpleasant time. Your thesis for the topic must also be a significant contribution to the scholarship, so try to avoid topics that are well researched already. It also needs to be something that you feel you have enough ability to prove and support.
    • For example, you will not be able to write a historical dissertation on aliens building the pyramids. Or at least, not one that you’ll get past your committee. A dissertation on guano curing cancer is going to end similarly. Try to choose something that won’t lead your university to disown you.
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    Get funding. Before you begin, try to find sources of funding. You will need to be able to support yourself (just in terms of living conditions), because working while writing a dissertation is at the very least extremely challenging, if not outright barred by your program. You may also need funds in order to pursue research, either for traveling to collect or view materials, for purchasing rare or expensive texts, or to pay for materials necessary to conduct experiments.
    • There are a number of ways to get this funding. Asking your department for advice will probably be best, since funding is often specific to discipline. Generally, seek grants rather than loans. Fellowships from your university are also extremely helpful. Many schools will have scholarships and grants specifically set aside for those beginning work on their dissertation.
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    Create a space where you can work. You will need to be able to focus while writing your dissertation. This means having a space where you can have quiet and will not be constantly bombarded by distractions. You will need to also have easy access to everything that you need for writing: books, a computer, internet connection, power sources, etc. Be sure that you've secured this before beginning work.

Method 3
Understanding Your Audience

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    Understand your adviser. Your adviser will be your guide along this perilous journey, the Virgil to your Dante. Be sure that you get along with and understand your adviser, preferably before starting work. Being unable to communicate complex ideas with this person will make it very difficult to proceed. You should both have a thorough understanding of what you’re trying to do and what your advisor expects from you.
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    Prepare for your committee. Understand the people who will be on your committee. Know what their areas of expertise are, as well as areas where their knowledge is lacking. This will influence how you write your content. You will also want to know what types of research and evidence they value vs. which they hate. If there are particular methods that they do not approve of but that you intend to use, you will need to be prepared to defend yourself and your choices.
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    Think about your colleagues. Since this work is intended as your first foray into the academic world, you will need to think of your future colleagues as you write it. Is the topic you have chosen something which is largely disapproved of in your discipline? This will make it hard to integrate into the community once you graduate and you will need your peers to think well of you if you want to get a job.
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    Consider general readers. Dissertations, since they are legitimate research, will hopefully be used by future scholars in their own research and learning process. With this in mind, try to write your dissertation in a way that will be as accessible and understandable as possible.

