How to Write a Dissertation: Beginners Guide (2018 Edition)

  • Last Edited: March 3, 2018

The dissertation is the culmination of all your hard work and study. It requires a lot of reading, research and planning. But because it is so long and the process somewhat painstaking, it helps to have a guide: so here’s ours.

Writing a dissertation doesn’t have to be the end of the world. In this tutorial, we’ll clear up some of the ambiguities that plague writers when they begin contemplating whether doing a dissertation is the path for them.

As always, remember, just because you have to write it yourself doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Our dissertation writers are highly-skilled at providing original models based entirely on your parameters. Place an order for one today to get yourself going in the right direction!

Define Dissertation

What is a Dissertation? Simple answer: The dissertation is a really long essay. It is an opportunity to explore in depth a particular subject or issue, bring in what previous researchers have found, do some leg work of your own, and present your findings in a way that advances the subject and benefits those within your discipline or field.

You can base your dissertation on reading a lot of literature and interpreting it from a new perspective or theoretical framework. You can use interviews or surveys to obtain data from a sample of individuals whose experiences can help your study achieve its aim. You can conduct an experiment to measure an outcome. The possibilities are endless.

Whatever type of study you do, the dissertation is where you tell all about it.

How Long is a Dissertation?

Most dissertations will fall within the range of 25,000 to 40,000 words. That equates to roughly anywhere from 75 to 125 pages. Depending on your actual subject, the dissertation length may be longer or shorter.

The main thing to remember is that the dissertation is a focused, extensive, carefully constructed essay that is divided into multiple chapters. The chapters will have different lengths depending on their individual focus.

Each chapter deals with a specific section of the research process. As there are many types of research that one can conduct—from qualitative studies to quantitative studies to mixed-method studies—the exact chapters you include will likely depend upon the approach you take. Qualitative studies will focus more on ideas and themes while quantitative studies will focus on evidence and statistics.

The basic framework for your study will consist of setting up the main idea with an introductory chapter. This is commonly followed by a chapter that provides a literature review—your rundown of all the relevant literature published by scholars who have written on some aspect of the subject you are researching. A methodology chapter usually follows: this chapter describes your approach to the subject, how you went about collecting information for analysis, and how you went about analyzing it. A chapter that presents your findings and a chapter that discusses your findings close out the dissertation. Recommendations for future research or for implementing the findings into practice can be given in the conclusion.

In short, the dissertation takes a subject and either examines it in detail to obtain a deeper understanding of it, or tests a hypothesis by looking at statistical relationships, data, and other variables that can help to illuminate the subject in a new way.

Dissertation Defense

When writing the PHD dissertation, it is important to keep a few things in mind—namely: You will have to defend your dissertation before a committee. This is what is known as the dissertation defense.

The committee and your department chair will expect you to be able to articulate the purpose of your dissertation, the findings, what they mean, why it is useful, and how it all worked. In order to defend your dissertation, you have to understand your dissertation.

The best way to understand your doctoral dissertation is to choose a subject that is meaningful to you. The more you are invested in your subject, the more likely you are to see it through to completion and to be able to explain it to someone else. One way to settle on a subject that will appeal to you is to think of a good dissertation title. The more it appeals to you, the more inspired you will be to master its contents.

Dissertation Titles

Dissertation titles are usually longer than short essay titles because they aim to convey a lot of information—typically what the study focuses on—in a compelling way. Some dissertation titles are creative, employing quotes that catch the reader’s attention before revealing the subject. Others are dry but reflective of the academic nature of the study.

Here are a few examples:

“You’ve Got Likes!”: The Role of Social Media in Marketing

The Male-Gaze Revisited: Applying Mulvey’s Feminist Critique in a Post-Feminist Environment

The Politics of Environmentalism: A New Conceptual Framework for Assessing the Utility of International Conventions

“Death Therapy”: A “Baby Steps” Approach to Overcoming Neurosis via Cathartic Experience—A Phenomenological Study

If you’d like some more examples, check out these real life dissertation titles from NYU.

Parts of a Dissertation

Title Page


usually 1 page or less

  • This is a neat 150-250 word summary. It states the purpose of the study, how it was conducted, what was found, and what conclusions were drawn from it. It is placed alone on a page by itself and precedes the actual dissertation. Here is an example of a professional abstract.

