Tips for Writing a Postgraduate Dissertation

The studies in a college or a university reach their culmination when a student has to write a postgraduate thesis or a dissertation. It is a real challenge to the knowledge and skills gained over the course of all academic life. Surely, it is unlikely to be easy and requires a tremendous amount of effort to be completed. However, there are at least two ways of approaching the task. On the one hand, a student may write a thesis or a dissertation similarly to running a sprint, i.e., do it fast and without time for too much thinking. On the other hand, the writing process might be a marathon-like, i.e., long, tough, and exhausting.

You are advised to find own pace and try to strike a balance between doing too little and too much. However, it is difficult to plan the writing process without knowledge of what to expect and what to be ready to. For this reason, we have compiled a short guide on writing a thesis or dissertation for postgraduate students that will assist you in setting priorities, preparing yourself physically and morally for this laborious task, and deciding what, when, and how to write, and arranging a step-by-step writing procedure.

Structure of a Thesis or Dissertation

There is no consensus on what a universal structure of a thesis or dissertation should be like. That is why it might differ from a discipline to discipline, from school to school, and from topic to topic. In fact, this is you who will make the final decision on what your paper will look like since as a postgraduate student, you have sufficient knowledge to make judgments about that. However, such an important choice should not be made without consulting with a supervisor. So, be sure to arrange a meeting and discuss the issue with him/her.

Still, there are generally two acceptable ways to organize a thesis or dissertation. The first one is very unconventional and not well treated in many institutions. Nevertheless, you may try to discuss using it with your professor. This method implies creating numerous scholarly articles that are suitable for publications in academic journals. In other words, the research is conducted in small portions published one by one. The students save time and do not put efforts into writing both the dissertation and the articles. As a result, a dissertation or thesis is a compilation of small publications. Although it might sound attractive, it may be not in line with a research policy of your school. So, be sure to clarify.

The second approach is a traditional one. It requires writing a book-like paper with chapters, and the articles should be created separately. Of course, there are not rigid requirements regarding the number and types of chapters, but usually, the following outline is used as a sort of skeleton:

  1. Title page - The page with information about the author, his/her institutional affiliation, and the dissertation itself.
  2. Abstract - A brief summary of the entire dissertation that provides an account of the methodology used, major findings, and conclusion arrived at by the author.
  3. Table of contents - A list all chapters of the paper and tables or graphs provided in the thesis or a dissertation.
  4. Introduction - A section with background information about the topic, rationale behind the research, its significance and objectives.
  5. Literature review - A section where the context for the research is set through an overview of literature relevant to the subject under consideration.
  6. Methodology - A chapter where the methods and tools used for conducting a research should be described.
  7. Results - A section where collected data is articulated. Here tables and graphs are usually used.
  8. Discussion - A chapter where the raw data presented in the previous section is analyzed and interpreted. Main conclusions of the paper are drawn here.
  9. Bibliography - A list of all sources that were used in the thesis or a dissertation.
  10. Appendices - Tables, graphs, surveys, or any other materials that are necessary for a better understanding of the text.

Time to Start a Dissertation

The time to start writing a thesis of a dissertation depends on two main factors, namely the duration of the course and the complexity of the research or project that you conduct as a basis of your writing undertaking. If the timespan of the project is short, you might first carry it out and then proceed to write the paper. If the project is voluminous and requires much time to be completed, you might need to start writing the text along with the research itself. However, under any circumstances, you are recommended to start writing as early as possible to leave yourself enough time for revising, editing, proofreading, and other seemingly insignificant but very time-consuming things.

Improving Writing Skills

  • A reliable and helpful way to detect flaws in own writing is to finish the first draft early and submit it to the professor for a preliminary check. The supervisor will surely check not only content but also will pay attention to your writing style and skills. He/she will point out the areas that require improvement. So, all you need to do is to take the remarks into account.
  • If you are not a native speaker, you might ask someone who has English as his/her mother tongue to look through your draft. This person will notice reoccurring mistakes and issues with sentence structures that seem totally fine for you. So, you may profit from such recommendations too.
  • There is hardly any school without a writing center in it. If you have not heard of it, it is a department that helps students in writing endeavor by providing tips, guidelines, relevant resources, writing recommendations, and feedback. Take advantage of such an opportunity to improve own writing.
  • Read a lot of academic and scholarly literature. However, pay attention not only to what an author states but also to how he/she does it. Note down useful phrases and apt vocabulary.

Arranging a Bibliography

In the course of writing, you will have to use an enormous number of sources. Not to get lost in them or not to lose them, you need a system of organizing all the literature used. The most convenient way to arrange all sources is to create a database where you will jot down the name of the author, the title of the work, and a few comments on the content in the form of bullet points in order not to forget the essence of the paper. In addition, you can benefit from using a reference management software, for example, EndNote. Not only it will help to keep an account of all sources used by you but also assist you greatly in dealing with formatting properly.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a usage of someone else's ideas and thoughts without intentionally or unintentionally giving credit to the author. It a serious violation that may cost you a degree in case you get caught engaging in this activity. To protect yourself from the accusations, you should not simply copy and paste sections from the works of others but paraphrase them, i.e., retell in your own words. Then, you should imperatively add an in-text citation or a footnote with the necessary bibliographic information. It will protect you, your degree, and an immense amount of effort, time, and money invested into your studies.