What is a Dissertation?

A dissertation is a research project done by students in their last year of undergraduate or postgraduate degree. A dissertation can be termed as the final assignment, which allows students to research the topic of their choice, come up with findings, which are also analyzed in the paper to come up with relevant conclusions/answers. The main aim of doing a dissertation is to test the student's ability to research with the skills they have learned all through university. Dissertations are an independent entity as most of the work is done by the students with guidance from their professors.

Is there a difference between a thesis and a dissertation?

The two terms are often used interchangeably, which may seem confusing for most people. However, let me elaborate on the difference between the two terms. First, a thesis is a research project done at the end of a master's degree while a dissertation is a research project done at the end of the doctoral program. Though the structure of the two papers is similar, the two documents are somewhat very different. That is, a dissertation allows the student to bring in new knowledge and theories, while a thesis demonstrates that the knowledge gained during the study was well understood. Also, a dissertation tends to be longer than a thesis and is allocated more time. Now that you know the difference between the two terms, let's proceed with how to write a dissertation.

How to Write a Dissertation Paper Step by Step

1. Topic Research and Approval from your professor

The first step one must take in writing a dissertation is first looking for a topic. The first rule of looking for a topic is that it must be relevant to the course you are undertaking. For instance, if you are a public health student, you will be required to research a topic relevant to public health. Secondly, the topic you choose must be relevant. Questions that will guide you in looking for a topic is whether the subject has educational relevance, scientific relevance, and practical relevance. A case that is not relevant might not be useful. Also, writing a dissertation takes a long time. Thus you must make sure that the topic you choose is relevant to you. This will ensure that you stay motivated through the writing process and produce a paper that will get the best grade at the end of the day.

In terms of educational relevance, you are advised to seek a supervisor's help to develop a specific topic and address a real-life problem in a particular study field. Some courses may be extensive, making it challenging to choose a topic. Hence, it would be best if you did extensive research on the various subsets of the course to finalize on the best section to research on. If you study a scientific discipline, you must do a dissertation that addresses a gap in that field. The only way to find out a gap that has not been addressed is by extensively reading on the topic. Lastly, most disciplines require that you do a research topic that is relevant to society. That is a research topic that will make your surrounding much better by providing solutions or suggestions that will practically help.

Most students often have a hard time choosing a topic with enough information to write close to 80 pages of research. Thus, you must select more than one study topic and do extensive research on whether the topic is relevant before presenting it to the supervisor for review. The secret to searching a topic is to make it relevant to yourself and analyze your environment to see a problem that needs to be addressed while keeping in mind your study discipline.

Once your topic has been approved, it is time to move to the next step in writing, which is formulating a dissertation proposal.

2. Writing a dissertation proposal.

Writing a proposal is an important step in writing your research on a master's or PhD level course. This is the part in which you define what you intend to accomplish and how you intend to achieve it. A proposal can also be referred to as a prospectus. A formal document that acts as a convincing tool to the project coordinator or research committee that the research to be carried out is relevant and the results will be worthwhile. If you are not specific and clear on your plan for your final project in this part, your paper is likely to be rejected. The proposal does not necessarily require you to have figured out what your dissertation will look like but should give you a sense of direction on what you will execute in your final paper. Depending on the word count your supervisor will require for your proposal; the paper will take different formats. The proposal paper may include an introduction, methodologies, objectives, and limitations of your research. In essence, your formal proposal/ prospectus should have a working title for the project, a research question, an overview of the literature review, and a summary of what methodologies will be used.

The introduction part of your research will include background research for your topic, your research questions, problem statement, the purpose of the research, and the objectives. The literature review will give evidence that you have done your research through relevant arguments from different projects already done. A prospectus like the literature review will provide the research committee or the research supervisor confidence in your paper. It will present an understanding of where you are in the research process. After that, you will explain the type of methodology you intend to use in your research, stating the reasons why that is the best methodology for your research. The type of methodology you choose will help you in collecting data and in the analysis. The variety of methodologies includes surveys, observation, archival study, interviews, among others. Additionally, the type of methods chosen depends on whether the study is quantitative or qualitative. Quantitative research is objective while qualitative seeks to investigate a specific phenomenon exploring the research subject to find political, social, or cultural relevance.

Here are the tips for writing a good prospectus/ proposal:

• Constantly remind yourself about the subject matter your paper is addressing and align them to your interests. Your interest may vary from what you have previously studied, where you have previously worked, and your past experiences.;

• Be informed of possible topics that may arise from your research topic. In this, you need to look at your secondary and primary sources in-depth closely.;

• Start working on your research problem statement. Understanding and formulating your problem statement to be simple and clear, will help you easily develop the research questions, which is your research paper's backbone. Without a precise problem statement, you will have difficulty convincing your supervisor why your research is relevant. Ensure that you start reflecting on the research problem early enough and read extensively to make sound statements as a good grounding will positively influence your paper's formation.;

After writing the proposal, it must also be scrutinized for approval before continuing with the research. At this point, the paper will be graded based on the grading rubric set by your institution. However, most institutions will establish their grading based on relevance. The table below shows an example of a grading rubric.

# Grade Comments
(4 points)
Relevant information was provided and analyzed correctly using relevant examples.
(3 points)
Relevant information was presented to a certain degree, and relevant examples included
(2 points)
The information presented was unclear and the examples given are irrelevant to the topic
(1 point)
Very unclear and irrelevant information provided with no examples at all
(0 points)
No submission was made

3. The Final Dissertation

Proposal writing, in most cases, covers the first to third chapters of the final dissertation. That is the introduction, literature review, and the research methodology. In this case, the best approach is by writing the paper in three sections, which is in three drafts. This will enable you to correct the paper before proceeding to the next section. When you get constant feedback from your supervisor, you will likely produce an A1 paper on time and stay motivated through the writing process. For the first draft, present the first third of the paper, including the introduction, literature review, and part of the methodology section. For the second draft, submit the rest of the methodology and data analysis. Having gotten feedback that the first two parts are well written, you can write the part, which includes data analysis, discussion of the results, and conclusion. For the last part, it is best to use tables and other data representation techniques to present your data collection results. After writing the conclusion, you can now write an abstract that will tell the readers of your piece what the dissertation is all about. An abstract is no longer than a page, and it should state your research questions and a summary of what you have done in the entire paper.

In conclusion, as you write your dissertation it is important to keep in mind that you are trying to bring in new knowledge and theories into existence. You should therefore aim to be as extensive as possible in explaining you finding and try not to be vague about any information provided.

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