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How to Write a Science Thesis/Dissertation

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A thesis/dissertation is a long, high-level research paper written as the culmination of your academic course. Most university programs require that graduate and postgraduate students demonstrate their ability to perform original research at the thesis/dissertation level as a graduation requirement.

Not all theses/dissertations are structured the same way. In this article, we’ll specifically look at how to structure a thesis/dissertation in the sciences and examine what belongs in each section. Before you begin writing, it is essential to have a good understanding of how to structure your science thesis/dissertation and what elements you must include in it.

How are science theses/dissertations structured?

There isn’t a universal format for a science thesis/dissertation. Each university/institution has its own rules, and these rules can vary further by department and advisor. For this reason, you must start writing/drafting your thesis/dissertation by checking the rules and requirements of your university/institution.

Some universities mandate a minimum word count for a thesis/dissertation, while others provide a maximum. The number of words you are expected to write will also vary depending on the program/course you are a part of. A Master’s level thesis/dissertation can range, for example, from 15,000 to 45,000 words, while a PhD thesis/dissertation can be around 80,000 words.

While your university/institution may have its own specific requirements or guidelines, this article provides a general overview of how a typical thesis/dissertation in the sciences should be structured. For easier understanding, let’s break it up into two parts:

  • Thesis body
  • Supplemental information

The thesis body of your thesis/dissertation includes:

  • Acknowledgements

Table of contents

Introduction/literature review, materials/methodology, discussion/conclusion, figure and tables, list of abbreviations.

Your thesis will conclude with the supplemental information section, which comprises:

Reference list

Your thesis may or may not include each and every one of these sections. Now, let’s examine the parts of a thesis/dissertation in greater detail.

The parts of a science thesis/dissertation: Getting started

Let’s begin by reviewing the sections of the thesis body, from the title page to the glossary. This part of your thesis/dissertation should ideally be written last, even though it comes at the beginning. That is because it is the easiest to put it togethe r once you have written the rest of your thesis/dissertation.

Your thesis/dissertation should have a clear title that sums up the content. In addition, the title page should include your name, the degree of your thesis/dissertation, your department, your advisor, and the month/year of submission. Your university/institution likely has its own format for what should be included in the title page, so make sure to check the relevant guidelines.

Acknowledgments

This section gives you the opportunity to say thanks to anyone who gave you support while you worked on your thesis/dissertation. Many people use this section to give credit to their advisor, editor, or even their parents. If you received any funding for your research or technical assistance, make sure to mention it here.

Your abstract should be a brief summary (generally around 300 words) of your thesis/dissertation. You can think of your abstract as a distillation of your thesis/dissertation as a whole. You need to summarize the scope and objectives, methods, and findings in this section.

 The table of contents is a directory of the various parts of your thesis/dissertation. It should include the headings and subheadings of each section along with the page numbers where those sections can be found.

 Think of this section as the table of contents for figures and tables in your thesis/dissertation. The titles of each figure/table and the page number where it can be found should be in this list.

This list is intended to identify specialized abbreviations used throughout your thesis/dissertation. This can include the names of organizations (WHO, CDC), acronyms (PFC), and so on. For a science thesis/dissertation, it is preferable also to include a note regarding any abbreviations for units of measurement and standard notations for chemical elements, formulae, and chemical abbreviations used.

In this section, you would define any terminology that your target audience may be unfamiliar with.

The parts of a science thesis/dissertation: Presenting your data

Following the glossary, the thesis body of a science thesis/dissertation begins with the introduction. The introduction section of a science thesis/dissertation often also includes the literature review. This is unlike most social science or humanities theses/dissertations, where the literature review commonly forms a separate chapter. The introduction section should begin by clearly stating the background and context for your research study, followed by your thesis question, objectives, hypothesis , and thesis statement . An example might be: 

“The connection between nicotine consumption and insulin resistance has long been established. However, there is no substantial body of research on how long insulin resistance is maintained after people quit smoking. In this study, we aim to measure levels of insulin resistance in otherwise healthy subjects following a total cessation of nicotine consumption. We hypothesize that insulin resistance will begin to decline rapidly within six months.”

 The introduction should be immediately followed by a review of earlier literature written on the thesis topic. In this section, you should also clearly identify where the literature connects to your study and how your research study fills a gap or bolsters previous studies. Fit your study within the puzzle of previous work and demonstrate the importance of your research.

In the methodology section of your thesis/dissertation, you must explain what you did and how you did it. If you used materials (for example, bacteria), make sure you clearly list each one. Live materials should be listed, including the specific strain and genus. You must explain your techniques, materials, and methods such that another researcher can replicate exactly what you have done.

In the results section, you will explain what happened. What were your findings? This section should be heavy on data and light on analysis. Usually, in-depth analysis and interpretation of your results will be covered in the discussion section of your thesis/dissertation. While you should present your results in full, any supplementary data that you don’t have room for can be included in an appendix. As a note, this section is often written in the past tense. While other portions of your thesis/dissertation may use past and present interchangeably depending on the topic at hand, the results section of a scientific paper focuses on what has already happened (in an experiment), which is why it is written this way.

In this part of your thesis/dissertation, you will discuss what your findings mean. Did they align with your hypothesis? If so, how? If not, what was different? If there were any exceptions, errors, or total lack of correlation found, do not try to hide it. Clearly discuss what it might mean, or if you aren’t sure, don’t be afraid to say so. In this section, you can also highlight potential practical applications for your research study, limitations of your study, directions for future studies, and once again highlight the importance of your study in the field. This section usually concludes with an overall summarization of whether your results support your hypothesis or not. For example:

“Our study found that 500 of our 600 subjects continued to exhibit high levels of insulin resistance three years or more after stopping nicotine use. This does not support our hypothesis that insulin resistance would begin to drop around six months after subjects stopped nicotine use. Further research is warranted into the mechanisms by which past nicotine use alters insulin resistance levels in former smokers.”

The reference list is an alphabetical or numerical list of sources you’ve used while researching and writing your thesis. The formatting of your reference list will be dependent on your university guidelines. Useful tools like citation generators can help you correctly format your references. Reference managers like EndNote or Mendeley are also helpful for compiling this list. Furthermore, a professional editor or proofreading service can ensure that each reference is correctly formatted.

This section can be very useful if you want to include materials that are relevant to the topic of your thesis/dissertation but that you were unable to include in the main text. Tables, large bodies of text, illustrations, forms used to collect data or perform studies, and other such materials can all be included in an appendix.

Critical steps for planning, drafting, and structuring a science thesis/dissertation

Writing your thesis/dissertation is a daunting and lengthy task. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind when drafting your science thesis/dissertation:

  • Choose a thesis topic that is of professional interest to you. You are going to spend a lot of time thinking, reading, and writing about your thesis topic. Many aspiring young researchers end up working in a field related to their thesis/dissertation . If you start researching or writing a proposal and then decide you aren’t into the topic, don’t be afraid to change directions!
  • Plan your thesis timelines carefully. Is your topic realistic given the time and material constraints you have? Do you need to apply for external funding for your research study? Will that take additional time? Write a schedule and revisit/revise it often throughout your thesis/dissertation process.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute to start writing! A thesis/dissertation isn’t like an undergraduate paper where you spend some time researching and then some time writing it. You will need to write your thesis/dissertation as you continue your research study. Write as you work in the lab. Write as you learn things and then revise. Ideally, by the time you have finished your actual research study, you will already have a substantive draft.
  • Start writing the methodology section first. This is often the easiest because it is straightforward and you have already done quite a lot of the work while preparing your research study. The order in which you write your thesis/dissertation doesn’t matter too much—if you find yourself jumping between sections, that is perfectly normal.
  • Keep a detailed list of your references using a reference manager or similar system, with tags so that you can easily identify the source of your information.

Final tips for writing and structuring a science thesis/dissertation

Writing a thesis/dissertation is a rewarding process. As a final tip for getting through this process successfully, don’t forget to leave sufficient time for editing and proofreading. Your thesis/dissertation will go through many drafts and revisions before it reaches its final form.

Engaging the services of a professional can go a long way in helping you produce a professional and high-quality document worthy of your research. In addition, there are many helpful tools like AI grammar checker tools available online for students and young researchers.

Check out our site for more tips on how to write a good thesis/dissertation , where to find the best thesis editing services , and more about thesis editing and proofreading services .

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Review Checklist

Use this checklist to ensure that your science thesis/dissertation isn’t missing any important structural components.

Title page: Does your thesis/dissertation have a title page with your title, name, department, advisor’s name, and other important information?

Acknowledgements: Did you give credit to your funders, research colleagues, and anyone else who helped you?

Abstract: Does your thesis/dissertation include a brief summary?

Table of contents: Does your table of contents include headings, subheadings, and page numbers?

Figure and tables: Is there a complete list of figures and tables that are in your thesis/dissertation?

List of abbreviations: Are all of the abbreviations used in your thesis/dissertation listed here?

Glossary: Did you clearly define any specialized terminology used in your thesis/dissertation?

Introduction/Literature review: Did you justify your research study, state your objectives, and your hypothesis? Did you review the previous relevant literature in your field and explain how your thesis/dissertation fits in?

Materials/Methodology: Could another scientist replicate what you did by reading this section?

Results: Did you include all of the data from your experiments/research study?

Discussion/Conclusion: Did you clearly explain what your results mean and whether your hypothesis was correct or not?

Reference list: Are your references properly formatted and listed alphabetically or numerically?

Bibliography and Appendices: Did you include any additional relevant data, figures, or text that didn’t fit into the main section of your thesis/dissertation?

How long is a typical science thesis/dissertation? +

A typical Master’s thesis/dissertation ranges from 15,000-45,000 words, while a Ph.D. thesis/dissertation can be as much as 80,000 words.

How do I start my thesis/dissertation? +

You don’t have to start with the introduction when you begin writing. You can start with the methodology section or any other section you prefer and revise it later.

How do I structure a science thesis/dissertation? +

The main section of a science thesis/dissertation includes an introduction/literature review, materials/methodology section, results, discussion/conclusion section, and a references list.

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Tips for writing a PhD dissertation: FAQs answered

From how to choose a topic to writing the abstract and managing work-life balance through the years it takes to complete a doctorate, here we collect expert advice to get you through the PhD writing process

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Embarking on a PhD is “probably the most challenging task that a young scholar attempts to do”, write Mark Stephan Felix and Ian Smith in their practical guide to dissertation and thesis writing. After years of reading and research to answer a specific question or proposition, the candidate will submit about 80,000 words that explain their methods and results and demonstrate their unique contribution to knowledge. Here are the answers to frequently asked questions about writing a doctoral thesis or dissertation.

What’s the difference between a dissertation and a thesis?

Whatever the genre of the doctorate, a PhD must offer an original contribution to knowledge. The terms “dissertation” and “thesis” both refer to the long-form piece of work produced at the end of a research project and are often used interchangeably. Which one is used might depend on the country, discipline or university. In the UK, “thesis” is generally used for the work done for a PhD, while a “dissertation” is written for a master’s degree. The US did the same until the 1960s, says Oxbridge Essays, when the convention switched, and references appeared to a “master’s thesis” and “doctoral dissertation”. To complicate matters further, undergraduate long essays are also sometimes referred to as a thesis or dissertation.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “thesis” as “a dissertation, especially by a candidate for a degree” and “dissertation” as “a detailed discourse on a subject, especially one submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of a degree or diploma”.

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The title “doctor of philosophy”, incidentally, comes from the degree’s origins, write Dr Felix, an associate professor at Mahidol University in Thailand, and Dr Smith, retired associate professor of education at the University of Sydney , whose co-authored guide focuses on the social sciences. The PhD was first awarded in the 19th century by the philosophy departments of German universities, which at that time taught science, social science and liberal arts.

How long should a PhD thesis be?

A PhD thesis (or dissertation) is typically 60,000 to 120,000 words ( 100 to 300 pages in length ) organised into chapters, divisions and subdivisions (with roughly 10,000 words per chapter) – from introduction (with clear aims and objectives) to conclusion.

The structure of a dissertation will vary depending on discipline (humanities, social sciences and STEM all have their own conventions), location and institution. Examples and guides to structure proliferate online. The University of Salford , for example, lists: title page, declaration, acknowledgements, abstract, table of contents, lists of figures, tables and abbreviations (where needed), chapters, appendices and references.

A scientific-style thesis will likely need: introduction, literature review, materials and methods, results, discussion, bibliography and references.

As well as checking the overall criteria and expectations of your institution for your research, consult your school handbook for the required length and format (font, layout conventions and so on) for your dissertation.

A PhD takes three to four years to complete; this might extend to six to eight years for a part-time doctorate.

What are the steps for completing a PhD?

Before you get started in earnest , you’ll likely have found a potential supervisor, who will guide your PhD journey, and done a research proposal (which outlines what you plan to research and how) as part of your application, as well as a literature review of existing scholarship in the field, which may form part of your final submission.

In the UK, PhD candidates undertake original research and write the results in a thesis or dissertation, says author and vlogger Simon Clark , who posted videos to YouTube throughout his own PhD journey . Then they submit the thesis in hard copy and attend the viva voce (which is Latin for “living voice” and is also called an oral defence or doctoral defence) to convince the examiners that their work is original, understood and all their own. Afterwards, if necessary, they make changes and resubmit. If the changes are approved, the degree is awarded.

The steps are similar in Australia , although candidates are mostly assessed on their thesis only; some universities may include taught courses, and some use a viva voce. A PhD in Australia usually takes three years full time.

In the US, the PhD process begins with taught classes (similar to a taught master’s) and a comprehensive exam (called a “field exam” or “dissertation qualifying exam”) before the candidate embarks on their original research. The whole journey takes four to six years.

A PhD candidate will need three skills and attitudes to get through their doctoral studies, says Tara Brabazon , professor of cultural studies at Flinders University in Australia who has written extensively about the PhD journey :

  • master the academic foundational skills (research, writing, ability to navigate different modalities)
  • time-management skills and the ability to focus on reading and writing
  • determined motivation to do a PhD.

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How do I choose the topic for my PhD dissertation or thesis?

It’s important to find a topic that will sustain your interest for the years it will take to complete a PhD. “Finding a sustainable topic is the most important thing you [as a PhD student] would do,” says Dr Brabazon in a video for Times Higher Education . “Write down on a big piece of paper all the topics, all the ideas, all the questions that really interest you, and start to cross out all the ones that might just be a passing interest.” Also, she says, impose the “Who cares? Who gives a damn?” question to decide if the topic will be useful in a future academic career.

The availability of funding and scholarships is also often an important factor in this decision, says veteran PhD supervisor Richard Godwin, from Harper Adams University .

Define a gap in knowledge – and one that can be questioned, explored, researched and written about in the time available to you, says Gina Wisker, head of the Centre for Learning and Teaching at the University of Brighton. “Set some boundaries,” she advises. “Don’t try to ask everything related to your topic in every way.”

James Hartley, research professor in psychology at Keele University, says it can also be useful to think about topics that spark general interest. If you do pick something that taps into the zeitgeist, your findings are more likely to be noticed.

You also need to find someone else who is interested in it, too. For STEM candidates , this will probably be a case of joining a team of people working in a similar area where, ideally, scholarship funding is available. A centre for doctoral training (CDT) or doctoral training partnership (DTP) will advertise research projects. For those in the liberal arts and social sciences, it will be a matter of identifying a suitable supervisor .

Avoid topics that are too broad (hunger across a whole country, for example) or too narrow (hunger in a single street) to yield useful solutions of academic significance, write Mark Stephan Felix and Ian Smith. And ensure that you’re not repeating previous research or trying to solve a problem that has already been answered. A PhD thesis must be original.

What is a thesis proposal?

After you have read widely to refine your topic and ensure that it and your research methods are original, and discussed your project with a (potential) supervisor, you’re ready to write a thesis proposal , a document of 1,500 to 3,000 words that sets out the proposed direction of your research. In the UK, a research proposal is usually part of the application process for admission to a research degree. As with the final dissertation itself, format varies among disciplines, institutions and countries but will usually contain title page, aims, literature review, methodology, timetable and bibliography. Examples of research proposals are available online.

How to write an abstract for a dissertation or thesis

The abstract presents your thesis to the wider world – and as such may be its most important element , says the NUI Galway writing guide. It outlines the why, how, what and so what of the thesis . Unlike the introduction, which provides background but not research findings, the abstract summarises all sections of the dissertation in a concise, thorough, focused way and demonstrates how well the writer understands their material. Check word-length limits with your university – and stick to them. About 300 to 500 words is a rough guide ­– but it can be up to 1,000 words.

The abstract is also important for selection and indexing of your thesis, according to the University of Melbourne guide , so be sure to include searchable keywords.

It is the first thing to be read but the last element you should write. However, Pat Thomson , professor of education at the University of Nottingham , advises that it is not something to be tackled at the last minute.

How to write a stellar conclusion

As well as chapter conclusions, a thesis often has an overall conclusion to draw together the key points covered and to reflect on the unique contribution to knowledge. It can comment on future implications of the research and open up new ideas emanating from the work. It is shorter and more general than the discussion chapter , says online editing site Scribbr, and reiterates how the work answers the main question posed at the beginning of the thesis. The conclusion chapter also often discusses the limitations of the research (time, scope, word limit, access) in a constructive manner.

It can be useful to keep a collection of ideas as you go – in the online forum DoctoralWriting SIG , academic developer Claire Aitchison, of the University of South Australia , suggests using a “conclusions bank” for themes and inspirations, and using free-writing to keep this final section fresh. (Just when you feel you’ve run out of steam.) Avoid aggrandising or exaggerating the impact of your work. It should remind the reader what has been done, and why it matters.

