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How to Write Your Best Dissertation: Step-by-Step Guide

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Structuring sentences

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Introduction

Study the structures and work out how arguments are presented. Collect good examples of vocabulary and punctuation. Consider how techniques used by the author convince the reader of their argument and see if you can apply them in your own writing. In an essay of this length, sub-headings are a useful way of breaking up the text and signalling to the reader what stage you have reached.

Tweak these sub-headings as you move through each draft to ensure they still provide a useful overview of the section. Look out for any words or phrases that have already been stated or implied elsewhere in the sentence — and cut them out. For example, if you've written "Many countries were reluctant to declare war while others on the other hand did not hesitate", you may like to change it to "Many countries were reluctant to declare war; others did not hesitate".

Reading your work aloud will help you spot clumsy sentence structure. As you write your essay, it is worth distinguishing the key points in your discussion from less important supporting ideas. Aim to give full weight to your key points by giving them each a sentence of their own. Elaborations and detail can be added in subsequent sentences. It is a common mistake to think that the longer the sentence, the cleverer it sounds. It is important to remember that every word conveys a unit of meaning on its own, however small, so the more words there are in a sentence, the harder it will be for the reader to grasp the meaning within it.

Instead of adding on clauses, introduce the next point in a new sentence. Connective words and phrases — however, consequently, but, so — can be placed at the start of the new sentence if necessary, to indicate its relationship to the previous one and make your work flow. Although your dissertation should contain your own original thought, you will also want to refer to the ideas of other writers on the topic.

Your dissertation should critically evaluate those ideas and identify what problems remain in your area of research and what has not yet been explored.

You can also use the work of others as evidence to back up your own argument — when doing this, ensure you add a footnote to signpost clearly to the reader the original source of the point you are making. Make sure you have a sufficient number of references to books, articles and sources you have used — check with your tutor what is expected.

Some should be primary sources, which means non-academic material such as newspapers, interviews, cave paintings, train timetables, statistics. You will also quote secondary sources, which are usually academic articles that analyse primary sources.

Your academic department will tell you which one they use, and you will need to follow instructions to the letter. Taking the time to properly sort your data is also important because the most relevant pieces of information need to take priority in your Results section, so a first step would be properly organizing all available information.

Due to the risk of overwhelming the reader with too many numbers and statistics, your dissertation rarely needs to include pure unedited data. Also, remember that this goes both ways, as it is your obligation to present both data supporting your views on the matter and data that contradicts your point. Making your Results section easy to read is the most important part.

There is a lot of information that needs to be crammed into a relatively small space, with the help of a few graphics and quotes. Adding subheadings that help center your information around certain general themes or ideas can help a reader browse quickly through the entire paper.

If surveys are a part of your research, for example, subheadings related to specific sample groups could be grouped together. Or if your main hypothesis is divided into different parts, your results sections could be organized in such a way that each result addresses a different part specifically. Usually tables and figures dictate subheadings usage. Your results section should list its most relevant and significant findings first, leaving the less relevant ones closer to the end, no matter what the subheadings are.

The main reason for it is that people reading the work will more often than not have a brief look at the paper, quickly browsing for the main parts instead of reading it in its entirety. So having the most important results first is a way to make sure most readers will at least take away the most important points of your dissertation.

Each part should start with describing the sample, along with its size and a clear reason for either missing or excluded pieces of information. Then, relevant descriptive statistics like range, frequency, mean, median or others should be included, and after that, you should detail any performed statistical analyses such as tests, ANOVA, etc. If you included a qualitative study, it should be backed up with relevant information like quotes that will prove vital in the overall discussion.

Tables are, essentially, lists organized in rows and columns that outlay numerical values, and they are widely used to help the reader process and understand certain derived pieces of data. A table should be used if the author has more information than a simple text would be able to properly cover. So for example, if the data you need to submit can fit in less than a space of three columns and three rows, it would be recommended that you present it as text.

Figures can mean any pictures, charts, maps, graphs or any kind of illustrations that you want to include in the Results section. Every figure should come with a brief description below it.

A photo, for example, should come with the reason why it is there, as well as its source. The most common figures in the Results section are, without a doubt, graphs, as they do a good job in showing connections between data. Although the choice of using tables or figures is up to the author, a good general recommendation is not using tables when trying to prove a connection between certain groups of values. If you are writing a paper dedicated to a specific treatment, tables would be used to discuss its cumulative effects, while figures would be used to show each treatment effect variation week by week.

Also, avoid adding the same data more than once; this should help keep the Results section brief. Graphics formatting is also important. Rules for formatting tables and figures vary with each style guide; however, generally, tables have their name and number posted above them and any notes explaining them underneath. The writing in the results section should be kept as simple as possible.

If however, an unusual statistical method or model is used, its explanation should be included in the Methodology section. Although many students are tempted to add explanations or introductory notes to the section, a direct rendition of available data is usually the most recommended approach.

How to Write Your Best Dissertation: Step-by-Step Guide

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Use the recommended citation style for your field of study, and make sure to include all sources you used during the research and writing stages. Manage your time; You'll need another timeline, but this one will be focused on the writing process. Plan how to complete your dissertation chapter by chapter.

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Although your dissertation should contain your own original thought, you will also want to refer to the ideas of other writers on the topic. Your dissertation should critically evaluate those ideas and identify what problems remain in your area of research and what has not yet been explored.

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Writing a dissertation requires a range of planning and research skills that will be of great value in your future career and within organisations. The dissertation topic and question should be sufficiently focused that you can collect all the necessary data within a relatively short time-frame, usually about six weeks for undergraduate programmes. Next, do not forget that writing a Results section of your dissertation is still a very time-consuming task. Even though it may seem that most of the work has already been done, it would still be unwise to underestimate this section.

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To The Candidate: So, you are preparing to write a Ph.D. dissertation in an experimental area of Computer Science. Unless you have written many formal documents before, you are in for a surprise: it's difficult! If you want to complete your dissertation in a reasonable amount of time—and trust me, you do—you must learn to prioritize the act of writing itself and write every day. Writing must become a non-negotiable part of your daily routine.