By Carrie Winstanley
Outlining your dissertation involves two main aspects: a practical list of what you need to do and a sketch of what you want to say.
First, there is a list of 31 items that you can use as the basis of your own to-do list. Writing your to-do list is the easiest part of your dissertation, being just a list of tasks. The tasks are arranged roughly in the order that you’re likely to do them, although some of the tasks overlap.
Second, the outline of your dissertation needs to say clearly what thoughts and ideas you’re going to include in each section of your dissertation. Sketching out what you need to say and structuring the presentation of your thoughts and ideas can be done in a number of ways but the two most popular methods are linear planning and concept planning (sometimes known as ‘mind-mapping’).
People often have strong feelings about which style they prefer; each method has pros and cons.
If you find creating the outline a useful part of your planning strategy, it’s a good idea to use the same outline style for each chapter. This helps you to write a dissertation with a clear, tight structure and avoiding repetition and confusion. A well-structured outline leads to a coherent dissertation.
Never think about your dissertation plan as set in stone – a good dissertation develops as you’re working on it and you’ve no need to be afraid of moving slightly away from your original plans. If you’re going wildly off track however, seek support from your supervisor as soon as possible.
Use linear planning for your dissertation
When using linear planning for your dissertation outline you list your tasks in order of doing them, starting with your first dissertation task through to the end. Linear planning makes for a very clear outline, but it’s more difficult to make changes as you go along than with a concept map. For your linear plan you can use the chapter headings recommended by your supervisor or the headings in the following list:
Introduction and rationale:
‘Why on earth am I doing this is?’ ‘What led me to this topic?’
Explain all the terms in the research question so that they’re clear.
Outline of the literature:
‘Who are the key thinkers?’ ‘What are the key texts?’ ‘What is the underlying theoretical idea?’
Now choose the 4a or the 4b heading.
Pros and cons of different methods, for example questionnaire, interview, observation
Presentation of data – what I’ve found out
Analysis of data/Discussion of data
4b.Main theorists and supporters:
Counter arguments and supporters
My own view of the argument (and supporting theorists)
Conclusions and suggestions for further research:
What I have found in relation to the research question
Ideas for developing the dissertation topic
Appendices and bibliography:
Additional material that would interrupt the flow of writing
All the references and materials used
Consider concept-mapping your dissertation
If you prefer a more visual approach to your outline plan of your dissertation, a concept or mind-map may suit you better. The disadvantage of the concept map is that you still have to write your dissertation in the traditional linear format, and so you’re going to have to convert your concept map into another form.
A key advantage of a concept map is that you can modify your listed tasks as you go along without having to completely rewrite your map each time. In the following figure, you can see an example of a concept map for a linguistics dissertation looking at how children speak. (The references are fictional.)
Create to-do lists for your dissertation
You need to be aware of the danger of making a to-do list: you can spend more time creating the list then you spend working on your dissertation. However, a comprehensive to-do list has some useful purposes:
Keeping in front of you an overview of your work.
Providing a clear record of your progress so that you know what’s left to do.
Helping build a sense of satisfaction as you tick things off.
When you’re creating your own to-do list, your list is tailored to your dissertation, but many of the following suggestions are likely to be elements of your list. Use the ‘To-do list’ as a basis for creating your own.
Choose a subject and carry out some initial investigations.
Have a look through dissertations written by other students.
Write a proposal/finalise your research question.
Ask your supervisor to sign off your research topic.
Decide what type of dissertation you’re going to write, empirical or non-empirical.
If you’ve chosen an empirical study, think through your research methodologies and check your decisions with your supervisor.
Spend some time organising how you’re going to keep your notes in order.
Read, read, read! Take notes of the literature as you go.
Read about the pros and cons of the different research methodologies and take notes as you go.
Start writing up the essential parts of your literature review and research methodologies – this is an ongoing process and the notes from your reading form part of your dissertation.
Plan the overall structure of your dissertation – create outlines for each chapter.
If your writing is not flowing by this stage, have a go at starting your introduction/rationale just to get some words on paper.
Arrange for your supervisor to look at some of your draft work.
Make sure that you’re all set for carrying out empirical work. For example, have you had ethical clearance? Have you sought permissions from subjects?
Sketch out the general arguments (for and against) for your dissertation. If your work is empirical, you’re looking for ideas to support your findings and provide a backdrop to your work. If your work is non-empirical, this to-do list item should be tackled in detail.
Empirical only: carry out your empirical work.