Chapter 1: Introduction

usually 15-20 pages in length

  • Problem Statement
    • This is where you state succinctly and explicitly the problem that your study will address. The problem is identified by a gap in current literature—i.e., your study fills the gap.
  • Purpose Statement
    • The purpose of your study is to answer the research questions that you ask with regards to the problem that you have identified.
  • Research Questions
    • The research questions will be related to the problem area that you are addressing. By answering them, you should be able to fill the gap in the current literature regarding your problem area.
  • Theoretical Framework
    • This is what you use to help guide your approach to the subject. It serves as your perspective for understanding it.
  • Significance of the Study
    • Why is the study needed? Focus on how your study can benefit stakeholders in your discipline.
  • Definition of Terms
    • It is crucial to define terms. Never take it for granted that your reader views important words and phrases in the same way that you do. If you intend to use some critical concepts and ideas in your study, define them up front, even if they seem basic and ordinary. If they are critical to your approach to the subject, don’t leave anything uncertain: define your terms so that there is no ambiguity.
  • Limitations
    • Every study has its limitations. Were you limited by time constraints? Sample size? Scope? Funding? By identifying your study’s limitations, you are showing up front that you understand that your work should not be taken as the definitive, end-all-be-all statement on the matter. Pointing out its limitations shows why and it also puts you in the good graces of your reader. Transparency is always appreciated.
  • Assumptions
    • As with limitations, any assumptions that you make regarding your research subject going in should be made known to the reader at the outset. This can also be viewed as research bias. By bracketing out your bias, you make it known to the reader but also to yourself—which can help you to be more mindful in maintaining an objective and impersonal approach when collecting and interpreting data.
  • Organization
    • Describe how the rest of the dissertation is organized. Give a brief overview of each chapter from here on out.
  • Conclusion
    • Conclude this chapter with a brief summary of what you discussed in it and give a short preview of what to expect in the next chapter.

Chapter 2: Literature Review 

usually 20-40 pages in length

  • Collection Procedure
    • Describe the process you used to collect articles for this review. What was your inclusion criteria, your exclusion criteria? What key word searches did you conduct? What databases did you search? How did you screen articles?
  • History of Research
    • You don’t have to give a history of the relevant studies regarding the background of your subject—but it can help. If researchers have already paved the way for you to some extent, show it with a brief outline of the history of scholarly data up till now. Tie it in with how your study will build upon their research.
  • Relevant Theories/Models
    • Discuss the theoretical frameworks or models that have been used to approach the subject in the past and whether they are relevant this go around or not. If not, discuss the literature for the framework that you will be using to interpret the data you collect.
  • Conclusion
    • Conclude this chapter with a brief summary of what you discussed in it and give a short preview of what to expect in the next chapter.

Chapter 3: Methodology

Usually 10 to 15 pages

  • Data Collection
    • Describe how your data was collected. Did you do a systematic meta-analysis? Did you interview participants? Did you conduct a survey? Did you do direct observations? Did you obtain data from medical records?
  • Research Design
    • What kind of study is this? Experimental? Non-experimental? Phenomenological? How is this study designed? Why did you choose to design the study this way? Provide a rationale for this design and why it is appropriate for answering the research questions posed in Chapter 1.
  • Data Analysis
    • What methods will you use to analyze your data? If you are doing content analysis, how will you code your themes? If you are doing statistical analysis, what tests will you run?
  • Why This Approach
    • Explain why this approach to the data is the best one to take to help fill the gap and answer the research questions.
  • Data Source Rights of Participants
    • If there are participants in your study, how did you observe their rights? Did you obtain from them their informed consent to use them in the study?
  • Legal Issues
    • Were there any legal issues to your study? If so, discuss them here.
  • Conclusion
    • Conclude this chapter with a brief summary of what you discussed in it and give a short preview of what to expect in the next chapter.

Chapter 4: Findings

15 to 20 pages

  • Overview
    • Provide a brief overview of the results of your data analysis. Do not interpret the data here; just show the findings and present the information using charts, graphs and figures if necessary. If statistical analysis was conducted, present the statistics generated by the tests you ran.
  • In Relation to Research Questions
    • Put the results of the study in context. Restate the research questions and supply the answers that you found.
  • Summation
    • Summarize the data that you obtained and state it in layman’s terms if applicable.

Chapter 5: Discussion

15 to 35 pages

  • What Do the Findings Show?
    • Discuss the findings of the research in detail. Interpret the findings using your theoretical framework. What do the findings mean?
  • Practical Application of Results
    • How can the information gleaned from the findings be applied in real life?
  • Recommendations for Future Research
    • What recommendations can you make for future research on this topic? What issues did this study fail to resolve or what new questions did it raise that future research could help to address?
  • Conclusion
    • Conclude the study by summarizing the aim of the study and what was achieved. Describe any more work on the subject that remains to be accomplished based on the new information that you have provided. Or briefly summarize why this study was important from a practical perspective.


