How to write an effective dissertation?

How to write an effective dissertation?

How to write an effective dissertation?

Dissertation definition

Dissertation is an academic form of writing that explains a particular subject in detail and is submitted for attaining a PhD and M Phil level degree. It comprises the independent work of the scholar. A dissertation is the final assignment submitted by the students before attaining a degree.

In technical terms “A dissertation is a written document that contains a statement or a theory involving personal research, written by a university student or author that is submitted in support of candidature for attaining an academic degree or professional qualification in a particular academic field or discipline.”

Therefore, a dissertation presents the author’s research and findings in a distinct academic subject, which validates the author as a certified professional, eligible to practice work related to his/her field of study.

Characteristics of dissertation

1. Work should be done independently by the student or scholar. It is required for PhD degree only.

2. The scholar should demonstrate in-depth knowledge and understanding. The dissertation also includes references.

3. The dissertation shows critical and analytical thinking.

4. It shows the original work and research.

5. It has a formal style of writing, espousing a high standard work.

6. It should have an academic approach.

How to write a dissertation introduction

An introduction is the first chapter of a dissertation. It is essential to draw the attention of the readers through a strong introduction, setting the stage for research with a clear focus, purpose, and direction.

The introduction should include the following 5 elements:

1. Topic and context

2. Focus and scope

3. Relevance and importance

4. Questions and objectives

5. Overview of the structure

A point to note is that, although the introduction comes in the beginning of your dissertation, it is not necessarily the first section you have to write. In fact, it is often the very last part to be completed.

1. Topic and context: Once you have a clear idea of the text you are introducing, start by introducing the topic by providing background information. It is important to explain why the topic is relevant or significant. For example, our topic is “Young people’s attitude to climate change” and the context could be a relevant news item.

2. Focus and scope: After a brief information covering the general idea of interest, narrow down on your focus and state the scope of your research.

For example,

  • What time period does your research cover?
  • What demographics or communities are you researching?

3. Relevance and importance: It is essential to indicate what motivated your research, how it relates to existing work on the topic, and in what manner your insights will contribute to the field, such as does it contribute to a theoretical problem or help solve a practical problem?

  • Give a brief overview of the current state of research.
  • Cite the most relevant literature.
  • Indicate how the research will address a gap or problem in the field.

For example, “Young people will determine the future of climate policy, so it is essential to gain an in-depth understanding of their engagement with this issue. While there has been much research on youth attitudes to climate change in general (Corner et al., 2015; Holmberg & Alvinius, 2019; Lee et al., 2020), none has focused specifically on how teenagers understand and respond to current climate policy in the UK.”

The short selection addresses a relevant current issue built on existing literature and addressing a gap in the literature. We emphasize the importance of our research and contributing to a better understanding of the topic.

4. Question and objectives: This is probably the most important part of the introduction. Always clearly state the central aim of the research. For example, your research question could be “How do high school students engage with the UK government’s policies on climate change?,” while your objectives could be “Conduct interviews to gain qualitative insights into students’ perspectives and actions in relation to climate policy.” If you research involves testing hypotheses, then you can formulate your research using a conceptual framework.

5. Overview: A concise overview of your dissertation structure and summary of each chapter must clearly show the thesis contributes to the central aim. One or two sentences should suffice to describe the content of each chapter. For an unconventional structure, you might need more space to make it clear how everything fits together.

How to develop a conceptual framework?

A conceptual framework illustrates what you expect to find through your research.  It defines the relevant variables of your study and maps out how they relate to each other.

A conceptual framework is developed based on a literature review. By looking at what other researchers have found or theorized, you can come up with ideas about the relationship between the variable, for example, based on what has been learned about these variables from a literature review. The general idea is that studying more hours would result in a higher exam score. We want to test whether there is a cause-and-effect relationship between the number of hours studied and the exam score obtained, which means hours of study is an independent variable and exam score is a dependent variable. Because we think that exam score depends on the number of study hours, based on which, a conceptual framework can be designed in many different ways. The form your conceptual framework takes will depend on what types of relationships you expect to ascertain.

