What is a Dissertation? - A Beginners Guide for Students

what is a dissertation

Are you pursuing a postgraduate or a doctoral degree and wondering what a dissertation is? You may have heard about different types of research papers throughout your college life. And, you must have written at least one thesis paper for your Master’s degree. But you might have never heard about the dissertation, or even if you do, you may not be familiar with it.

Students need to write a couple of research papers throughout their academic life. It is essential to improve their research, writing, and critical thinking skills.

Do you want to learn about a dissertation? Then, read this blog to learn about a dissertation's types, purpose, and format.

Let us get started!

What is a Dissertation?

The word ’dissertation’ originated from the Latin word ‘dissertare,’ which means ‘to debate.’ It implies that a dissertation involves a discussion based on different perspectives or ideas. It examines a subject and reviews different viewpoints presented in state of the art about that subject.

A dissertation is a written document based on research, and it is a part of the Doctoral degree. In some countries, the term ‘Dissertation’ is specifically used for a research paper written for a doctoral program. While in other countries, the terms ‘Thesis’ and ‘Dissertation’ are used interchangeably. However, it is a research project completed for undergraduate or postgraduate degrees.

According to the definition of the dissertation:

“It is a substantial paper that is based on original research. It provides evidence of the student’s knowledge of his subject and scholarly methods.”

A well-written dissertation paper shows that the student is familiar with his subject. It shows that the student knows the key facts and various perspectives about his subject. Moreover, it presents a new perspective on the subject and advances a viewpoint resulting from original research. However, ‘original’ doesn’t mean that something has never been done before, but rather, it is something you do for yourself.

Dinah Manns, PhD, faculty chair at Capella University, states that. “The dissertation is often a compilation of academic and practical knowledge. In many cases, it can be the student’s first publication.”

For writing a successful research paper, you need to lift your game and learn various scholarly methods. When you write a dissertation, you need to do more extensive research and readings than a standard academic paper. Usually, professors provide proper guidance for writing a general academic essay but no guidance for a dissertation. It is a completely independent project which shows a student’s research skills.

You need to thoroughly investigate a particular subject and critically analyze the collected information. Your work and discussion should display accuracy and evidence of critical analysis.

You must stand back from your subject and weigh up the pros and cons without being biased. This will demonstrate that you have completely understood your subject and aspects of a particular theory. It also allows people with different points of view to question the subject openly.

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What is the Purpose of a Dissertation?

The major objective of a dissertation is to make students conduct original research on a specific topic. It aims to test the student’s independent research skills, which they have acquired during their time at college.

Typically, it allows a student to present his findings in response to a research question they posed. The ultimate purpose of this project is to transform a student into an academic researcher.

For most students, it is the most daunting, critical, and complicated task. However, this is true because it is the longest task a student has ever done during his academic life. It requires plenty of hard work and months of preparation. However, it can be rewarding, specifically when you are passionate about your selected subject.

How long is a dissertation?

Dissertations can vary in length depending upon the level of study and the country. However, they typically vary between 10,000 and 12,000 words for undergraduates and 15,000 to 25,000 words for students at the Master’s level. It can also go up to 50,000 for Ph.D. Scholars.

What is Defending a Dissertation?

The dissertation defense is the last formal step before your doctorate can be awarded. The prime objective of this examination is to evaluate the dissertation technically and whether it’s linked to the candidate’s field of study. It provides an opportunity for candidates to share their research with others in their same field of study.

When you defend your dissertation, you will be asked questions by the people who evaluated it. The questions will be about what you did and why you did it. The defense usually lasts for 20 minutes, but it can last for an hour or more, depending on what the committee wants to know.

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Parts of a Dissertation

The dissertation is an important research paper that documents your work. It follows the same basic structure as other academic papers, but you must consult with the professor and find out what they require.

The main parts are;

Parts of Dissertation Description
Title Titles are incredibly important because they serve as an identifying label.
Abstract The abstract summarizes the whole paper, usually about 300 words long. The content and conclusions are summarized in an easy-to-read format for those who might be interested but not have time to read through it all themselves.
Introduction The introduction is the part of your paper where you should introduce your topic, aims, and objectives.
Literature Review The literature review is an important part because it places the work in context with other research and provides reasoning for choosing a particular question.
Methods and Discussions The purpose of this section is to explain what methods you will use and why with reference back where appropriate. This includes any assumptions that were made during data collection or analysis processes - make sure they are clearly stated.
Conclusion The conclusion is the final step in every research paper. It should summarize what has been said and prove it with evidence from reliable sources.
References A reference list is documentation of the sources that you have specifically referred to in your dissertation.

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What are the Two Types of Dissertation?

There are two basic types of dissertations that will vary depending on your course of study. Whatever academic field you belong to, you need to choose between these two types.

  1. 1. Empirical Dissertation
  2. It is a type of dissertation that involves collecting data from different sources. For example, you are enrolled in a psychology degree and need to assess the effects of cognitive-behavioral therapy to treat depression.

    You need to put ethical and professional guidelines into practice while collecting data from various sources. The following empirical research methods are used to answer the research question.

