How to write a Dissertation: 5 Easy steps

A dissertation involves choosing a topic or problem question and writing a lengthy, research-based paper that demonstrates thorough knowledge. If you love writing 200-page dissertation papers, graduate school is definitely your cup of tea.

When the time comes to start thinking about your dissertation, it means you have reached the end of a long and hopefully satisfying educational career. The dissertation is your crowning achievement! It indicates to the reader that you are thoroughly informed about a topic related to your field of study and have the ability to do original research and reach conclusions that nobody has ever considered. If you are earning a Ph.D. in the first place, chances are you aspire to make a major contribution to academia, and your dissertation is that first step!

Let us explore this further. For starters, let us discuss what a dissertation involves.

A dissertation is a final project that you will undertake when pursuing your doctoral degree. At the master’s level, you would complete something very similar: the master’s thesis. However, it is far less comprehensive than what a Ph.D. student has to write.

A lot of Ph.D. candidates go into the dissertation process feeling like they have what it takes to conquer any challenges. But the reality hits them really quickly: the amount of planning, research, and writing that goes into it is extremely exhausting and even discouraging. This is especially the case if your adviser makes you go back and make extensive revisions. But if you make it through, you can take satisfaction in knowing that you will never have to do anything quite like that ever again, unless you enjoy suffering.

In all seriousness, here are some typical issues that students have as they prepare for their dissertation:

  • Slacking. You are often given a significant window of time in which to complete your dissertation. But this is for a very good reason: they take forever to finish. Create a schedule, set deadlines for completing parts of your paper, and stick to it.
  • Inexperience with research. A dissertation is not just about picking an easy position, finding a couple of magazine articles that parrot your arguments, and calling it a day. You will be combing through dozens upon dozens of articles holding a range of viewpoints and collecting your own research through interviews and other methods.
  • Sub-par writing abilities. Your dissertation must adhere to strict academic writing guidelines, contain thorough analysis, a synthesizing of various literature, convincing arguments, and the ability to organize a 200/300-page paper in a way that keeps it logical and smooth throughout.

Here Are Some Keys to Success

Step 1: Develop Your Dissertation Proposal

Did you think you were going to immediately dive right into the dissertation itself? Before you even begin writing, your dissertation proposal has to gain approval from your adviser. You will need to pick a topic that is compelling, worthy of investigation, and contributes to your particular field of academia. If you can successfully state your case as to why your question problem is significant, your adviser will approve and it will be time to move on to the actual paper itself.

As you write your proposal, ponder these questions:

  • What is a really interesting and worthwhile problem that is worth investigating?
  • Why does the academic community consider this to be a problem?
  • Why is it urgent to find a solution to this problem?
  • Why is it important for you to find a solution?
  • What methods are you going to use to find answers?

Given that you will be devoting so much time and effort to your paper, you definitely will want to choose something that is of personal interest to you and, of course, is related to your area of study. This will keep you motivated as you press on with the research. Do not come up with a topic that is overly general but at the same time, you want to avoid choosing a topic that is so narrowly focused that there is almost no information about it. Of course, you would want to choose a question that can be tested as a hypothesis.

Think of a few possible research topics and run them past your adviser. He or she has the expertise and experience to guide you in the right direction, especially in terms of the feasibility of the research and whether you would have enough time to study that particular topic.

The dissertation proposal tends to follow a universal format:

  • Dissertation Title
  • Research Objectives – Try to focus on no more than three major goals of your research. Any more and it will appear as though your paper lacks focus.
  • Tentative Literature Review – Some advisers are not going to ask you to identify specific sources at this stage while others might. Either way, you will want to discuss the type of literature that you intend to focus on in regards to the area of study, schools of thought, etc.
  • Research – This is where you truly layout your proposal. You will discuss the research question and in particular, explain why it is relevant and significant.
  • Methodology – This is where you will discuss the methods that you will settle on as you conduct the research. For example, you might indicate whether the research will be quantitative, qualitative, or even both.
  • Potential Outcomes – What do you think you might discover once you finish the paper? Predict a few possible outcomes.
  • Time Schedule – Break down your proposed timeline for completing each of the different sections of your paper.
  • Bibliography – If you are required to include references in the proposal, your adviser will tell you how to do it.

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Step 2: Do the Research

This stage is extremely important because it really sets the tone for the rest of the dissertation. You do not want to look through a bunch of research papers only to discover that they aren’t appropriate for your dissertation, which is why efficiency is key. Scan through the abstracts and eliminate the works that are definitely not a fit while focusing on the ones that hold the most potential.

Set a Hard Deadline for Completing Your Research

While you certainly want to collect as many useful and relevant sources as possible, it isn’t necessary to include literally every journal that is related to your topic. Establishing an end date will allow you to move on and it might even motivate you to move more quickly through the process. The main point of the research (which will comprise your Literature Review in Chapter 2) is to indicate that prior literature exists on the matter but that it is limited in scope, which is why you are have chosen your particular question problem in the first place.

