A dissertation is a document submitted in support of candidature for an academic degree or professional qualification presenting the author’s research and findings. In some contexts, the word thesis or a cognate is used for part of a bachelor’s or master’s course, while dissertation is normally applied to a doctorate. The dissertation or thesis aims to produce an original piece of research work on a clearly defined topic. Usually, a dissertation is the most substantial piece of independent work in the undergraduate program, while a thesis is usually associated with master’s degrees, although these terms can be interchangeable and may vary between countries and universities. A dissertation or thesis is likely to be the longest and most difficult piece of work a student has ever completed. It can, however, also be a very rewarding piece of work since, unlike essays and other assignments, the student can pick a topic of special interest and work on their initiative.

Featured Online Programs

Southern New Hampshire University

PROGRAM: Online Masters Degrees

Southern New Hampshire University is a private, nonprofit, accredited institution with more than 3,000 on-campus students and over 60,000 online students, making us one of the fastest-growing universities in the country. Founded in 1932, we’ve been relentlessly reinventing higher education ever since and have gained national recognition for our dedication to helping students transform their lives and the lives of those around them.

We’re proud to provide affordable, accessible education that students can pursue on our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH, over our innovative online platform or at our regional centers in Manchester, Nashua, Portsmouth and Salem, NH, and Brunswick, ME.

SNHU has earned the GetEducated.com Best Buy and Best of Business – Best Online Degree awards and is consistently ranked as a top Military Friendly® School by G.I Jobs®.

Dissertation Definition

You may have asked this question to yourself: What is a dissertation? What does it mean? The word dissertation comes from the Latin word ‘dissertate which means ‘debate’. What does the word ‘debate’ imply? A discussion involving different points of view or sets of ideas. A dissertation will therefore not only examine a subject but will review different points of view about that subject.

Here’s another definition of a dissertation that underlines some of its more important characteristics: “a substantial paper that is typically based on original research and that gives evidence of the candidate’s mastery of both her subject and scholarly method.”

A dissertation will show that the writer knows her subject, the key facts, and different points of view in it – but it also advances a point of view resulting from original research. Remember that ‘original’ does not mean ‘something that’s never been done before but rather ‘something that you do for yourself.

Types of Dissertations

The type of dissertation you end up writing depends on the topic you’re researching. The following table gives a few examples of different ways of approaching a topic just to get you thinking:

Dissertations can primarily be grouped into three types:

  1. Empirical
  2. Non-Empirical
  3. Narrative

The above-mentioned dissertations are typically towards the completion of a Ph.D. We will discuss them in detail below:

Empirical Dissertation

Non- Empirical

Narrative Dissertation

Ph.D. Dissertation

Masters Dissertations

Skills needed for Dissertations

Writing a dissertation is a multifaceted process that can be taxing on an individual. But with the right skill set, it can be done. Below we discuss the skills required to write a dissertation:

  • The first essential skill happens to be planning and organization. Planning entails compiling loads of research, developing a timeline, and producing a highly detailed outline integrating everything you have researched. When you conduct research, target primary sources, more so than secondary sources. Choose topics that will validate your thesis. Furthermore, you must organize your work efforts, devising a timeline that maps out the entire course of your project. And of course, a detailed outline will knit together the fragmented pieces of information that you have retrieved during your research. This will facilitate the final writing process.
  • Good writing skills are an absolute must. If you cannot express yourself succinctly and clearly, you will simply obscure any topic, claim, data, or conclusion presented in your document.
  • No dissertation can be written without the aid of logical reasoning. This skill gives you the ability to conclude, based implicitly on the research you have conducted. This will assist you in mapping out the methodology behind your research, making logical assumptions, hypotheses, and educated conjectures, based on the research you have conducted.
  • Creativity is key, and many people dismiss the importance of this essential skill. Creativity will enable you to find overarching connections among the data you have compiled. Furthermore, creativity will enable you to present your subject matter or theories in a fashion never initially conceived by others. It is the originality that will distinguish your dissertation from the rest.

