What is in a Dissertation?
A dissertation is often a student’s most important work. It can be the culmination of many other projects and assignments, including classwork and research papers. A thesis statement will guide your writing process as you craft an argument that supports your perspective on the topic. There are many parts to a dissertation, and it cannot be evident for first-time writers.
This post will go over the different components and how they relate to one another. The goal is to give you a good overview of the dissertation and help you better understand how its different parts fit together.
What Exactly is a Dissertation?
A dissertation is a formal essay that is written by students who are studying in colleges and universities. The word “dissertation” comes from the Latin phrase ‘dissertation’ meaning to discuss, so it means discussing an argument in literary form.
Most people use the term dissertation to refer to the final projects they complete after an intensive study in their field of expertise. You can think of it as a collection of all the papers you have written throughout your years of graduate school, put together in one volume.
A dissertation is meant to be both self-contained and cohesive, but at the same time, individual chapters can stand independently as published journal articles.
A typical dissertation has several chunks that go much deeper into what goes into the dissertation process.
The first step in working on your dissertation is finding out what type it needs to be. There are four types:
- Master’s degree
- Doctoral program
- Bachelor’s degree
- DBA/EdD – type dissertations that are typically more focused on teaching than research.
Once you know what type it needs to be, there are specific guidelines.
Regardless of that distinction, your dissertation will usually have the following sections:
The Title Page
A dissertation has much information on the cover page, including your name, the university you are studying, and what degree you are earning.
The Declaration section is where you have an official statement that says you have not plagiarized any part of your dissertation. It also includes some language about how the document needs to be handled. It may end with a note confirming that your dissertation is not copyrighted, which may allow the school to publish it.
The abstract is essentially a summary of the rest of your document. It explains how you have structured it, what methods were used to complete it, and gives a clear idea of some practical applications from the results.
The Main Body
This section collects all the chapters of your dissertation together. It can be in a particular order depending on what part of your research process this chapter covers.
The body consists of:
1) The Introduction
The introduction should be about two to three pages long for an MSc dissertation, but these are not set in stone by any means, so it is okay if yours is longer or shorter. You will want to describe the aim of your research and why you chose this dissertation topic.
2) Chapter/s Overview
A dissertation can have multiple chapters, and they are typically numbered. For each one, you will want to give a brief overview of what you talk about. Include the introduction of any key figures or tables necessary for readers to understand your research project.
3) Literature Review
This section is where you go into depth on the different research that has been done in this domain. You can have a separate section at the beginning discussing other work or incorporate it into your chapters.
The literature review should be about 5-10 pages long for your MSc dissertation.
A great way to see how this section is done in an MSc dissertation would be to browse a few relevant journals or look up theses written for similar research topics.
The point of the literature review (sometimes called a “critical review”) is to carefully evaluate what has already been published on your topic and summarize it or give your opinion.
This section talks about the methods you used to conduct your dissertation research. It is essential to include a section about any ethical issues you may have encountered and take steps to minimize them.
The methodology includes information on how you conducted surveys or other forms of field research. It also describes anything technical done in the lab (i.e., how gene expression/DNA analysis was conducted).
The methodology section is about 5-10 pages long for an MSc dissertation.
5) Final Chapter
The result section is a summary of your entire dissertation. It provides a brief overview of each topic covered in the dissertation.
You should already have some main points that were discovered from the data in this section. You are going to explain the significance of those findings. The results section should include a discussion about what your research project means in the context of your original research questions and hypotheses, which may have been modified since the beginning stages of your dissertation. Be sure to explain why certain things occurred when they did and how that impacted your data.
This section is where you go into depth on interpreting the data you collected. You may also include some information about any tests that were run and how significant your results are.
This section should include the answer to the critical research question in your paper. Summarize and evaluate the study. Make suggestions for future study on the subject. Clearly explain what new information you have brought to the table.
The conclusion is also an appropriate place to thank those who have helped you with your dissertation, such as mentors, committee members, and others.
The epilogue goes straight after the conclusion, and it should summarize your dissertation by addressing any questions left unanswered by the previous section.
The epilogue is not something you need to use if it does not make sense for your study, but it is a good way of summarizing what was discovered.
The reference list, also known as the bibliography or works cited page, contains all the sources you have used throughout your dissertation.
The appendices of a dissertation, sometimes called the ‘appendix section,’ are where you place any supplementary material that does not fit into the body of your document. It might include questionnaires or surveys you have used in your research, transcripts from interviews and focus group discussions, papers presented at conferences – almost anything to do with your research.
Expert Tip: Some dissertations have a separate “methodology” or “data analysis/synthesis” section. However, if you only need a small amount of space to explain your methods, just placing it in a footnote is also acceptable.
General Structure of a Dissertation in the Social Sciences
The problem with any structure for dissertation presentation is that it may not fit your specific project. The above is just a guideline for organizing the different sections within your dissertation, but it is not set in stone.
There are many possible ways of organizing your dissertation sections. Let us share the general structure in the social sciences (as is commonly used in the US).
The problem: In this section, you will want to introduce your topic by clarifying why it is essential. This may include some background information about the topic, including why it is relevant to your discipline. At this point, provide a summary of any literature reviews that have been done on the subject (even if it includes a discussion of your own work).
For example, Susskind et al. (2014) sought to examine how people in different countries perceive online privacy and what informed their opinions. In this study, “online privacy” included more than just social media. Participants were also asked about their perceptions of various topics related to online privacy, such as telecommunication services (e.g., telephone) and medical records. This is an example of how you can use existing literature reviews to set the stage for your own research study.
To explore this question, several studies were conducted in seven countries using a variety of methodological approaches. Each study asked participants how they perceived online privacy and what their opinion was on the topic. The findings provided some fascinating results. Even though people consistently valued personal control over information, protection, and anonymity, most participants had no idea what information was shared. It turned out that there were some “phantom leaks,” meaning information people thought would never be shared was publicly available on the Internet. This study is an example of using your literature review to present a problem for which further research needs to be conducted.
New theory: After presenting the problem, the next step is to develop new theoretical insights that allow you to understand the issue better. This means that you will present a new model or framework through which your conclusions can be drawn. There are many different ways to frame your research problem, and it is often helpful to use existing theories as a starting point. Sometimes, you need to go beyond this existing research theory and develop a new way of understanding your problem.
However, when developing your theoretical framework for your research problem, you must highlight the following elements to be adequately understood: explanation, application, and evaluation.
There are many ways to organize your dissertation. The problem you want to solve, the theory you will use to understand this problem, and the methodology you will employ are just a few of these. The general structure of a dissertation is as follows:
- The title page, declaration, abstract, introduction, chapter/s overview, literature review, methodology, results, data analysis, conclusion, epilogue, reference list and appendices.
The body may include an introduction, chapter overview, literature review, methodology, and last chapter (results and discussion).
The structure of a dissertation is not set in stone. You might want to change it or add additional sections. These are just suggestions you may consider using when organizing your thesis. Always check your department’s guidelines and seek advice from your supervisor if you are unsure how to structure your dissertation.
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