Make Sure Your Sources Are Reputable

The Internet is the obvious way to go when you are looking for the bulk of your research, but be wary of the sources. Blogs written by random people will not cut it. Wikipedia is also sketchy, although the citations used in Wikipedia articles are fair game if they themselves come from reputable sources. JSTOR and other journal databases are guaranteed to provide credible sources. The good old fashion campus library is also a good option.

Keep It Organized

As you are taking notes, track your sources in an organized manner so that you won’t have to go back through your stack of books and pdf files to try to remember where they came from. Apps such as Penzu and Evernote are great online resources for taking notes.

Step 3: The Writing Begins

You have now reached the final stage of the actual dissertation itself: the writing part. The research was fairly grueling, but it is no match for what comes next! Do not feel discouraged though. You have made it to this stage in your academic career and have no doubt written countless papers before. Just think of the dissertation as an essay on steroids.

  • Start with an Outline

    Create a detailed outline of your dissertation. You already did this when you wrote your proposal, but this one will be far more comprehensive. Besides, likely, your paper has already changed to some degree since the proposal stage.

    Here is what to include:

    • Introduction

    Identify the problem, provide a bit of background, and state its purpose, relevance, and significance. You will also discuss how you foresee the research going up through its final results.

    • Review of Literature

    Here you will discuss how you went about your research and the important sources that express various viewpoints related to your topic.

    • Methodology

    You will explain the various methods that you intend to use and justify their use. In particular, you will highlight how you plan to collect the data, discuss sample sizes if the research includes participants, provide some data about the participants’ characteristics, etc. If you are testing a hypothesis, you will use this chapter to discuss that as well.

    • Findings/Discussion

    In this chapter, you will present your findings and determine whether or not they tell us anything about your research. In particular, if you are testing a hypothesis you will now be able to accept or reject it based on the findings. If participants were included, you would discuss their responses. You would also include charts and tables if you included data.

    • Conclusions

    You have almost reached the finish line! You will start by providing a summary of the study and results. You will then proceed to discuss the broader implications of your findings, especially as it relates to your area of study and the scientific community at large. You will further expound on the strengths, weaknesses, and limitations of your study. You will cap things off by discussing how the research could have been made stronger, how this research topic could be applied to other related research, and suggest other research ideas to provide more clarification on your issue.

    • References

    As you are listing your sources, make sure to adhere to the formatting style as required by your adviser.

  • Pace Yourself Well

Layout the details of your dissertation schedule. Indicate the dates when you plan to finish each section. Make additional goals such as finishing 1000 words per week. This will relieve a lot of the stress and avoid potential catastrophes associated with procrastination

  • Complete the First Draft

That is pretty much all there is to say about the writing stage. Just follow these steps and get that paper done!

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Step 4: Editing and Proofreading

Once you have finished writing the first draft, take a break for a couple of days. Unwind. Get back in touch with your friends. Go see a movie. Then come back and do some revisions. You will discover that when you review your dissertation again, you are bound to find a few mistakes.

  • Edit

Does your paper sound okay when spoken aloud? Have you spent way too much time on one section at the expense of another? Does your paper contain any information gaps that you were unaware of when you were busy writing it? This is the time where you will go back and polish the paper up. Remember, it is not about how much information you write down, it is the quality of that information and how clearly you expressed it.

  • Proofread

You have made some revisions. Now it is time to go back one last time and look it over. Have you caught any typos or grammar mistakes? Is your paper formatted properly? Did you misspell any names of authors or organizations? Did you use “adopt” when you meant “adapt” and write “effect” when you meant “affect?” You will fix these problems in no time!

Finally, it is time to do the final few readings and catch all spelling, grammar, and style errors. If you are having a difficult time editing or proofreading your dissertation paper, you would be well served by hiring a professional editor. At, we offer top-quality editing and proofreading services for a reasonable price. Our experts know the ins and outs of dissertation editing and proofreading, which means you are sure to receive a paper that looks it’s very best. With everything at stake, why would you not hire the best to help you with your dissertation? Order your editing and proofreading services from It is the best investment you can make.

Step 5: Ask Friends or Classmates to Read It

Your dissertation is about to be defended. Before you get grilled by the committee, ask for feedback. Try to find a classmate or friend who has some degree of knowledge in your field. Ask them if the facts and arguments are presented clearly. If they really know their stuff, they might even be able to give you some pointers to improve your work. Of course, you will also discuss your paper with your adviser. They might discuss its weaknesses and ask you to make a few final revisions before you present it to the full committee.

Whew! You have made it to the end of the article. Hopefully, you now have all of the advice that you need to get started on your dissertation. You have come so far in your academic career, so do not give up until you reach the finish line! Good luck!

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