Diligence and punctuality are obvious skills that you must adopt when embarking upon your dissertation. Most dissertations are due on a specific date. And failure to turn in the assignment on that date will drastically affect your grade. Diligence will propel you forward on your journey to completing your dissertation. It will enable you to overcome all of the obstacles associated with conducting research, plowing through sources, mending everything together into a single coherent paper, etc.

How to prepare for Dissertations

In this section, we discuss the preparations required for writing a dissertation. Generally, a dissertation will have five chapters:

  • An outline of the full background of your study
  • A comprehensive literature review supporting your research
  • A discussion of your choice of research design, data collection and analysis, and details of the research steps
  • The actual data analyses and results, and
  • The final evaluation and interpretation of your results.

As you progress through your program, each of the steps described below is designed to help you make concrete progress on your dissertation in smaller, manageable chunks.

  1. Step 1: Project Ideation.
    In your coursework, you will learn a great deal about the theories and practices central to your field of study.
  2. Step 2: Project Development.
    Next, you will narrow down your choice of topics and begin to build the detailed format of your project. In this step, you will develop a detailed research plan that outlines the theoretical basis for your research, the questions you hope to answer, a research methodology, and proposed data analyses.
  3. Step 3: Project Implementation.
    This step begins with submitting your study for approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB). The IRB will review your project to ensure it meets the standards for ethical research.
  4. Step 4: Project Conclusion.
    In this step, you will complete your data collection and analyze the results.
  5. Step 5: University Approvals.
    In the final step of completing your dissertation, you will submit your project for final format editing and approval from your faculty.

FAQs about Dissertations

Frequently Asked Questions

How many hours a week should a dissertation work?

Maybe you’re aiming somewhere in between? Then you need to find about 20 hours per week to work on your dissertation. Between lab time, teaching, department meetings, and job applications–20 hours can be hard to find.

Is writing a dissertation difficult?

Can I write a dissertation in 3 weeks?

How quickly can I write a dissertation?

What is the hardest part of a dissertation?

How many hours should you spend on a dissertation?

Additional Resources about Dissertations

Even before you write your dissertation proposal, you’ll want to know where you can find literature that’s relevant to your topic. A literature review is an essential part of a dissertation, providing the necessary context for your unique study and how it informs/contradicts/expands the larger body of knowledge in your field.

In general, “literature” refers to scholarly articles, books, dissertations, conference proceedings, and academic texts. When looking for these texts, the following databases can help.

  • Google Scholar: This allows you to search a wealth of scholarly articles published in peer-reviewed journals from all over the world.
  • ProQuest Dissertations and Theses (PQDT): This allows you to search over 2.3 million doctoral dissertations and master’s theses. PQDT is available at most libraries.
  • Academic OneFile: This allows you to search for peer-reviewed articles from the world’s leading journals.
  • CORE: This allows you to search open-access research content from journals around the world.
  • WorldCat: allows you to search the card catalogs of libraries around the world.
  • LexisNexis Academic: This allows you to search through a wide range of news, business, financial, legal, medical, biographical, government, and newspaper resources.

Your specific Ph.D. program can greatly influence your ability to complete your dissertation. That’s because different universities provide different levels of support for students. When choosing where to earn your doctoral degree, you should look for universities that offer the following resources:

  • Library and Research Support: help guide you through the process of utilizing library databases and locating relevant materials.
  • Personal Advisors: provides you with someone—or multiple people—to turn to for help with everything from academics to financial aid, so you can more easily avoid issues that might slow down the completion of your dissertation.
  • Technical Support: helps ensure you don’t get bogged down in the computer-centric world of modern education.
  • Fundamental Skills Support: helps you improve skills such as writing, so you can more easily complete your dissertation.

Completing a dissertation is often about having access to the right resources and choosing the right approach.


More Ways to Learn in Your Inbox

You can get ahead of the curve with education and career updates. Our newsletter explores the latest articles, top-ranked online master’s degree programs, scholarships, and career salaries and outlooks.

    Note: By entering your email address and clicking “Sign Me Up,” you agree to be contacted by OnlineMastersColleges.com for educational products or services. You can unsubscribe anytime.