Academic writing tutorial: what is a doctoral dissertation?


  • How a Dissertation is Focused
  • A doctoral dissertation is a book length study about a very specific topic in a discipline in which you are majoring in school. For example, if you were an English major, you would write your book length analysis of an author’s works, possibly addressing one of their books in each chapter. A business major might write a study of social media and its effect on our economy, while a psychology major might write a book about how social media affects teens psychologically.

  • How a Dissertation is Formatted
  • One thing that makes writing a dissertation easier than you might think is that it is broken up into many different parts and sections. For example, there is an abstract, an introduction, each chapter—which can also be broken up into sections with “headers,” and a conclusion. Also, there is typically a huge works cited chapter which lists every single work of research you bring into the book length study.

  • How Dissertations are Researched
  • Dissertations are written over a long period of time. They are really huge research papers where the scope of the project is “big” enough but already being analyzed by researchers, scholars, scientists, and other types of specialists in your discipline. You’ll want to use only the absolute best resources for a dissertation. You won’t want web articles, and I doubt you’d be allowed to use those kinds of sources, unless they were web articles from a database that has “scholarly” essays on it.

    Some high level dissertations written at very stringent, top tier universities, in fact, will only allow peer reviewed articles. These articles will have been researched by scholars who make sure that every single fact in them is true and not falsified by anyone. They make sure that all quotes have been taken from the sources credibly and without changing source materials.

    Another reason peer reviewed articles are often a good choice is that when they are submitted, the author’s title page is ripped off of them so no favoritism can be shown toward the author—meaning, even if their uncle is on the committee at JAMA, a respected journal on medical topics, they will not get published solely because someone on the committee knows the author.

  • How Long do You Have
  • Typically dissertation committees will allow you a year to two years to complete your study. You can always ask for more time.

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