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How To Write a Dissertation

A Step By Step Guide On How to Write a Dissertation

A dissertation, also known as a thesis is a book-long original academic research which is submitted as part of fulfillment for the award of a doctoral degree. Due to the complexity in research and analysis of scholarly sources, many of the students never complete their dissertation.  Despite the big odds for failing in the dissertation, if you take time to organize the writing process, prepare both physically and emotionally, and choose the right topic and a proper research approach, you can greatly improve your chances of succeeding.

  1. Gearing for Success
  2. Developing Dissertation Topic, Thesis, and strategy
  3. Writing the dissertation


Writing a dissertation is a monstrous task that can suck life out of you. As such, it is important to understand the idea behind the task. You ask yourself, ‘WHY,’ why am I doing this, what is the reward?

  1. Know and appreciate the motivation for writing a dissertation

Understanding the reason helps in the concise crafting and development of the argument, analysis of the sources, and the revision to match the desired goals. Understanding the purpose of the dissertation is the engine that powers the writing locomotive.

  • A successful dissertation writing is the ultimate proof of your ability to produce a substantial research with original ideas and analysis. In any industry or professional field, a person is expected to contribute to the field by coming up with original ideas that can spur innovation and ultimately growth in the sector.
  • Further, a dissertation is a testimony of the mastery of the research design. It is a prove that you can undertake a successful research in your field as a professional. For instance, if you are a nurse, you can undertake a research and produce new ideas, you can be published in peer-reviewed journals.
  1. Work on your time management skills

You are more likely to write your dissertation when you are working part-time, teaching undergraduate students, or running your business. It is rare to find a full-time PHD students and as such, time management becomes a key determinant to the success in writing a dissertation.

  • Start by creating a comprehensive schedule that incorporates all your daily activities (Both writing and work) clear goals. Try strict adherence to the schedule.
  • Allocate time for relaxing and resting when it is impossible to work. For instance, you can catch up the daily news on your drive from school. Listening to inspiration audio-books while taking breakfast or dinner. Chat on snapchat or Whatsapp when taking lunch.
  • Have enough sleep every day. Though it can be challenging at times, having a good sleep renews the body and the mind giving energy needed in writing a dissertation.
  1. Develop a stress management strategy

Writing a dissertation is a stressful venture and hence having a stress management strategy is critical to the successful completion of the task. When you are stressed, it can be impossible to develop sound-arguments or analyse any material. All stress should be handled or released before the commencement of the dissertation writing. Further, stress management strategies must be incorporated in the dissertation writing planning process.

  • Let off stress by working out, listening music, watching your favorite shows on TV. Always go for the activities that fit on your tight schedule and those you enjoy most.
  • Try to meditate, take deep-breath, and other stress releasing techniques. If the stress levels are getting out of hand, consult a licensed counselor or pay a visit to the school counselling department for help.
  1. Create a work station for your dissertation

Focus is a key element in the writing a dissertation. You need to find a place where there is no distraction and which allows you to concentrate. Having a space that’s quite, comfortable, and free from distractions. The work station must also provide instant access to all resources needed for writing, a computer, books, power sources, and internet connection.

  • Some people write best in behind closed quiet rooms while others work best in a café. While any can work based on preferences, it is good to determine what works for you.
  • Having a single workstation can be easier due to the convenience of keeping everything you need for the research intact. Some people prefer to work in different locations, on Monday it’s the library, Tuesday is the personal workstation and Thursday they are on the Café, It’s your personal preference.
  1. Secure funding to help in paying for your expenses and reduce the need for a full-time job

Many of the PHD programs frown the idea of working on an outside job. In many cases, they will only allow you to work if you are working on the same institution. You will need money to pay for your expenses such as travelling to collect materials and interviews.

  • Writing a dissertation is an academic venture and at the same time a job. Securing funding will enable you to treat it like a job.
  • Ask your supervisor or the program department for the best sources for funding.
  • It is advisable to seek grants rather than loans or fellowships from the university.

STEP 2 – Developing Dissertation Topic, Thesis, and strategy

The journey of dissertation writing starts with choosing a topic that you will work with for a long period of time.

  1. Start with developing a topic idea

The journey of dissertation writing starts with choosing a topic that you will work with for a long period of time. Considering that you can’t change the topic midway in the dissertation, you need to find a topic that is captivating and interesting to you. It should be broad enough to fit the book-length analysis. Further, ensure that a topic offers a substantial scholarly contribution on your field and avoid topics which have already been written about.

  • Your idea should emanate from your study years in undergraduate and graduate levels. Such experience helps you to develop concerns, questions, and issues that spark your interest.
  • Start with several topics and narrow down by posing several questions, ‘Is the Topic too small or big for a dissertation,” “does it contribute to the existing scholarship or not”.
  1. Consult your adviser as you fine-tune your dissertation topic

The advisers will guide you in this daunting journey, so make sure you understand their advice and work with them through the writing process. Without proper communication complex ideas with such people will make it unable to proceed. Also ensure you understand the underlying expectations from you.