How to format a bibliography (or where to find a reliable model)

Most universities use a preferred style of references , writes THE associate editor Ingrid Curl. Make sure you know what this is and follow it. “One of the most common errors in academic writing is to cite papers in the text that do not then appear in the bibliography. All references in your thesis need to be cross-checked with the bibliography before submission. Using a database during your research can save a great deal of time in the writing-up process.”

A bibliography contains not only works cited explicitly but also those that have informed or contributed to the research – and as such illustrates its scope; works are not limited to written publications but include sources such as film or visual art.

Examiners can start marking from the back of the script, writes Dr Brabazon. “Just as cooks are judged by their ingredients and implements, we judge doctoral students by the calibre of their sources,” she advises. She also says that candidates should be prepared to speak in an oral examination of the PhD about any texts included in their bibliography, especially if there is a disconnect between the thesis and the texts listed.

Can I use informal language in my PhD?

Don’t write like a stereotypical academic , say Kevin Haggerty, professor of sociology at the University of Alberta , and Aaron Doyle, associate professor in sociology at Carleton University , in their tongue-in-cheek guide to the PhD journey. “If you cannot write clearly and persuasively, everything about PhD study becomes harder.” Avoid jargon, exotic words, passive voice and long, convoluted sentences – and work on it consistently. “Writing is like playing guitar; it can improve only through consistent, concerted effort.”

Be deliberate and take care with your writing . “Write your first draft, leave it and then come back to it with a critical eye. Look objectively at the writing and read it closely for style and sense,” advises THE ’s Ms Curl. “Look out for common errors such as dangling modifiers, subject-verb disagreement and inconsistency. If you are too involved with the text to be able to take a step back and do this, then ask a friend or colleague to read it with a critical eye. Remember Hemingway’s advice: ‘Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.’ Clarity is key.”

How often should a PhD candidate meet with their supervisor?

Since the PhD supervisor provides a range of support and advice – including on research techniques, planning and submission – regular formal supervisions are essential, as is establishing a line of contact such as email if the candidate needs help or advice outside arranged times. The frequency varies according to university, discipline and individual scholars.

Once a week is ideal, says Dr Brabazon. She also advocates a two-hour initial meeting to establish the foundations of the candidate-supervisor relationship .

The University of Edinburgh guide to writing a thesis suggests that creating a timetable of supervisor meetings right at the beginning of the research process will allow candidates to ensure that their work stays on track throughout. The meetings are also the place to get regular feedback on draft chapters.

“A clear structure and a solid framework are vital for research,” writes Dr Godwin on THE Campus . Use your supervisor to establish this and provide a realistic view of what can be achieved. “It is vital to help students identify the true scientific merit, the practical significance of their work and its value to society.”

How to proofread your dissertation (what to look for)

Proofreading is the final step before printing and submission. Give yourself time to ensure that your work is the best it can be . Don’t leave proofreading to the last minute; ideally, break it up into a few close-reading sessions. Find a quiet place without distractions. A checklist can help ensure that all aspects are covered.

Proofing is often helped by a change of format – so it can be easier to read a printout rather than working off the screen – or by reading sections out of order. Fresh eyes are better at spotting typographical errors and inconsistencies, so leave time between writing and proofreading. Check with your university’s policies before asking another person to proofread your thesis for you.

As well as close details such as spelling and grammar, check that all sections are complete, all required elements are included , and nothing is repeated or redundant. Don’t forget to check headings and subheadings. Does the text flow from one section to another? Is the structure clear? Is the work a coherent whole with a clear line throughout?

Ensure consistency in, for example, UK v US spellings, capitalisation, format, numbers (digits or words, commas, units of measurement), contractions, italics and hyphenation. Spellchecks and online plagiarism checkers are also your friend.

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How do you manage your time to complete a PhD dissertation?

Treat your PhD like a full-time job, that is, with an eight-hour working day. Within that, you’ll need to plan your time in a way that gives a sense of progress . Setbacks and periods where it feels as if you are treading water are all but inevitable, so keeping track of small wins is important, writes A Happy PhD blogger Luis P. Prieto.

Be specific with your goals – use the SMART acronym (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely).

And it’s never too soon to start writing – even if early drafts are overwritten and discarded.

“ Write little and write often . Many of us make the mistake of taking to writing as one would take to a sprint, in other words, with relatively short bursts of intense activity. Whilst this can prove productive, generally speaking it is not sustainable…In addition to sustaining your activity, writing little bits on a frequent basis ensures that you progress with your thinking. The comfort of remaining in abstract thought is common; writing forces us to concretise our thinking,” says Christian Gilliam, AHSS researcher developer at the University of Cambridge ’s Centre for Teaching and Learning.

Make time to write. “If you are more alert early in the day, find times that suit you in the morning; if you are a ‘night person’, block out some writing sessions in the evenings,” advises NUI Galway’s Dermot Burns, a lecturer in English and creative arts. Set targets, keep daily notes of experiment details that you will need in your thesis, don’t confuse writing with editing or revising – and always back up your work.

What work-life balance tips should I follow to complete my dissertation?

During your PhD programme, you may have opportunities to take part in professional development activities, such as teaching, attending academic conferences and publishing your work. Your research may include residencies, field trips or archive visits. This will require time-management skills as well as prioritising where you devote your energy and factoring in rest and relaxation. Organise your routine to suit your needs , and plan for steady and regular progress.

How to deal with setbacks while writing a thesis or dissertation

Have a contingency plan for delays or roadblocks such as unexpected results.

Accept that writing is messy, first drafts are imperfect, and writer’s block is inevitable, says Dr Burns. His tips for breaking it include relaxation to free your mind from clutter, writing a plan and drawing a mind map of key points for clarity. He also advises feedback, reflection and revision: “Progressing from a rough version of your thoughts to a superior and workable text takes time, effort, different perspectives and some expertise.”

“Academia can be a relentlessly brutal merry-go-round of rejection, rebuttal and failure,” writes Lorraine Hope , professor of applied cognitive psychology at the University of Portsmouth, on THE Campus. Resilience is important. Ensure that you and your supervisor have a relationship that supports open, frank, judgement-free communication.

If you found this interesting and want advice and insight from academics and university staff delivered direct to your inbox each week, sign up for the THE Campus newsletter .

Authoring a PhD Thesis: How to Plan, Draft, Write and Finish a Doctoral Dissertation (2003), by Patrick Dunleavy

Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis (1998), by Joan Balker

Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (2015), by Noelle Sterne

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Thesis and Dissertation: Getting Started

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The resources in this section are designed to provide guidance for the first steps of the thesis or dissertation writing process. They offer tools to support the planning and managing of your project, including writing out your weekly schedule, outlining your goals, and organzing the various working elements of your project.

Weekly Goals Sheet (a.k.a. Life Map) [Word Doc]

This editable handout provides a place for you to fill in available time blocks on a weekly chart that will help you visualize the amount of time you have available to write. By using this chart, you will be able to work your writing goals into your schedule and put these goals into perspective with your day-to-day plans and responsibilities each week. This handout also contains a formula to help you determine the minimum number of pages you would need to write per day in order to complete your writing on time.

Setting a Production Schedule (Word Doc)

This editable handout can help you make sense of the various steps involved in the production of your thesis or dissertation and determine how long each step might take. A large part of this process involves (1) seeking out the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding specific document formatting requirements, (2) understanding research protocol limitations, (3) making note of deadlines, and (4) understanding your personal writing habits.

Creating a Roadmap (PDF)

Part of organizing your writing involves having a clear sense of how the different working parts relate to one another. Creating a roadmap for your dissertation early on can help you determine what the final document will include and how all the pieces are connected. This resource offers guidance on several approaches to creating a roadmap, including creating lists, maps, nut-shells, visuals, and different methods for outlining. It is important to remember that you can create more than one roadmap (or more than one type of roadmap) depending on how the different approaches discussed here meet your needs.

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A Step-By-Step Guide to Write the Perfect Dissertation

“A dissertation or a thesis is a long piece of academic writing based on comprehensive research.”

The significance of dissertation writing in the world of academia is unparalleled. A good dissertation paper needs months of research and marks the end of your respected academic journey. It is considered the most effective form of writing in academia and perhaps the longest piece of academic writing you will ever have to complete.

This thorough step-by-step guide on how to write a dissertation will serve as a tool to help you with the task at hand, whether you are an undergraduate student or a Masters or PhD student working on your dissertation project. This guide provides detailed information about how to write the different chapters of a dissertation, such as a problem statement , conceptual framework , introduction , literature review, methodology , discussion , findings , conclusion , title page , acknowledgements , etc.

What is a Dissertation? – Definition

Before we list the stages of writing a dissertation, we should look at what a dissertation is.

The Cambridge dictionary states that a dissertation is a long piece of writing on a particular subject, especially one that is done to receive a degree at college or university, but that is just the tip of the iceberg because a dissertation project has a lot more meaning and context.

To understand a dissertation’s definition, one must have the capability to understand what an essay is. A dissertation is like an extended essay that includes research and information at a much deeper level. Despite the few similarities, there are many differences between an essay and a dissertation.

Another term that people confuse with a dissertation is a thesis. Let's look at the differences between the two terms.

What is the Difference Between a Dissertation and a Thesis?

Dissertation and thesis are used interchangeably worldwide (and may vary between universities and regions), but the key difference is when they are completed. The thesis is a project that marks the end of a degree program, whereas the dissertation project can occur during the degree. Hanno Krieger (Researchgate, 2014) explained the difference between a dissertation and a thesis as follows:

“Thesis is the written form of research work to claim an academic degree, like PhD thesis, postgraduate thesis, and undergraduate thesis. On the other hand, a dissertation is only another expression of the written research work, similar to an essay. So the thesis is the more general expression.

In the end, it does not matter whether it is a bachelor's, master or PhD dissertation one is working on because the structure and the steps of conducting research are pretty much identical. However, doctoral-level dissertation papers are much more complicated and detailed.

Problems Students Face When Writing a Dissertation

You can expect to encounter some troubles if you don’t yet know the steps to write a dissertation. Even the smartest students are overwhelmed by the complexity of writing a dissertation.

A dissertation project is different from any essay paper you have ever committed to because of the details of planning, research and writing it involves. One can expect rewarding results at the end of the process if the correct guidelines are followed. Still, as indicated previously, there will be multiple challenges to deal with before reaching that milestone.

The three most significant problems students face when working on a dissertation project are the following.

Poor Project Planning

Delaying to start working on the dissertation project is the most common problem. Students think they have sufficient time to complete the paper and are finding ways to write a dissertation in a week, delaying the start to the point where they start stressing out about the looming deadline. When the planning is poor, students are always looking for ways to write their dissertations in the last few days. Although it is possible, it does have effects on the quality of the paper.

Inadequate Research Skills

The writing process becomes a huge problem if one has the required academic research experience. Professional dissertation writing goes well beyond collecting a few relevant reference resources.

You need to do both primary and secondary research for your paper. Depending on the dissertation’s topic and the academic qualification you are a candidate for, you may be required to base your dissertation paper on primary research.

In addition to secondary data, you will also need to collect data from the specified participants and test the hypothesis . The practice of primary collection is time-consuming since all the data must be analysed in detail before results can be withdrawn.

Failure to Meet the Strict Academic Writing Standards

Research is a crucial business everywhere. Failure to follow the language, style, structure, and formatting guidelines provided by your department or institution when writing the dissertation paper can worsen matters. It is recommended to read the dissertation handbook before starting the write-up thoroughly.

Steps of Writing a Dissertation

For those stressing out about developing an extensive paper capable of filling a gap in research whilst adding value to the existing academic literature—conducting exhaustive research and analysis—and professionally using the knowledge gained throughout their degree program, there is still good news in all the chaos.

We have put together a guide that will show you how to start your dissertation and complete it carefully from one stage to the next.

Find an Interesting and Manageable Dissertation Topic

A clearly defined topic is a prerequisite for any successful independent research project. An engaging yet manageable research topic can produce an original piece of research that results in a higher academic score.

Unlike essays or assignments, when working on their thesis or dissertation project, students get to choose their topic of research.

You should follow the tips to choose the correct topic for your research to avoid problems later. Your chosen dissertation topic should be narrow enough, allowing you to collect the required secondary and primary data relatively quickly.

Understandably, many people take a lot of time to search for the topic, and a significant amount of research time is spent on it. You should talk to your supervisor or check out the intriguing database of ResearchProspect’s free topics for your dissertation.

Alternatively, consider reading newspapers, academic journals, articles, course materials, and other media to identify relevant issues to your study area and find some inspiration to get going.

You should work closely with your supervisor to agree to a narrowed but clear research plan.Here is what Michelle Schneider, learning adviser at the University of Leeds, had to say about picking the research topics,

“Picking something you’re genuinely interested in will keep you motivated. Consider why it’s important to tackle your chosen topic," Michelle added.

Develop a First-Class Dissertation Proposal.

Once the research topic has been selected, you can develop a solid dissertation proposal . The research proposal allows you to convince your supervisor or the committee members of the significance of your dissertation.

Through the proposal, you will be expected to prove that your work will significantly value the academic and scientific communities by addressing complex and provocative research questions .

Dissertation proposals are much shorter but follow a similar structure to an extensive dissertation paper. If the proposal is optional in your university, you should still create one outline of the critical points that the actual dissertation paper will cover. To get a better understanding of dissertation proposals, you can also check the publicly available samples of dissertation proposals .

Typical contents of the dissertation paper are as follows;

  • A brief rationale for the problem your dissertation paper will investigate.
  • The hypothesis you will be testing.
  • Research objectives you wish to address.
  • How will you contribute to the knowledge of the scientific and academic community?
  • How will you find answers to the critical research question(s)?
  • What research approach will you adopt?
  • What kind of population of interest would you like to generalise your result(s) to (especially in the case of quantitative research)?
  • What sampling technique(s) would you employ, and why would you not use other methods?
  • What ethical considerations have you taken to gather data?
  • Who are the stakeholders in your research are/might be?
  • What are the future implications and limitations you see in your research?

Let’s review the structure of the dissertation. Keep the format of your proposal simple. Keeping it simple keeps your readers will remain engaged. The following are the fundamental focal points that must be included:

Title of your dissertation: Dissertation titles should be 12 words in length. The focus of your research should be identifiable from your research topic.

Research aim: The overall purpose of your study should be clearly stated in terms of the broad statements of the desired outcomes in the Research aim. Try and paint the picture of your research, emphasising what you wish to achieve as a researcher.

Research objectives: The key research questions you wish to address as part of the project should be listed. Narrow down the focus of your research and aim for at most four objectives. Your research objectives should be linked with the aim of the study or a hypothesis.

Literature review: Consult with your supervisor to check if you are required to use any specific academic sources as part of the literature review process. If that is not the case, find out the most relevant theories, journals, books, schools of thought, and publications that will be used to construct arguments in your literature research.Remember that the literature review is all about giving credit to other authors’ works on a similar topic

Research methods and techniques: Depending on your dissertation topic, you might be required to conduct empirical research to satisfy the study’s objectives. Empirical research uses primary data such as questionnaires, interview data, and surveys to collect.

On the other hand, if your dissertation is based on secondary (non-empirical) data, you can stick to the existing literature in your area of study. Clearly state the merits of your chosen research methods under the methodology section.

Expected results: As you explore the research topic and analyse the data in the previously published papers, you will begin to build your expectations around the study’s potential outcomes. List those expectations here.

Project timeline: Let the readers know exactly how you plan to complete all the dissertation project parts within the timeframe allowed. You should learn more about Microsoft Project and Gantt Charts to create easy-to-follow and high-level project timelines and schedules.

References: The academic sources used to gather information for the proposed paper will be listed under this section using the appropriate referencing style. Ask your supervisor which referencing style you are supposed to follow.

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Investigation, Research and Data Collection

This is the most critical stage of the dissertation writing process. One should use up-to-date and relevant academic sources that are likely to jeopardise hard work.

Finding relevant and highly authentic reference resources is the key to succeeding in the dissertation project, so it is advised to take your time with this process. Here are some of the things that should be considered when conducting research.

dissertation project, so it is advised to take your time with this process. Here are some of the things that should be considered when conducting research.

You cannot read everything related to your topic. Although the practice of reading as much material as possible during this stage is rewarding, it is also imperative to understand that it is impossible to read everything that concerns your research.

This is true, especially for undergraduate and master’s level dissertations that must be delivered within a specific timeframe. So, it is important to know when to stop! Once the previous research and the associated limitations are well understood, it is time to move on.

However, review at least the salient research and work done in your area. By salient, we mean research done by pioneers of your field. For instance, if your topic relates to linguistics and you haven’t familiarised yourself with relevant research conducted by, say, Chomsky (the father of linguistics), your readers may find your lack of knowledge disconcerting.

So, to come off as genuinely knowledgeable in your own field, at least don’t forget to read essential works in the field/topic!

Use an Authentic Research database to Find References.

Most students start the reference material-finding process with desk-based research. However, this research method has its own limitation because it is a well-known fact that the internet is full of bogus information and fake information spreads fasters on the internet than truth does .

So, it is important to pick your reference material from reliable resources such as Google Scholar , Researchgate, Ibibio and Bartleby . Wikipedia is not considered a reliable academic source in the academic world, so it is recommended to refrain from citing Wikipedia content.Never underrate the importance of the actual library. The supporting staff at a university library can be of great help when it comes to finding exciting and reliable publications.

Record as you learn

All information and impressions should be recorded as notes using online tools such as Evernote to make sure everything is clear. You want to retain an important piece of information you had planned to present as an argument in the dissertation paper.

