Nova A.
Nova A.

What Is a Dissertation? A Detailed Dissertation Writing Guide

13 min read

Published on: Oct 28, 2021

Last updated on: Apr 18, 2024

dissertation writing

A dissertation is a significant academic project undertaken by students pursuing higher education, typically at the master's or doctoral level.

It's a comprehensive piece of research that demonstrates a student's ability to conduct independent inquiry, analyze findings, and contribute new knowledge to their field of study. 

In this detailed guide, we'll explore what a dissertation entails, the steps involved in writing one, and tips for success. 

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Dissertation Vs. Thesis 

The terms "dissertation" and "thesis" are often used interchangeably, causing confusion. However, they represent distinct types of academic projects, with variations in usage between the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (USA). 

In the US, a dissertation typically refers to the research conducted to obtain a PhD. On the other hand, in countries like the UK, a dissertation often pertains to the research conducted to obtain a bachelor's or master's degree. Therefore, while both terms involve scholarly research and analysis, their usage differs based on the educational context. 

Check out our blog on dissertation vs. thesis for a more in-depth guide. 

What is the Dissertation Proposal Process?

The dissertation proposal process marks the initial step toward completing your dissertation. It entails crafting a detailed proposal document containing research questions, objectives, methodology, and expected outcomes, accompanied by a thorough literature review. 

Feedback from your advisor and institution review board committee members guides revisions and adjustments to ensure the proposal aligns with academic standards and research objectives. Upon approval, the proposal sets the stage for conducting research and writing the dissertation, ensuring clarity and coherence in the project's direction.

Your advisor, typically a faculty member with expertise in your field, plays a pivotal role throughout the dissertation process, offering guidance, feedback, and support. Alongside your advisor, a dissertation committee, comprising faculty members specializing in relevant areas, provides diverse perspectives and expertise. 

Collaborating with these stakeholders ensures the proposal's thoroughness and feasibility, laying a solid foundation for the subsequent research journey.

How to Structure a Dissertation

A dissertation is more than just a long essay; it's a structured document that follows a specific format and includes various sections. When it comes to structuring your dissertation, the approach may vary based on your field and discipline. 

For instance, if you're in humanities, your dissertation may resemble an essay with evidence from sources supporting different perspectives. This may not work for complex theoretical concepts that need a thorough understanding before starting research.

On the other hand, writing a dissertation in the field of science can be challenging. Following your field's requirements and structure is important.

However, here is a general dissertation structure:

Title page

  • Displays the title of the dissertation and other details

Acknowledgments or Preface

  • Expresses gratitude and provides additional information


  • Summarizes the dissertation's main points and conclusions

Table of contents

  • Lists the different sections of the dissertation

List of figures and tables

  • Lists the tables and figures in the dissertation

List of abbreviations

  • Defines the abbreviations used in the dissertation


  • Defines technical terms used in the dissertation


  • Introduces the topic and research question

Literature review

  • Summarizes existing research on the topic


  • Explains how the research was conducted


  • Presents the findings of the research


  • Interprets the findings and explains their significance


  • Summarizes the research and provides recommendations

Reference list

  • Lists the sources cited in the dissertation


  • Includes additional information or data that supports the research

How to Write a Dissertation?

Let's briefly examine the writing process of each element of the dissertation.

Dissertation Title Page

The dissertation title page should include your name, institution, degree program, submission date, and the title of your dissertation. 
It is important to follow the formatting guidelines of your institution, including font size and style.


The abstract is a concise summary of your entire dissertation. It should include the research problem, research methods, major findings, and implications of the study. 
The abstract should be brief and provide an overview of your research for readers who may not have time to read the full dissertation.

The abstract of the paper should answer these questions: 

  • What did the writer do with the paper?
  • What is the aim of your paper?
  • What were the results and implications?

Table of Contents

The table of contents lists all the sections of your dissertation in order, including chapter titles, subheadings, and page numbers. This section helps readers navigate your dissertation and find the information they need quickly.


The introduction sets the stage for your dissertation. It should include:

  • A clear statement of the research problem
  • The significance of the study
  • Research questions or hypotheses
  • A brief overview of the research methods used

The introduction should provide enough information to engage the reader and make them interested in the research.

Literature Review

The literature review provides a comprehensive analysis of previous research and relevant literature in your field. 

It should identify gaps in the literature and show how your research addresses those gaps. To conduct this review, utilizing various search engines like Google Scholar, PubMed, and others is imperative for thorough literature exploration.
Critically evaluating and synthesizing the literature from these sources aids in developing a robust theoretical framework for your study.


The methodology section explains the research methods used in your study. 
It should include a clear description of your research design, data collection procedures, and data analysis techniques. You should justify the research methods chosen and explain how they address the research questions or hypotheses.


