What Is a Dissertation?

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A dissertation is the culmination of your doctoral studies. If you have been considering earning your doctorate degree, you probably know a little about the dissertation process. However, you may not understand exactly what it will take for you to get from your doctoral studies application to your dissertation. Let’s explore what that experience might be like for you and get a thorough dissertation definition.

Applying for 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 similar topics or areas that 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. This is to ensure you have all of the elements ready for your PhD or doctorate application.

You will probably create a personal statement that shows that 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.

Doctoral Program

In preparation for writing your dissertation, you will complete your PhD studies by taking academic courses. These classes will be smaller and 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 not only prepares you to be an expert in your field, but it also prepares you for the dissertation process. Writing your dissertation will include referring to and using these readings and scholarly skills. By completing your PhD or doctoral coursework, you will be better prepared to complete your dissertation. In addition, your coursework will include research methodology classes that help you gather data. These research methodology classes will become the cornerstones of your dissertation process.

Coursework that you complete in a doctoral program is focused on preparing you to become an independent researcher. Your coursework can help you narrow down your research topic. As you become familiar with the readings and the research currently in the field, you will see where there are holes 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.

Once you finish your doctoral coursework, you should have your dissertation topic selected. This means that you are ready to begin the formal research process.

Dissertation Research

To begin the formal dissertation process, you will write a proposal that will include the research plan and methodology you intend to take to learn more about your topic. Once your proposal has been approved, the research and analysis can begin.

During the dissertation research process, you will go from being a student to an academic researcher. If you have studied in the field before and have 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 evidence.

Once you have gathered all of your data, you will review your notes and begin to write up your findings.

Dissertation Format

A dissertation is a long document. It is generally published in a book with at least five chapters, though many universities are beginning to require a sixth chapter. The chapters of the dissertation include the:

  • Overview
  • Literature Review
  • Methodology
  • Analysis
  • Findings
  • Summary

These sections of the dissertation logically build on the theories and research gathered during your dissertation process. You will begin 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.

Then you explain how you collected and analyzed your data. In the analysis section, you analyze the data as it applies to the topic. You end 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 adviser 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, writing their own dissertations, you will be guided to make the best possible decisions for your own dissertation.

Once complete, you will give a dissertation defense. In a dissertation defense you will be presenting, explaining and defending your ideas to the dissertation committee who will either pass or fail your dissertation.

If you are ready to earn a terminal degree in your field and add to the body of knowledge and research that exists, consider joining any of the programs with the Grand Canyon University College of Doctoral Studies. You will receive dissertation support and guidance from expert faculty who are excited to work with you and share their knowledge and expertise.

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