  • Choosing the right adviser has a direct impact in the success of the dissertation process.
  • Ensure you consider the adviser guidance as you revise the topic into a perfect topic dissertation. Always remember the dissertation is your own and so be willing to defend your case against the adviser.
  1. Keep your committee in mind from the commencement

A committee will help you through the writing process through their robust expertise and knowledge. You should consider the types of evidence and research that they treat highly and if there are research methods and analysis they view with skepticism.

  • Don’t wait until the drafts are due to consult the committee members. Take advantage of their extensive experience to develop a topic, thesis, and the research plan.
  1. Develop a thesis as you do your research

Don’t fall into the temptation of rushing to develop your thesis statement. It is like writing an abstract before beginning your thesis. With a proper topic, you can begin the research and that will guide you in developing your thesis. No matter your knowledge on the topic, the extensive and substantial research that is required for a dissertation can see your ‘expertise’ thrown out of the window.

  • Let your research be the basis for your thesis development contrary to the old conventional ways of forcing the research to the thesis.
  • Research, writing, and revisions parts of your dissertation should be treated differently. Research first before writing to allow you to develop a thesis that will not need adjustments.


Now you have developed your topic, done your research, and have a thesis. Now, you get into the actual writing which will start with an outline of what you are going to write and when.

  1. Develop an outline to guide your dissertation writing

You need to plan on your essay structure depending on the nature of the dissertation and the guidelines given by the University. Go down to details and ensure that the outline is explanatory by itself. The road through an outline is the best ever traveled in the journey on dissertation writing.

  • A dissertation outline follows the conventional structure that include topic, background information on topic, personal opinion on the issue, and conclusion.
  • However, some schools or disciplines may give out a different guideline on the outline and hence it would be prudent to consult your school.
  • Take on the length and structure of the dissertation. You can consult your committee or adviser.
  1. Set aside some specific time for writing each day

With other tasks at hand, you can easily end up jeopardizing the writing of the dissertation. Set some time each time to focus on writing and not anything else. With time, you will develop a habit of writing and give the drive needed to power your writing

  • You can choose any time that works well for you. Many post graduate students tend to write poorly when they write at night. So writing in the morning or evening is recommended rather than late night.
  • If you find no motivation during the set time (time block), you can do the less demanding parts of the dissertation writing such graphs, images, or format citations.
  1. Voice and tense mastery

It is important you use the correct tense and voice for your dissertation writing. Mastering the correct voice and tense saves time used in proof-reading and editing. Consult your adviser on the correct method and pay closer attention when writing.

  • In majority of schools, dissertations guidelines stipulate that writing should always be written in present tense and active voice. An active voice shows the reader that the you are engaging the research materials and coming up with new ideas.
  1. Don’t use unprofessional and indecisive language

Writing a dissertation is a professional academic writing and hence some forms of writing are not acceptable. Avoid the use of slang used in casual communication as they would consume a lot of time in editing in later stages of writing as the adviser will definitely recommend that you change them.

  • Don’t include casual slang like ‘folks’ ‘guys’ in your dissertation as they unacceptable in academic writing.
  • Undeceive and unprofessional language waters down the arguments presented in the paper making the dissertation unconvincing. Words such as ‘probably, I think, are very indecisive and will need major editing in future.
  1. Citing your sources should be the number one goal in writing your dissertation

Most of the students fail in their dissertation due to plagiarism which is a serious academic offense. However, you can avoid the trap by citing all information you use in your dissertation that does not belong to you. Further, it makes your argument and analysis more credible.

  • Ideas presented in the literature review must be cited as the part presents existing studies on the issue.
  • Statistics used should be cited properly to support your claims.
  • For easier tracking and efficiency, cite your sources as you write.
  • If there are doubts on your mind on whether you should cite anything, just cite it.
  1. Pay attention to feedback in writing your dissertation

Most of the errors will be only be corrected through a feedback from your adviser and peers. The leading cause of failure is the lack of willingness to get feedback. Don’t fail into the temptation of getting feedback after you have completed your writing as you need to be corrected from the early stages to keep it in right track.

  • Use your advisers or peers who are also writing a dissertation to correct and keep on the right track.
  • Writing a dissertation is an intensive back and forth writing venture and relies on getting feedback, revising based on the feedback.
  1. Don’t Forget the formatting, styling guidelines, and proofreading

They format, style, and proof reading are minor details but can make you fail in your dissertation. It is common to see schools rejecting a dissertation that does not meet the format and style guidelines or contains grammatical errors.

  • Allocate at least two weeks to handle the style and formatting issues as per you University guidelines. Consult you school if you have any difficulties.
  • Your adviser can also offer invaluable advice on formatting and styles.

Always Remember

In postgraduate school, no one cares about your grades, so allocate most of your time to the dissertation. Don’t fall to the tragic affliction of academia, the perfectionism that drives students to polish their paper to extreme levels hence watering down their argument in the process.

The committee is not out to get you, it is just a myth and hence you should change your attitude toward them

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