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How to write a PhD Dissertation or Thesis

How to write a PhD Dissertation or Thesis

What is a PhD Thesis or Dissertation?

A PhD dissertation is a technical document that presents and proves a thesis to a specialized audience. It’s not meant to encompass every detail, focusing instead on clarity and completeness. Experimental data is evidence, not proof, with the latter achieved through thematic analysis and critical presentation.

The dissertation isn’t the thesis itself; it describes how the thesis is proven or disproven. The thesis should be significant, original, and advance scientific knowledge.

Start by condensing your thesis statement into three sentences, obtain committee approval, and create a concise abstract summarizing your thesis and contributions to science.

Structure your dissertation into 4-6 chapters, including:

  1. Introduction: State the thesis’s importance, define terms, and discuss related work.
  2. Abstract Model: Develop a generic model capturing essential details.
  3. Proof: Use analytic, stochastic, or implementation methods to prove your thesis.
  4. Measurements/Data: Present supporting data with analysis.
  5. Additional Results: Include secondary studies or significant findings.
  6. Conclusions and Future Work: Summarize results and suggest future research.

Avoid adverbs and subjective language. Stick to factual, precise descriptions. Do not anthropomorphize IT components. Keep the focus on results, not methodology. Ensure your dissertation is within the 100-160 page range.

Remember, your dissertation should be an incremental advancement in your field, not necessarily revolutionary. Its primary audience is your committee and other researchers seeking to build on your work. Your career will likely involve different areas, and your dissertation demonstrates your ability to generate and present original findings.

What are some of the main Differences between PhD Thesis and Dissertation?

The main differences between a thesis and a dissertation are primarily based on the level of education and the nature of the research:

  1. Education Level:

    • Thesis: Typically written by graduate students pursuing a master’s degree.
    • Dissertation: Usually authored by doctoral students, also known as PhD candidates.
  2. Research Basis:

    • Thesis: Primarily relies on existing research and often takes the form of a literature review, demonstrating competence in a specific subject area.
    • Dissertation: Requires the PhD candidate to conduct original research and perform analysis, contributing new knowledge, theory, or methods to their field of study.

In summary, while both involve advanced graduate research, a thesis is typically a literature review based on existing research, while a dissertation involves original research and contributes to the field of study.

How long is a PhD Thesis or Dissertation?

The length of a PhD thesis can vary depending on the subject, university, and specific guidelines۔ PhD theses typically have a word count range set by the university, often falling between 70,000 and 100,000 words. Most theses are around 80,000 words.

Variation by Field:

Theses in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields tend to be slightly shorter than those in Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences: These theses may be longer due to the nature of qualitative research and the inclusion of extensive literature reviews.

Universities and departments may have specific policies regarding what counts toward the word count. It’s essential to clarify these policies with your supervisor. Some universities include references, the bibliography, and appendices in the word count, while others do not. Some fields may have unique expectations for thesis length based on disciplinary norms. Always consult with your department or supervisor for specific guidelines.

In summary, the length of a PhD thesis typically falls within the range of 70,000 to 100,000 words, with variations based on the subject and university policies. Clarify the word count guidelines and expectations with your supervisor to ensure you meet the requirements for your specific program.

Start your Dissertation/Thesis by first focusing on literature review

Beginning your PhD thesis involves several stages, with the initial focus on the dissertation outline and literature review:

  1. Literature Review:

    • Start with a comprehensive review of existing literature relevant to your research area, including papers, articles, books, and data.
    • Rather than mere summarization, critically assess and analyze the arguments made by other scholars.
    • The literature review typically serves as the first part or chapter of your dissertation, showcasing your knowledge of the field.
  2. Thesis Progression:

    • Following the literature review, you’ll delve into the core research of your doctoral thesis.
    • Conduct original research, gather data, and perform analysis to contribute new insights or findings to your field.
  3. Continuous Literature Review:

    • Keep the literature review up-to-date throughout your research journey.
    • Incorporate any new material or insights you encounter during your research into the literature review.

Remember that your PhD thesis is a significant undertaking, and the literature review serves as the foundation for your research, demonstrating your understanding of the existing scholarship in your field.

Steps to write PhD Dissertation/Thesis

Writing up your PhD thesis is a crucial stage in your doctoral journey, and it involves several key steps:

Writing Process

After conducting your research and defining your thesis, you’ll enter the “writing up period.” This phase involves producing your final dissertation, which will serve as the basis for your viva voce examination.

Approaches to Writing

Your approach to writing may vary depending on your research and field. In some cases, you may have chapter drafts and materials that require re-drafting and assembly into a final dissertation. This is common in Arts and Humanities. Alternatively, if you’ve focused on data collection and analysis, you’ll “write up” your findings and conclusions. This approach is more typical in STEM subjects.

Feedback from Supervisor

Your supervisor will provide feedback on your written proposal and each chapter draft and the overall completed dissertation before submission. This feedback helps ensure your research is on the right track and addresses any concerns. Your supervisor is not responsible for editing grammatical or spelling mistakes or meeting word count requirements.

Finishing and Submission

When your final draft is complete and approved by your supervisor, you’ll submit it for examination. Ensure you print enough copies for examiners and the university’s repository, allowing ample time for any printing issues. The viva voce examination usually takes place within three months of submission.

Viva Voce Outcomes

Following the viva, examiners provide a report with potential outcomes:

  • Pass: You’ve earned your doctoral qualification.
  • Minor Corrections: Small edits and improvements with a three-month deadline.
  • Major Corrections: Substantial changes, possibly involving rewriting or additional research, with a six-month deadline.

Most PhD students need to make some corrections; outright failure is rare.

Final Submission

After making necessary corrections, you’ll submit your thesis one last time, often electronically. Consider requesting an embargo if you plan to publish your work, which temporarily restricts public access to your thesis.

Completing your PhD thesis is a significant accomplishment, marking the culmination of your research journey. It’s essential to follow university guidelines and timelines during this process to ensure a successful outcome.


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