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Simplistically Write A Dissertation in 5 Easy Steps

Updated on August 30, 2014
Get to writing
Get to writing | Source

What is a dissertation?

Are you stumped and overwhelmed with writing a dissertation. Did anyone even describe a dissertation before assigning it? Despite hearing the term at any given time during life one may still lack a true understanding of a dissertation’s function. Well plain and simple, this is an original document written by you and about your own empirical research. The chosen research can be quantitative (measurable) or qualitative (phenomenological) in nature. One may decide to use archived data, however, the research itself must be original. The essentials of a dissertation include:

  • A thesis statement or hypothesis – what do you hope to achieve by conducting this research
  • A literature review – in order to conduct original research scanning the field of previous work is essential
  • Completely constructed and illustrated methodology – how are you going to do what you say you are going to do?
  • No assertions can be made – anything that is not public knowledge must be referenced through other literature
  • Report findings – what are the outcomes of the research. Did you answer your hypothesis correctly or if using qualitative measures did something new to the literature emerge
  • Compare or argue your results – how does your findings measure up to the literature. Can you explain how your results differ?
  • Grammar and correct sentence structure is critical
  • Correctly reporting citations are a must
  • Getting approved by Institutional Review Board – the board that protects the public from harmful research.
  • Reviewing your program’s specific requirements for graduation – I have found through my experience that different schools and campuses have very different graduation requirements.

Writing a dissertation is an intimidating chore. Why make it harder than it needs to be. Breaking down your manuscript for the next few years can eliminate some overarching stress. Well there are some things that I learned along the way that was not passed down. Had I known what I expose below when I started my process it would have been simpler and more importantly less stressful. Though nothing will make it easy but rather make for a guided process.

The Importance Of A Dissertation

As I have been told, a completed dissertation is the only piece of work that truly distinguishes and confirms the completion of a doctoral degree. So I would say that a completed dissertation is pretty important to ones future. Many times without this signed off one may not be able to start internship and/or a postdoctoral fellowship.

Everyone has high hopes for their dissertation and their aspiration of contributing to the field as a professional. However, some research does not prove anything new or significant. That is just the fact of conducting studies. So remember, if you want to contribute with leaps and bounds to the profession, I suggest doing this after graduation and not as a part of a dissertation. For me, I chose a subject that pointed toward the direction of my projected future. As a result I hope to use my insignificant research findings as a way to elaborate on them later. For example, maybe I will rerun the same measure with a larger sample size with the hopes of finding significance.


1. Make An Outline

One key point that I use whenever I write. An outline helps to strategically organize thoughts and direction of writing. A dissertation is a very large document – written by yours truly. If you are an inexperienced writer who is also unpublished, a dissertation can be a daunting task. Outlining your work may reduce some of the stress around this horrendous project. Realize that a dissertation is commonly four to five chapters and consists of over 100 pages. A document so large can be overwhelming and one can get lost writing a manuscript of this size.

2. Write Everyday

The best advice that I never took. Looking back I wish I had. Say if you decide to write 5 days a week, that is 20 days per month and 240 days per year. So by writing at least a half page per sitting one could estimate to have a dissertation of 120 pages in one year. Of course that does not include the time needed to conduct research or get it passed Institutional Review Board. Writing regularly is a proven asset. Chipping away at this huge and many times boring project helps to relieve the overpowering feeling commonly accompanied by a dissertation.

Check current research
Check current research | Source

3. Gather Research

Before you write a word, identify your intentions of the research and quite possibly establish a hypothesis. By doing those two things collecting material will be organized. Know what others have said about your general topic. Being prepared with information may motivate the words to flow right out of your mouth and onto the pages.

All work contributed by others must be cited. Do not make the mistake and decide to record citations at a later date. Keep a running document separate from your manuscript and label it References. Every time you find a reference that you intend on using in text, document it on that page in correct format. Therefore, at the back end of your work the references have been documented and the formatting is done.

4. Read Other Dissertations

The advice I never received but surely pass on. I found reading other dissertations on similar subjects, research approach and supervised by your chair was truly helpful in my own process. If you are writing qualitative research then look for a dissertation similar to yours that is also qualitative. Pay close attention to the layout and what is included and excluded. Using a model that was already approved was a tremendous help when I had no one else to ask questions. So when things get a little confusing and you are not sure where to place something, find it in another dissertation.

5. Format After It’s Written

The most important part of writing a dissertation is writing. So get everything out on the pages and worry about putting it in the appropriate format later except for your references. Be careful to review the format needed for your dissertation and follow it closely. If difficulties arise rely on your editor for help.

Another important aspect of formatting includes grammar and sentence structure. Always write any dissertation in third person, nothing needs to be told about the researcher. Editing is also an important step of writing, even though you will likely employ an editor it is fundamental to edit your work first.

Have you written a dissertation?

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Proving the ability to conduct original empirical research at a doctoral level makes one marketable in their future endeavors. Writing a dissertation may be ones first experience with writing a lengthy piece of work. Do not overly complicate an already complex process just get it done. Reflect on your dissertation later in life and decide if you would like to elaborate on the results in order to contribute in a greater way to the field.


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    • mdscoggins profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Scoggins 

      4 years ago from Fresno, CA

      Thank you Dr. Bill. Yes a dissertation has been suffered through my few but for those of us that have I would have to agree that I never want to experience again. Hopefully someone out there in cyberspace can enjoy the advice. :)

    • DrBill-WmL-Smith profile image

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      I see that only the three of us who have completed a doctoral dissertation have commented. Most interesting. Thank you for your insights. What fun! Many, many memories of the process. Don't really care to do it again, but very I glad I did complete the one I did!! ;-) Dr. Bill (another!) ;-)

    • mdscoggins profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Scoggins 

      4 years ago from Fresno, CA

      Thank you FlourishAnyway. I totally agree - I am just trying out the Dr. title since I am a new grad but finding that one idea to focus on is a tough decision.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      4 years ago from USA

      Picking a topic that would be a unique contribution to the academic literature in one's given field can be daunting. That is probably what gave me the biggest challenge years ago. The formatting issues with that final draft can test your computer skills. But it's cool in the end to be Dr. Very rewarding.

    • mdscoggins profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Scoggins 

      4 years ago from Fresno, CA

      Thank you Dr. Bill. A dissertation is such a chore. Passing on what we have learned is essential in this field. One person cannot hold every piece of information needed to make it. Glad this hub was helpful :)

    • Dr Bill Tollefson profile image

      Bill Tollefson 

      4 years ago from Southwest Florida

      Excellent HUB on writing a dissertation. I coach many Ph.D. candidates through the dissertation process which can be hard emotionally, mentally and physically draining. This HUB will be a wonderful reference I can give my clients.

      Thanks so much and keep it up.

      Blessings, Dr. Bill


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