Write a Flawless Dissertation

Start to write a fantastic dissertation immediately once your proposal has been accepted and all the necessary desk-based research has been conducted. Now we will look at the different chapters of a dissertation in detail. You can also check out the samples of dissertation chapters to fully understand the format and structures of the various chapters.

Dissertation Introduction Chapter

The introduction chapter of the dissertation paper provides the background, problem statement and research questions. Here, you will inform the readers why it was important for this research to be conducted and which key research question(s) you expect to answer at the end of the study.

Definitions of all the terms and phrases in the project are provided in this first chapter of the dissertation paper. The research aim and objectives remain unchanged from the proposal paper and are expected to be listed under this section.

Dissertation Literature Review Chapter

This chapter allows you to demonstrate to your readers that you have done sufficient research on the chosen topic and understand previous similar studies’ findings. Any research limitations that your research incorporates are expected to be discussed in this section.

And make sure to summarise the viewpoints and findings of other researchers in the dissertation literature review chapter. Show the readers that there is a research gap in the existing work and your job is relevant to it to justify your research value.

Dissertation Methodology

The methodology chapter of the dissertation provides insight into the methods employed to collect data from various resources and flows naturally from the literature review chapter.Simply put, you will be expected to explain what you did and how you did it, helping the readers understand that your research is valid and reliable. When writing the methodology chapter for the dissertation, make sure to emphasise the following points:

  • The type of research performed by the researcher
  • Methods employed to gather and filter information
  • Techniques that were chosen for analysis
  • Materials, tools and resources used to conduct research (typically for empirical research dissertations)
  • Limitations of your chosen methods
  • Reliability and validity of your measuring tools and instruments (e.g. a survey questionnaire) are also typically mentioned within the mythology section. If you used a pre-existing data collection tool, cite its reliability/validity estimates here, too.Make use of the past tense when writing the methodology chapter.

Dissertation Findings

The key results of your research are presented in the dissertation findings chapter . It gives authors the ability to validate their own intellectual and analytical skills

Dissertation Conclusion

Cap off your dissertation paper with a study summary and a brief report of the findings. In the concluding chapter , you will be expected to demonstrate how your research will provide value to other academics in your area of study and its implications.It is recommended to include a short ‘recommendations’ section that will elaborate on the purpose and need for future research to elucidate the topic further.

Follow the referencing style following the requirements of your academic degree or field of study. Make sure to list every academic source used with a proper in-text citation. It is important to give credit to other authors’ ideas and concepts.

Note: Keep in mind whether you are creating a reference list or a bibliography. The former includes information about all the various sources you referred to, read from or took inspiration from for your own study. However, the latter contains things you used and those you only read but didn’t cite in your dissertation.

Proofread, Edit and Improve – Don’t Risk Months of Hard Work.

Experts recommend completing the total dissertation before starting to proofread and edit your work. You need to refresh your focus and reboot your creative brain before returning to another critical stage.

Leave space of at least a few days between the writing and the editing steps so when you get back to the desk, you can recognise your grammar, spelling and factual errors when you get back to the desk.

It is crucial to consider this period to ensure the final work is polished, coherent, well-structured and free of any structural or factual flaws. Daniel Higginbotham from Prospects UK states that:

“Leave yourself sufficient time to engage with your writing at several levels – from reassessing the logic of the whole piece to proofreading to checking you’ve paid attention to aspects such as the correct spelling of names and theories and the required referencing format.”

What is the Difference Between Editing and Proofreading?

Editing means that you are focusing on the essence of your dissertation paper. In contrast, proofreading is the process of reviewing the final draft piece to ensure accuracy and consistency in formatting, spelling, facts, punctuation, and grammar.

Editing: Prepare your work for submission by condensing, correcting and modifying (where necessary). When reviewing the paper, make sure that there are coherence and consistency between the arguments you presented.

If an information gap has been identified, fill that with an appropriate piece of information gathered during the research process. It is easy to lose sight of the original purpose if you become over-involved when writing.

Cut out the unwanted text and refine it, so your paper’s content is to the point and concise.Proofreading: Start proofreading your paper to identify formatting, structural, grammar, punctuation and referencing flaws. Read every single sentence of the paper no matter how tired you are because a few puerile mistakes can compromise your months of hard work.

Many students struggle with the editing and proofreading stages due to their lack of attention to detail. Consult a skilled dissertation editor if you are unable to find your flaws. You may want to invest in a professional dissertation editing and proofreading service to improve the piece’s quality to First Class.

Tips for Writing a Dissertation

Communication with supervisor – get feedback.

Communicate regularly with your supervisor to produce a first-class dissertation paper. Request them to comprehensively review the contents of your dissertation paper before final submission.

Their constructive criticism and feedback concerning different study areas will help you improve your piece’s overall quality. Keep your supervisor updated about your research progress and discuss any problems that you come up against.

Organising your Time

A dissertation is a lengthy project spanning over a period of months to years, and therefore it is important to avoid procrastination. Stay focused, and manage your time efficiently. Here are some time management tips for writing your dissertation to help you make the most of your time as you research and write.

  • Don’t be discouraged by the inherently slow nature of dissertation work, particularly in the initial stages.
  • Set clear goals and work out your research and write up a plan accordingly.
  • Allow sufficient time to incorporate feedback from your supervisor.
  • Leave enough time for editing, improving, proofreading, and formatting the paper according to your school’s guidelines. This is where you break or make your grade.
  • Work a certain number of hours on your paper daily.
  • Create a worksheet for your week.
  • Work on your dissertation for time periods as brief as 45 minutes or less.
  • Stick to the strategic dissertation timeline, so you don’t have to do the catchup work.
  • Meet your goals by prioritising your dissertation work.
  • Strike a balance between being overly organised and needing to be more organised.
  • Limit activities other than dissertation writing and your most necessary obligations.
  • Keep ‘tangent’ and ‘for the book’ files.
  • Create lists to help you manage your tasks.
  • Have ‘filler’ tasks to do when you feel burned out or in need of intellectual rest.
  • Keep a dissertation journal.
  • Pretend that you are working in a more structured work world.
  • Limit your usage of email and personal electronic devices.
  • Utilise and build on your past work when you write your dissertation.
  • Break large tasks into small manageable ones.
  • Seek advice from others, and do not be afraid to ask for help.

Dissertation Examples

Here are some samples of a dissertation to inspire you to write mind-blowing dissertations and to help bring all the above-mentioned guidelines home.

DE MONTFORT University Leicester – Examples of recent dissertations

Dissertation Research in Education: Dissertations (Examples)

How Long is a Dissertation?

The entire dissertation writing process is complicated and spans over a period of months to years, depending on whether you are an undergraduate, master’s, or PhD candidate. Marcus Beck, a PhD candidate, conducted fundamental research a few years ago, research that didn’t have much to do with his research but returned answers to some niggling questions every student has about the average length of a dissertation.

A software program specifically designed for this purpose helped Beck to access the university’s electronic database to uncover facts on dissertation length.

The above illustration shows how the results of his small study were a little unsurprising. Social sciences and humanities disciplines such as anthropology, politics, and literature had the longest dissertations, with some PhD dissertations comprising 150,000 words or more.Engineering and scientific disciplines, on the other hand, were considerably shorter. PhD-level dissertations generally don’t have a predefined length as they will vary with your research topic. Ask your school about this requirement if you are unsure about it from the start.

Focus more on the quality of content rather than the number of pages.

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Phrases to Avoid

No matter the style or structure you follow, it is best to keep your language simple. Avoid the use of buzzwords and jargon.

A Word on Stealing Content (Plagiarism)

Very straightforward advice to all students, DO NOT PLAGIARISE. Plagiarism is a serious offence. You will be penalised heavily if you are caught plagiarising. Don’t risk years of hard work, as many students in the past have lost their degrees for plagiarising. Here are some tips to help you make sure you don’t get caught.

  • Copying and pasting from an academic source is an unforgivable sin. Rephrasing text retrieved from another source also falls under plagiarism; it’s called paraphrasing. Summarising another’s idea(s) word-to-word, paraphrasing, and copy-pasting are the three primary forms plagiarism can take.
  • If you must directly copy full sentences from another source because they fill the bill, always enclose them inside quotation marks and acknowledge the writer’s work with in-text citations.

Are you struggling to find inspiration to get going? Still, trying to figure out where to begin? Is the deadline getting closer? Don’t be overwhelmed! ResearchProspect dissertation writing services have helped thousands of students achieve desired outcomes. Click here to get help from writers holding either a master's or PhD degree from a reputed UK university.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a dissertation include.

A dissertation has main chapters and parts that support them. The main parts are:

  • Introduction
  • Literature review
  • Research Methodology
  • Your conclusion

Other parts are the abstract, references, appendices etc. We can supply a full dissertation or specific parts of one.

What is the difference between research and a dissertation?

A research paper is a sort of academic writing that consists of the study, source assessment, critical thinking, organisation, and composition, as opposed to a thesis or dissertation, which is a lengthy academic document that often serves as the final project for a university degree.

Can I edit and proofread my dissertation myself?

Of course, you can do proofreading and editing of your dissertation. There are certain rules to follow that have been discussed above. However, finding mistakes in something that you have written yourself can be complicated for some people. It is advisable to take professional help in the matter.

What If I only have difficulty writing a specific chapter of the dissertation?

ResearchProspect ensures customer satisfaction by addressing all relevant issues. We provide dissertation chapter-writing services to students if they need help completing a specific chapter. It could be any chapter from the introduction, literature review, and methodology to the discussion and conclusion.

You May Also Like

Are you looking for intriguing and trending dissertation topics? Get inspired by our list of free dissertation topics on all subjects.

Looking for an easy guide to follow to write your essay? Here is our detailed essay guide explaining how to write an essay and examples and types of an essay.

Learn about the steps required to successfully complete their research project. Make sure to follow these steps in their respective order.

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  • v.27(5); 2010

Language: English | German

Benefits and pitfalls of scientific research during undergraduate medical education

Nutzen und stolpersteine wissenschaftlicher forschung in der hochschulmedizinischen ausbildung, olaf kuhnigk.

1 Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf, Klinik und Poliklinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, Hamburg, Deutschland

2 Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf, Prodekanat für Lehre, Hamburg, Deutschland

Aenne M. Böthern

Jens reimer, ingo schäfer, astrid biegler.

3 Integrierte Psychiatrie Winterthur, Gerontopsychiatrisches Ambulatorium, Winterthur, Schweiz

Markus Jueptner

4 Rheinische Kliniken Essen, Klinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, Essen, Deutschland

Mathias Gelderblom

5 Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf, Klinik für Neurologie, Hamburg, Deutschland

Sigrid Harendza

6 Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf, III. Medizinische Klinik, Hamburg, Deutschland

Objective: The integration of scientific research into medical education is a widely discussed topic. Most research training programs are offered on a voluntary basis. In Germany, it is mandatory to complete a doctoral thesis to obtain the academic title “doctor”. The reasons why students start a dissertation project and the influence of this project on their undergraduate studies and later career choices are not well known.

Method: This study was conducted at five German universities in 2003, with a total of 437 fifth-year students participating in it. A standardised questionnaire was used to ask participants about their current or finished dissertation (group A), a dissertation they had discontinued (group B) or why they had never started a dissertation project (group C).

Results: The two most important reasons for students from group A to start a dissertation were “interest in the topic” and “advantage for job applications”. Compared with group B, they mentioned “improved ability to critically appraise scientific studies” and “doing scientific work independently” significantly more often as a result of working on their dissertation. Starting a dissertation project early during undergraduate studies was correlated with a less successful outcome. Moreover, working on a dissertation significantly reduced time spent on undergraduate studies. Students from group C named the "workload of undergraduate studies" and “no time” most frequently as reasons for not having started a dissertation.

Conclusion: Students who have been working successfully on a dissertation rate items regarding the acquisition of scientific research skills significantly more positively, and participation in undergraduate studies seems to be negatively affected by working on a dissertation project. Therefore, basic training in scientific research methodology should become an integrated part of the medical undergraduate curriculum, while special programs should be offered for students with a particular interest in scientific research programs or an academic career.

Hintergrund: Über die Integration wissenschaftlicher Forschung in die hochschulmedizinische Ausbildung wird viel diskutiert. Die meisten Trainingsprogramme für wissenschaftlich interessierte Studierende finden auf freiwilliger Basis statt. In Deutschland ist das Schreiben einer Doktorarbeit erforderlich, um den Titel "Dr. med." zu führen. Die Gründe, warum Studierende eine Dissertation beginnen und welchen Einfluss ihr wissenschaftliches Projekt auf den Verlauf des Studiums und die spätere Berufswahl haben, sind nur unzureichend untersucht.

Methoden: Die Studie wurde an fünf deutschen Universitäten im Jahre 2003 durchgeführt. Insgesamt nahmen 467 Studierende des fünften Studienjahres daran teil. Mit Hilfe eines standardisierten Fragebogens wurden die Teilnehmer über ihre aktuelle oder bereits abgeschlossene Dissertation (Gruppe A) oder ein abgebrochenes Dissertationsprojekt (Gruppe B) befragt. Studierende, die kein Dissertationsprojekt begonnen hatten, wurden über die Gründe hierzu befragt (Gruppe C).

Ergebnisse: Die beiden Hauptgründe für Studierende der Gruppe A eine Dissertation zu beginnen waren "Interesse am Thema" und "Vorteile bei späteren Bewerbungen". Im Vergleich zur Gruppe B wurden verbesserte Fähigkeiten sich "kritisch mit den Methoden wissenschaftlicher Studien auseinander zu setzen" und "eigenständiges wissenschaftliches Arbeiten" signifikant häufiger als Resultat der Beschäftigung mit der Dissertation von Studierenden der Gruppe A genannt. Ein Beginn der Promotion in frühen Studienjahren korrelierte mit einem schlechteren Erfolg der Dissertation. Weiterhin reduzierte die Arbeit an einer Dissertation signifikant die Zeit, die für das Studium aufgewendet wurde. Studierende der Gruppe C nannten die Arbeitsbelastung im Studium und "keine Zeit" als die häufigsten Gründe für den Nichtbeginn einer Dissertation.

Schlussfolgerung: Studierende, die erfolgreich eine Dissertation abgeschlossen haben oder noch an ihr arbeiten, beurteilen die Möglichkeit, sich wissenschaftliche Fähig- und Fertigkeiten angeeignet zu haben, als signifikant positiver. Die Teilnahme an Lehrveranstaltungen des Studiums scheint negativ durch die Arbeit an einer Dissertation beeinflusst zu werden. Deswegen sollte eine grundlegende wissenschaftliche Ausbildung integraler Bestandteil des medizinischen Curriculums sein. Spezielle Programme sollten für Studierende mit einem spezifischen Interesse an wissenschaftlichen Programmenoder mit Interesse an einer akademischen Laufbahn angeboten werden.

Introduction

When and how scientific research should be integrated into medical education is a widely discussed topic [ 1 ]. From the perspective of medical educators research training should provide a rich and rewarding period of learning with respect to critical thinking, reviewing and interpreting the literature, experimental design, interpreting data, and communication [ 2 ]. Many countries offer scientific research programs during medical residency or fellowships with variable success [ 3 ], [ 4 ]. Only a minority of trainees had completed a thesis [ 3 ]. Many trainees made adverse comments on the program [ 5 ]. There were also indications of inadequate training [ 6 ]. Some trainees, however, mentioned the value of having protected time for research [ 7 ]. An increase in future research activity was noted with longer duration of programs [ 8 ]. One study even found that more than 80% of trainees on a research program became academics [ 9 ].

Research training programs have also been offered to medical students on a voluntary basis and seem to have an important impact on medical students’ research careers [ 10 ]. Furthermore, medical students showed an interest in scientific research electives [ 11 ] and research summer schools [ 12 ]. Other quite successful approaches have been made by curricular integration of basic sciences into clinical medicine [ 13 ]. Following one successful medical research project at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, which showed great improvement in students’ scientific research skills, the question was even raised whether research projects should be a requirement for medical school graduation [ 14 ]. However, data from another study showed that a break to pursue research between year two and three of medical undergraduate training was associated with lower grades and scores on clinical knowledge tests [ 15 ].

The World Federation for Medical Education [ 16 ] suggests in its “Standards for quality improvement in medical education – European specifications” that the interaction between research and education activities should be reflected in the undergraduate curriculum and should encourage and prepare students to engage in medical research and development [ 16 ]. It also proposes that training in scientific thinking and research methods may include the use of elective research projects to be conducted by medical students [ 16 ]. However, many German medical students start working on a scientific research project during their undergraduate studies to write a dissertation which is reviewed and marked by two or three professors and is required to obtain the title “Dr. med.” after successful graduation from medical school.

The reasons why and when medical students in Germany decide to start working on a dissertation and the influence that a completed or abandoned research project has on their undergraduate studies are currently not well known. One study revealed that more than 15% of medical students never planned to start a dissertation project during their undergraduate training, while other studies from individual universities showed that up to 21% of all students abandoned at least one research project [ 17 ], [ 18 ]. There is an ongoing discussion whether scientific research should be an integrated part of undergraduate medical training and not connected with receiving the academic title “Dr. med.” On the other hand, students who want to pursue academic medicine could be given the opportunity to work in elective or postgraduate scientific research programs.

Therefore, the aims of this study were to evaluate students’ reasons for starting or not starting a dissertation research project. The influence of working on a research project on the pursuit of undergraduate studies was evaluated at five German universities. On the basis of the results from the students’ questionnaires and the literature, we propose a model to study and conduct scientific research in medical education.

Sample and Design

In summer 2003, N =467 students at five German universities were included in this study (questionnaires distributed/collected: Berlin: 57/52; Bochum: 90/88; Düsseldorf: 132/112; Essen 70/68; and Hamburg: 118/117). The participation was anonymous and optional and took place during compulsory courses, hence numbers of distributed questionnaires were used as equivalents for numbers of enrolled students per semester.