Empirical only: organise the data you collect and make a note of any difficulties (these notes are going to be very helpful for discussion when you come to finish writing your research methodologies).
Empirical only: analyse your data and discuss your conclusions with your supervisor.
Non-empirical only: discuss the key thinkers and detractors of your topic with your supervisor, checking that you’ve understood their ideas and that you haven’t left out any key thinkers.
Write up your findings/thoughts.
Write (or redraft) your introduction and conclusion.
Empirical only: check over diagrams, charts and so on, and make decisions about what you’re going to put in the appendices.
Arrange for your supervisor to look at some more of your draft work.
Pull together everything you’ve done so far checking that you’ve covered all the elements required – this is your first full draft.
Make a new to-do list for filling in any gaps and be sure that you’ve covered everything.
Write up your final version, by editing your existing work and completing any outstanding items.
As you complete chapters, ask a friend to proofread carefully.
Keep in touch with your supervisor, checking that she has enough time for you if you need extra help.
Be sure that you know the rules for binding your dissertation and check how long binding takes.
Keep the submission date for your dissertation right in front of you and be sure of submitting your dissertation on time.
How to Write Your Best Dissertation: Step-by-Step Guide
When you get to the point of writing a dissertation, you're clearly near the end of an important stage of your educational journey. The point of this paper is to showcase your skills and capacity to conduct research in your chosen discipline, and present the results through an original piece of content that will provide value for the academic and scientific community.
Before we get any further, let's clarify one main thing: what is a dissertation?
This term is usually used to present the final result of independent work and research for an undergraduate program. A thesis, on the other hand, is crafted for the completion of a Master's degree.
Dissertation - the final project that PhD candidates present before gaining their doctoral degree.
However, the term dissertation is also used for the final project that PhD candidates present before gaining their doctoral degree. It doesn't matter whether we are talking about an undergraduate or PhD dissertation; the form of the assignment is very similar, although the PhD project is much more serious.
This guide will be useful both for undergraduate and PhD students, who are working on their dissertation projects, as well as for students developing theses for MA programs.
It's not easy to write the best dissertation.
Most candidates usually start with great enthusiasm, but this intimidating project can throw them to despair. The process of planning, research, and writing will be the longest and most complex challenge you've ever committed to. The end result will be very rewarding, but you might go through several obstacles to get to that point. These are some of the most common problems students have when writing their dissertations:
- Procrastination. They think there is plenty of time to work on the project, and they keep delaying the starting point. This is a big problem, since these students usually find themselves in frantic stress when the deadline approaches. Check out article ”7 Signs You Might Need Academic Writing Help” and find the best solution
- Lack of research skills. Students who don't have enough experience with academic writing think they just need to collect few relevant resources and extract relevant quotes from them. That's far from the truth. You need to analyze those materials thoroughly and discuss them in the paper.
- Lack of writing skills. The dissertation paper should follow the strict rules of academic writing. You should write in proper form, style, and language; and you should make sure to implement the correct citation guidelines.
Although the challenge seems overwhelming, the important thing is to start from the beginning and complete each stage step by step. We have a guide that will show you the right direction.
Step 1: Write a winning dissertation proposal
We already explained what a dissertation paper is, but what is a dissertation proposal?
As the term itself suggests, this is a proposal for the final dissertation project, which should persuade the committee members that you're going to commit to a valuable, interesting, and complex questions. This is a shorter paper than the final dissertation, but it's equally as important because this is the point when you'll think of a significant question and you'll set up a plan for assembling information and writing the paper. Even if the proposal is not mandatory in your university, you should still write it and discuss the points with your mentor.
These are the main points to pay attention to when wondering how to write a dissertation proposal:
Choose the theme, question, and title
- What problem is your dissertation going to tackle?
- Why is it a problem for the research, academic, and scientific community you'll belong to?
- Why is it important for you to find a solution?
- How are you going to search for the answers?
Do you want to find out more about choosing your dissertation topic? Check out our article.
“How to Come up with a Topic for Your Dissertation”
All these questions are important for making the final commitment. Make sure to brainstorm and choose a theme that will be valuable, unique, and reasonable. You don't want to end up with a too complex question that would trick you in a dead end. The question you choose should lead you to a testable hypothesis that you can prove with strong arguments.
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. Here are the points you should include in the proposal:
- Dissertation title
- Objectives - Aim for up to three objectives. If you're too extensive at this point, it will seem like your plan doesn't have a focus, so you'll need to narrow it down.
- Literature - Ask your mentor if you're expected to list some specific references in this section. If that's not the case, you'll at least need to mention the areas of study, schools of thought, and other sources of information you're going to use during the research stage.