In order to illustrate the expected cause-and-effect relationship, the writer has to use the basic design components of boxes, arrows, and lines. Boxes are used for the variables and arrows, starting from the independent variables, are used to indicate a cause-and-effect relationship.

Now that we have the basics in place, let us move on to expanding the conceptual framework.

As you develop your conceptual framework, you should also aim to identify other variables that might influence the relationship between the independent and dependent variables.

Here are some common variables that can be incorporated into the conceptual framework:

  • Moderator variables
  • Mediator variables
  • Control variables

1. Moderator variables: These alter the effect that an independent variable has on a dependent variable. For example, the variable IQ moderates the effect that the number of study hours has on the exam score. In other words, the higher IQ, the fewer the hours of study one must put in to do well in the exam.

2. Mediator variables: These are variable that link the independent variables with the dependent variables. How or why does an independent variable affect the dependent variable? For example, “the hours of study” (independent variable) impacts the variable “number of practice problems completed” (mediator), which in turn impacts the “exam score” (dependent variable). The more hours that students study, and the more practice problems they will complete, the more practice problems they complete, the higher the students’ exam score will be. By adding the mediator variable of number of practiced problems completed, we have explained the cause-and-effect relationship between the two main variables. So, both moderators and mediators have an impact on the dependent variable. The key difference between them is “A moderator is not affected by the independent variable,” whereas a mediator is affected by the independent variable.

For example, the variable IQ is a moderator, not a mediator, although IQ may impact the exam score, which is the dependent variable. The number of hours spent studying, which is the independent variable, does not affect IQ.

3. Control Variables: These are variables that that are held constant to prevent them from influencing the outcome of a study.

Control variables are not relevant to your research question, such as

  • Not interested in studying their effects
  • Make sure they do not interfere with the results

For example, it is somewhat possible to assume that, if a student is ill during the exam, they will get lower scores. Therefore, health condition has a control over the outcome, which makes it a control variable.

How to write a dissertation results chapter?

The results section is where you objectively report the main findings of your research. It is possible to confuse results with discussion. In the following, we will learn how to write a clear results section in a dissertation.


In the results section, the researcher reports the findings concisely and objectively in a logical order, presenting only brief observations in relation to each question, hypothesis, or theme. In this section, one should not speculate on the meaning of the results or give an overall answer to the main research question.

When to write a results section

  • Empirical research: Report the results of your study before you start discussing their meaning. This gives the reader a clear idea of exactly what you found; keep the data separate from their interpretation. In some types of qualitative research, such as ethnography, you might not need a separate results section, because the results of the study are often woven together with the discussion.
  • Quantitative research: A quantitative research usually deals with statistical results. You can structure these results based on your research question or hypothesis. For each question or hypothesis, present the following:

a. A reminder of the type of analysis you used.

b.  A concise summary of each result, including relevant descriptive statistics like means and standard deviations and inferential statistics.

c.  A brief statement of how the results relate to the question or whether the hypothesis is supported.  Make sure to include all relevant results, both positive and negative. Even if the results go against your expectations, include them as well. However, do not speculate on their meaning or outcomes. They should be dealt with in the discussion or conclusion section.

d. In quantitative research, it is helpful to include visual elements, such as graphs, charts, and tables, provided they accurately reflect the results and aid in reader understanding.

  • Qualitative research: In qualitative research, the results might not always be directly related to a specific hypothesis. In this case, you can structure your result section based on key themes or topics that emerge from the analysis of the data.

a. For each theme, make general observations about what the data showed and present relevant quoted material. For example, make a mention regarding points of agreement, or disagreement, patterns and trends, and individual responses that were particularly significant to your research question.

Keep in mind that the results section is written in the past tense and extra information that is not so pertinent to the results section can be included in the appendix page.

