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Guide to writing your thesis/dissertation, definition of dissertation and thesis.

The dissertation or thesis is a scholarly treatise that substantiates a specific point of view as a result of original research that is conducted by students during their graduate study. At Cornell, the thesis is a requirement for the receipt of the M.A. and M.S. degrees and some professional master’s degrees. The dissertation is a requirement of the Ph.D. degree.

Formatting Requirement and Standards

The Graduate School sets the minimum format for your thesis or dissertation, while you, your special committee, and your advisor/chair decide upon the content and length. Grammar, punctuation, spelling, and other mechanical issues are your sole responsibility. Generally, the thesis and dissertation should conform to the standards of leading academic journals in your field. The Graduate School does not monitor the thesis or dissertation for mechanics, content, or style.

“Papers Option” Dissertation or Thesis

A “papers option” is available only to students in certain fields, which are listed on the Fields Permitting the Use of Papers Option page , or by approved petition. If you choose the papers option, your dissertation or thesis is organized as a series of relatively independent chapters or papers that you have submitted or will be submitting to journals in the field. You must be the only author or the first author of the papers to be used in the dissertation. The papers-option dissertation or thesis must meet all format and submission requirements, and a singular referencing convention must be used throughout.

ProQuest Electronic Submissions

The dissertation and thesis become permanent records of your original research, and in the case of doctoral research, the Graduate School requires publication of the dissertation and abstract in its original form. All Cornell master’s theses and doctoral dissertations require an electronic submission through ProQuest, which fills orders for paper or digital copies of the thesis and dissertation and makes a digital version available online via their subscription database, ProQuest Dissertations & Theses . For master’s theses, only the abstract is available. ProQuest provides worldwide distribution of your work from the master copy. You retain control over your dissertation and are free to grant publishing rights as you see fit. The formatting requirements contained in this guide meet all ProQuest specifications.

Copies of Dissertation and Thesis

Copies of Ph.D. dissertations and master’s theses are also uploaded in PDF format to the Cornell Library Repository, eCommons . A print copy of each master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation is submitted to Cornell University Library by ProQuest.

  • A Guide to Writing a PhD Thesis

Written by Ben Taylor

A PhD thesis is a work of original research all students are requiured to submit in order to succesfully complete their PhD. The thesis details the research that you carried out during the course of your doctoral degree and highlights the outcomes and conclusions reached.

The PhD thesis is the most important part of a doctoral research degree: the culmination of three or four years of full-time work towards producing an original contribution to your academic field.

Your PhD dissertation can therefore seem like quite a daunting possibility, with a hefty word count, the pressure of writing something new and, of course, the prospect of defending it at a viva once you’ve finished.

This page will give you an introduction to what you need to know about the doctoral thesis, with advice on structure, feedback, submission and more.

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Beginning your PhD thesis

The first stage of your PhD thesis will usually be the literature review . We’ve already written a detailed guide to what the PhD literature review involves , but here’s what you need to know about this stage of your PhD:

  • The literature review is a chance for you to display your knowledge and understanding of what’s already been written about your research area – this could consist of papers, articles, books, data and more
  • Rather than simply summarising what other scholars have said about your subject, you should aim to assess and analyse their arguments
  • The literature review is usually the first task of your PhD – and typically forms the first part or chapter of your dissertation

After finishing your literature review, you’ll move onto the bulk of your doctoral thesis. Of course, you’ll eventually return to the lit review to make sure it’s up-to-date and contains any additional material you may have come across during the course of your research.

PhD thesis research

What sets your PhD thesis apart from previous university work you’ve done is the fact that it should represent an original contribution to academic knowledge . The form that this original contribution takes will largely depend on your discipline.

  • Arts and Humanities dissertations usually involve investigating different texts, sources and theoretical frameworks
  • Social Sciences are more likely to focus on qualitive or quantitative surveys and case studies
  • STEM subjects involve designing, recording and analysing experiments, using their data to prove or disprove a set theory

Depending on the nature of your research, you may ‘write up’ your findings as you go, or leave it until the dedicated ‘writing-up’ period, usually in the third year of your PhD. Whatever your approach, it’s vital to keep detailed notes of your sources and methods – it’ll make your life a lot easier when it comes to using references in your dissertation further down the line.

