A dissertation is the culmination of your doctoral studies. If you have been considering earning your doctorate, you probably know a little about the dissertation process. However, you may not understand exactly how to write a dissertation. Let’s explore what that experience might be like for you and offer some helpful insights about writing a dissertation, including seven actionable dissertation writing tips.
In This Article:
- Applying to a Doctoral Studies Program
- Dissertation Writing Tips
- How To Write a Dissertation
- Understanding the Typical Dissertation Format
- Helpful Tips for Writing a Dissertation
Applying to a Doctoral Studies Program
Before you can start thinking about your dissertation, you must be accepted into a doctoral program. To apply to the program, you will first choose what you want to study based on the institution and the research interests of the faculty. You want to make sure that you find a program whose faculty members are interested in topics or areas related to what you want to study. These faculty members will act as your advisers or mentors.
Be sure to collect letters of recommendation far in advance of your application deadline. Letters of recommendation is not required at GCU. This proactive step will ensure that you have all of the necessary elements ready for your PhD or doctoral studies program application.
You will probably write a personal statement that shows you are capable of completing original research and scholarly work. Your personal statement should put your understanding of your academic area at the forefront and showcase excellent writing and communication skills.
You will also likely need to take the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), so be sure to give yourself time to prepare and study for that test. Ensure that you take the test with enough time to retake it if necessary. GCU does not require this exam.
Dissertation Writing Tips
In preparation for writing your dissertation, you will complete your PhD or doctoral studies by taking academic courses. These classes will be more challenging than the work that you did for your undergraduate and master's degrees.
Expect a lot of reading and writing of academic material each week. This coursework can prepare you not only for a career in your field, but also for the dissertation process. You will often refer to and use these readings and scholarly skills when writing your dissertation.
By completing your PhD or doctoral coursework, you will be better prepared to tackle the process of how to write a dissertation. In addition, your coursework will include research methodology classes that can help you gather data. These research methodology classes will become the cornerstones of your dissertation process.
Coursework that you complete in a doctoral program focuses on preparing you to become an independent researcher. This coursework can also help you narrow down your research topic. As you become familiar with the readings and the research currently published in the field, you will see where there are gaps in the body of knowledge.
You may be able to contribute something entirely new to the field through your own dissertation. In addition, you may find a reading or existing research that you think you could dive deeper into or expand on for your dissertation.
By the time you finish your doctoral coursework, you should have selected your dissertation topic. This means that you are ready to begin the formal research process.
How To Write a Dissertation
To begin the formal dissertation process, you will write a proposal that will include the research plan and methodology you intend to use to learn more about your topic. Once your proposal has been approved, the research and analysis can begin.
Getting Started With Dissertation Research
During the dissertation research process, you will transition from a student to a serious academic researcher. If you have studied in the field before and have previously completed original research in your undergraduate or master's program, you may be allowed to continue that research. However, you will be required to gather new data for your doctoral dissertation.
If you are in the sciences, you will likely create, design and run experiments in a lab. In other areas, such as the social sciences, you need to gather research in the field and away from your university. In other PhD and doctoral programs, you may do the majority of your research and work in the library, focusing on documents and other sources of information.
Once you have gathered all of your data, you will review your notes and begin to write up your findings.
Understanding the Typical Dissertation Format
A dissertation is a long document. It is generally published in book form with at least five chapters. Dissertations commonly include chapters such as the following:
- Literature Review
- Analysis and results
These chapters of the dissertation logically build on the theories and research gathered during your dissertation process. You will begin the dissertation with an overview, by briefly reviewing your research question and previewing the information to come. In the literature review, you share and critique the current research and literature in the fields that are pertinent to your dissertation and your findings.
Next, you explain how you collected and analyzed your data. In the analysis section, you analyze the data as it applies to the topic. You conclude your dissertation with a findings section that interprets the data. You may also share future research possibilities related to your topic.
Before compiling your dissertation, you should review completed dissertations in your field. You should also work with your mentor or chair to determine what type of methodology and design works best for your question and your topic. By working with people who have experience in the field and have written their own dissertations, you will be guided to make the best possible decisions for your own dissertation. Whenever you need additional guidance, your chair will provide expert help writing a dissertation.
Once your dissertation is complete, you will be required to defend it. In a dissertation defense, you will be presenting, explaining and defending your ideas in response to queries and challenges by the dissertation committee, who will either approve or reject your dissertation.
Helpful Tips for Writing a Dissertation
Now that you have a thorough understanding of the dissertation process and of the general structure for a doctoral program, it’s time to take a look at some actionable dissertation writing tips. Remember that your advisor is always available to guide you along your journey.
1. Choose a Topic You Love
Writing a dissertation can be extremely rewarding, especially if you are passionate about the topic you have chosen to investigate. It is important to feel strongly about your dissertation because you will be putting in a lot of work to earn your doctoral degree.
If you are truly interested in your degree, you should be just as interested in your dissertation topic. A doctoral degree is a major investment, so make sure your dissertation is important to you.
2. Just Start Writing
A key concept in writing anything is to just do it! Once you have your research and an idea of what you want to say, you may want to just start writing down your ideas. Do not worry about finding all of the right words — just focus on writing and getting your ideas on the page.
After you have written a portion of your dissertation, you may feel a huge weight lifted from your shoulders. When you are ready, you can go back and edit your work, which will seem less daunting than writing everything from scratch.
3. Take Frequent Breaks
Even if you do have a strong passion for your topic, you may still need an extra push from time to time. If you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, take a short break, seek advice and find comfort before returning to your writing. A good dissertation is completed with a clear, rested mind.
Do not let your dissertation suffer if you are not fully prepared to write it. As important as it is to complete your dissertation, it is more important to make sure that it is done properly.
4. Stay Motivated While Writing a Dissertation
A study by the International Journal of Doctoral Studies states that a desire for a better life is a key motivator and a contributing factor in success for all doctoral students.1 Keep that goal in mind by visualizing where the completion of your degree will take you. Leave visual cues around to help you remember and stay focused.
5. Manage Time Wisely Throughout the Dissertation Process
You will need to account not only for your days, but also for the hours in your days. Make certain that a significant part of your week (at least 20 hours) is dedicated to your doctoral studies. Doctoral students often find that their degree demands a full-time schedule of coursework, studying and dissertation work.
6. Maintain Your Perseverance
Perseverance will not just make your dreams come true, but will also get your dissertation done on time. Don’t quit! Keep writing and rewriting no matter how many drafts are required. This is what writing a dissertation is all about.
7. Rely on Your Faith
There will be days when you feel beaten and run-down, and you will question your path. No one will understand these trials unless they have written a dissertation themselves. It is times like these when you will need a higher power to turn to for all that you need to meet your goals. Place at His feet what weighs you down, and start each day with renewed strength to reach your goal!
If you are ready to earn a terminal degree in your field and add to the existing body of knowledge and research, consider joining any of the programs in Grand Canyon University’s College of Doctoral Studies, such as the DBA in Data Analytics. You will receive dissertation support and guidance from knowledgeable faculty. Fill out the form on this page to learn more.
1 Castro, V., Garcia, E., Cavazos Jr., J., & Castro, A. (2011). The Road to Doctoral Success and Beyond. International Journal of Doctoral Studies. Retrieved June 9, 2023.
Approved by the dean of the College of Doctoral Studies on July 26, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.