How to write a PhD dissertation

//How to write a PhD dissertation

How to write a PhD dissertation


When you reach the moment to write a dissertation, you are certainly nearing the end of a milestone in your academic life. The purpose of writing a dissertation is to demonstrate your knowledge, skills, and the ability to carry out a research in your selected discipline, and present the final result through a unique piece of work that will add value to the academic community. It has been explained by Lipson (2005) that a dissertation is a term normally used for a piece of work or academic project that present results of independent research work for  undergraduate students. For Master’s students, the commonly used term is thesis. Nonetheless, dissertation is as well used to refer to the final project done by PhD students they present before they pursue their doctoral degree.  In either case, a dissertation is serious project that require in-depth research and well-structured presentation. This guide on how to write good PhD dissertation outlines important steps that have to be followed when writing a dissertation. It starts from creating a wining proposal to presentation. How to write a PhD dissertation, is a guide to help PhD students in their writing journeys.

Step1: Writing the dissertation proposal

The first step in writing a dissertation is developing a research proposal, which gives a glimpse into the final dissertation. You will notice that the main sections of the research proposal resemble those of the dissertation. As Ling (2012) points out, you have to convince the committee members or your supervisors that you are going to research on an interesting and complex issue. A research proposal important because acts as the guide and plan in writing the final dissertation. Owing to the difference circumstances that may arise in the course of writing the dissertation it is possible to change the focus of the research. Supposing this happens, you have to amend the proposal document, though you will have to agree with the committee or the supervisor on the changes that are appropriate. How to write a PhD dissertation guide is intended for PhD student help.

The research proposal indicates that you have been able to think though the main research objective and defined them, and that you have established the main sources of your primary and secondary data and the methodology to be applied. Accordingly, the research proposal ought to give your committee or supervisor a “detailed skeleton” of the entire dissertation. A good research proposal should contain the following items:

  • A working title: Shows the title of the dissertation, though it may slightly change at the final stage.
  • Introduction part: this will briefly describe the dissertation topic, the aim of the study, research objectives and research questions.
  • Preliminary literature review: will have to detail the main authors/researchers you will use in your dissertation. You need to use the preliminary literature review to demonstrated that you are understand the main themes of your topic, to underline the additional investigations that you plan to pursue in completing the dissertation.
  • Methodology: You will have to outline the research methodology that you will use to achieve the objectives of your dissertation. It is important to justify the reasons that have led you to select the specific methods from others; this requires detailing the disadvantage and advantages of available methodologies.
  • Time table: detail the duration that will take to complete the various sections of the dissertation to the submission date.

Step 2: Carrying out your research

Graustein (2014) asserts that the dissertation research phase determines the general development of your dissertation. Therefore, it should be carried out in a methodical and effective way, to avoid wasting your time reading and critical analyzing materials that will not be helpful at the end. When undertaking the research, it is important to put in mind the following:

Create time for research stage: it is necessary to find adequate resources to assist you get the full understanding of the issue you are investigating. However, you have to stop researching when you reach some point.  Some students think that they have to ready everything and therefore do not know when to stop doing their research.  Follow the timetable you made at the proposal stage to know how much time you will need to spend on the research stage. The point at this stage should be to demonstrate what you have read about the topic and also about past studies that have been carried out before.

Look at the right places for materials and sources:  the internet provides a good starting point for your research. Nonetheless, it is important to understand that not all things you read from the internet is accurate. Therefore, you have to double-check the information you get online and make sure that it comes from trusted sources. You can use Google scholar to obtain reliable academic sources. In addition, you can use libraries; they are most reliable and helpful during this time of project development. Make use of the university library and seek assistance the librarian where need be.

Organize your resources: when researching, make notes that will make you remember and help you to streamline your work. Notes will also help you to locate important arguments that you intend to use.