PhD thesis vs dissertation

It’s common to use the terms ‘thesis’ and ‘dissertation’ interchangeably, but strictly speaking there is a difference in meaning between them:

  • Your thesis is your argument. It’s the conclusions you’ve arrived at through surveying existing scholarship in your literature review and combining this with the results of your own original research.
  • Your dissertation is the written statement of your thesis. This is where you lay out your findings in a way that systematically demonstrates and proves your conclusion.

Put simply, you submit a dissertation, but it’s the thesis it attempts to prove that will form the basis of your PhD.

What this also means is that the writing up of your dissertation generally follows the formulation of your doctoral thesis (it’s fairly difficult to write up a PhD before you know what you want to say!).

However, it’s normal for universities and academics to use either (or both) terms when describing PhD research – indeed, we use both ‘thesis’ and ‘dissertation’ across our website.

Can I use my Masters research in my PhD thesis?

If you’re studying an MPhil, it’s normal to ‘ upgrade ’ it into a PhD. Find mroe information on our guide.

PhD thesis structure

Having completed your initial literature review and conducted your original research, you’ll move onto the next phase of your doctoral dissertation, beginning to sketch out a plan that your thesis will follow.

The exact structure and make-up of your doctoral thesis will vary between fields, but this is the general template that many dissertations follow:

  • Introduction – This sets out the key objectives of your project, why the work is significant and what its original contribution to knowledge is. At this point you may also summarise the remaining chapters, offering an abstract of the argument you will go on to develop.
  • Literature review – The introduction will generally lead into a write-up of your literature review. Here you’ll outline the scholarly context for your project. You’ll acknowledge where existing research has shaped your PhD, but emphasise the unique nature of your work.
  • Chapters – After you’ve finished introducing your research, you’ll begin the bulk of the dissertation. This will summarise your results and begin explaining the argument you have based on them. Some PhDs will also include specific chapters on methodology and / or a recreation of the data you have developed. Others will develop your argument over a series of stages, drawing on sources and results as relevant.
  • Conclusion – The dissertation will end with a final chapter that pulls together the different elements of your argument and the evidence you have provided for it. You’ll restate the significance of your project (and its all-important original contribution to knowledge). You may also take the opportunity to acknowledge the potential for further work or opportunities to apply your findings outside academia.
  • Bibliography and appendices – At the end of your thesis, you’ll need to include a full list of the books, articles and data you’ve referenced in a bibliography. You may also need to provide additional information in the form of an appendix.

How long is a PhD thesis?

The length of a PhD thesis varies from subject to subject, but all are far longer than those for undergraduate or Masters degrees. Your university will usually set an upper limit – typically between 70,000 and 100,000 words, with most dissertations coming in at around 80,000 words.

Generally speaking, STEM-based theses will be a little shorter than those in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

Different universities (and departments) will have different policies regarding what counts towards the PhD thesis word count, so make sure you’re aware what is expected of you. Check with your supervisor whether references, the bibliography or appendices are included in the word count for your dissertation.

How many chapters should a PhD thesis have?

There’s no hard and fast rule for the numbers of chapters in a PhD thesis, but most will have four or five chapters (in addition to the introduction and conclusion). This is the sort of thing you’ll discuss with your supervisor when planning out your research.

Writing up your PhD thesis

Once you’ve conducted your research and settled upon your thesis, there’s only one thing left to do: get it down on paper. Appropriately enough, this final part of a PhD is often referred to as the ‘ writing up period ’.

This is when you produce the final dissertation, which will be submitted as the basis for your viva voce exam. The nature of this task can vary from PhD to PhD.

In some cases you may already have a large amount of chapter drafts and other material. ‘Writing up’ therefore becomes a process of re-drafting and assembling this work into a final dissertation. This approach is common in Arts and Humanities subjects where PhD students tend to work through stages of a project, writing as they go.

Alternatively, you may have spent most of your PhD collecting and analysing data. If so, you’ll now ‘write up’ your findings and conclusions in order to produce your final dissertation. This approach is more common in STEM subjects, where experiment design and data collection are much more resource intensive.

Whatever process you adopt, you’ll now produce a persuasive and coherent statement of your argument, ready to submit for examination.

PhD thesis feedback

Your supervisor will usually give you feedback on each chapter draft, and then feedback on the overall completed dissertation draft before you submit it for examination. When the thesis is a work-in-progress, their comments will be a chance for them to make sure your research is going in the right direction and for you to ask their advice on anything you’re concerned about. This feedback will normally be given in the form of a supervisory meeting.