The results section presents your findings in a clear and concise manner. You should include both quantitative and qualitative data and use tables, graphs, and charts to illustrate the results. 
You should also provide a clear explanation of the findings and how they relate to the research questions or hypotheses. Think of the best ways in which you want to present your data!

The results of the research can be given in the following way:

  • Beginning with an overview of what was found, followed by details.  
  • Moving immediately to a section detailing each result.
  • How will you organize the results?
  • What will the balance be between word space across all findings in your paper?


The discussion section interprets your findings and compares them to previous research. 
You should evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your study and discuss their implications. You should also provide recommendations for future research.


The conclusion should summarize your research findings and their implications. You should restate the research problem, research questions, or hypotheses and provide a clear answer to the research questions or hypotheses. 
You should also discuss the practical implications of your research and provide recommendations for future research.

Bibliography or Reference List 

The bibliography or reference list includes all sources cited in your dissertation. You should use a consistent citation style, such as APA or MLA, and list the sources in alphabetical order to cite the dissertation.


The appendices include any additional materials that support your dissertation, such as survey instruments, interview transcripts, or additional data tables. 
You should label and number each appendix and refer to them in the text of your dissertation as necessary.

Dissertation Examples

We've compiled a list of sample dissertation PDFs to assist you in writing your dissertation:

  1. Example dissertation #1: The Mental Health of First-Generation College Students of Color: Devin Hallquist's Dissertation at the University of San Francisco.
  2. Example dissertation #2: Identity Formation and Role Expansion for Nurse Practitioner Residency Preceptors: A Qualitative Thematic Analysis by Angel Chen Kuo, University of San Francisco.
  3. Example dissertation #3: A Case Study of a School-Supported Extracurricular Activity's Influence on STEM Identity and Interest for Females: Letta Meyer's Dissertation at the University of San Francisco.
  4. Example dissertation #4: African American Women Make Meaning of Historical Trauma: Deidre A. MILLER's Dissertation at the University of San Francisco.
  5. Example dissertation #5: Fifty Years of Underrepresented Student Advocacy at One Jesuit Secondary School: Sonya Cotero Arriola's Dissertation at the University of San Francisco.

Don't forget to check out our 'dissertation examples' blog if you need more samples!

Dissertation Checklist 

Ensure your thesis or dissertation is converted to PDF format before online submission, and double-check the requirements outlined by your institute.

Here is a useful checklist you can use:


Checklist Item


Review the Thesis and Dissertation Guide before finalizing your document

General Formatting

Ensure uniform left and right margins throughout the document,  Keep text left-justified with double spacing

Use consistent font sizes (10, 11, or 12 points) and indent paragraphs consistently

Center page numbers at the bottom of each page, 1/2" from the bottom edge

Title Page

Follow formatting guidelines for title, author's name, department, and year of approval

Copyright Page

Include copyright symbol followed by the year and "ALL RIGHTS RESERVED"


Ensure abstract is double-spaced and follows length requirements


Start each on a new page with appropriate formatting

Table of Contents

Use proper heading and formatting for entries, including page numbers

Lists of Tables/Figures/Illustrations

Format headings and entries consistently with accurate numbering and page references

List of Abbreviations/Symbols

Organize entries alphabetically and format headings appropriately


Separate from text with solid line and format numbers and spacing correctly

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Dissertation Writing Tips

Here are some extra pointers to help kickstart your dissertation on the right track:

  • Start Early: Begin your dissertation as soon as possible to manage time effectively.
  • Choose a Manageable Topic: Select a focused topic aligned with your interests and goals. For inspiration, refer to our guide on dissertation topics.
  • Establish a Clear Structure: Outline chapters and sections to maintain organization.
  • Set a Routine: Dedicate regular time each day or week to dissertation work.
  • Conduct Thorough Research: Gather relevant literature and data to inform your writing.
  • Consult Your Advisor: Seek guidance and feedback from your dissertation advisor.
  • Write Regularly: Break down writing into manageable tasks and make consistent progress.
  • Take Breaks: Schedule regular breaks to avoid burnout and maintain productivity.
  • Stay Positive and Persistent: Remain optimistic and focused on your goals throughout the process.

Following these tips will make your research project more effective and impressive.

You are now equipped with valuable tips on how to write a dissertation successfully. However, if you are still struggling, don't worry! 

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So, why wait? Place your order today and get one step closer to achieving your academic goals.

Nova A.


Nova A. (Literature, Marketing)

As a Digital Content Strategist, Nova Allison has eight years of experience in writing both technical and scientific content. With a focus on developing online content plans that engage audiences, Nova strives to write pieces that are not only informative but captivating as well.

As a Digital Content Strategist, Nova Allison has eight years of experience in writing both technical and scientific content. With a focus on developing online content plans that engage audiences, Nova strives to write pieces that are not only informative but captivating as well.

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