How to write a dissertation discussion section 

The discussion section is where you delve into the meaning, importance, and relevance of the results. The discussion section should:

  • Focus on explaining and evaluating the findings.
  • Show how it relates to literature review and research questions.
  • Make an argument in support of your conclusion.
To start your discussion chapter:
  • State your research problem.
  • Concisely summarize your main findings in a paragraph.


Step 1: Give your interpretation

1. What do the results mean?

2. It is important to spell out the significance for the reader and show exactly how the results answer your research questions.

Here are some typical approaches to interpreting the data:
  • Identify correlations, patterns, and relationships among the data.
  • Discuss whether the results met your expectations or supported your hypothesis.
Step 2: Discuss the implications

1. What has your research contributed? And why should the reader care?

2. Show how your findings fit with existing knowledge, and what consequences they have for theory or practice.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:
  • Do your results agree with previous research? If so, what do they add to it.
  • Are your findings very different from other studies? If so, why might this be.
  • Do the results support or challenge existing theories?
  • Are there any practical implications?
Step 3: Acknowledge the limitations

Even the best research has limitations and acknowledging them demonstrates your credibility. Limitations are not about listing errors. They provide an accurate picture of what can and cannot be concluded from your study.  Limitations can be due to your overall research design, methods or samples, and unanticipated obstacles that emerge during the research process. After noting the research limitations, you can reiterate why the results are nonetheless valid for the purpose of answering your research questions.

Step 4: State your recommendations 

Based on the discussion of your results, you can make recommendations for practical implementations or further research. Suggestions for further research can lead directly from the limitations.

Here are some points to note:

1. Do not just state that more studies are warranted.

2. Give concrete ideas for how future work can engage in areas that your own research was unable to address.

How to write a conclusion for a dissertation

The conclusion is the very last part of your dissertation. It should be both engaging as well as concise. The line between discussion and conclusion is sometimes quite blurry.

  • Conclusion is shorter and general. You do not discuss specific results but make broad statements that sum up the most important insights of the research.
  • Do not introduce new data or interpretation in the conclusion section.

How long should the conclusion be? 

Depending on the type of dissertation, the conclusion should be typically be around 5-7% of the total word count. An empirical research will often have a short conclusion that concisely states the main findings and recommendations. However, a humanities thesis or dissertation might require more space to conclude its analysis and tie all the sections together in an overall argument.

Four elements that make a good conclusion:

1. Answer the research question: Begin with the main question that your dissertation addresses. Since the conclusion is your final chance to show what you were set out to do, make sure to formulate a clear and concise answer. The results should be synthesized into one final takeaway.

2. Summarize and reflect on the research: The conclusion is an opportunity to remind the reader why you took the approach you did, what you expected to find, and how well the results match the expectations. To write more reflectively, consider how effective your methodology was in answering your research questions, and whether any new questions or unexpected insights arose in the process.

3. Make recommendations: The conclusion is a good place to include recommendations and look ahead. If you are making recommendations for policy, business, or other practical implementations, it is best to frame them as suggestions rather than imperatives. If you are making recommendations for future research, be sure enough to mention the limitations and gaps in your own work. Future studies might confirm, build on, or enrich your conclusions, but they should not be required to complete them.

4. Emphasize your contributions: Make sure readers are left with a strong impression of what your research has contributed to knowledge in your field.

Some strategies to achieve this include:

1. Returning to your problem statement to explain how your research helps solve the problem.

2. Referring back to literature review and showing how you have addressed a gap in knowledge.

3. Discussing how your findings confirm or challenge an existing theory or assumption.

Pick up the most important points and sum them up into an overview that puts your findings in context.

Finish your thesis

Once you have finished writing your conclusion, it is time to wrap up your dissertation. It is a good idea to write the abstract at this point in time, while the research is still fresh in your mind.

Relevant links

Difference between thesis and dissertation: Main components of writing an effective thesis paper – Author Assists Blog

How to write and structure a dissertation? (Part 1) – Author Assists Blog

How to write and structure a dissertation? (Part 2) – Author Assists Blog

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