Although your PhD supervisor will be happy to give you advice on your work, you shouldn’t expect them to be an editor – it’s not their responsibility to correct grammatical or spelling mistakes, and you should make sure any drafts you submit to them are as error-free as possible. Similarly, they won’t be willing to edit your work down to fit a particular word count.

Finishing your PhD thesis

When you’ve finished the final draft of your doctoral thesis and it’s been approved by your supervisor, you’ll submit it for examination. This is when it’s sent to the examiners who will conduct your viva.

Submitting your thesis involves printing enough copies for your examiners and the university’s repository. Don’t leave this until the last minute – printing multiple copies of a 300-page document is a substantial undertaking and you should always allow enough time to account for any possible glitches or issues with the printing process.

Your viva will usually take place within three months of submitting your thesis. You can find out more in our dedicated guide to the PhD viva . After your viva, your examiners will give you a report that confirms whether or not you need to make any changes to your thesis, with several different potential outcomes:

  • Pass – You’ve received your doctoral qualification!
  • Minor corrections – These are usually fairly small edits, tweaks and improvements to your thesis, which you’ll be given three months to implement
  • Major corrections – For these substantial changes, you may have to rewrite part of your dissertation or complete extra research, with a six-month deadline

Most PhD students will need to fix some corrections with their thesis (hopefully not major ones). It’s very rare for a dissertation to be failed.

Once you’ve made any necessary changes to your thesis, you’ll submit it one last time (usually electronically).

If you have plans to publish all or part of your work, you may want to request an embargo so that it won’t be visible to the public for a certain time. 12 months is a fairly standard time period for this, although you may want to ask for a longer embargo if you know that you want to turn your thesis into a book or monograph.

Take a look at our programme listings and find the perfect PhD for you.

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  • What Is a PhD Thesis?
  • Doing a PhD

This page will explain what a PhD thesis is and offer advice on how to write a good thesis, from outlining the typical structure to guiding you through the referencing. A summary of this page is as follows:

  • A PhD thesis is a concentrated piece of original research which must be carried out by all PhD students in order to successfully earn their doctoral degree.
  • The fundamental purpose of a thesis is to explain the conclusion that has been reached as a result of undertaking the research project.
  • The typical PhD thesis structure will contain four chapters of original work sandwiched between a literature review chapter and a concluding chapter.
  • There is no universal rule for the length of a thesis, but general guidelines set the word count between 70,000 to 100,000 words .

What Is a Thesis?

A thesis is the main output of a PhD as it explains your workflow in reaching the conclusions you have come to in undertaking the research project. As a result, much of the content of your thesis will be based around your chapters of original work.

For your thesis to be successful, it needs to adequately defend your argument and provide a unique or increased insight into your field that was not previously available. As such, you can’t rely on other ideas or results to produce your thesis; it needs to be an original piece of text that belongs to you and you alone.

What Should a Thesis Include?

Although each thesis will be unique, they will all follow the same general format. To demonstrate this, we’ve put together an example structure of a PhD thesis and explained what you should include in each section below.

Acknowledgements

This is a personal section which you may or may not choose to include. The vast majority of students include it, giving both gratitude and recognition to their supervisor, university, sponsor/funder and anyone else who has supported them along the way.

1. Introduction

Provide a brief overview of your reason for carrying out your research project and what you hope to achieve by undertaking it. Following this, explain the structure of your thesis to give the reader context for what he or she is about to read.

2. Literature Review

Set the context of your research by explaining the foundation of what is currently known within your field of research, what recent developments have occurred, and where the gaps in knowledge are. You should conclude the literature review by outlining the overarching aims and objectives of the research project.

3. Main Body

This section focuses on explaining all aspects of your original research and so will form the bulk of your thesis. Typically, this section will contain four chapters covering the below:

  • your research/data collection methodologies,
  • your results,
  • a comprehensive analysis of your results,
  • a detailed discussion of your findings.

Depending on your project, each of your chapters may independently contain the structure listed above or in some projects, each chapter could be focussed entirely on one aspect (e.g. a standalone results chapter). Ideally, each of these chapters should be formatted such that they could be translated into papers for submission to peer-reviewed journals. Therefore, following your PhD, you should be able to submit papers for peer-review by reusing content you have already produced.

4. Conclusion

The conclusion will be a summary of your key findings with emphasis placed on the new contributions you have made to your field.

When producing your conclusion, it’s imperative that you relate it back to your original research aims, objectives and hypotheses. Make sure you have answered your original question.

Finding a PhD has never been this easy – search for a PhD by keyword, location or academic area of interest.

