- By Jason Bacot
- Published 11/29/2010
The word “dissertation” is from the Latin dissertation, which means “discourse.” Dissertations are most commonly known as documents written by students who are candidates for advanced degrees. The dissertation presents the student author’s research and findings. Sometimes the words “thesis” and “dissertation” are used interchangeably, but typically, in the United States, it’s work presented as part of a doctoral (PhD) degree program. Normally, dissertations report on an original research project conducted by the degree candidate, and it is expected to make a unique contribution to the body of knowledge on a particular topic, whether in the humanities, social sciences, arts, sciences, or engineering. While there is some room for variation, a dissertation typically has the following sections: 1. An introduction to the topic of research and an explanation for the selection of the particular topic. 2. A review of relevant literature on the topic. 3. Explanation of the research design and why the particular research methods were chosen. 4. Presentation of the findings / results. 5. Analysis of findings / results along with discussion of them. 6. Conclusions. Typically, the institution granting the advance degree will have its own style guide that the student has to follow when writing his or her dissertation. Additionally, there are guidelines that exist for certain fields, plus international standards for components like bibliographic references that the student may or may not be required to follow.
Though it is
not uncommon for a dissertation to reach 100 or 200 pages in length, there is usually no specific length requirement as long as all the necessary parts of it are included. For example, a mathematics dissertation in which a new mathematical proof is presented, may contain all the necessary elements it needs within a very few pages. Students who are considering pursuing an advanced degree but who lack confidence in their ability to complete a dissertation should know that copious resources exist for helping them with this major project. Like any term paper or research paper, the work that goes into writing a dissertation can be broken down into more manageable chunks, and modern word processing programs can be used to ensure that most style guidelines are met. Two of the keys to completing a successful dissertation are 1) frequent communication with the student’s major professor and other doctoral committee members and 2) mapping out a timeline for completion of the steps involved in writing the dissertation. You may be specifically asked to submit stages of your dissertation as you complete them so that your professors can help you if you get off track, or if you should neglect something important. Even if you are not asked to do this, it is very wise to check in with your major professor frequently (weekly if possible) and your doctoral committee members periodically (every two weeks to one month).
Dissertations are judged based on whether they make original, unique contributions to a specific field of scholarship. If you have the commitment and drive to complete a doctoral program, you will have accomplished something only a very small portion of the population ever does.