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Writing a Perfect Dissertation or Thesis: Step-by-Step Guide

Written by Kristian Eide
Posted: March 11, 2021
Last update date: March 22, 2024
13 min read

Writing a dissertation is something every student needs to undertake. This is the culmination of one’s academic program and requires a careful understanding of how to write a dissertation properly. There’s a lot riding on your dissertation or thesis, including your final grade and potential future career prospects.

Even though the structure of your dissertation writing depends on your field and level of study, the basic theoretical framework remains similar. The following guide will cover all the key concepts of a Master’s or PhD dissertation. At the end, you’ll learn:

  • How to choose your topic, and what are the preliminary steps for planning and research.
  • Strategies on how to organize your ideas and coherently expose them in your structure.
  • What are the main elements and points of writing and editing your paper.
  • Tips on how to overcome difficulties such as getting stuck or being under pressure.

Let’s go over everything you must know to start writing a dissertation. If thinking of this process makes you nauseous, it will be changed when you’re done reading!

What is a Dissertation?


A dissertation is a comprehensive paper based on your own research question or topic. This document showcases your knowledge and understanding of your academic field and requires graduate students to assess a research topic critically.

Many students get confused about thesis versus dissertation, trying to figure out the difference. Most of the time, they refer to the same thing. In the UK, a thesis is required to get a PhD, while a dissertation is written when completing a Bachelor’s or Master’s program. In the US, the opposite holds true: students write Master’s thesis and PhD’s dissertations. That’s the primary difference to note between these research projects.

Choosing a Dissertation Topic

There are many ideas for a dissertation, and it could be challenging to find one that stands out and that you are passionate about. The first step to any original research paper is to come up with a question or set of questions you wish to answer. The research question must be specific and clear. It should also be something of significance that the readers can directly relate to and understand.

This is so that it makes sense to your audience and captivates them. Unlike typical essay writing, academic work based on personal research should also be about your interests. Always try to come up with research questions that intrigue you. That way, writing a dissertation will be easier and more enjoyable.

Tip: Here, we collected the best dissertation topics in Architecture. These topics reflect the latest trends, challenges, and innovations in the architectural realm aspiring students for impactful research.

Planning and Research

Once you’ve decided on a topic, it’s time to start researching. The research process is divided into two main steps: preliminary research and principal research. The former is a basic understanding of your dissertation research question. It helps you narrow down sub-topics and find relevant literature and sources for detailed research. This is often a tedious process so it may be broken down into:

  • Research journal articles and academic papers carefully. Note all important points you come across.
  • Create a rough draft of your thesis, adding everything relevant. This will help gather all the data regarding your research proposal.

These two initial steps are crucial for any academic writing. Having information in this manner will help you write your dissertation outline more effectively later on.

Once you conduct preliminary research, it’ll be time to move on to a more in-depth study. This involves carefully analyzing all your sources and discovering everything possible regarding your research topic.

After recognizing every research gap in the subject, you’ll want to review both primary and secondary sources. The former relates to materials that connect directly to an event. The latter involves secondhand accounts such as books and analyses.

The Dissertation Proposal

For both Master’s and Doctoral programs, your research project requires a proposal to be submitted before you actually start writing. This is a fairly comprehensive formal document that goes over the research matters you wish to work on. Your proposal should explain the reason for selecting your research questions, your study aims, and how you plan to conduct your research. All this must be something that your faculty members approve of, so it’s good to spend some time and get it done correctly.

After you have the draft, it needs to be submitted to the committee members for review. They’ll check your work and give pointers wherever applicable so you may improve your research design. This part of the dissertation process sometimes takes a few weeks but is well worth it in the end since you’ll know if there’s a research gap or source material you need to rethink.

Organizing Your Ideas With Proper Outline

An outline isn’t a part of your dissertation defense, but it’s an important tool to assist in your own work. It involves structuring your research from the get-go and helps organize everything you’ve collected thus far.

You can rearrange different topics and evidence before actually writing about anything. There are many ways to do so, but writing an outline is arguably among the best. This is where you get to figure out your chapter titles and the overall flow of your text.

Your outline should include everything from the location of any quotes or interview transcripts to the methodology and results of your research. All this is great not only for making your writing job easier but also for drawing connections between various points that you may not think about otherwise.

Tip: Look for Dissertation Outline Examples in Our Guide!

Create a Clear and Coherent Argument throughout the Dissertation

A dissertation is unlike public speaking, where you can go on certain tangents and return to your point. This is a piece of text that’s very long and quite arduous to read for many. Whenever you’re working on a dissertation, it’s vital to maintain your tone of voice as well as your argument. This is the part where most students struggle and why they ask for coursework writing help to complete their graduate education task.