How Many Words Is a PhD Thesis?

A common question we receive from students is – “how long should my thesis be?“.

Every university has different guidelines on this matter, therefore, consult with your university to get an understanding of their full requirements. Generally speaking, most supervisors will suggest somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 words . This usually corresponds to somewhere between 250 – 350 pages .

We must stress that this is flexible, and it is important not to focus solely on the length of your thesis, but rather the quality.

How Do I Format My Thesis?

Although the exact formatting requirements will vary depending on the university, the typical formatting policies adopted by most universities are:

Font Any serif font e.g. Times New Roman, Arial or Cambria
Font Size 12pt
Vertical Line Spacing 1.5 Lines
Page Size A4
Page Layout Portrait
Page Margins Variable, however, must allow space for binding
Referencing Variable, however, typically Harvard or Vancouver

What Happens When I Finish My Thesis?

After you have submitted your thesis, you will attend a viva . A viva is an interview-style examination during which you are required to defend your thesis and answer questions on it. The aim of the viva is to convince your examiners that your work is of the level required for a doctoral degree. It is one of the last steps in the PhD process and arguably one of the most daunting!

For more information on the viva process and for tips on how to confidently pass it, please refer to our in-depth PhD Viva Guide .

How Do I Publish My Thesis?

Unfortunately, you can’t publish your thesis in its entirety in a journal. However, universities can make it available for others to read through their library system.

If you want to submit your work in a journal, you will need to develop it into one or more peer-reviewed papers. This will largely involve reformatting, condensing and tailoring it to meet the standards of the journal you are targeting.

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Thesis and Dissertation: Getting Started

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This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue University. When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice.

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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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  • Dissertation & Thesis Outline | Example & Free Templates

Dissertation & Thesis Outline | Example & Free Templates

Published on June 7, 2022 by Tegan George . Revised on November 21, 2023.

A thesis or dissertation outline is one of the most critical early steps in your writing process . It helps you to lay out and organize your ideas and can provide you with a roadmap for deciding the specifics of your dissertation topic and showcasing its relevance to your field.

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.)

In the final product, you can also provide a chapter outline for your readers. This is a short paragraph at the end of your introduction to inform readers about the organizational structure of your thesis or dissertation. This chapter outline is also known as a reading guide or summary outline.

Table of contents

How to outline your thesis or dissertation, dissertation and thesis outline templates, chapter outline example, sample sentences for your chapter outline, sample verbs for variation in your chapter outline, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about thesis and dissertation outlines.

While there are some inter-institutional differences, many outlines proceed in a fairly similar fashion.

  • Working Title
  • “Elevator pitch” of your work (often written last).
  • Introduce your area of study, sharing details about your research question, problem statement , and hypotheses . Situate your research within an existing paradigm or conceptual or theoretical framework .
  • Subdivide as you see fit into main topics and sub-topics.
  • Describe your research methods (e.g., your scope , population , and data collection ).
  • Present your research findings and share about your data analysis methods.
  • Answer the research question in a concise way.
  • Interpret your findings, discuss potential limitations of your own research and speculate about future implications or related opportunities.

For a more detailed overview of chapters and other elements, be sure to check out our article on the structure of a dissertation or download our template .

To help you get started, we’ve created a full thesis or dissertation template in Word or Google Docs format. It’s easy adapt it to your own requirements.

 Download Word template    Download Google Docs template

Chapter outline example American English

It can be easy to fall into a pattern of overusing the same words or sentence constructions, which can make your work monotonous and repetitive for your readers. Consider utilizing some of the alternative constructions presented below.

Example 1: Passive construction

The passive voice is a common choice for outlines and overviews because the context makes it clear who is carrying out the action (e.g., you are conducting the research ). However, overuse of the passive voice can make your text vague and imprecise.

Example 2: IS-AV construction

You can also present your information using the “IS-AV” (inanimate subject with an active verb ) construction.

A chapter is an inanimate object, so it is not capable of taking an action itself (e.g., presenting or discussing). However, the meaning of the sentence is still easily understandable, so the IS-AV construction can be a good way to add variety to your text.

Example 3: The “I” construction

Another option is to use the “I” construction, which is often recommended by style manuals (e.g., APA Style and Chicago style ). However, depending on your field of study, this construction is not always considered professional or academic. Ask your supervisor if you’re not sure.

Example 4: Mix-and-match

To truly make the most of these options, consider mixing and matching the passive voice , IS-AV construction , and “I” construction .This can help the flow of your argument and improve the readability of your text.