Method 4
Writing Your Dissertation

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    Plan your structure. Plan the structure of your dissertation according to the standards of your discipline. You will definitely want to outline your paper before beginning. The more detailed it is, the easier it will be for you later on. This outline will be an invaluable road-map and should not be ignored or discounted.
    • Generally, it will follow the same basic form as shorter research papers, beginning with an introduction to the topic, giving some background, presenting research by previous scholars, presenting your own evidence, combating evidence which does not fit or contradicts you, and then wrapping up. There will usually be a discussion of your methods, but where that goes and to what extent it is integrated into other sections will depend heavily on your discipline.
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    Get feedback. Before beginning too much writing, you will want to get feedback from your peers and advisers. Show them the structure you have planned and give them an overview of your research and evidence. Their feedback will allow you to see where you have neglected information or made too many logical leaps. They will help you to ensure that your evidence is presented in the best way and that your conclusions make sense.
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    Minimize unnecessary depth and breadth. Before getting too deep into your dissertation, analyze your topic and thesis to see if there are any ways in which you can limit the scope of your paper. Is there information or discussions which are unnecessary to proving your thesis? Remove anything from your research that does not serve a purpose, as such extras can result in having to write pages upon pages of unnecessary text. Keep it reasonable and you’ll save yourself a lot of time and stress.
    • This is another area where you can make use of feedback, especially from your adviser.
    • To consider the problem yourself, run down a list of your evidence and every point in your outline. If it doesn't directly tie back to your thesis, or if another section or point proves the same thing, consider cutting it.
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    Set aside specific time for writing. Developing a set schedule will go a long way towards helping you get your dissertation done. Set aside time each day for writing and do not use that time for anything else. This will get you in the habit of focusing and will also deal with motivation issues.
    • Be sure to choose a time of day that is good for you. If you are too tired to write at night, write in the morning. If your brain takes half the day to boot up properly, write in the evening. When you write will entirely depend upon what is best for you.
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    Pay attention to voice and tense. Be sure to use the correct voice and tense for papers in your discipline while working on your dissertation. It is incredibly difficult and time consuming to go back through your text and edit for tense and voice, so try to get it right the first time through. Ask your adviser what is the correct method and then make sure you pay attention to those details while writing. Also be sure not to switch voice in the text, unless there is a very good reason.
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    Avoid certain types of language. Certain types of language do not serve you in high level academic work like this. Avoid these types of language from the start and you will save yourself some editing later on, since your adviser will undoubtedly tell you to change or remove it.
    • Colloquial language, slang, overly informal language and regionalized language are all extremely poor choices for inclusion in a dissertation. Do not include them under any circumstance.
    • The use of contractions are also frowned on in high level works. This tends to make language sound regionalized and informal, as discussed above. However, it also makes it very easy to slip in grammatical errors, so it is best to avoid them just in general.
    • Indecisive or overly-open language is also very bad for a dissertation. You do not want to say that your thesis is “probably” right or that this evidence is “maybe” significant. Stand by your assertions, even if they may not be as solid as you’d like. You can always discuss problems with the theory later on.
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    Cite, cite, cite. Seriously, not citing can get you accused of plagiarism. That’s a whole headache you want to avoid, so cite absolutely all of the information you present that is not yours. Citing will also serve to make your work seem more credible, since it proves that other scholars have come to similar conclusions.
    • If you want to emphasize that an idea is coming from you, rather than constantly stating that A said this or B said that, you can phrase your sentence like this, “String cheese is delicious and fun because it cheese and you can play with it. Further evidence of this can be seen in the research of Dr.’s A and B, in their earlier paper on the topic.” The idea is to present your view and evidence first and follow it with the research of others. This makes it seem like they support you, rather than you supporting them.
    • Particularly bold claims or ideas which go against the common knowledge will especially need to be cited. These stand-out statements are usually the first for which others will look for evidence. Not citing will make you look incapable or incompetent.
    • If there is any doubt about whether you should cite something, just cite it. The answer is probably yes.

Method 5
Editing and Last Considerations

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    Do a first read-through. Once you have completed your work, do a read-though. On this first read-through you will want to look for spelling and grammar mistakes. These will be distracting and stop the flow of thought as you read through to analyze the content, so deal with these and only these first so that you can focus on the content of the text later.
    • Make a list of words you know you have a tendency to misspell or misuse. Most people have at least a few. When you are done writing, you can do a search through the document to find the incorrect versions and correct them.
    • Remember that some words may technically be spelled correctly but be incorrect for the place in which you've used them. Their, there, and they’re are the most common examples. Even if you know the spelling and grammar rules, it’s easy to make mistakes like this, especially if you’re tired. Pay attention.
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    Do a second read-through. Once you've completed your first read-through, do at least one more to check the content. Be sure that the transitions between paragraphs make sense, that your arguments are logical and easy to follow, that everything ties back to your thesis, that you don’t randomly start rambling, and other content considerations.
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    Practice presentation. Around the time of completion is when you will want to begin practicing your presentation skills. A presentation before your committee is usually required, and audiences are often allowed. Most people do not have experience speaking in front of groups and it can be extremely nerve-racking, especially considering the context. Practicing how you will present your information, first in front of a mirror and then in front of friends and family, preferably well in advance of your presentation date.


  • Find ways to laugh at yourself and your life because if you can’t, this experience (as with most difficult or unpleasant experience in life) will be so much worse.


  • Beware of fraud and fraudulent websites operating online who are earning good money by selling students recycled and plagiarized papers full of mistakes and grammatical errors. Never, ever plagiarize, and don't ever even visit these sites. They are worthless.
  • If you ever feel that you are under so much pressure that you would prefer to plagiarize, talk with someone immediately, and seek help from your adviser and other people you trust. Cheating is never an answer, and you will always have to live in fear of being discovered if you do cheat. Just don't do it.
  • Only discuss the in-depth ideas for your dissertation with people you trust. If you tell everyone in academia all of your ideas, don't be surprised if someone else takes your idea and writes about it, too.

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