It’s the writer’s job to present their research in a coherent manner. There shouldn’t be parts that are contradictory to your primary topic. One tip is to keep questioning existing research. This not only leads to a compelling text but also adds more weight to your own dissertation topics.

Writing and Editing

Once you’ve created an outline and structured your research, it’s time to start writing. Know the required word count for sections beforehand so it’s easier to determine how much you should write under each heading.

Title Page

The title page is where you explain your research topic in a few words. This should be related to your work and give the readers an idea of what they’re about to read. The formatting of this page depends on your faculty and professors, and it’s usually in APA, MLA, or Chicago style. In most cases, you’ll have to write your title, your name, your supervisor’s name, the name of your program, and your university’s name.


This is an optional page you may include if you wish to thank someone who has helped with your work. Mostly, this includes teachers and supervisors, or people who gave their time to answer your questions, etc. Keep this one as concise and formal as possible.


This part of the dissertation is a short summary of your paper. It outlines all the major points of your research, giving people a deeper insight into your work. This is where you must hook readers.

Give them enough information about your research topic to make them want to read more. Regarding requirements, a dissertation abstract is usually only one paragraph long, ranging from 250 to 500 words. Anything longer, and it becomes a whole chapter of its own.

Some students get confused about abstracts and executive summaries. While the two may seem very similar, they’re not quite the same. Unlike an abstract, which is a very brief overview, an executive summary is more detailed, offering insights into the research’s significance, methodology, results, and implications.


The first proper section of your dissertation is the introduction chapter. This goes into further detail of your paper than the abstract, giving readers some background information on your topic so they understand it better. Whenever you’re writing a research paper introduction, you must state your thesis statement and briefly highlight how your paper will discuss it.

A typical way of crafting this section is to give a quick summary of each chapter. You should also review your writing process and tell the readers a little about your research methodology. Talking about existing research on the topic is important to help define where your work fits in and how it inspires future research.

When embarking on a dissertation, one of the pivotal decisions pertains to the inclusion of a hypothesis. Whether or not a dissertation should include a hypothesis depends on the type of research being conducted. In quantitative studies, common in fields like psychology and natural sciences, hypotheses—testable predictions based on theory or prior research—are standard. Conversely, qualitative research, typical in anthropology or certain sociology sectors, might prioritize research questions or objectives over specific hypotheses. For mixed-methods research, which blends both approaches, the study might feature both hypotheses and research questions. Always consult departmental guidelines or your supervisor when determining the structure of your dissertation.

Literature Review

Analyzing existing literature on your topic is perhaps the most important part of your work. The literature review is a discussion chapter that requires going over your primary and secondary sources and evaluating the relevant information you’ve gathered from them.

You may also point out flaws and gaps found in this information to make your lit review for the dissertation stronger. The research gap you find is crucial for a literature review. This pertains to portions of a topic that haven’t been explored properly yet. Your primary concern should be filling these gaps with your own research proposal.


When researching how to write a dissertation, students often worry about the methodology chapter. Essentially, the methodology chapter describes how you’ve collected and analyzed information, including any computer programs and tools.

The methodology chapter provides a detailed account of the research approach, offering insights into how data was collected and analyzed. It starts with a clear description of the chosen research design, be it qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods, and the underlying rationale for that choice. This is followed by an in-depth explanation of the data collection methods, whether through surveys, interviews, observations, or other means, and the criteria used for selecting the sample.

The chapter also covers the procedures used for data analysis, emphasizing measures taken to ensure validity and reliability. Ethical considerations play a pivotal role, encompassing issues like participant consent and data protection. Lastly, addressing any limitations or challenges encountered during the research process is crucial. By meticulously outlining these elements, the methodology chapter legitimizes the study and ensures its replicability, offering other researchers a roadmap to understand and potentially emulate the process.

It’s crucial to explain this, as it gives your work a sense of credibility, and also ensures its replicability, offering other researchers a roadmap to understand and potentially emulate the process. That is why any doctoral dissertation writing service you take help from puts special focus on this part.


If the introduction chapter is the start of your dissertation text, the results chapter is the culmination. This is where you present all your data and original research analysis. What you write here must be something you can stand by in your dissertation defense.

The way you present your findings is important too. You should include individual findings and carefully analyze them if you’re working on an empirical dissertation. In the case of a non-empirical dissertation, you may structure your results based on themes and trends.

Be sure to proofread your text for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Taking feedback from a professor is always a good idea before formulating the final results.


The discussion section of your dissertation discusses the results you’ve achieved. You may ask questions like how the data fits into the larger research theme, how it changes the way a problem is perceived, and what it means overall for the topic.

Write this section as transparently as possible. Talk about any surprises you found along the way and any concerns you have regarding the findings. Critical thinking is a major part of academic writing, so inviting your readers to discuss your work openly is encouraged.