As you draft the chapter outline, you may also find yourself frequently repeating the same words, such as “discuss,” “present,” “prove,” or “show.” Consider branching out to add richness and nuance to your writing. Here are some examples of synonyms you can use.

Address Describe Imply Refute
Argue Determine Indicate Report
Claim Emphasize Mention Reveal
Clarify Examine Point out Speculate
Compare Explain Posit Summarize
Concern Formulate Present Target
Counter Focus on Propose Treat
Define Give Provide insight into Underpin
Demonstrate Highlight Recommend Use

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!

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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 .

The title page of your thesis or dissertation goes first, before all other content or lists that you may choose to include.

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.

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

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

George, T. (2023, November 21). Dissertation & Thesis Outline | Example & Free Templates. Scribbr. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/dissertation/dissertation-thesis-outline/

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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?

how to do thesis doctorate

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 .

how to do thesis doctorate

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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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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 would like advice and insight from academics and university staff delivered direct to your inbox each week, sign up for 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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What Is a Dissertation? | 5 Essential Questions to Get Started

Published on 26 March 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on 5 May 2022.

A dissertation is a large research project undertaken at the end of a degree. It involves in-depth consideration of a problem or question chosen by the student. It is usually the largest (and final) piece of written work produced during a degree.

The length and structure of a dissertation vary widely depending on the level and field of study. However, there are some key questions that can help you understand the requirements and get started on your dissertation project.

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Table of contents

When and why do you have to write a dissertation, who will supervise your dissertation, what type of research will you do, how should your dissertation be structured, what formatting and referencing rules do you have to follow, frequently asked questions about dissertations.

A dissertation, sometimes called a thesis, comes at the end of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. It is a larger project than the other essays you’ve written, requiring a higher word count and a greater depth of research.

You’ll generally work on your dissertation during the final year of your degree, over a longer period than you would take for a standard essay . For example, the dissertation might be your main focus for the last six months of your degree.

Why is the dissertation important?

The dissertation is a test of your capacity for independent research. You are given a lot of autonomy in writing your dissertation: you come up with your own ideas, conduct your own research, and write and structure the text by yourself.

This means that it is an important preparation for your future, whether you continue in academia or not: it teaches you to manage your own time, generate original ideas, and work independently.

Prevent plagiarism, run a free check.

During the planning and writing of your dissertation, you’ll work with a supervisor from your department. The supervisor’s job is to give you feedback and advice throughout the process.

The dissertation supervisor is often assigned by the department, but you might be allowed to indicate preferences or approach potential supervisors. If so, try to pick someone who is familiar with your chosen topic, whom you get along with on a personal level, and whose feedback you’ve found useful in the past.

How will your supervisor help you?

Your supervisor is there to guide you through the dissertation project, but you’re still working independently. They can give feedback on your ideas, but not come up with ideas for you.

You may need to take the initiative to request an initial meeting with your supervisor. Then you can plan out your future meetings and set reasonable deadlines for things like completion of data collection, a structure outline, a first chapter, a first draft, and so on.

Make sure to prepare in advance for your meetings. Formulate your ideas as fully as you can, and determine where exactly you’re having difficulties so you can ask your supervisor for specific advice.

Your approach to your dissertation will vary depending on your field of study. The first thing to consider is whether you will do empirical research , which involves collecting original data, or non-empirical research , which involves analysing sources.

Empirical dissertations (sciences)

An empirical dissertation focuses on collecting and analysing original data. You’ll usually write this type of dissertation if you are studying a subject in the sciences or social sciences.

  • What are airline workers’ attitudes towards the challenges posed for their industry by climate change?
  • How effective is cognitive behavioural therapy in treating depression in young adults?
  • What are the short-term health effects of switching from smoking cigarettes to e-cigarettes?

There are many different empirical research methods you can use to answer these questions – for example, experiments , observations, surveys , and interviews.

When doing empirical research, you need to consider things like the variables you will investigate, the reliability and validity of your measurements, and your sampling method . The aim is to produce robust, reproducible scientific knowledge.

Non-empirical dissertations (arts and humanities)

A non-empirical dissertation works with existing research or other texts, presenting original analysis, critique and argumentation, but no original data. This approach is typical of arts and humanities subjects.

  • What attitudes did commentators in the British press take towards the French Revolution in 1789–1792?
  • How do the themes of gender and inheritance intersect in Shakespeare’s Macbeth ?
  • How did Plato’s Republic and Thomas More’s Utopia influence nineteenth century utopian socialist thought?