Step 3: Writing the dissertation

After writing the proposal and laying down your research, you move to the most important stage of the dissertation, the writing process. This entails writing the actual dissertation that you will present as the final product.  Graustein (2014) notes that some many students are able to comfortable complete the first two stages of their dissertation. However, they lose their confidence when they reach this stage where they have to write the actual dissertation. Since you already have the dissertation proposal that provides the preliminary outline of the actual dissertation, you will have to follow it. However, the actual writing entails in-depth research and critical analysis as you write a detailed research that will start with introduction.


When writing a dissertation, it needs to be divided into various chapters and sections based on the type of the dissertation. However, the following are the typical chapters of a traditional dissertation. Nonetheless, you may need to discuss with your supervisor the overall dissertation structure you need to follow. The first chapter, which is the introduction chapter, should start with the background of the research/problem. Other sections include statement of the problem, the purpose of the study, research aims and objectives and the structure of the dissertation. You will also define terms that are related to the dissertation.

Literature Review

This chapter entails a review of past studies that is relevant to the research you are undertaking. Past studies provides the foundation for a better understanding of the background in which you are carrying out your research. Therefore it assists the reader to appreciate what you have achieved. It is important to understanding the critical analysis does not imply focusing on the negatives rather it implies developing an evaluation.

Ling (2012) explains that literature review acts as the setting against what you have written in the other chapters of the dissertation. Therefore, it may be critically analyzed by the researcher to assess the value of your writing and research skills. It as well shows what you have managed to discover and report what you have discovered as relevant to your dissertation in literature review. Ling (2012) underlined that literature review has to be written in precise way that compares and provides a critical analysis of previous works that are of germane to a complete understanding of your dissertation. The previous works used can be obtained from journals, textbooks, case studies, conference papers, newspaper articles, magazines and the internet. Try to use the most recent journal articles that are relevant with your dissertation.


This chapter explains the methodology approach that you will use in conducting the research. You need to start by restating the research objectives of the dissertation. This allows the reader to assess the validity of your selected research methodology. Graustei (2014) notes that the methodology chapter gives you a chance to explain to the reader the decisions made in reaching the way the dissertation is organized. Every time that you have to make a selection from several options, you have to explain why you made that choice, and the reason you rejected the other options. Supposing you are using qualitative approach, you will have to detail research questions, the participants involved, data collection techniques, and data analysis. However,  supposing you are using  the quantitative approach you will have to  focus on research questions, formulate hypotheses, information on population sample, data collection tools and data analysis.


This chapter details the evidence of the primary research that you have carried out. Depending on your subject under investigation or the nature of the dissertation, this could be in form quantitative concepts; hypothesis testing that involves descriptive statistics or qualitative methods that deal with structured content analysis or study descriptions.  As noted by Graustei (2014) the main aim of this chapter is to present data that has been on obtained. Even where the dissertation is comparatively moderate in length, it will generate huge amount of data that has to be organized in a logical and clear way to allow you present your interpretations in orderly way.

Whatever type of data analysis that has been completed, it has to be completed with care and you have to be attentive to details in the manner in which the final results would be presented.  It would be very frustrating for the supervisor to read through a mass of figures, tables and graphs that are not well presented. Dissertation that contains detailed modeling analysis will certainly have to show all appropriate assumptions.

Diagrams, graphs, tables and pie-charts are some of the useful ways that you can use in presenting your research findings. However, you need to also include a small review about these items. Where your dissertation involves qualitative data, you should a good analysis that presents key findings of the data. Most students make a mistake of presenting superficial and descriptive analysis of the qualitative data.  Such presentation does not enable you to show that you have undertaken research that is substantive in nature.


At the start of the dissertation you probably described the context of the study. Similarly, in the literature review, you reviewed and analyzed previous studies and derived several questions that have to be answered in order to achieve the objective of your study. Again, in the methodology section, you demonstrated to the audience the methodology methods available, the advantages and disadvantages of these methods, and the reasons you opted for the methodology that you selected for the dissertation, and in the results chapter you presented the outcome of the study.