Participants were studying in semester nine at this time, only in Bochum students were given the questionnaire in semester eight (the total number for undergraduate training in Germany is twelve semesters with semesters 11 and 12 being the “practical year” with full-time work on the wards or in ambulatory care). The data were collected and handled in accordance with the Data Protection Act. The vice deans of education and the directors of the departments agreed to this study. Return rates of questionnaires were between 85% and 99%. The data from all universities were combined for statistical analysis.

A questionnaire was designed based on published data regarding dissertations [ 19 ], [ 20 ] and on questions designed by the authors with regard to the literature. The instrument included the following categories:

  • General questions about the dissertation, scientific work, and relevant personality traits (completed by all participants; 8 questions)
  • Questions about the current or finished dissertation, e.g., type of project, reasons for choosing this project, accomplishment of individual project steps, expenditure of time for the project, and influence on undergraduate studying, as well as problems with the project (36 questions)
  • Questions about the first discontinued dissertation; questions similar to group A were asked (37 questions)
  • Questions for students who had never started a dissertation project, asking for their reasons for not starting (2 questions)
  • General social background (completed by all participants; 6 questions)

The response options included dichotomous yes/no-type answers (e.g., did you start your dissertation during your undergraduate studies?), numeral statements (e.g., number of semesters), individual text (e.g., “reasons were: please specify”) and approval or refusal of a statement on a 6-point Likert scale (“1= I strongly agree”, “2= I agree”,” 3= I moderately agree”, “4= I moderately disagree”, “5= I disagree”, “6= I strongly disagree”).

Statistical Analysis

Data were evaluated in three groups.

  • Group A: students with an ongoing or finished dissertation.
  • Group B: students with discontinued dissertation projects.
  • Group C: students who had never started a dissertation.

Data are presented as arithmetic means and frequency distributions. The Χ 2 distribution test and the t -test were used as statistical tests for independent samples.

All discontinued dissertations were combined, even if a student started a new dissertation in the meantime. In this case, students were part of both groups answering the respective questions. Nevertheless, the t -test for independent samples was chosen because it reacts robustly against violations of its premises and is more conservative than the t-test for related samples. As our study was designed to collect data to propose suggestions for further research in this field, no Bonferroni correction was used to avoid an alpha error. Effect sizes are shown where appropriate, with values of 0.2 indicating small effects and values of 0.8 indicating large effects [ 21 ]. SPSS was used for all statistical analyses.

437 of the 467 students participating in this study returned their questionnaire, resulting in a 93.5% return rate. A total number of 327 students had finished a dissertation or had started at least one dissertation and were still working on it (group A), 65 had abandoned at least one dissertation (group B), and 92 had never started a dissertation project (group C).

The two most important reasons why students from group A started a dissertation were “interest in the topic” and “advantage for job applications”, while “because everybody does a dissertation” reached the lowest rank (see Figure 1 (Fig. 1) ).

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When asked about the advantages they gained from working on their dissertation project, students from group A most frequently named “improved ability to critically appraise scientific studies” and “doing scientific work independently” as the biggest gains (see Figure 2 (Fig. 2) ). These and all other items (all means<3.0) were significantly different from group B ( P <0.001, ε=0.43–0.62). Neither students from group A nor students from group B felt that a dissertation was a “useful addition to medical undergraduate studies”.

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Almost 23% from group A and 8.3% from group B stated that working on a dissertation project had increased the duration of their undergraduate studies (P<0.05). Students from group A also reduced their participation in lectures and their preparation for and participation in courses significantly more than students from group B (P<0.001). Studying time for exams was influenced less by working on a dissertation (group A: M=3.71, SD=1.87; group B: M=4.26, SD=1.93, ε=0.29) but still significantly more reduced in group A compared with group B (P<0.001). From group A, 32.4% of the students estimated that working on their dissertation represented between 20% and 50% of the total time they used for their clinical studies (years 3 to 6), while 41.0% from group B spent only up to 5% of time for their clinical studies on their dissertation.

The choice of dissertation topic had a significantly greater influence on the choice of speciality in postgraduate training in group A (33.0%) compared with group B (8.1%, P<0.001). When asked whether they believed that medical students were trained to work scientifically during their undergraduate studies and whether they felt that a dissertation increased the qualification of a graduate to work as a physician, students from all three groups answered these questions negatively (all means > 4.1, no significant group differences). Only 30.4% from group A but 66.2% from group B had started their dissertation project before the end of year 3 of their undergraduate training (P<0.001).

Students from group C named “working on a dissertation distracts me from my undergraduate studies” (M=2.54, SD=1.34) and “no time” (M=2.54, SD=1.60) as the most frequent reasons for not having started a dissertation (see Figure 3 (Fig. 3) ). They also found that “a dissertation is no additional qualification for working as a physician” (M=3.16, SD=1.75). Other items did not seem to have played a major role in the decision against starting a dissertation.

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When students were asked whether they would have started a dissertation for scientific qualification if the title “Dr. med.” was given just with graduation, 66% of the students who had never abandoned a dissertation project and 82.0% of the students who had never started a dissertation project answered with “no”.

According to our data, students decide to work on a dissertation for two main reasons: “interest in the topic” and “advantage for job applications”. Both items represent important aspects of a career in scientific research, either as a prerequisite for research success [ 22 ] or to open up career choices [ 23 ]. Therefore it seems almost natural that they are on top of the list for dissertation research projects as well. Whether these initial expectations are fulfilled and how working on a dissertation influences medical undergraduate studies is another matter. While students from group A feel that they developed their abilities to critically appraise scientific studies and learned to do scientific work independently while pursuing a dissertation project, they are less convinced that a dissertation is an advantage for a scientific qualification or a useful addition to medical undergraduate studies. Students from group B who abandoned at least one dissertation are even significantly less convinced about the latter. The above-mentioned findings referring to the development of scientific abilities are supported by other studies which show successful outcomes of research training on a voluntary basis [ 11 ] – currently the dissertation in Germany is a voluntary project. On the other hand, it has also been demonstrated that medical research can successfully be integrated into the curriculum [ 14 ]. Hence, the question arises whether timeframe, structure, and content might be the important components for students to experience research successfully. Since meanwhile the Bologna process is under way and may become an option for German medical schools, the dissertation will be part of its third cycle and take place after graduation from medical school.

In our study students claimed that working on their dissertation had increased the duration of their undergraduate studies and it required up to 50% of their studying time during the clinical years. This also led to a reduction in their participation in lectures and other courses. These negative influences on undergraduate studies were significantly greater in students from group A who had successfully finished a dissertation or were still working on it. Students from group C who had never started a dissertation used the same arguments “working on a dissertation distracts me from my undergraduate studies” and “no time” as reasons for not wanting to start a dissertation. They were not asked whether they had their lectures and courses in due time, which can be regarded as a reduction of the informative value of this statement. Since another study demonstrated that a break during undergraduate studies to pursue research was associated with lower grades on clinical knowledge tests [ 15 ], it may be of some concern that – according to our data – working on a dissertation during undergraduate training might have the same consequences. However, these data were obtained with a curriculum where medical school takes only three years, and with the new legislation of the licensure law in Germany that came into effect after this study was conducted, our data on participation in lectures and seminars have to be seen from a different perspective. Nevertheless, our study also shows that the later students start working on their dissertation, the more frequently the outcome of their research project seems to be successful. This leads to the hypothesis that some knowledge on research is acquired during undergraduate medical studies even though no structured program exists so far. On the other hand, it could also be possible that an unknown number of students who started their dissertation in higher semesters might abandon their project later and were not detected in our study. However, our data show that many students seem to have great interest in scientific research, and other studies have also revealed that knowledge in scientific research is important in clinical medicine [ 2 ]. But a majority of students from our study would also not have started a dissertation if the academic title “Dr. med.” had been bestowed upon graduation like the title MD. On the other hand, if research training programs are successful they can open up the chance for an academic career [ 9 ].

Basic knowledge in scientific research is an important prerequisite for the practicing physician [ 2 ] and can be successfully integrated into undergraduate medical training [ 13 ], [ 14 ], [ 24 ]. Hence, it seems reasonable to suggest that basic knowledge in scientific research should be integrated into the medical undergraduate curriculum as proposed by the WFME [ 16 ]. Our data show that many students had a particular interest in scientific research but would not necessarily have started a dissertation if the title “Dr. med.” had been conferred upon graduation. Also, students who abandoned a dissertation might have had more benefit from a mandatory basic scientific research program than from an unsuccessful dissertation project as far as the attainment of scientific research skills is concerned. Students showing an additional particular interest in scientific research could be given the opportunity to broaden their skills and knowledge in scientific research by doing research electives [ 11 ], [ 12 ], which also seem to be quite successful in recruiting future researchers [ 9 ]. Since many countries provide research time during residency or fellowships with only a minority of trainees completing a thesis [ 3 ] but a majority of participants valuing protected time for research in these programs [ 7 ], according to our data it might seem appropriate to integrate protected research time on a voluntary or elective basis into undergraduate studies for students having a special interest in this field. The fact that students from group A and B felt that the dissertation in its current form is not a useful addition to medical undergraduate studies underscores this proposal.

In summary, our data show that students choose a dissertation project because of being interested in the topic and because of hoping that a dissertation is an advantage during job application. Students working on a dissertation successfully rate all items regarding the acquisition of scientific research skills significantly more positively than students who abandoned a dissertation project. Starting early during undergraduate studies with this voluntary project is associated with a more unsuccessful outcome. In the light of our data and regarding results of other studies, we propose the following approach to scientific research for medical students:

  • Training in scientific thinking and research methodology, especially interpreting the literature, experimental design, and data interpretation should become an integrated part of the medical undergraduate curriculum.
  • Scientific research electives or summer courses should be offered as part of the medical undergraduate mandatory elective program for students with a special interest in research projects which could be further pursued in PhD programs and research programs at medical faculties.

Contributions

OK and MJ designed the study. AB collected and computerized the data under the supervision of OK. All authors were involved in the data analysis and in writing the manuscript.

The study was not funded.

Acknowledgements

The authors thank the vice-deans of education and the directors of the participating departments of the five universities for allowing us to distribute the questionnaires during students’ courses. We especially thank all medical students for their participation in the study.

Ethical approval

The ethics committee of the University Essen-Duisburg was requested for permission of this study. Since students participated in this study voluntarily and anonymously the ethics committee stated that no special approval needed to be given.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Grad Coach

Dissertation Structure & Layout 101: How to structure your dissertation, thesis or research project.

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) Reviewed By: David Phair (PhD) | July 2019

So, you’ve got a decent understanding of what a dissertation is , you’ve chosen your topic and hopefully you’ve received approval for your research proposal . Awesome! Now its time to start the actual dissertation or thesis writing journey.

To craft a high-quality document, the very first thing you need to understand is dissertation structure . In this post, we’ll walk you through the generic dissertation structure and layout, step by step. We’ll start with the big picture, and then zoom into each chapter to briefly discuss the core contents. If you’re just starting out on your research journey, you should start with this post, which covers the big-picture process of how to write a dissertation or thesis .

Dissertation structure and layout - the basics

*The Caveat *

In this post, we’ll be discussing a traditional dissertation/thesis structure and layout, which is generally used for social science research across universities, whether in the US, UK, Europe or Australia. However, some universities may have small variations on this structure (extra chapters, merged chapters, slightly different ordering, etc).

So, always check with your university if they have a prescribed structure or layout that they expect you to work with. If not, it’s safe to assume the structure we’ll discuss here is suitable. And even if they do have a prescribed structure, you’ll still get value from this post as we’ll explain the core contents of each section.  

Overview: S tructuring a dissertation or thesis

  • Acknowledgements page
  • Abstract (or executive summary)
  • Table of contents , list of figures and tables
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: Literature review
  • Chapter 3: Methodology
  • Chapter 4: Results
  • Chapter 5: Discussion
  • Chapter 6: Conclusion
  • Reference list

As I mentioned, some universities will have slight variations on this structure. For example, they want an additional “personal reflection chapter”, or they might prefer the results and discussion chapter to be merged into one. Regardless, the overarching flow will always be the same, as this flow reflects the research process , which we discussed here – i.e.:

  • The introduction chapter presents the core research question and aims .
  • The literature review chapter assesses what the current research says about this question.
  • The methodology, results and discussion chapters go about undertaking new research about this question.
  • The conclusion chapter (attempts to) answer the core research question .

In other words, the dissertation structure and layout reflect the research process of asking a well-defined question(s), investigating, and then answering the question – see below.

A dissertation's structure reflect the research process

To restate that – the structure and layout of a dissertation reflect the flow of the overall research process . This is essential to understand, as each chapter will make a lot more sense if you “get” this concept. If you’re not familiar with the research process, read this post before going further.

Right. Now that we’ve covered the big picture, let’s dive a little deeper into the details of each section and chapter. Oh and by the way, you can also grab our free dissertation/thesis template here to help speed things up.

The title page of your dissertation is the very first impression the marker will get of your work, so it pays to invest some time thinking about your title. But what makes for a good title? A strong title needs to be 3 things:

  • Succinct (not overly lengthy or verbose)
  • Specific (not vague or ambiguous)
  • Representative of the research you’re undertaking (clearly linked to your research questions)

Typically, a good title includes mention of the following:

  • The broader area of the research (i.e. the overarching topic)
  • The specific focus of your research (i.e. your specific context)
  • Indication of research design (e.g. quantitative , qualitative , or  mixed methods ).

For example:

A quantitative investigation [research design] into the antecedents of organisational trust [broader area] in the UK retail forex trading market [specific context/area of focus].

Again, some universities may have specific requirements regarding the format and structure of the title, so it’s worth double-checking expectations with your institution (if there’s no mention in the brief or study material).

Dissertations stacked up

Acknowledgements

This page provides you with an opportunity to say thank you to those who helped you along your research journey. Generally, it’s optional (and won’t count towards your marks), but it is academic best practice to include this.

So, who do you say thanks to? Well, there’s no prescribed requirements, but it’s common to mention the following people:

  • Your dissertation supervisor or committee.
  • Any professors, lecturers or academics that helped you understand the topic or methodologies.
  • Any tutors, mentors or advisors.
  • Your family and friends, especially spouse (for adult learners studying part-time).

There’s no need for lengthy rambling. Just state who you’re thankful to and for what (e.g. thank you to my supervisor, John Doe, for his endless patience and attentiveness) – be sincere. In terms of length, you should keep this to a page or less.

Abstract or executive summary

The dissertation abstract (or executive summary for some degrees) serves to provide the first-time reader (and marker or moderator) with a big-picture view of your research project. It should give them an understanding of the key insights and findings from the research, without them needing to read the rest of the report – in other words, it should be able to stand alone .

For it to stand alone, your abstract should cover the following key points (at a minimum):

  • Your research questions and aims – what key question(s) did your research aim to answer?
  • Your methodology – how did you go about investigating the topic and finding answers to your research question(s)?
  • Your findings – following your own research, what did do you discover?
  • Your conclusions – based on your findings, what conclusions did you draw? What answers did you find to your research question(s)?

So, in much the same way the dissertation structure mimics the research process, your abstract or executive summary should reflect the research process, from the initial stage of asking the original question to the final stage of answering that question.

In practical terms, it’s a good idea to write this section up last , once all your core chapters are complete. Otherwise, you’ll end up writing and rewriting this section multiple times (just wasting time). For a step by step guide on how to write a strong executive summary, check out this post .

Need a helping hand?

dissertation scientific work

Table of contents

This section is straightforward. You’ll typically present your table of contents (TOC) first, followed by the two lists – figures and tables. I recommend that you use Microsoft Word’s automatic table of contents generator to generate your TOC. If you’re not familiar with this functionality, the video below explains it simply:

If you find that your table of contents is overly lengthy, consider removing one level of depth. Oftentimes, this can be done without detracting from the usefulness of the TOC.

Right, now that the “admin” sections are out of the way, its time to move on to your core chapters. These chapters are the heart of your dissertation and are where you’ll earn the marks. The first chapter is the introduction chapter – as you would expect, this is the time to introduce your research…

It’s important to understand that even though you’ve provided an overview of your research in your abstract, your introduction needs to be written as if the reader has not read that (remember, the abstract is essentially a standalone document). So, your introduction chapter needs to start from the very beginning, and should address the following questions:

  • What will you be investigating (in plain-language, big picture-level)?
  • Why is that worth investigating? How is it important to academia or business? How is it sufficiently original?
  • What are your research aims and research question(s)? Note that the research questions can sometimes be presented at the end of the literature review (next chapter).
  • What is the scope of your study? In other words, what will and won’t you cover ?
  • How will you approach your research? In other words, what methodology will you adopt?
  • How will you structure your dissertation? What are the core chapters and what will you do in each of them?

These are just the bare basic requirements for your intro chapter. Some universities will want additional bells and whistles in the intro chapter, so be sure to carefully read your brief or consult your research supervisor.

If done right, your introduction chapter will set a clear direction for the rest of your dissertation. Specifically, it will make it clear to the reader (and marker) exactly what you’ll be investigating, why that’s important, and how you’ll be going about the investigation. Conversely, if your introduction chapter leaves a first-time reader wondering what exactly you’ll be researching, you’ve still got some work to do.

Now that you’ve set a clear direction with your introduction chapter, the next step is the literature review . In this section, you will analyse the existing research (typically academic journal articles and high-quality industry publications), with a view to understanding the following questions:

  • What does the literature currently say about the topic you’re investigating?
  • Is the literature lacking or well established? Is it divided or in disagreement?
  • How does your research fit into the bigger picture?
  • How does your research contribute something original?
  • How does the methodology of previous studies help you develop your own?

Depending on the nature of your study, you may also present a conceptual framework towards the end of your literature review, which you will then test in your actual research.

Again, some universities will want you to focus on some of these areas more than others, some will have additional or fewer requirements, and so on. Therefore, as always, its important to review your brief and/or discuss with your supervisor, so that you know exactly what’s expected of your literature review chapter.

Dissertation writing

Now that you’ve investigated the current state of knowledge in your literature review chapter and are familiar with the existing key theories, models and frameworks, its time to design your own research. Enter the methodology chapter – the most “science-ey” of the chapters…

In this chapter, you need to address two critical questions:

  • Exactly HOW will you carry out your research (i.e. what is your intended research design)?
  • Exactly WHY have you chosen to do things this way (i.e. how do you justify your design)?

Remember, the dissertation part of your degree is first and foremost about developing and demonstrating research skills . Therefore, the markers want to see that you know which methods to use, can clearly articulate why you’ve chosen then, and know how to deploy them effectively.

Importantly, this chapter requires detail – don’t hold back on the specifics. State exactly what you’ll be doing, with who, when, for how long, etc. Moreover, for every design choice you make, make sure you justify it.

In practice, you will likely end up coming back to this chapter once you’ve undertaken all your data collection and analysis, and revise it based on changes you made during the analysis phase. This is perfectly fine. Its natural for you to add an additional analysis technique, scrap an old one, etc based on where your data lead you. Of course, I’m talking about small changes here – not a fundamental switch from qualitative to quantitative, which will likely send your supervisor in a spin!

You’ve now collected your data and undertaken your analysis, whether qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods. In this chapter, you’ll present the raw results of your analysis . For example, in the case of a quant study, you’ll present the demographic data, descriptive statistics, inferential statistics , etc.

Typically, Chapter 4 is simply a presentation and description of the data, not a discussion of the meaning of the data. In other words, it’s descriptive, rather than analytical – the meaning is discussed in Chapter 5. However, some universities will want you to combine chapters 4 and 5, so that you both present and interpret the meaning of the data at the same time. Check with your institution what their preference is.

Now that you’ve presented the data analysis results, its time to interpret and analyse them. In other words, its time to discuss what they mean, especially in relation to your research question(s).

What you discuss here will depend largely on your chosen methodology. For example, if you’ve gone the quantitative route, you might discuss the relationships between variables . If you’ve gone the qualitative route, you might discuss key themes and the meanings thereof. It all depends on what your research design choices were.

Most importantly, you need to discuss your results in relation to your research questions and aims, as well as the existing literature. What do the results tell you about your research questions? Are they aligned with the existing research or at odds? If so, why might this be? Dig deep into your findings and explain what the findings suggest, in plain English.

The final chapter – you’ve made it! Now that you’ve discussed your interpretation of the results, its time to bring it back to the beginning with the conclusion chapter . In other words, its time to (attempt to) answer your original research question s (from way back in chapter 1). Clearly state what your conclusions are in terms of your research questions. This might feel a bit repetitive, as you would have touched on this in the previous chapter, but its important to bring the discussion full circle and explicitly state your answer(s) to the research question(s).

Dissertation and thesis prep

Next, you’ll typically discuss the implications of your findings? In other words, you’ve answered your research questions – but what does this mean for the real world (or even for academia)? What should now be done differently, given the new insight you’ve generated?

Lastly, you should discuss the limitations of your research, as well as what this means for future research in the area. No study is perfect, especially not a Masters-level. Discuss the shortcomings of your research. Perhaps your methodology was limited, perhaps your sample size was small or not representative, etc, etc. Don’t be afraid to critique your work – the markers want to see that you can identify the limitations of your work. This is a strength, not a weakness. Be brutal!

This marks the end of your core chapters – woohoo! From here on out, it’s pretty smooth sailing.

The reference list is straightforward. It should contain a list of all resources cited in your dissertation, in the required format, e.g. APA , Harvard, etc.

It’s essential that you use reference management software for your dissertation. Do NOT try handle your referencing manually – its far too error prone. On a reference list of multiple pages, you’re going to make mistake. To this end, I suggest considering either Mendeley or Zotero. Both are free and provide a very straightforward interface to ensure that your referencing is 100% on point. I’ve included a simple how-to video for the Mendeley software (my personal favourite) below:

Some universities may ask you to include a bibliography, as opposed to a reference list. These two things are not the same . A bibliography is similar to a reference list, except that it also includes resources which informed your thinking but were not directly cited in your dissertation. So, double-check your brief and make sure you use the right one.

The very last piece of the puzzle is the appendix or set of appendices. This is where you’ll include any supporting data and evidence. Importantly, supporting is the keyword here.

Your appendices should provide additional “nice to know”, depth-adding information, which is not critical to the core analysis. Appendices should not be used as a way to cut down word count (see this post which covers how to reduce word count ). In other words, don’t place content that is critical to the core analysis here, just to save word count. You will not earn marks on any content in the appendices, so don’t try to play the system!

Time to recap…

And there you have it – the traditional dissertation structure and layout, from A-Z. To recap, the core structure for a dissertation or thesis is (typically) as follows:

  • Acknowledgments page

Most importantly, the core chapters should reflect the research process (asking, investigating and answering your research question). Moreover, the research question(s) should form the golden thread throughout your dissertation structure. Everything should revolve around the research questions, and as you’ve seen, they should form both the start point (i.e. introduction chapter) and the endpoint (i.e. conclusion chapter).

I hope this post has provided you with clarity about the traditional dissertation/thesis structure and layout. If you have any questions or comments, please leave a comment below, or feel free to get in touch with us. Also, be sure to check out the rest of the  Grad Coach Blog .

dissertation scientific work

Psst… there’s more (for free)

This post is part of our dissertation mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project. 

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36 Comments

ARUN kumar SHARMA

many thanks i found it very useful

Derek Jansen

Glad to hear that, Arun. Good luck writing your dissertation.

Sue

Such clear practical logical advice. I very much needed to read this to keep me focused in stead of fretting.. Perfect now ready to start my research!

hayder

what about scientific fields like computer or engineering thesis what is the difference in the structure? thank you very much

Tim

Thanks so much this helped me a lot!

Ade Adeniyi

Very helpful and accessible. What I like most is how practical the advice is along with helpful tools/ links.

Thanks Ade!

Aswathi

Thank you so much sir.. It was really helpful..

You’re welcome!

Jp Raimundo

Hi! How many words maximum should contain the abstract?

Karmelia Renatee

Thank you so much 😊 Find this at the right moment

You’re most welcome. Good luck with your dissertation.

moha

best ever benefit i got on right time thank you

Krishnan iyer

Many times Clarity and vision of destination of dissertation is what makes the difference between good ,average and great researchers the same way a great automobile driver is fast with clarity of address and Clear weather conditions .

I guess Great researcher = great ideas + knowledge + great and fast data collection and modeling + great writing + high clarity on all these

You have given immense clarity from start to end.

Alwyn Malan

Morning. Where will I write the definitions of what I’m referring to in my report?

Rose

Thank you so much Derek, I was almost lost! Thanks a tonnnn! Have a great day!

yemi Amos

Thanks ! so concise and valuable

Kgomotso Siwelane

This was very helpful. Clear and concise. I know exactly what to do now.

dauda sesay

Thank you for allowing me to go through briefly. I hope to find time to continue.

Patrick Mwathi

Really useful to me. Thanks a thousand times

Adao Bundi

Very interesting! It will definitely set me and many more for success. highly recommended.

SAIKUMAR NALUMASU

Thank you soo much sir, for the opportunity to express my skills

mwepu Ilunga

Usefull, thanks a lot. Really clear

Rami

Very nice and easy to understand. Thank you .

Chrisogonas Odhiambo

That was incredibly useful. Thanks Grad Coach Crew!

Luke

My stress level just dropped at least 15 points after watching this. Just starting my thesis for my grad program and I feel a lot more capable now! Thanks for such a clear and helpful video, Emma and the GradCoach team!

Judy

Do we need to mention the number of words the dissertation contains in the main document?

It depends on your university’s requirements, so it would be best to check with them 🙂

Christine

Such a helpful post to help me get started with structuring my masters dissertation, thank you!

Simon Le

Great video; I appreciate that helpful information

Brhane Kidane

It is so necessary or avital course

johnson

This blog is very informative for my research. Thank you

avc

Doctoral students are required to fill out the National Research Council’s Survey of Earned Doctorates

Emmanuel Manjolo

wow this is an amazing gain in my life

Paul I Thoronka

This is so good

Tesfay haftu

How can i arrange my specific objectives in my dissertation?

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  • What Is a Research Methodology? | Steps & Tips

What Is a Research Methodology? | Steps & Tips

Published on 25 February 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 10 October 2022.

Your research methodology discusses and explains the data collection and analysis methods you used in your research. A key part of your thesis, dissertation, or research paper, the methodology chapter explains what you did and how you did it, allowing readers to evaluate the reliability and validity of your research.

It should include:

  • The type of research you conducted
  • How you collected and analysed your data
  • Any tools or materials you used in the research
  • Why you chose these methods
  • Your methodology section should generally be written in the past tense .
  • Academic style guides in your field may provide detailed guidelines on what to include for different types of studies.
  • Your citation style might provide guidelines for your methodology section (e.g., an APA Style methods section ).

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Table of contents

How to write a research methodology, why is a methods section important, step 1: explain your methodological approach, step 2: describe your data collection methods, step 3: describe your analysis method, step 4: evaluate and justify the methodological choices you made, tips for writing a strong methodology chapter, frequently asked questions about methodology.

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Your methods section is your opportunity to share how you conducted your research and why you chose the methods you chose. It’s also the place to show that your research was rigorously conducted and can be replicated .

It gives your research legitimacy and situates it within your field, and also gives your readers a place to refer to if they have any questions or critiques in other sections.

You can start by introducing your overall approach to your research. You have two options here.

Option 1: Start with your “what”

What research problem or question did you investigate?

  • Aim to describe the characteristics of something?
  • Explore an under-researched topic?
  • Establish a causal relationship?

And what type of data did you need to achieve this aim?

  • Quantitative data , qualitative data , or a mix of both?
  • Primary data collected yourself, or secondary data collected by someone else?
  • Experimental data gathered by controlling and manipulating variables, or descriptive data gathered via observations?

Option 2: Start with your “why”

Depending on your discipline, you can also start with a discussion of the rationale and assumptions underpinning your methodology. In other words, why did you choose these methods for your study?

  • Why is this the best way to answer your research question?
  • Is this a standard methodology in your field, or does it require justification?
  • Were there any ethical considerations involved in your choices?
  • What are the criteria for validity and reliability in this type of research ?

Once you have introduced your reader to your methodological approach, you should share full details about your data collection methods .

Quantitative methods

In order to be considered generalisable, you should describe quantitative research methods in enough detail for another researcher to replicate your study.

Here, explain how you operationalised your concepts and measured your variables. Discuss your sampling method or inclusion/exclusion criteria, as well as any tools, procedures, and materials you used to gather your data.

Surveys Describe where, when, and how the survey was conducted.

  • How did you design the questionnaire?
  • What form did your questions take (e.g., multiple choice, Likert scale )?
  • Were your surveys conducted in-person or virtually?
  • What sampling method did you use to select participants?
  • What was your sample size and response rate?

Experiments Share full details of the tools, techniques, and procedures you used to conduct your experiment.

  • How did you design the experiment ?
  • How did you recruit participants?
  • How did you manipulate and measure the variables ?
  • What tools did you use?

Existing data Explain how you gathered and selected the material (such as datasets or archival data) that you used in your analysis.

  • Where did you source the material?
  • How was the data originally produced?
  • What criteria did you use to select material (e.g., date range)?

The survey consisted of 5 multiple-choice questions and 10 questions measured on a 7-point Likert scale.

The goal was to collect survey responses from 350 customers visiting the fitness apparel company’s brick-and-mortar location in Boston on 4–8 July 2022, between 11:00 and 15:00.

Here, a customer was defined as a person who had purchased a product from the company on the day they took the survey. Participants were given 5 minutes to fill in the survey anonymously. In total, 408 customers responded, but not all surveys were fully completed. Due to this, 371 survey results were included in the analysis.

Qualitative methods

In qualitative research , methods are often more flexible and subjective. For this reason, it’s crucial to robustly explain the methodology choices you made.

Be sure to discuss the criteria you used to select your data, the context in which your research was conducted, and the role you played in collecting your data (e.g., were you an active participant, or a passive observer?)

Interviews or focus groups Describe where, when, and how the interviews were conducted.

  • How did you find and select participants?
  • How many participants took part?
  • What form did the interviews take ( structured , semi-structured , or unstructured )?
  • How long were the interviews?
  • How were they recorded?

Participant observation Describe where, when, and how you conducted the observation or ethnography .

  • What group or community did you observe? How long did you spend there?
  • How did you gain access to this group? What role did you play in the community?
  • How long did you spend conducting the research? Where was it located?
  • How did you record your data (e.g., audiovisual recordings, note-taking)?

Existing data Explain how you selected case study materials for your analysis.

  • What type of materials did you analyse?
  • How did you select them?

In order to gain better insight into possibilities for future improvement of the fitness shop’s product range, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 8 returning customers.

Here, a returning customer was defined as someone who usually bought products at least twice a week from the store.

Surveys were used to select participants. Interviews were conducted in a small office next to the cash register and lasted approximately 20 minutes each. Answers were recorded by note-taking, and seven interviews were also filmed with consent. One interviewee preferred not to be filmed.

Mixed methods

Mixed methods research combines quantitative and qualitative approaches. If a standalone quantitative or qualitative study is insufficient to answer your research question, mixed methods may be a good fit for you.

Mixed methods are less common than standalone analyses, largely because they require a great deal of effort to pull off successfully. If you choose to pursue mixed methods, it’s especially important to robustly justify your methods here.

Next, you should indicate how you processed and analysed your data. Avoid going into too much detail: you should not start introducing or discussing any of your results at this stage.

In quantitative research , your analysis will be based on numbers. In your methods section, you can include:

  • How you prepared the data before analysing it (e.g., checking for missing data , removing outliers , transforming variables)
  • Which software you used (e.g., SPSS, Stata or R)
  • Which statistical tests you used (e.g., two-tailed t test , simple linear regression )

In qualitative research, your analysis will be based on language, images, and observations (often involving some form of textual analysis ).

Specific methods might include:

  • Content analysis : Categorising and discussing the meaning of words, phrases and sentences
  • Thematic analysis : Coding and closely examining the data to identify broad themes and patterns
  • Discourse analysis : Studying communication and meaning in relation to their social context

Mixed methods combine the above two research methods, integrating both qualitative and quantitative approaches into one coherent analytical process.

Above all, your methodology section should clearly make the case for why you chose the methods you did. This is especially true if you did not take the most standard approach to your topic. In this case, discuss why other methods were not suitable for your objectives, and show how this approach contributes new knowledge or understanding.

In any case, it should be overwhelmingly clear to your reader that you set yourself up for success in terms of your methodology’s design. Show how your methods should lead to results that are valid and reliable, while leaving the analysis of the meaning, importance, and relevance of your results for your discussion section .

  • Quantitative: Lab-based experiments cannot always accurately simulate real-life situations and behaviours, but they are effective for testing causal relationships between variables .
  • Qualitative: Unstructured interviews usually produce results that cannot be generalised beyond the sample group , but they provide a more in-depth understanding of participants’ perceptions, motivations, and emotions.
  • Mixed methods: Despite issues systematically comparing differing types of data, a solely quantitative study would not sufficiently incorporate the lived experience of each participant, while a solely qualitative study would be insufficiently generalisable.

Remember that your aim is not just to describe your methods, but to show how and why you applied them. Again, it’s critical to demonstrate that your research was rigorously conducted and can be replicated.

1. Focus on your objectives and research questions

The methodology section should clearly show why your methods suit your objectives  and convince the reader that you chose the best possible approach to answering your problem statement and research questions .

2. Cite relevant sources

Your methodology can be strengthened by referencing existing research in your field. This can help you to:

  • Show that you followed established practice for your type of research
  • Discuss how you decided on your approach by evaluating existing research
  • Present a novel methodological approach to address a gap in the literature

3. Write for your audience

Consider how much information you need to give, and avoid getting too lengthy. If you are using methods that are standard for your discipline, you probably don’t need to give a lot of background or justification.

Regardless, your methodology should be a clear, well-structured text that makes an argument for your approach, not just a list of technical details and procedures.

Methodology refers to the overarching strategy and rationale of your research. Developing your methodology involves studying the research methods used in your field and the theories or principles that underpin them, in order to choose the approach that best matches your objectives.

Methods are the specific tools and procedures you use to collect and analyse data (e.g. interviews, experiments , surveys , statistical tests ).

In a dissertation or scientific paper, the methodology chapter or methods section comes after the introduction and before the results , discussion and conclusion .

Depending on the length and type of document, you might also include a literature review or theoretical framework before the methodology.

Quantitative research deals with numbers and statistics, while qualitative research deals with words and meanings.

Quantitative methods allow you to test a hypothesis by systematically collecting and analysing data, while qualitative methods allow you to explore ideas and experiences in depth.

A sample is a subset of individuals from a larger population. Sampling means selecting the group that you will actually collect data from in your research.

For example, if you are researching the opinions of students in your university, you could survey a sample of 100 students.

Statistical sampling allows you to test a hypothesis about the characteristics of a population. There are various sampling methods you can use to ensure that your sample is representative of the population as a whole.