- Research - This is the main section, where you'll elaborate the ideas of your research question. You will clearly outline the area of research.
- Methodology - The dissertation project can be non-empirical (if the resources come from previously published projects) or empirical (if you collect data through questionnaires or other methods). In this section, you need to explain the methods of collecting data.
- Potential outcomes - Where do you think you'll end up after all the research and analyzing? Explain the outcome you expect to come down to.
- Timeframe - Create a schedule that explains how you will manage all stages of dissertation writing within a specific timeframe.
- List of references - Ask your mentor if you're supposed to include this part, and he'll provide you with the instructions.
Step 2: Conduct an effective research
The dissertation research stage is going to determine the overall development of your project. It has to be methodical and effective, since you don't want to waste your time reading and analyzing irrelevant resources. Here are a few tips that will help you go through it:
- Make a timeline for the research stage
- Find the right places to look for sources
- Organize your resources
It's important to find enough resources to fully understand the phenomenon you're focused on, but you'll need to stop researching at one point or another.
Many students fall into a trap: they think they have to read everything that was ever written regarding the dissertation question they are about to elaborate. How much time do you plan to spend in the research stage? Make a timeline and stay committed to it.
The point of the research stage is to show you have read around the topic and you understand the previous research that has been conducted, but you've also understood its limitations.
The Internet is a good starting place during the research stage. However, you have to realize that not everything you read on the Internet is absolutely true. Double-check the information you find and make sure it comes from a trustworthy resource. Use Google Scholar to locate reliable academic sources. Wikipedia is not a reliable source, but it can take you to some great publication if you check out the list of references on the pages of your interest.
Librarians are really helpful at this point of the project development. Don't avoid the actual library and ask the librarian to provide you with some interesting publications.
You have to take notes; otherwise you'll end up seriously confused and you won't know where you located a certain important argument that you plan to use. Use Evernote, Penzu, or another online tool to write down notes about your impressions, as well as the sources you plan to reference.
The point of the research stage is to show you have read around the topic and you understand the previous research that has been conducted, but you've also understood its limitations.
Step 3: Write a mind-blowing dissertation
Now, you're left with the most important stage of the dissertation writing process: composing the actual project, which will be the final product of all your efforts.
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. Remember: you already did a great job up to this point, so you have to proceed. Everything is easier when you have a plan.
- Make an outline
- Literature Review
- Manage your time
- Write the first draft
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.
This is a basic outline that will make it easier for you to write the dissertation:
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.
At the end of this chapter, include a "Recommendations for future research" section, where you'll propose future research that will clarify the issue further. 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.
Findings stage is the most important in the whole process of dissertation writing, since it showcases your intellectual capacity.
Step 4: Edit and Proofread the Dissertation like a Pro
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.
- Start editing
There is a substantial difference between editing and proofreading: editing is focused on the essence, and proofreading is focused on the form of the paper. You need to deal with the essence first, since it would be silly to proofread the dissertation to perfection and then start getting rid of unnecessary parts and adding more details.
Pay attention to the logical connection between each argument. Are there any gaps in information? Fill them in with more details you collected through the research stage. Maybe you got carried away with the explanations at some point? Make sure to reduce the volume of those parts and clarify them as much as possible. The point is not in quantity; it's in quality and clarity.
Finally, it's time to do the final few readings and catch all spelling, grammar, and style errors you made. Read word by word, sentence by sentence, and consult a dictionary or thesaurus if you have any doubts.
If you notice that you're struggling through the stages of editing and proofreading, you should know you're not the only one with such problem. You are too attached to this project and it's difficult for you to see the flaws in it. That's why it's recommended for students to use an editing service that will bring their projects to perfection. This is a smart investment that will save you from embarrassment after all that effort and stress you went through.
Editing is focused on the essence, and proofreading is focused on the form of the paper.
Step 5: Get feedback
Before you can submit the dissertation project to the committee, you need to get some feedback.
Start with a friend or colleague who has knowledge in this discipline. You need to trust this person, since the dissertation is your unique intellectual property. Ask about their opinions and suggestions for improvement.
Then, discuss the project with your mentor. He/she will point out any possible weak points, and you'll get instructions on how to finalize the process before getting ready for the presentation.
The dissertation writing process is a great challenge, which not all students are capable to cope with. You need to keep in mind that you've come this far in your studies, so there is no other way to go but forward. Tackle the project stage by stage, and you'll soon complete the most important paper in your whole educational journey.
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