The first steps in this type of dissertation are to decide on your topic and begin collecting your primary and secondary sources .

Primary sources are the direct objects of your research. They give you first-hand evidence about your subject. Examples of primary sources include novels, artworks and historical documents.

Secondary sources provide information that informs your analysis. They describe, interpret, or evaluate information from primary sources. For example, you might consider previous analyses of the novel or author you are working on, or theoretical texts that you plan to apply to your primary sources.

Dissertations are divided into chapters and sections. Empirical dissertations usually follow a standard structure, while non-empirical dissertations are more flexible.

Structure of an empirical dissertation

Empirical dissertations generally include these chapters:

  • Introduction : An explanation of your topic and the research question(s) you want to answer.
  • Literature review : A survey and evaluation of previous research on your topic.
  • Methodology : An explanation of how you collected and analysed your data.
  • Results : A brief description of what you found.
  • Discussion : Interpretation of what these results reveal.
  • Conclusion : Answers to your research question(s) and summary of what your findings contribute to knowledge in your field.

Sometimes the order or naming of chapters might be slightly different, but all of the above information must be included in order to produce thorough, valid scientific research.

Other dissertation structures

If your dissertation doesn’t involve data collection, your structure is more flexible. You can think of it like an extended essay – the text should be logically organised in a way that serves your argument:

  • Introduction: An explanation of your topic and the question(s) you want to answer.
  • Main body: The development of your analysis, usually divided into 2–4 chapters.
  • Conclusion: Answers to your research question(s) and summary of what your analysis contributes to knowledge in your field.

The chapters of the main body can be organised around different themes, time periods, or texts. Below you can see some example structures for dissertations in different subjects.

  • Political philosophy

This example, on the topic of the British press’s coverage of the French Revolution, shows how you might structure each chapter around a specific theme.

Example of a dissertation structure in history

This example, on the topic of Plato’s and More’s influences on utopian socialist thought, shows a different approach to dividing the chapters by theme.

Example of a dissertation structure in political philosophy

This example, a master’s dissertation on the topic of how writers respond to persecution, shows how you can also use section headings within each chapter. Each of the three chapters deals with a specific text, while the sections are organised thematically.

Example of a dissertation structure in literature

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Like other academic texts, it’s important that your dissertation follows the formatting guidelines set out by your university. You can lose marks unnecessarily over mistakes, so it’s worth taking the time to get all these elements right.

Formatting guidelines concern things like:

  • line spacing
  • page numbers
  • punctuation
  • title pages
  • presentation of tables and figures

If you’re unsure about the formatting requirements, check with your supervisor or department. You can lose marks unnecessarily over mistakes, so it’s worth taking the time to get all these elements right.

How will you reference your sources?

Referencing means properly listing the sources you cite and refer to in your dissertation, so that the reader can find them. This avoids plagiarism by acknowledging where you’ve used the work of others.

Keep track of everything you read as you prepare your dissertation. The key information to note down for a reference is:

  • The publication date
  • Page numbers for the parts you refer to (especially when using direct quotes)

Different referencing styles each have their own specific rules for how to reference. The most commonly used styles in UK universities are listed below.

&
An author–date citation in brackets in the text… …corresponding to an entry in the alphabetised reference list at the end.
A superscript or bracketed reference number in the text… …corresponding to an entry in the numbered reference list at the end.
A footnote in the text that gives full source information… …and an alphabetised bibliography at the end listing all sources.

You can use the free APA Reference Generator to automatically create and store your references.

APA Reference Generator

The words ‘ dissertation ’ and ‘thesis’ both refer to a large written research project undertaken to complete a degree, but they are used differently depending on the country:

  • In the UK, you write a dissertation at the end of a bachelor’s or master’s degree, and you write a thesis to complete a PhD.
  • In the US, it’s the other way around: you may write a thesis at the end of a bachelor’s or master’s degree, and you write a dissertation to complete a PhD.

The main difference is in terms of scale – a dissertation is usually much longer than the other essays you complete during your degree.

Another key difference is that you are given much more independence when working on a dissertation. You choose your own dissertation topic , and you have to conduct the research and write the dissertation yourself (with some assistance from your supervisor).

Dissertation word counts vary widely across different fields, institutions, and levels of education:

  • An undergraduate dissertation is typically 8,000–15,000 words
  • A master’s dissertation is typically 12,000–50,000 words
  • A PhD thesis is typically book-length: 70,000–100,000 words

However, none of these are strict guidelines – your word count may be lower or higher than the numbers stated here. Always check the guidelines provided by your university to determine how long your own dissertation should be.