The conclusion must tie all your text together and bring it to a close. Just as the introduction is important, so are the concluding remarks. It should not talk about any new research or findings but rather reiterate the core concepts of your dissertation. It must also reevaluate the statement or question you’ve worked on.

The conclusion of any paper is the last thing people usually read. This is what should separate your work from other dissertations and leave a lasting impression on your readers. Be sure to talk about the final results here briefly and stress why your dissertation was conducted and how it was important for the subject.


The bibliography of a dissertation lists all relevant citations of sources you’ve analyzed in your research process. This is the part even an avid essay writer usually shies away from, but it’s not that difficult. Simply follow the format prescribed by your university and write down every website, paper, book, etc. that you’ve studied.

Glossary, List of Abbreviations, Figures, and Tables

To make your dissertation more understandable, it’s crucial to provide visual elements and supporting information. The glossary refers to a list of all technical terms that should be defined for readers. Many departments have terminologies that the general public isn’t familiar with, so defending them is important. A list of abbreviations similarly describes common terms. Both these may be placed at the start of your paper.

When you write a dissertation, it’s inevitable that you’ll use figures and tables too. Figures may include images, graphs, and charts. All these must be listed at the beginning of your document as this is a requirement of all comprehensive exams. Label them along with their page numbers to make it easier to find them.


Appendices should be placed at the end of your dissertation text and include any helpful materials that may further enhance your study. These are non-essential pieces of information that are still connected to the topic. Examples include maps, transcripts of interviews, etc.

Citations and Referencing

No matter what you’re writing, you must give credit when using other people’s thoughts or research. If you don’t do that, your work will be accused of plagiarism. This is a surefire way of ruining your dissertation and losing your grades. To avoid this, you may take notes of your sources on a piece of paper to create a record of your references. A reference list is crucial to provide evidence regarding your claims.

The way you cite a resource depends on which format you’ve been asked to follow. The most common ones include the APA, MLA, and Chicago styles. Each has its own unique rules, but they essentially require you to mention the name of the source material (book, article, paper), the writer/s, where it is published, the date of publishing, and the date you last accessed it in the case of an online source.

This does become a tiring process, especially when you have to write a very long dissertation paper. Luckily, many tools and various citations generator exist to do this for you. You may simply add a link to your source, and such services will give you a properly formatted citation to include in your paper.

Strategies for Overcoming Writer’s Block and Managing Stress

Coming up with a good topic, conducting a literature review, and crafting a great dissertation depends often on how well you can manage stress. Knowing that this task may shape your entire career definitely causes anxiety, so it’s vital to practice self-care and ask for help when needed.

You can easily ask a professional to “write a dissertation for me” and guide them through the process. If you’re finding it difficult to focus on your dissertation and it’s affecting other classes, it may help to ask someone else to write some of it for you. This would give you some peace of mind to focus on other aspects of your final exam, leading to a better overall result.

Look for Dissertation Examples

To help yourself write a dissertation, check out other dissertation examples before starting. This is an effective way to learn how things like literature reviews work and how an interesting dissertation proposal plan is made. They’ll also show you how to cite resources and label images the right way. Make this an integral part of your process, and you’ll find it much easier to craft your dissertation.

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You’re Now Ready for Top Dissertation Writing!

With all the tips in this comprehensive guide, you now know how to write a dissertation that stands out. Just hearing the word ‘dissertation’ often causes anxiety among students, but it’s not that difficult once you know how to go about it.

Start with choosing a topic that you find intriguing, gather your data in a structured manner, conduct a thorough literature review, analyze everything carefully, and formulate your results. That’s essentially all you must do for a good dissertation project. Be sure to follow the requirements regarding citations and formatting, and a high grade is all but guaranteed!


How many references should a dissertation have?

The number of references in a dissertation varies based on the topic, field of study, and the depth of research. While there’s no fixed number, humanities and social sciences often have more extensive literature reviews, leading to a larger number of citations. On average, dissertations might have anywhere from 50 to 400 references. However, it’s essential to focus on the quality and relevance of sources rather than quantity.

How many chapters should a dissertation have?

The number of chapters in a dissertation can vary, but a standard format includes five main chapters: Introduction, Literature Review, Methodology, Findings/Results, and Discussion/Conclusion. Some dissertations may further divide these sections or include additional chapters based on the research’s complexity and field of study.

How long is a dissertation?

A dissertation’s length varies based on the subject and academic institution. Typically, a Master’s dissertation ranges from 10,000 to 50,000 words, while a Ph.D. dissertation can be 50,000 to 100,000 words or more. However, the emphasis should always be on the quality of content and meeting the research objectives, rather than word count alone.
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