In the discussion chapter, you need to remind the audience what was the main research objectives of the study. The literature review coupled by the evaluation you have made on different themes needs to assist you in developing more a specific research questions. Basically, the analysis you collect from the field ought to assist you in answering the research questions that you had formulated. However, it is important that you focus on data that has a direct relevance to your research questions. Lipson (2005) advices that it’s important to avoid making the mistake of including analysis that seems to be interesting but which is not  related to the original thoughts and direction of your dissertation.

Discussion chapter is very important and should not be descriptive by critical analysis. As observed by Lipson (2005) this discussion chapter requires analytic and critical thinking to be applied on the primary results that have to be carried out with reference to the theoretical arguments established in the literature review. You need to underline where there are significant differences and similarities in the literature. In cases where a concept or framework has been applied, or is being developed, there is need to underline the major relationships and explain the reasons and importance behind features being discussed.


This is the last chapter of the dissertation and you will have to summarize the findings of the dissertation. As noted by Ling (2012), in this chapter, you will have to bring together findings of the dissertation by demonstrating how the original research plan has been followed in a manger that allows conclusions to be formed evidence collected in the dissertation.  At this point new material should be introduced.  Ling (2012) explains that conclusions ought to make a statement regarding the level at which each of the objectives and aims of the dissertation have been achieved. You ought to restate the research questions and explain clearly your understanding of the research questions. More so, you need to be careful not to make any claim that you are unable to validate based on the evidence that you have provided.

At the end of conclusion chapter, you should include recommendation part, where you can make your recommendations that can be applied by stakeholders or by researchers in order to adopt the findings of the dissertation. You need also to include a brief sub-section and offer any suggestion for further or future research for researcher who might desire to undertake research in future in the related field.  More so, you need to have a brief statement that outlines the limitations of the research. For example, the limitation can be on the methodology applied or sample size.  In instances where you have used a single case study, it is not possible to claim that the findings can be generalized.

References and appendix

Include all references that you have used in the reference list section, and they have to be arranged in an alphabetical order based on author name. You may include appendices to provide additional relevant information you find to be necessary.

Step 4: Editing and Proofreading

After completing the first draft of your dissertation, relax a bit before you embark on the process of editing. It is important to understand that editing differs from proofreading, as editing focuses on content while proofreading focuses on ensuring that the dissertation has no grammatical, syntax or structure errors.  As advised by Graustei (2014) when editing, pay attention to your arguments, and check if there are any gaps in the information provided. Ensure that the quality of your dissertation is premium. Lastly, proofread to catch any spelling, style or grammar mistake. Take your time and read each word, and check with your dictionary where you have doubts.

Step 5: Getting a feedback

Before submitting your final drat to the committee or supervisor, you should get a feedback on your dissertation. Begin seeking a feedback from a college whom are doing the same course. Ensure that the person you give the dissertation for review is trustworthy owing to the fact that you are sharing your intellectual property.  Ask him/her areas if there are any improvements that can be made on the dissertation.  Also seek the views of your mentor, discuss with him/her about the project. Let him/her point out if there are any weak points that need improvement. Incorporate all the suggestion made and improve where necessary before you finally present your dissertation.

Dissertation writing process presents big challenge to many students, but you need to remember that you can successful write a dissertation when you remain focused, keep to your timeline and undertake thorough research. Remember that to reach to this stage, you would complete many tasks, and whereas a PhD dissertation is certainly one of the most important step in your academic life, you can just successful complete it by tackling it step by step.


Graustein, J. (2014). How to write an exceptional thesis or dissertation a step-by-step guide from proposal to successful defense. Ocala, Fla.: Atlantic Pub. Group.

Ling, C. (2012). Crafting your research future a guide to successful master’s and Ph.D. degrees in science & engineering. San Rafael, Calif. (1537 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA 94901 USA): Morgan & Claypool.

Lipson, C. (2005). How to write a BA thesis : A practical guide from your first ideas to your finished paper (Chicago guides to writing, editing, and publishing). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

By | 2018-01-01T22:36:36+00:00 January 1st, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments