Dissertations vary enormously from student to student and so it’s not always easy to give direct tips on how one should be written. How an extended piece of work should be written also varies and will depend on both personal choice and on any rules that your school or college may have.
Dissertations are usually written at a postgraduate level and it’s an extended piece of writing on a subject that the student chooses. Most are the result of a lot of research, at least some of it is book and paper based and often part of the result of empirical research.
When you write a dissertation, you’ll be expected to be familiar with all the latest written material in your area whether it’s in the form of books or journal articles. No two dissertations are the same and how and what you write is very much a matter of both personal choice and academic advice; most cases there is no set format.
If you take a taught masters or PhD course, there may be certain things that the student has to adhere to. Individual colleges may have certain rules concerning font type, line spacing and referencing system, but little else. Other colleges may say that a dissertation should be in a certain order, e.g. introduction, literature review, research methods, findings from the data, discussion and analysis and a conclusion.
The kind of format just mentioned is one that may be used by sociology departments and by most humanities faculties, while a purely scientific report might be structured differently.
Sometimes the student does certain pieces of writing as advised by their professor or supervisor who may also recommend that they be submitted for peer review and publication in an academic journal. Usually, most students will not publish journal articles until they have finished their research and their dissertation is in print; at least in the college library.
If you are undertaking PhD research you should be writing up your literature review as you go, as it’s all too easy to lose track of various references and end up with a last minute rush at getting things together. What is certain, is that in all dissertations there are certain types of information that have to be within.
Whether your research is empirical and involves speaking to people or undertaking a postal survey, or whether it’s literature based and involves documentary research, you will need to give a concise of account of your research methods and how you went about gathering different types of evidence. Depending on what referencing system you use you may be required to set up footnotes or end notes in the dissertation.
Referencing systems do differ widely, for example, the Chicago referencing system is very different to the Harvard system which in most cases does not use foot notes and never uses end notes. Examiners will make a big deal of both your literature review in terms of the value of your sources and of your references and bibliographic systems, so make sure they adhere to the rules of your school or college.
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