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Dissertation Explained: A Grad Student’s Guide

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Higher education is filled with milestones. When completing your PhD , you will be required to complete a dissertation. Even if you’ve heard this word thrown around before, you still may be questioning “What is a dissertation?” It’s a common question, especially for those considering to join or are already in a graduate program. As such, here’s everything you need to know about dissertations.

What is a Dissertation?

A dissertation is a written document that details research. A dissertation also signifies the completion of your PhD program. It is required to earn a PhD degree, which stands for Doctor of Philosophy.

A PhD is created from knowledge acquired from:

1. Coursework:

A PhD program consists of academic courses that are usually small in size and challenging in content. Most PhD courses consist of a high amount and level of reading and writing per week. These courses will help prepare you for your dissertation as they will teach research methodology.

2. Research:

For your dissertation, it is likely that you will have the choice between performing your own research on a subject , or expanding on existing research. Likely, you will complete a mixture of the two. For those in the hard sciences, you will perform research in a lab. For those in humanities and social sciences, research may mean gathering data from surveys or existing research.

3. Analysis:

Once you have collected the data you need to prove your point, you will have to analyze and interpret the information. PhD programs will prepare you for how to conduct analysis, as well as for how to position your research into the existing body of work on the subject matter.

4. Support:

The process of writing and completing a dissertation is bigger than the work itself. It can lead to research positions within the university or outside companies. It may mean that you will teach and share your findings with current undergraduates, or even be published in academic journals. How far you plan to take your dissertation is your choice to make and will require the relevant effort to accomplish your goals.

Moving from Student to Scholar

In essence, a dissertation is what moves a doctoral student into becoming a scholar. Their research may be published, shared, and used as educational material moving forwards.

Thesis vs. Dissertation

Basic differences.

Grad students may conflate the differences between a thesis and a dissertation.

Simply put, a thesis is what you write to complete a master’s degree. It summarizes existing research and signifies that you understand the subject matter deeply.

On the other hand, a dissertation is the culmination of a doctoral program. It will likely require your own research and it can contribute an entirely new idea into your field.

Structural Differences

When it comes to the structure, a thesis and dissertation are also different. A thesis is like the research papers you complete during undergraduate studies. A thesis displays your ability to think critically and analyze information. It’s less based on research that you’ve completed yourself and more about interpreting and analyzing existing material. They are generally around 100 pages in length.

A dissertation is generally two to three times longer compared to a thesis. This is because the bulk of the information is garnered from research you’ve performed yourself. Also, if you are providing something new in your field, it means that existing information is lacking. That’s why you’ll have to provide a lot of data and research to back up your claims.

Your Guide: Structuring a Dissertation

Dissertation length.

The length of a dissertation varies between study level and country. At an undergraduate level, this is more likely referred to as a research paper, which is 10,000 to 12,000 words on average. At a master’s level, the word count may be 15,000 to 25,000, and it will likely be in the form of a thesis. For those completing their PhD, then the dissertation could be 50,000 words or more.

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Format of the dissertation.

Here are the items you must include in a dissertation. While the format may slightly vary, here’s a look at one way to format your dissertation:

1. Title page:

This is the first page which includes: title, your name, department, degree program, institution, and submission date. Your program may specify exactly how and what they want you to include on the title page.

2. Acknowledgements:

This is optional, but it is where you can express your gratitude to those who have helped you complete your dissertation (professors, research partners, etc.).

3. Abstract:

The abstract is about 150-300 words and summarizes what your research is about. You state the main topic, the methods used, the main results, and your conclusion.

4. Table of Contents

Here, you list the chapter titles and pages to serve as a wayfinding tool for your readers.

5. List of Figures and Tables:

This is like the table of contents, but for graphs and figures.

6. List of Abbreviations:

If you’ve constantly abbreviated words in your content, define them in a list at the beginning.

7. Glossary:

In highly specialized work, it’s likely that you’ve used words that most people may not understand, so a glossary is where you define these terms.

8. Introduction:

Your introduction sets up the topic, purpose, and relevance. It’s where readers will understand what they expect to gain from your dissertation.

9. Literature Review / Theoretical Framework:

Based on the research you performed to create your own dissertation, you’ll want to summarize and address the gaps in what you researched.

10. Methodology

This is where you define how you conducted your research. It offers credibility for you as a source of information. You should give all the details as to how you’ve conducted your research, including: where and when research took place, how it was conducted, any obstacles you faced, and how you justified your findings.

11. Results:

This is where you share the results that have helped contribute to your findings.

12. Discussion:

In the discussion section, you explain what these findings mean to your research question. Were they in line with your expectations or did something jump out as surprising? You may also want to recommend ways to move forward in researching and addressing the subject matter.

13. Conclusion:

A conclusion ties it all together and summarizes the answer to the research question and leaves your reader clearly understanding your main argument.

14. Reference List:

This is the equivalent to a works cited or bibliography page, which documents all the sources you used to create your dissertation.

15. Appendices:

If you have any information that was ancillary to creating the dissertation, but doesn’t directly fit into its chapters, then you can add it in the appendix.

Drafting and Rewriting

As with any paper, especially one of this size and importance, the writing requires a process. It may begin with outlines and drafts, and even a few rewrites. It’s important to proofread your dissertation for both grammatical mistakes, but also to ensure it can be clearly understood.

It’s always useful to read your writing out loud to catch mistakes. Also, if you have people who you trust to read it over — like a peer, family member, mentor, or professor — it’s very helpful to get a second eye on your work.

How is it Different from an Essay?

There are a few main differences between a dissertation and an essay. For starters, an essay is relatively short in comparison to a dissertation, which includes your own body of research and work. Not only is an essay shorter, but you are also likely given the topic matter of an essay. When it comes to a dissertation, you have the freedom to construct your own argument, conduct your own research, and then prove your findings.

Types of Dissertations

You can choose what type of dissertation you complete. Often, this depends on the subject and doctoral degree, but the two main types are:

This relies on conducting your own research.

Non-empirical:

This relies on studying existing research to support your argument.

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More things you should know.

A dissertation is certainly no easy feat. Here’s a few more things to remember before you get started writing your own:

1. Independent by Nature:

The process of completing a dissertation is self-directed, and therefore can feel overwhelming. However, if you approach it like the new experience that it is with an open-mind and willingness to learn, you will make it through!

2. Seek Support:

There are countless people around to offer support. From professors to peers, you can always ask for help throughout the process.

3. Writing Skills:

The process of writing a dissertation will further hone your writing skills which will follow you throughout your life. These skills are highly transferable on the job, from having the ability to communicate to also developing analytical and critical thinking skills.

4. Time Management:

You can work backwards from the culmination of your program to break down this gargantuan task into smaller pieces. That way, you can manage your time to chip away at the task throughout the length of the program.

5. Topic Flexibility:

It’s okay to change subject matters and rethink the point of your dissertation. Just try as much as possible to do this early in the process so you don’t waste too much time and energy.

The Wrap Up

A dissertation marks the completion of your doctoral program and moves you from being a student to being a scholar. While the process is long and requires a lot of effort and energy, you have the power to lend an entirely new research and findings into your field of expertise.

As always, when in the thick of things, remember why you started. Completing both your dissertation and PhD is a commendable accomplishment.

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Dissertation examples

Listed below are some of the best examples of research projects and dissertations from undergraduate and taught postgraduate students at the University of Leeds We have not been able to gather examples from all schools. The module requirements for research projects may have changed since these examples were written. Refer to your module guidelines to make sure that you address all of the current assessment criteria. Some of the examples below are only available to access on campus.

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Who Are You? The Art and Science of Measuring Identity

Table of contents.

As a shop that studies human behavior through surveys and other social scientific techniques, we have a good line of sight into the contradictory nature of human preferences. Today, we’re calling out one of those that affects us as pollsters: categorizing our survey participants in ways that enhance our understanding of how people think and behave.

Here’s the tension: On the one hand, many humans really like to group other humans into categories. Think, “Women are more likely to vote Democratic and men to vote Republican.” It helps us get a handle on big, messy trends in societal thought. To get this info, surveys need to ask each respondent how they would describe themselves.

On the other hand, most of us as individuals don’t like being put into these categories. “I’m more than my gender! And I’m not really a Republican, though I do always vote for them.” On top of that, many don’t like being asked nosy questions about sensitive topics. A list of the common demographic questions at the end of a survey can basically serve as a list of things not to raise at Thanksgiving dinner.

But our readers want to see themselves in our reports, and they want to know what people who are like them – and unlike them – think. To do that, it’s helpful for us to categorize people.

Which traits do we ask about, and why?

Unlike most Pew Research Center reports, where the emphasis is on original research and the presentation of findings, our goal here is to explain how we do this – that is, how we measure some of the most important core characteristics of the public, which we then use to describe Americans and talk about their opinions and behaviors.

To do so, we first chose what we judged to be the most important personal characteristics and identities for comparing people who take part in our surveys. Then, for each trait, we looked at a range of aspects: why and how it came to be important to survey research; how its measurement has evolved over time; what challenges exist to the accurate measurement of each; and what controversies, if any, remain over its measurement.

These considerations and more shape how we at Pew Research Center measure several important personal characteristics and identities in our surveys of the U.S. public. Here are some things to know about key demographic questions we ask:

  • Our main religion question asks respondents to choose from 11 groups that encompass 98% of the U.S. public: eight religious groups and three categories of people who don’t affiliate with a religion. Other, less common faiths are measured by respondents writing in their answer. Our questions have evolved in response to a rise in the share of Americans who do not identify with any religion and to the growing diversity in the country’s population. (Chapter 1)
  • Measuring income is challenging because it is both sensitive and sometimes difficult for respondents to estimate. We ask for a person’s “total family income” the previous calendar year from all sources before taxes, in part because that may correspond roughly to what a family computed for filing income taxes. To reduce the burden, we present ranges (e.g., “$30,000 to less than $40,000”) rather than asking for a specific number. (Chapter 2)
  • We ask about political party affiliation using a two-part question. People who initially identify as an independent or “something else” (instead of as a Republican or Democrat) and those who refuse to answer receive a follow-up question asking whether they lean more to the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. In many of their attitudes and behaviors, those who only lean to a party greatly resemble those who identify with it. (Chapter 3)
  • Our gender question tries to use terminology that is easily understood. It asks, “Do you describe yourself as a man, a woman or in some other way?” Amid national conversation on the subjects, gender and sexual orientation are topics on the cutting edge of survey measurement. (Chapter 4)
  • In part because we use U.S. Census Bureau estimates to statistically adjust our data, we ask about race and Hispanic ethnicity separately, just as the census does. People can select all races that apply to them. In the future, the census may combine race and ethnicity into one question. (Chapter 5)
  • A person’s age tells us both where they fall in the life span, indicating what social roles and responsibilities they may have, and what era or generation they belong to, which may tell us what events in history had an effect on their political or social thinking. We typically ask people to report just the year of their birth, which is less intrusive than their exact date of birth. (Chapter 6)

Each of these presents interesting challenges and choices. While there are widely accepted best practices for some, polling professionals disagree about how most effectively to measure many characteristics and identities. Complicating the effort is that some people rebel against the very idea of being categorized and think the effort to measure some of these dimensions is divisive.

It’s important that our surveys accurately represent the public

In addition to being able to describe opinions using characteristics like race, sex and education, it’s important to measure these traits for another reason: We can use them to make sure our samples are representative of the population. That’s because most of them are also measured in large, high-quality U.S. Census Bureau surveys that produce trustworthy national statistics. We can make sure that the makeup of our samples – what share are high school graduates, or are ages 65 or older, or identify as Hispanic, and so on – match benchmarks established by the Census Bureau . To do this, we use a tool called weighting to adjust our samples mathematically.

Some of the characteristics we’ll talk about are not measured by the government: notably, religion and party affiliation. We’ve developed an alternative way of coming up with trustworthy estimates for those characteristics – our National Public Opinion Reference Survey , which we conduct annually for use in weighting our samples.

You are who you say you are – usually

dissertation scientific work

We mostly follow the rule that “you are who you say you are,” meaning we place people into whichever categories they say they are in. But that was not always true in survey research for some kinds of characteristics. Through 1950, enumerators for the U.S. census typically coded a person’s race by observation , not by asking. And pollsters using telephone surveys used respondents’ voices and other cues in the interview to identify their gender, rather than by asking them.

Nowadays, we typically ask. We still make judgments that sometimes end up placing a person in a different category than the one in which they originally placed themselves. For example, when we group people by religion, we use some categories that are not familiar to everyone, such as “mainline Protestant” for a set of denominations that includes the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and others.

And we sometimes use respondents’ answers to categorize them in ways that go beyond what a single question can capture – such as when we use a combination of family income, household size and geographic location to classify people as living in an upper-, middle- or lower-income household .

Nosy but necessary questions

dissertation scientific work

As much as people enjoy hearing about people like themselves, some find these types of personal questions intrusive or rude. The advice columnist Judith Martin, writing under the name Miss Manners, once provided a list of topics that “polite people do not bring into social conversation.” It included “sex, religion, politics, money, illness” and many, many more. Obviously, pollsters have to ask about many of these if we are to describe the views of different kinds of people (at Pew Research Center, we at least occasionally ask about all of these). But as a profession, we have an obligation to do so in a respectful and transparent manner and to carefully protect the confidentiality of the responses we receive.

If you’ve participated in a survey, it’s likely that the demographic questions came at the end. Partly out of concern that people might quit the survey prematurely in reaction to the questions, pollsters typically place these questions last because they are sensitive for some people and boring for most. Like other organizations that use survey panels – collections of people who have agreed to take surveys on a regular basis and are compensated for their participation – we benefit from a high level of trust that builds up over months or years of frequent surveys. This is reflected in the fact that we have fewer people refusing to answer our question about family income (about 5%) than is typical for surveys that ask about that sensitive topic. Historically, in the individual telephone surveys we conducted before we created the online American Trends Panel , 10% or more of respondents refused to disclose their family income.

One other nice benefit of a survey panel, as opposed to one-off surveys (which interview a sample of people just one time) is that we don’t have to subject people to demographic questions as frequently. In a one-off survey, we have to ask about any and all personal characteristics we need for the analysis. Those take up precious questionnaire space and potentially annoy respondents. In our panel, we ask most of these questions just once per year, since we are interviewing the same people regularly and most of these characteristics do not change very much.

Speaking of questions that Miss Manners might avoid, let’s jump into the deep end: measuring religion. (Or choose your own adventure by clicking on the menu.)

Choose a demographic category

Religion and religious affiliation, party affiliation, gender and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, age and generations, acknowledgments.

This essay was written by Scott Keeter, Anna Brown and Dana Popky with the support of the U.S. Survey Methods team at Pew Research Center. Several others provided helpful comments and input on this study, including Tanya Arditi, Nida Asheer, Achsah Callahan, Alan Cooperman, Claudia Deane, Carroll Doherty, Rachel Drian, Juliana Horowitz, Courtney Kennedy, Jocelyn Kiley, Hannah Klein, Mark Hugo Lopez, Kim Parker, Jeff Passel, Julia O’Hanlon, Baxter Oliphant, Maya Pottiger, Talia Price and Greg Smith. Graphics were created by Bill Webster, developed by Nick Zanetti and produced by Sara Atske. Anna Jackson offered extensive copy editing of the finished product. See full acknowledgments .

All of the illustrations and photos are from Getty Images.

Find related content about our survey practices and methodological research.

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About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts .

UN Women Strategic Plan 2022-2025

UN Women statement for the International Day for Women and Girls in Science

Fulfilling science’s promise for gender equality.

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Science, technology, and innovation continue to radically and rapidly transform how people live, socialize, pay their bills, order food, study, and work. For women and girls across the world, these changes have brought new freedoms, new forms of access to information, and new opportunities for creativity, along with new risks to their safety, representation, and share of decent employment.

Participants during a robotics session at the first AGCCI bootcamp in Rwanda.

The promise of science is one of positive change for gender equality. Take the case of Natacha Sangwa , one of a number of young high school graduates in Rwanda who attended a UN Women-supported coding camp. Using robotics and next-generation technologies, she created a prototype to help her community respond to climate change. She told us: “One of the ideas I developed through this programme was to build a mechanized irrigation system to enhance productivity and yields in rural areas” and that she had resolved to do all she could to increase the representation of women and girls in technology.

Over the next 30 years, the majority of the world’s new workers may well be on the African continent, where 60 per cent of the population, like Natacha, is currently under 25. Skills in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) will play an important role in the jobs of their future - and across the world. We need to invest in this opportunity - in young women in every country - ensuring that they have the right skills for these jobs and that they are not held back by negative stereotypes and discrimination. And we need to ensure that current and future workplaces are environments that attract, retain, and advance women scientists.

Both representation and retention of women are essential for the science and digital technology sectors to be more creative, innovative, and profitable, reflecting issues that matter to women. Currently, women remain significantly underrepresented, making up just 29.2 per cent of all STEM workers, compared to 49.3 per cent across non-STEM occupations. Hostile work environments remain pervasive and deter women’s career longevity. A 2022 study conducted in 117 countries found that one in two women scientists reported experiencing sexual harassment at work, with 65 per cent of respondents reporting that this negatively impacted their career.

Partnerships and engagement that change these workplace issues represent a huge opportunity to boost women’s participation in STEM, with the private sector currently estimated to represent approximately 70 per cent of global expenditure on science. The Women’s Empowerment Principles offer a framework for just such an engagement among private sector companies, in collaboration for progress with governments and academia. Currently, more than 9,200 CEOs across 160 countries have committed to implement policies and practices that attract, retain and promote women into leadership positions, including in science and broader STEM fields, fostering an inclusive corporate culture, eliminating stereotypes and discriminatory practices.