At the bachelor’s and master’s levels, the dissertation is usually the main focus of your final year. You might work on it (alongside other classes) for the entirety of the final year, or for the last six months. This includes formulating an idea, doing the research, and writing up.

A PhD thesis takes a longer time, as the thesis is the main focus of the degree. A PhD thesis might be being formulated and worked on for the whole four years of the degree program. The writing process alone can take around 18 months.

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Know How to Structure Your PhD Thesis

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Table of Contents

In your academic career, few projects are more important than your PhD thesis. Unfortunately, many university professors and advisors assume that their students know how to structure a PhD. Books have literally been written on the subject, but there’s no need to read a book in order to know about PhD thesis paper format and structure. With that said, however, it’s important to understand that your PhD thesis format requirement may not be the same as another student’s. The bottom line is that how to structure a PhD thesis often depends on your university and department guidelines.

But, let’s take a look at a general PhD thesis format. We’ll look at the main sections, and how to connect them to each other. We’ll also examine different hints and tips for each of the sections. As you read through this toolkit, compare it to published PhD theses in your area of study to see how a real-life example looks.

Main Sections of a PhD Thesis

In almost every PhD thesis or dissertation, there are standard sections. Of course, some of these may differ, depending on your university or department requirements, as well as your topic of study, but this will give you a good idea of the basic components of a PhD thesis format.

  • Abstract : The abstract is a brief summary that quickly outlines your research, touches on each of the main sections of your thesis, and clearly outlines your contribution to the field by way of your PhD thesis. Even though the abstract is very short, similar to what you’ve seen in published research articles, its impact shouldn’t be underestimated. The abstract is there to answer the most important question to the reviewer. “Why is this important?”
  • Introduction : In this section, you help the reviewer understand your entire dissertation, including what your paper is about, why it’s important to the field, a brief description of your methodology, and how your research and the thesis are laid out. Think of your introduction as an expansion of your abstract.
  • Literature Review : Within the literature review, you are making a case for your new research by telling the story of the work that’s already been done. You’ll cover a bit about the history of the topic at hand, and how your study fits into the present and future.
  • Theory Framework : Here, you explain assumptions related to your study. Here you’re explaining to the review what theoretical concepts you might have used in your research, how it relates to existing knowledge and ideas.
  • Methods : This section of a PhD thesis is typically the most detailed and descriptive, depending of course on your research design. Here you’ll discuss the specific techniques you used to get the information you were looking for, in addition to how those methods are relevant and appropriate, as well as how you specifically used each method described.
  • Results : Here you present your empirical findings. This section is sometimes also called the “empiracles” chapter. This section is usually pretty straightforward and technical, and full of details. Don’t shortcut this chapter.
  • Discussion : This can be a tricky chapter, because it’s where you want to show the reviewer that you know what you’re talking about. You need to speak as a PhD versus a student. The discussion chapter is similar to the empirical/results chapter, but you’re building on those results to push the new information that you learned, prior to making your conclusion.
  • Conclusion : Here, you take a step back and reflect on what your original goals and intentions for the research were. You’ll outline them in context of your new findings and expertise.

Tips for your PhD Thesis Format

As you put together your PhD thesis, it’s easy to get a little overwhelmed. Here are some tips that might keep you on track.

  • Don’t try to write your PhD as a first-draft. Every great masterwork has typically been edited, and edited, and…edited.
  • Work with your thesis supervisor to plan the structure and format of your PhD thesis. Be prepared to rewrite each section, as you work out rough drafts. Don’t get discouraged by this process. It’s typical.
  • Make your writing interesting. Academic writing has a reputation of being very dry.
  • You don’t have to necessarily work on the chapters and sections outlined above in chronological order. Work on each section as things come up, and while your work on that section is relevant to what you’re doing.
  • Don’t rush things. Write a first draft, and leave it for a few days, so you can come back to it with a more critical take. Look at it objectively and carefully grammatical errors, clarity, logic and flow.
  • Know what style your references need to be in, and utilize tools out there to organize them in the required format.
  • It’s easier to accidentally plagiarize than you think. Make sure you’re referencing appropriately, and check your document for inadvertent plagiarism throughout your writing process.

