Writing a good dissertation: what do you require?

The dissertation represents the pinnacle of academic challenge and accomplishment. Writing an excellent dissertation requires thousands of hours of sustained research, a great deal of topical expertise, an extensive data collection period, and as much as a thousand pages of writing.

How does one even begin undertaking such an arduous and imposing task? By focusing on discrete, accomplishable goals. Remember: a dissertation is like a marathon run, not a short sprint. You must train and prepare, and make sure you have all the necessary materials. Before you get started, here’s what you’ll require.

A Devoted Adviser

Your academic adviser will guide you through the dissertation process, provide comments and useful critiques, help you edit your paper, and will help you respond to the comments of your dissertation committee. It is necessary that you locate an adviser who is deeply interested in your dissertation topic, therefore, and who has the time and the motivation to spend many hours discussing your project with you and providing feedback.

How do you locate such an adviser? By working with a number of academics whom you admire, taking a number of classes, and volunteering to help outside of class. A reliable adviser will be someone with whom you share research interests and with whom you have a compatible temperament and work style. Choose someone who appreciates your writing style, gives positive feedback to your work, and, ideally, who “owes” you in return for past help you have provided.

A Literature Review

Before you select your dissertation topic and research design, you must be well versed in a highly specific subarea within your discipline. The way to become such an expert is by reading extensively on a topic that interests you, and writing about what you have learned in a detailed literature review. A literature review should be informed by at least one to two thousand pages of reading.

The documents you read should include book chapters, texts, journal articles, archival research, and other dissertations, and the list should be approved by your adviser and committee. This may seem like a ton of tedious work, but it will make you a more informed and capable dissertation writer in the long run, and you may come across some fantastic ideas in your research!

Materials or Funding

How are you going to conduct your dissertation once your proposal has been approved by your committee? You will likely need materials and a means of supporting yourself at the very least; perhaps you will also require new software or computer hardware, or some other means of data collection. Look into sources of funding at your university and apply to grants and dissertation fellowships. Join professional academic organizations in your field of interest, and ask your adviser to write you letters of recommendation. Completing your dissertation will be much easier if you do not have to balance an hourly job for rent money and supplies!

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