As we head towards the UN’s Summit of the Future in September this year, including a new Global Digital Compact, we must take every opportunity to act quickly and effectively to counteract bias and discrimination, and to equip and support the bright minds and imaginations of our young scientists, like Natacha and her peers.

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AI Deep Dive: Decoding Interactions

Posted by nunezmj1 on Thursday, February 15, 2024 in DSI-Supported Research , Uncategorized .

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Join us for an AI Deep Dive session, where we’ll feature a team of VUMC researchers led by Dr. Eric Skaar, in collaboration with our dedicated Data Science team.

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CDC plans to drop five-day covid isolation guidelines

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Americans who test positive for the coronavirus no longer need to routinely stay home from work and school for five days under new guidance planned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency is loosening its covid isolation recommendations for the first time since 2021 to align it with guidance on how to avoid transmitting flu and RSV, according to four agency officials and an expert familiar with the discussions.

CDC officials acknowledged in internal discussions and in a briefing last week with state health officials how much the covid-19 landscape has changed since the virus emerged four years ago, killing nearly 1.2 million people in the United States and shuttering businesses and schools. The new reality — with most people having developed a level of immunity to the virus because of prior infection or vaccination — warrants a shift to a more practical approach, experts and health officials say.

“Public health has to be realistic,” said Michael T. Osterholm, an infectious-disease expert at the University of Minnesota. “In making recommendations to the public today, we have to try to get the most out of what people are willing to do. … You can be absolutely right in the science and yet accomplish nothing because no one will listen to you.”

The CDC plans to recommend that people who test positive for the coronavirus use clinical symptoms to determine when to end isolation. Under the new approach, people would no longer need to stay home if they have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without the aid of medication and their symptoms are mild and improving, according to three agency officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal discussions.

Here is the current CDC guidance on isolation and precautions for people with covid-19

The federal recommendations follow similar moves by Oregon and California . The White House has yet to sign off on the guidance that the agency is expected to release in April for public feedback, officials said. One agency official said the timing could “move around a bit” until the guidance is finalized.

Work on revising isolation guidance has been underway since last August but was paused in the fall as covid cases rose. CDC director Mandy Cohen sent staff a memo in January that listed “Pan-resp guidance-April” as a bullet point for the agency’s 2024 priorities.

Officials said they recognized the need to give the public more practical guidelines for covid-19, acknowledging that few people are following isolation guidance that hasn’t been updated since December 2021. Back then, health officials cut the recommended isolation period for people with asymptomatic coronavirus from 10 days to five because they worried essential services would be hobbled as the highly transmissible omicron variant sent infections surging. The decision was hailed by business groups and slammed by some union leaders and health experts.

Covid is here to stay. How will we know when it stops being special?

The plan to further loosen isolation guidance when the science around infectiousness has not changed is likely to prompt strong negative reaction from vulnerable groups, including people older than 65, those with weak immune systems and long-covid patients, CDC officials and experts said.

Doing so “sweeps this serious illness under the rug,” said Lara Jirmanus, a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School and a member of the People’s CDC, a coalition of health-care workers, scientists and advocates focused on reducing the harmful effects of covid-19.

Public health officials should treat covid differently from other respiratory viruses, she said, because it’s deadlier than the flu and increases the risk of developing long-term complications . As many as 7 percent of Americans report having suffered from a slew of lingering covid symptoms, including fatigue, difficulty breathing, brain fog, joint pain and ongoing loss of taste and smell, according to the CDC.

The new isolation recommendations would not apply to hospitals and other health-care settings with more vulnerable populations, CDC officials said.

While the coronavirus continues to cause serious illness, especially among the most vulnerable people, vaccines and effective treatments such as Paxlovid are available. The latest versions of coronavirus vaccines were 54 percent effective at preventing symptomatic infection in adults, according to data released Feb. 1, the first U.S. study to assess how well the shots work against the most recent coronavirus variant. But CDC data shows only 22 percent of adults and 12 percent of children had received the updated vaccine as of Feb. 9, despite data showing the vaccines provide robust protection against serious illness .

Coronavirus levels in wastewater i ndicate that symptomatic and asymptomatic infections remain high. About 20,000 people are still hospitalized — and about 2,300 are dying — every week, CDC data show. But the numbers are falling and are much lower than when deaths peaked in January 2021 when almost 26,000 people died of covid each week and about 115,000 were hospitalized.

The lower rates of hospitalizations were among the reasons California shortened its five-day isolation recommendation last month , urging people to stay home until they are fever-free for 24 hours and their symptoms are mild and improving. Oregon made a similar move last May.

California’s state epidemiologist Erica Pan said the societal disruptions that resulted from strict isolation guidelines also helped spur the change. Workers without sick leave and those who can’t work from home if they or their children test positive and are required to isolate bore a disproportionate burden. Strict isolation requirements can act as a disincentive to test when testing should be encouraged so people at risk for serious illness can get treatment, she said.

Giving people symptom-based guidance, similar to what is already recommended for flu, is a better way to prioritize those most at risk and balance the potential for disruptive impacts on schools and workplaces, Pan said. After Oregon made its change, the state has not experienced any disproportionate increases in community transmission or severity, according to data shared last month with the national association representing state health officials.

California still recommends people with covid wear masks indoors when they are around others for 10 days after testing positive — even if they have no symptoms — or becoming sick. “You may remove your mask sooner than 10 days if you have two sequential negative tests at least one day apart,” the California guidance states.

It’s not clear whether the updated CDC guidance will continue to recommend masking for 10 days.

Health officials from other states told the CDC last week that they are already moving toward isolation guidelines that would treat the coronavirus the same as flu and RSV, with additional precautions for people at high risk, said Anne Zink, an emergency room physician and Alaska’s chief medical officer.

Many other countries, including the United Kingdom, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Australia, made changes to isolation recommendations in 2022. Of 16 countries whose policies California officials reviewed, only Germany and Ireland still recommend isolation for five days, according to a presentation the California public health department gave health officials from other states in January. The Singapore ministry of health, in updated guidance late last year, said residents could “return to normal activities” once coronavirus symptoms resolve.

Even before the Biden administration ended the public health emergency last May, much of the public had moved on from covid-19, with many people having long given up testing and masking, much less isolating when they come down with covid symptoms.

Doctors say the best way for sick people to protect their communities is to mask or avoid unnecessary trips outside the home.

“You see a lot of people with symptoms — you don’t know if they have covid or influenza or RSV — but in all three of those cases, they probably shouldn’t be at Target, coughing, and looking sick,” said Eli Perencevich, an internal medicine professor at the University of Iowa.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

New covid variant: The United States is in the throes of another covid-19 uptick and coronavirus samples detected in wastewater suggests infections could be as rampant as they were last winter. JN.1, the new dominant variant , appears to be especially adept at infecting those who have been vaccinated or previously infected. Here’s how this covid surge compares with earlier spikes .

Covid ER visits rise: Covid-19, flu and RSV are rebounding in the United States ahead of the end-of-year holidays, with emergency room visits for the three respiratory viruses collectively reaching their highest levels since February.

New coronavirus booster: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone 6 months or older get an updated coronavirus shot , but the vaccine rollout has seen some hiccups , especially for children . Here’s what you need to know about the new coronavirus vaccines , including when you should get it.

  • CDC plans to drop five-day covid isolation guidelines February 13, 2024 CDC plans to drop five-day covid isolation guidelines February 13, 2024
  • Is this covid surge really the second biggest? Here’s what data shows. January 12, 2024 Is this covid surge really the second biggest? Here’s what data shows. January 12, 2024
  • Covid kills nearly 10,000 in a month as holidays fuel spread, WHO says January 11, 2024 Covid kills nearly 10,000 in a month as holidays fuel spread, WHO says January 11, 2024

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  • What Is a Thesis? | Ultimate Guide & Examples

What Is a Thesis? | Ultimate Guide & Examples

Published on September 14, 2022 by Tegan George . Revised on November 21, 2023.

A thesis is a type of research paper based on your original research. It is usually submitted as the final step of a master’s program or a capstone to a bachelor’s degree.

Writing a thesis can be a daunting experience. Other than a dissertation , it is one of the longest pieces of writing students typically complete. It relies on your ability to conduct research from start to finish: choosing a relevant topic , crafting a proposal , designing your research , collecting data , developing a robust analysis, drawing strong conclusions , and writing concisely .

Thesis template

You can also download our full thesis template in the format of your choice below. Our template includes a ready-made table of contents , as well as guidance for what each chapter should include. It’s easy to make it your own, and can help you get started.

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Table of contents

Thesis vs. thesis statement, how to structure a thesis, acknowledgements or preface, list of figures and tables, list of abbreviations, introduction, literature review, methodology, reference list, proofreading and editing, defending your thesis, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about theses.

You may have heard the word thesis as a standalone term or as a component of academic writing called a thesis statement . Keep in mind that these are two very different things.

  • A thesis statement is a very common component of an essay, particularly in the humanities. It usually comprises 1 or 2 sentences in the introduction of your essay , and should clearly and concisely summarize the central points of your academic essay .
  • A thesis is a long-form piece of academic writing, often taking more than a full semester to complete. It is generally a degree requirement for Master’s programs, and is also sometimes required to complete a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts colleges.
  • In the US, a dissertation is generally written as a final step toward obtaining a PhD.
  • In other countries (particularly the UK), a dissertation is generally written at the bachelor’s or master’s level.

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The final structure of your thesis depends on a variety of components, such as:

  • Your discipline
  • Your theoretical approach

Humanities theses are often structured more like a longer-form essay . Just like in an essay, you build an argument to support a central thesis.

In both hard and social sciences, theses typically include an introduction , literature review , methodology section ,  results section , discussion section , and conclusion section . These are each presented in their own dedicated section or chapter. In some cases, you might want to add an appendix .

Thesis examples

We’ve compiled a short list of thesis examples to help you get started.

  • Example thesis #1:   “Abolition, Africans, and Abstraction: the Influence of the ‘Noble Savage’ on British and French Antislavery Thought, 1787-1807” by Suchait Kahlon.
  • Example thesis #2: “’A Starving Man Helping Another Starving Man’: UNRRA, India, and the Genesis of Global Relief, 1943-1947″ by Julian Saint Reiman.

The very first page of your thesis contains all necessary identifying information, including:

  • Your full title
  • Your full name
  • Your department
  • Your institution and degree program
  • Your submission date.

Sometimes the title page also includes your student ID, the name of your supervisor, or the university’s logo. Check out your university’s guidelines if you’re not sure.

Read more about title pages

The acknowledgements section is usually optional. Its main point is to allow you to thank everyone who helped you in your thesis journey, such as supervisors, friends, or family. You can also choose to write a preface , but it’s typically one or the other, not both.

Read more about acknowledgements Read more about prefaces

An abstract is a short summary of your thesis. Usually a maximum of 300 words long, it’s should include brief descriptions of your research objectives , methods, results, and conclusions. Though it may seem short, it introduces your work to your audience, serving as a first impression of your thesis.

Read more about abstracts

A table of contents lists all of your sections, plus their corresponding page numbers and subheadings if you have them. This helps your reader seamlessly navigate your document.

Your table of contents should include all the major parts of your thesis. In particular, don’t forget the the appendices. If you used heading styles, it’s easy to generate an automatic table Microsoft Word.

Read more about tables of contents

While not mandatory, if you used a lot of tables and/or figures, it’s nice to include a list of them to help guide your reader. It’s also easy to generate one of these in Word: just use the “Insert Caption” feature.

Read more about lists of figures and tables

If you have used a lot of industry- or field-specific abbreviations in your thesis, you should include them in an alphabetized list of abbreviations . This way, your readers can easily look up any meanings they aren’t familiar with.

Read more about lists of abbreviations

Relatedly, if you find yourself using a lot of very specialized or field-specific terms that may not be familiar to your reader, consider including a glossary . Alphabetize the terms you want to include with a brief definition.

Read more about glossaries

An introduction sets up the topic, purpose, and relevance of your thesis, as well as expectations for your reader. This should:

  • Ground your research topic , sharing any background information your reader may need
  • Define the scope of your work
  • Introduce any existing research on your topic, situating your work within a broader problem or debate
  • State your research question(s)
  • Outline (briefly) how the remainder of your work will proceed

In other words, your introduction should clearly and concisely show your reader the “what, why, and how” of your research.

Read more about introductions

A literature review helps you gain a robust understanding of any extant academic work on your topic, encompassing:

  • Selecting relevant sources
  • Determining the credibility of your sources
  • Critically evaluating each of your sources
  • Drawing connections between sources, including any themes, patterns, conflicts, or gaps

A literature review is not merely a summary of existing work. Rather, your literature review should ultimately lead to a clear justification for your own research, perhaps via:

  • Addressing a gap in the literature
  • Building on existing knowledge to draw new conclusions
  • Exploring a new theoretical or methodological approach
  • Introducing a new solution to an unresolved problem
  • Definitively advocating for one side of a theoretical debate

Read more about literature reviews

Theoretical framework

Your literature review can often form the basis for your theoretical framework, but these are not the same thing. A theoretical framework defines and analyzes the concepts and theories that your research hinges on.

Read more about theoretical frameworks

Your methodology chapter shows your reader how you conducted your research. It should be written clearly and methodically, easily allowing your reader to critically assess the credibility of your argument. Furthermore, your methods section should convince your reader that your method was the best way to answer your research question.

A methodology section should generally include:

  • Your overall approach ( quantitative vs. qualitative )
  • Your research methods (e.g., a longitudinal study )
  • Your data collection methods (e.g., interviews or a controlled experiment
  • Any tools or materials you used (e.g., computer software)
  • The data analysis methods you chose (e.g., statistical analysis , discourse analysis )
  • A strong, but not defensive justification of your methods

Read more about methodology sections

Your results section should highlight what your methodology discovered. These two sections work in tandem, but shouldn’t repeat each other. While your results section can include hypotheses or themes, don’t include any speculation or new arguments here.

Your results section should:

  • State each (relevant) result with any (relevant) descriptive statistics (e.g., mean , standard deviation ) and inferential statistics (e.g., test statistics , p values )
  • Explain how each result relates to the research question
  • Determine whether the hypothesis was supported

Additional data (like raw numbers or interview transcripts ) can be included as an appendix . You can include tables and figures, but only if they help the reader better understand your results.

Read more about results sections

Your discussion section is where you can interpret your results in detail. Did they meet your expectations? How well do they fit within the framework that you built? You can refer back to any relevant source material to situate your results within your field, but leave most of that analysis in your literature review.

For any unexpected results, offer explanations or alternative interpretations of your data.

Read more about discussion sections

Your thesis conclusion should concisely answer your main research question. It should leave your reader with an ultra-clear understanding of your central argument, and emphasize what your research specifically has contributed to your field.

Why does your research matter? What recommendations for future research do you have? Lastly, wrap up your work with any concluding remarks.

Read more about conclusions

In order to avoid plagiarism , don’t forget to include a full reference list at the end of your thesis, citing the sources that you used. Choose one citation style and follow it consistently throughout your thesis, taking note of the formatting requirements of each style.

Which style you choose is often set by your department or your field, but common styles include MLA , Chicago , and APA.

Create APA citations Create MLA citations

In order to stay clear and concise, your thesis should include the most essential information needed to answer your research question. However, chances are you have many contributing documents, like interview transcripts or survey questions . These can be added as appendices , to save space in the main body.

Read more about appendices

Once you’re done writing, the next part of your editing process begins. Leave plenty of time for proofreading and editing prior to submission. Nothing looks worse than grammar mistakes or sloppy spelling errors!

Consider using a professional thesis editing service or grammar checker to make sure your final project is perfect.

Once you’ve submitted your final product, it’s common practice to have a thesis defense, an oral component of your finished work. This is scheduled by your advisor or committee, and usually entails a presentation and Q&A session.

After your defense , your committee will meet to determine if you deserve any departmental honors or accolades. However, keep in mind that defenses are usually just a formality. If there are any serious issues with your work, these should be resolved with your advisor way before a defense.

If you want to know more about AI for academic writing, AI tools, or research bias, make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

Research bias

  • Survivorship bias
  • Self-serving bias
  • Availability heuristic
  • Halo effect
  • Hindsight bias
  • Deep learning
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  • Machine learning
  • Reinforcement learning
  • Supervised vs. unsupervised learning

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The conclusion of your thesis or dissertation shouldn’t take up more than 5–7% of your overall word count.

If you only used a few abbreviations in your thesis or dissertation , you don’t necessarily need to include a list of abbreviations .

If your abbreviations are numerous, or if you think they won’t be known to your audience, it’s never a bad idea to add one. They can also improve readability, minimizing confusion about abbreviations unfamiliar to your reader.

When you mention different chapters within your text, it’s considered best to use Roman numerals for most citation styles. However, the most important thing here is to remain consistent whenever using numbers in your dissertation .

A thesis or dissertation outline is one of the most critical first steps in your writing process. It helps you to lay out and organize your ideas and can provide you with a roadmap for deciding what kind of research you’d like to undertake.

Generally, an outline contains information on the different sections included in your thesis or dissertation , such as:

  • Your anticipated title
  • Your abstract
  • Your chapters (sometimes subdivided into further topics like literature review , research methods , avenues for future research, etc.)

A thesis is typically written by students finishing up a bachelor’s or Master’s degree. Some educational institutions, particularly in the liberal arts, have mandatory theses, but they are often not mandatory to graduate from bachelor’s degrees. It is more common for a thesis to be a graduation requirement from a Master’s degree.

Even if not mandatory, you may want to consider writing a thesis if you:

  • Plan to attend graduate school soon
  • Have a particular topic you’d like to study more in-depth
  • Are considering a career in research
  • Would like a capstone experience to tie up your academic experience

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I’m a Neuroscientist. We’re Thinking About Biden’s Memory and Age in the Wrong Way.