    • Survey
    • Experiments
    • Interviews
    • Observations

    Empirical research aims to produce robust and reproducible scientific knowledge. Therefore, you need to consider specific things like;

    • Sampling methods
    • Validity and reliability of your measurements
    • Variables you’ll investigate

    Empirical research usually involves or may be entirely centered on laboratory work. The ultimate purpose of empirical research is to collect data by taking a new perspective. For example, analyzing existing data from different angles and making useful comparisons.

  3. 2. Non-Empirical Dissertation
  4. Non-empirical dissertation focuses on analyzing existing data and arguments. It presents a unique and original analysis but no original data. The core of non-empirical research is to analyze the student’s ability to extract new information from existing data. This research method is designed specifically for arts and humanities academic disciplines.

    The non-empirical research is based on the existing data, which means your conclusion will be based on others’ work. You may have to spend a couple of hours in papers and books, analyzing and exploring the author’s work. Make sure you do not just describe what the author has done but critically analyze the practical application of his work.

    Non-empirical research requires full immersion in academic books and research papers. You need to present various perspectives and arguments and back them up with reliable evidence. You need to choose primary and secondary resources to collect information.

    • Primary Sources: These are the direct objects of your research. You collect evidence and facts about your subject from these sources. It may include historical documents, artwork, and novels.
    • Secondary Sources: These sources provide information about your analysis. They evaluate, interpret, analyze, and describe the data you have collected from primary sources.

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Format of the Dissertation

A dissertation is a detailed study or research about a particular topic. It is written in the form of a book and consists of at least five chapters. These are;

  1. Overview: This consists of brief details about the research questions. It also consists of a preview of the upcoming chapters.
  2. Literature review: The dissertation's literature review is related to the field of study. It is used to analyze the previously performed studies critically.
  3. Methodology: The dissertation methodology section consists of the detailed methods and procedures that were used to collect and analyze the data.
  4. Analysis: This is done to explain how to examine the collected data.
  5. Findings: This chapter consists of the interpretation of the results and a comparison to the available literature. It also provides the future prospects of the research.

Related: Dissertation Structure - A Step by Step Format Guide

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What Skills are Needed to Write a Dissertation?

Writing a dissertation is not quite an easy task. However, once you know its main points, the task can become easier. You need to have the following skills to write a dissertation:

  • Outlining and defining an area of research with a clear question.
  • Identifying and highlighting the leading issues.
  • Know how to cite a dissertation with the relevant information and data.
  • Analyzing the legitimacy and reliability of the sourced information.
  • Analyzing the evidence from all perspectives.
  • Summing up to a well-structured conclusion.
  • Arranging and delivering the results of your work convincingly and critically by following all the guidelines about formatting your Ph.D. dissertation.

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What is a Dissertation vs. Thesis?

You may have heard about both thesis and dissertation, but you may not know the difference between them. In some countries, dissertation or thesis terms are used interchangeably. While in other countries, ‘Thesis’ is used for a research paper written for getting a Master’s degree. Whereas a ‘dissertation’ is used for a research paper to complete a doctoral degree.

However, both follow the same structure; abstract, introduction, literature review, body, conclusion, bibliography, and appendices. Below is a table of dissertation vs. thesis differences that you should know.

Thesis Dissertation
It marks the end of a Master’s degree It marks the end of a Doctoral degree
Identify and explore problems in existing literature work Present a new problem or idea and explore its solutions
Focused on critically analyzing the state of the artwork Focused on developing new knowledge, theory, or practices
Critical analysis of existing knowledge Contribution of new knowledge
40 to 80 pages 100-300 pages
It takes a year to complete It takes 18 months to 3 years to complete

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Dissertation Examples

The following examples of dissertation that can be used as templates or guides by students working on their projects.

Dissertation Sample

Dissertation Sample

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Dissertation Topics

There are many dissertation topics available, but it is important that you choose the right one for your research. The type and style of writing will also depend on your topic.

For your help, we gathered some interesting topics that make your topic-selection process easy.

  • Do mobile apps enhance education?
  • Management models in the tourism industry
  • Are homeschooling the future of education?
  • Research of personnel management systems
  • Pharmacologic treatments of COVID-19
  • Digital marketing during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • The changing religious imagination of the nineteenth century.
  • Analyze how e-publishing is affecting libraries.
  • Environmental laws were broken by the company's
  • Healthcare social values and public health management system limitations.

That is all you need to know about a dissertation. If you need help writing your dissertation, we are here for you. GradSchoolGenius.com is one of the reliable dissertation writing services that you can trust. We help students worldwide with writing complex and daunting research papers.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a dissertation prospectus?

A prospectus may be a 20 to 30 pages proposal for a dissertation. A prospectus is not an executive summary of the dissertation. It only provides information about the challenges or problems you have chosen to research, their importance in real life, and the methodology you will adopt to find their solutions.

What is a dissertation proposal?

A dissertation proposal comprises a comprehensive statement about the scale and type of a student's research interests. It describes;

  • The research you want to conduct
  • Details about the research
  • How will you conduct the research?
  • The benefits of this research.

What are the 5 chapters of a dissertation?

The main five chapters of a dissertation are:

  • Introduction
  • Literature review
  • Methodology
  • Results
  • Conclusion