  • Present all the references you used in the study. Aim to have as many references as you have pages.

Dissertation vs. Thesis

In some colleges, there is no real difference between a dissertation and a thesis. However, if we’re going to get technical, we can point out that a thesis is usually completed at the end of a student’s Master’s program. A dissertation is typically completed at the end of a student’s PHD program.

Will they look any different? No. Each essentially is constructed in the same manner. It’s just that when you say you’re working on your dissertation, the common expectation is that it is for a doctoral degree, while if you say you’re working on your thesis, you’ll be implying that you’re in graduate rather than post-graduate school.

How to Choose a Dissertation Topic

This is not an easy thing to do. You will want to select a topic that is worthy of being investigated, no matter what approach you are taking to the subject. A topic that has already been thoroughly researched and about which there are no questions remaining will not make a very good dissertation topic. Remember: your research is supposed to add something new to the body of literature that already exists. If you’re not adding some new or useful knowledge, why are you conducting the study?

Therefore, consider these points:

  • Surely by now you’ve come to understand a great many things about your field and discipline.
  • Surely you have recognized some areas within your discipline that could be improved.
    • Perhaps you have some ideas on how they could be improved?
    • Perhaps you have some thoughts on certain practices or perspectives or models that could stand to be updated?

Think about how you approach your discipline and what you would like to add to the field if you could. Has an old practice that you are especially fond of fallen by the wayside? Why? Could it be re-applied in today’s settings? How? Is this an area suitable for research? If it fills a gap and addresses a problem within your field—yes!

Get creative. Consider the time, funding, and access to data that you have. Will you be needing participants? If so, how many? The feasibility of obtaining a good sample size for your study will factor in to how you approach it. For instance, if you have access to thousands of participants and can easily obtain the required information with their informed consent, you may be able to conduct solid quantitative research. If, on the other hand, you are limited in terms of what you can do, you may benefit by taking a qualitative approach to your subject and looking for a way to explain or better understand a phenomenon relating to your topic that has not been adequately explained by researchers yet and that could help other professionals and scholars to better perceive the real underlying issues of a particular problem.

The point is: you have experience and knowledge of your field, and you probably have a few ideas about how it could be improved. Make this the basis of your dissertation and build out from there based on what practical steps you can take to add to the existing body of knowledge.

Need a Dissertation Example?

The best way to learn to write a dissertation is to go through a sample that is similar to what you are trying to do. However, since there are so many approaches to writing a dissertation, finding one that matches your own can be challenging.

That’s why we’re here. We take the pain out of having to guess and check with your committee chair as you take the plunge in your post-graduate journey. We offer model dissertations that are 100% original and customized to the precise parameters that you require. Say you’re working on a doctoral dissertation that is taking a qualitative approach to understanding the needs of African American patients in an urban ER. Our writers will show you how they would do it by researching and writing a model dissertation that covers the topic from start to finish. By seeing how a professional does it, you can better understand exactly which steps to take and what mistakes to avoid.

Dissertation assistance like that which we offer is a beautiful thing. It takes all the pressure and fear out of going it alone. With us by your side, you know you’ve got support all along the way.

That’s why our dissertation writing service is number one around the world. Students from all over the globe use our native English speaking writers and researchers to help show them the right way to write a dissertation.

And if you’ve already written your dissertation but want a fresh pair of eyes to go over it, try our dissertation editing service. Our professional editors know what to look out for and will approach your dissertation the same way you’d expect your committee chair to do so. Our editors will find and correct your grammar, research and formatting mistakes so that your dissertation is top notch when you turn it in.

See here for one example of a dissertation completed by our writers


The dissertation serves as the measure of all you’ve come to be as a post-graduate student. It illustrates your capacity for research and your ability to explain and expand upon prior studies and analyses. It gives you the opportunity to focus on an idea that is meaningful to you, to explore it, develop it, test it, or implement it in real time.

Undertaking the dissertation can be one of the biggest moments of a student’s life because it is the moment you become a true scholar. Don’t feel you have to do it all by yourself. When you learn how to swim, there’s always a coach in there with you, ready to pull you up if you go down.

That’s why we’re here: we’ll show you the strokes, how they work, and how your dissertation can look. Don’t hesitate—order today.

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