President Biden seated in a chair holding a stack of what looks like index cards.

By Charan Ranganath

Dr. Ranganath is a professor of psychology and neuroscience and the director of the Dynamic Memory Lab at the University of California, Davis, and the author of the forthcoming book “Why We Remember: Unlocking Memory’s Power to Hold On to What Matters.”

The special counsel Robert K. Hur’s report, in which he declined to prosecute President Biden for his handling of classified documents, also included a much-debated assessment of Mr. Biden’s cognitive abilities.

“Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview with him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

As an expert on memory, I can assure you that everyone forgets. In fact, most of the details of our lives — the people we meet, the things we do and the places we go — will inevitably be reduced to memories that capture only a small fraction of those experiences.

It is normal to be more forgetful as you get older. Generally, memory functions begin to decline in our 30s and continue to fade into old age. However, age in and of itself doesn’t indicate the presence of memory deficits that would affect an individual’s ability to perform in a demanding leadership role. And an apparent memory lapse may or may not be consequential, depending on the reasons it occurred.

There is forgetting, and there is Forgetting. If you’re over the age of 40, you’ve most likely experienced the frustration of trying to grasp that slippery word on the tip of your tongue. Colloquially, this might be described as forgetting, but most memory scientists would call this retrieval failure, meaning that the memory is there but we just can’t pull it up when we need it. On the other hand, Forgetting (with a capital F) is when a memory is seemingly lost or gone altogether. Inattentively conflating the names of the leaders of two countries would fall in the first category, whereas being unable to remember that you had ever met the president of Egypt would fall into the second.

Over the course of typical aging, we see changes in the functioning of the prefrontal cortex, a brain area that plays a starring role in many of our day-to-day memory successes and failures. These changes mean that as we get older, we tend to be more distractible and often struggle to pull up words or names we’re looking for. Remembering events takes longer, and it requires more effort, and we can’t catch errors as quickly as we used to. This translates to a lot more forgetting and a little more Forgetting.

Many of the special counsel’s observations about Mr. Biden’s memory seem to fall in the category of forgetting, meaning that they are more indicative of a problem with finding the right information from memory than Forgetting. Calling up the date that an event occurred, like the last year of Mr. Biden’s vice presidency or the year of his son’s death, is a complex measure of memory. Remembering that an event took place is different from being able to put a date on when it happened, which is more challenging with increased age. The president very likely has many memories, even though he could not immediately pull up dates in the stressful (and more immediately pressing) context of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Other “memory” issues highlighted in the media are not so much cases of forgetting as they are of difficulties in the articulation of facts and knowledge. For instance, in July 2023, Mr. Biden mistakenly stated in a speech that “we have over 100 people dead,” when he should have said, “over one million.” He has struggled with a stutter since childhood, and research suggests that managing a stutter demands prefrontal resources that would normally enable people to find the right word or at least quickly correct errors after the fact.

Americans are understandably concerned about the advanced age of the two top contenders in the coming presidential election (Mr. Biden is 81, and Donald Trump is 77), although some of these concerns are rooted in cultural stereotypes and fears around aging. The fact is that there is a huge degree of variability in cognitive aging. Age is, on average, associated with decreased memory, but studies that follow up the same person over several years have shown that although some older adults show precipitous declines over time, other super-agers remain as sharp as ever.

Mr. Biden is the same age as Harrison Ford, Paul McCartney and Martin Scorsese. He’s also a bit younger than Jane Fonda (86) and a lot younger than the Berkshire Hathaway C.E.O., Warren Buffett (93). All these individuals are considered to be at the top of their professions, and yet I would not be surprised if they are more forgetful and absent-minded than when they were younger. In other words, an individual’s age does not say anything definitive about the person’s cognitive status or where it will head in the near future.

I can’t speak to the cognitive status of any of the presidential candidates, but I can say that, rather than focus on candidates’ ages per se, we should consider whether they have the capabilities to do the job. Public perception of a person’s cognitive state is often determined by superficial factors, such as physical presence, confidence and verbal fluency, but these aren’t necessarily relevant to one’s capacity to make consequential decisions about the fate of this country. Memory is surely relevant, but other characteristics, such as knowledge of the relevant facts and emotion regulation — both of which are relatively preserved and might even improve with age — are likely to be of equal or greater importance.

Ultimately, we are due for a national conversation about what we should expect in terms of the cognitive and emotional health of our leaders.

And that should be informed by science, not politics.

Charan Ranganath is a professor of psychology and neuroscience and the director of the Dynamic Memory Lab at the University of California, Davis, and the author of “ Why We Remember: Unlocking Memory’s Power to Hold On to What Matters .”

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow the New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Instagram , TikTok , X and Threads .

Nukes in space or nothing new? The science behind the intel frenzy over a Russian weapon

Russia’s apparent pursuit of a nuclear space-based weapon has stirred a frenzy in Washington — and raised a flurry of questions among a world of scientists and experts.

With scant details released from the congressional briefings, it’s unclear exactly what sort of weapon the Kremlin may be pursuing, and just how bad it would be for the West if President Vladimir Putin does deploy one.

This could be an alarming escalation of hostilities reminiscent of the tensest days of the Cold War, or a less significant development whose revelation may stem from more mundane domestic concerns than the possibility of nuclear war in space.

“We know very little, and the comments so far have been very, very cryptic,” said Bleddyn Bowen, an associate professor at England’s University of Leicester and author of “Original Sin: Power, Technology and War in Outer Space.”

Three sources familiar with the matter told NBC News that Russia is developing a nuclear space-based weapon designed to target American satellites. This weapon is not yet operational, the sources said, but the intelligence was enough to prompt Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, to ask the White House to declassify information about an unnamed “serious national security threat.”

Russia Space Satellites

The main known unknown, publicly at least, is whether this is a space-based nuclear weapon in the most conventional sense of the term — nuclear warheads, atomic reactions, mushroom clouds. Or if, as many experts suspect, this is a nuclear-powered satellite carrying electronic weapons, which could cause havoc on Earth by crippling satellites that drive everything from weather forecasting and phone calls to wars and the global economy.

If it is the former — actual space nukes — that would be a violation of the United Nations’ Outer Space Treaty of 1967. One of its clauses says that countries are not allowed to “place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit, or on celestial bodies, or station them in outer space in any other manner.”

One of the reasons this treaty was signed is the same reason that stationing nuclear weapons in orbit would be so dangerous: a country could loose a nuclear bomb from the heavens with very little warning. The sources said the Russian technology in question is designed to target American satellites, something experts say Russia — and other nuclear-armed powers — is more than capable of doing using intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, launched from the ground.

Nevertheless, actually deploying nuclear weapons in orbit “would be a new escalatory step by the Russian Federation, which has already trashed a lot of arms control treaties,” said Mariana Budjeryn, a senior research associate at the Project on Managing the Atom, part of the Harvard Kennedy School. “This would be putting a nuclear weapon in space — where there have been none before.”

Other experts, reading between the lines of the reports, believe that this weapons system would be nuclear-powered rather than nuclear-armed. There has also been speculation that this is all linked to a classified Russian satellite, named Cosmos 2575, launched last week.

Russian Satellite Launch

All this said, little if any of these technologies or concepts are new.

Both the U.S. and Soviet Union developed and tested anti-satellite weapons, or ASATs, during the Cold War. And both have regularly used nuclear power in space.

As early as 1959, the U.S. began developing anti-satellite missiles, fearful the Soviets might be about to do the same. This culminated in its 1985 test launch by an F-15 fighter jet, releasing a payload at around 38,000 feet that whooshed into orbit and destroyed a degrading U.S. satellite, according to the U.S. Air Force museum.

Between 1969 and 1975, Washington was able to “cobble together” an anti-satellite system that used existing nuclear missiles in “direct ascent” mode to destroy targets in space, according to a paper published in 2000 by the Air Force’s Air University Press.  

In terms of nuclear power rather than nuclear arms, Washington likewise first put a nuclear-powered satellite in orbit in 1961. The Soviets developed and deployed similar technology, which powered many of its satellites during that period.

This is far from without risks, as history has shown.

In 1978, a Soviet nuclear-powered satellite malfunctioned, fell out of the sky, and as it burned up, showered northern Canada with radioactive debris.

What doesn’t appear to have been developed yet, or publicly revealed at least, is something that does all these things at once: a Russian, nuclear-powered satellite carrying a weapon.

If the U.S. has “intelligence that is not about development, but the actual plans to deploy, then, yes, it is a new development,” Budjeryn said.

A nuclear-fueled satellite might be able to carry a high-powered jammer that could block out a wide array of communications and other signals for prolonged periods of time, according to a 2019 technical essay in The Space Review, an online publication widely shared among experts following this week’s news. 

Bowen, at the University of Leicester, said such a design would be “really expensive” and “just waiting for a problem to go wrong to then have a nuclear environmental disaster in orbit.”

Ultimately, he and Budjeryn said that none of this technology is new, though its actual implementation would no doubt be viewed as an escalation.

“It’s quite bizarre to me that this is now making such waves,” he said, noting that Russia has been capable of deploying this technology “for a very, very long time.” He added, “You would rather not see more nuclear materials in orbit, but if they do it, on the security front it’s not that big a deal.”

He and others have questioned whether the release of the information may be more about politics than military threat.

“Congresspeople do these things for different reasons,” he said. “Is it about trying to get more information out of the Pentagon, or trying to get Russia in the news? I don’t know.”

That’s certainly the view from Moscow.

“It is obvious that the White House is trying, by hook or by crook, to push Congress to vote on the bill to allocate money,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in an apparent reference to the push for new aid for Ukraine, of which Turner is a prominent advocate. “We’ll see what tricks the White House will resort to.”

Others have suggested that this could be a diversion from the other side.

“Russia has tried to develop weapons in space for a long time,” Francesca Giovannini, executive director of the Project on Managing the Atom at the Harvard Kennedy School, said in an email. “We don’t actually know whether this is just a disinformation campaign to force the U.S. to divert precious resources from other capabilities (which are way more important and consequential).”

CORRECTION (Feb. 15, 2024, 11:41 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the height at which an anti-satellite missile was released during a test launch in 1985. It was around 38,000 feet, not at 36,000 feet.

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Alexander Smith is a senior reporter for NBC News Digital based in London.

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  1. How To Write A Dissertation Introduction Or Thesis Introduction Chapter: 7 Steps + Loads Of Examples

  2. How To Choose A Research Topic For A Dissertation Or Thesis (7 Step Method + Examples)

  3. Dissertation Structure & Layout 101: How To Structure Your Dissertation Or Thesis (With Examples)

  4. How to Write a Dissertation Results Section

  5. How To Write A Dissertation Or Thesis

  6. How To Write A Methodology Chapter For A Dissertation Or Thesis (4 Steps + Examples)

COMMENTS

  1. What Is a Dissertation?

    A dissertation is a long-form piece of academic writing based on original research conducted by you. It is usually submitted as the final step in order to finish a PhD program. Your dissertation is probably the longest piece of writing you've ever completed.

  2. Prize-Winning Thesis and Dissertation Examples

    Faculty: History Author: Julien Saint Reiman Award: 2018 Charles A. Beard Senior Thesis Prize Title: "A Starving Man Helping Another Starving Man": UNRRA, India, and the Genesis of Global Relief, 1943-1947 University: University College London Faculty: Geography Author: Anna Knowles-Smith

  3. PDF A Complete Dissertation

    OVERVIEW FRONT MATTER Following is a road map that briefly outlines the contents of an entire dissertation. This is a comprehensive overview, and as such is helpful in making sure that at a glance you understand up front the necessary elements that will constitute each section of your dissertation.

  4. PDF Writing a Scientific-Style Thesis

    6.2 Main sections of a scientific-style thesis 16 6.2.1 Introduction (including Literature Review) 17 ... 6.4.2 Table of Contents 21 6.4.3 Declaration regarding the work 22 6.4.4 Abstract 22 6.4.5 Acknowledgements 23 6.4.6 List of Abbreviations/Glossary of Terms 23 6.4.7 Appendices 24 7 Format 25 ... 'Dissertation' comes from the Latin ...

  5. How to Write a Science Thesis/Dissertation

    A thesis/dissertation is a long, high-level research paper written as the culmination of your academic course. Most university programs require that graduate and postgraduate students demonstrate their ability to perform original research at the thesis/dissertation level as a graduation requirement.

  6. How to Write a Dissertation

    A dissertation or thesis is a long piece of academic writing based on original research, submitted as part of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. The structure of a dissertation depends on your field, but it is usually divided into at least four or five chapters (including an introduction and conclusion chapter).

  7. How to Choose a Dissertation Topic

    Step 2: Choose a broad field of research. Step 3: Look for books and articles. Step 4: Find a niche. Step 5: Consider the type of research. Step 6: Determine the relevance. Step 7: Make sure it's plausible. Step 8: Get your topic approved. Other interesting articles. Frequently asked questions about dissertation topics.

  8. How To Write A Dissertation

    In general, every statement in a dissertation must be supported either by a reference to published scientific literature or by original work. Moreover, a dissertation does not repeat the details of critical thinking and analysis found in published sources; it uses the results as fact and refers the reader to the source for further details.

  9. Dissertation writing in post graduate medical education

    A dissertation is a practical exercise that educates students about basics of research methodology, promotes scientific writing and encourages critical thinking. The National Medical Commission (India) regulations make assessment of a dissertation by a minimum of three examiners mandatory. The candidate can appear for the final examination only ...

  10. How to Structure a Dissertation

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  11. Tips for writing a PhD dissertation: FAQs answered

    A PhD thesis (or dissertation) is typically 60,000 to 120,000 words ( 100 to 300 pages in length) organised into chapters, divisions and subdivisions (with roughly 10,000 words per chapter) - from introduction (with clear aims and objectives) to conclusion. The structure of a dissertation will vary depending on discipline (humanities, social ...

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    Unlike social science dissertation or a scientific study, ... your methodological framework to a new data set or apply it in a completely new situation that is irrelevant to your work. Finally, postgraduate dissertations are expected to be highly convincing and demonstrate in-depth engagement. They should be reproducible and show rigour, so the ...

  13. Thesis and Dissertation: Getting Started

    The resources in this section are designed to provide guidance for the first steps of the thesis or dissertation writing process. They offer tools to support the planning and managing of your project, including writing out your weekly schedule, outlining your goals, and organzing the various working elements of your project.

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    This is where you break or make your grade. Work a certain number of hours on your paper daily. Create a worksheet for your week. Work on your dissertation for time periods as brief as 45 minutes or less. Stick to the strategic dissertation timeline, so you don't have to do the catchup work.

  15. Adapting a Dissertation or Thesis Into a Journal Article

    Making a dissertation or thesis publication-ready often involves reducing a document of over 100 pages to one third of its original length. Shorten the overall paper by eliminating text within sections and/or eliminating entire sections.

  16. Benefits and pitfalls of scientific research during undergraduate

    General questions about the dissertation, scientific work, and relevant personality traits (completed by all participants; 8 questions) Questions about the current or finished dissertation, e.g., type of project, reasons for choosing this project, accomplishment of individual project steps, expenditure of time for the project, and influence on ...

  17. Dissertation Structure & Layout 101 (+ Examples)

    How to structure your dissertation, thesis or research project. By: Derek Jansen (MBA) Reviewed By: David Phair (PhD) | July 2019 So, you've got a decent understanding of what a dissertation is, you've chosen your topic and hopefully you've received approval for your research proposal. Awesome!

  18. What Is a Research Methodology?

    Revised on 10 October 2022. Your research methodology discusses and explains the data collection and analysis methods you used in your research. A key part of your thesis, dissertation, or research paper, the methodology chapter explains what you did and how you did it, allowing readers to evaluate the reliability and validity of your research.

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    PhD programs will prepare you for how to conduct analysis, as well as for how to position your research into the existing body of work on the subject matter. 4. Support: The process of writing and completing a dissertation is bigger than the work itself. It can lead to research positions within the university or outside companies.

  20. Dissertation examples

    Academic skills Dissertation examples Dissertation examples Listed below are some of the best examples of research projects and dissertations from undergraduate and taught postgraduate students at the University of Leeds We have not been able to gather examples from all schools.

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    The Art and Science of Measuring Identity. By Scott Keeter, Anna Brown and Dana Popky. February 12, 2024. As a shop that studies human behavior through surveys and other social scientific techniques, we have a good line of sight into the contradictory nature of human preferences. Today, we're calling out one of those that affects us as ...

  22. UN Women statement for the International Day for Women and Girls in Science

    Science, technology and innovation continue to radically and rapidly transform how people live, socialize, pay their bills, order food, study and work. For women and girls across the world, these changes have brought new freedoms, new forms of access to information, and new opportunities for creativity, along with new risks to their safety, representation and share of decent employment.

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    In 1945, Yoko Ono's parents sent her and her younger sibling to the Japanese countryside to escape the attacks on major cities in Japan during World War Two. The United States had firebombed Tokyo ...

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    7 min. Americans who test positive for the coronavirus no longer need to routinely stay home from work and school for five days under new guidance planned by the Centers for Disease Control and ...

  26. What Is a Thesis?

    A thesis is a type of research paper based on your original research. It is usually submitted as the final step of a master's program or a capstone to a bachelor's degree. Writing a thesis can be a daunting experience. Other than a dissertation, it is one of the longest pieces of writing students typically complete.

  27. Opinion

    Special Counsel Robert K. Hur's report, in which he declined to prosecute President Biden for his handling of classified documents, also included a much-debated assessment of Mr. Biden's ...

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