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Want some support during your PhD writing process? Our PhD Thesis Editing Plus service includes extensive and detailed editing of your thesis to improve the flow and quality of your writing. Unlimited editing support for guaranteed results. Learn more here , and get started today!

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How to write a Doctoral Thesis

Prof. HR Ahmad, Department of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, The Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan. E-mail: [email protected]

Note: * Ahmad HR. In: Medical Writing. Eds. SA Jawaid, MH Jafary & SJ Zuberi. PMJA, 1997 Ed II: 133-142.

PATIENT care and teaching are rather well established components of our medical career. However, with the passage of time a third component has started to influence our medical culture, namely research. 1 - 4 How to accept this challenge is a question. 5 Indeed, teaching and research form a dialectic unit, meaning that teaching without a research component is like a soup without salt. It is a well-established fact that the research activity of an institution is directly proportional to the number of qualified and committed PhD candidates. An inspiring infrastructure, laboratory facilities and libraries are pre-requisites for a research culture to grow. 6 - 8 This forms the basis of a generation cycle for an institution, so that research activity and its culture continues to grow from one generation to the next. The main objective of doctoral work in biomedical sciences is to develop a galaxy of scientist physicians and surgeons possessing high degree of humility, selflessness and ethical superiority. Such a programme will add a scholastic dimension to the clinical faculty.

Education in how to write a doctoral thesis or dissertation should be a part of the postgraduate curriculum, parallel to the laboratory work and Journal Club activities during the PhD studies and/or residency levels. 9 , 10 The overall structure of a doctoral thesis is internationally standardized. However, it varies in style and quality, depending upon how original the work is, and how much the author has understood the work. Therefore a thorough discussion with supervisor, colleagues and assistance from other authors through correspondence can be useful sources for consultation.

The choice of a topic for a doctoral thesis is a crucial step. It should be determined by scanning the literature whether the topic is original or similar work has already been done even a hundred years ago. It is the responsibility of both the supervisor and the PhD candidate to sort out this problem by continuous use of internet and a library. 11 The work leading to the PhD degree can originate from research in following spheres: 12

  • b) Methodology
  • c) Diagnostic
  • d) Therapeutic and Management
  • e) Epidemiology

The availability of internationally standardized methods, as well as research committed supervisors can enable physicians and surgeons to do PhD work in both basic and clinical health sciences. The importance of research in basic health sciences cannot be overemphasized. It is rather the base of the applied sciences. There are many instances where the elucidation of a mechanism involved in a process awaits the development of an adequate methodology. 13 In such a scenario; a new method is like a new eye. Research activity in the field of (a) and (b) illuminates the research directions for (c) (d) and (e). It is worth noting that sometimes important basic questions can come from (e) and stimulate research activity in the domain of basic health sciences. 14 , 15

Types of Doctoral Thesis

TYPE-I: Book Form: a classical style. The blueprint of this form is shown in Table-I .

Type-I: The Classical Book Form

INTRODUCTION:Literature review.
Identification of unresolved problem
Formulation of aims and objectives.
METHODOLOGY:Design.
Outcome variable.
Statistical analysis.
RESULTS:Figures and tables with appropriate legends.
Description, though not explanation of figures.
DISCUSSION:Criticism of methodology and design
Important observations.
Interpretation and reasoning of results.
Staging debate with the data of a literature table.
CONCLUSION:Based on the premises of outcome.
Claim of original research.
Implications for future research directions.
REFERENCES:Well analyzed.

TYPE-II: Cumulative Doctoral thesis: A modem but quite useful practice.

INTRODUCTION

A book containing the pearls of a PhD work has standardized divisions and formats, where the number of pages should be weighted in terms of content rather than container. The book includes summary, introduction, materials and methods, results, discussion, conclusions, references and acknowledgements.

Two exercises are mandatory before starting a PhD programme:

  • Literature survey using a regular library hours and internet surfing
  • Familiarization with the hands-on-experience of methodology involved in the work
  • The importance of a continuous literature survey using library, internet and direct correspondence with authors across the globe in the same field cannot be over-emphasized. The main goal of this exercise is to pinpoint the unresolved problem in the literature. An attempt to solve this problem now becomes the topic of the PhD thesis. All the relevant references should be collected, and carefully preserved in the form of a card system arranged alphabetically according to themes and authors. The introduction of the thesis should be styled like a review article with a critical analysis of the work of authors in the literature. The aims of the present PhD work can then also be addressed in the form of questions. The objectives would then deal with how to achieve the aims of the proposed study.

MATERIALS / SUBJECTS AND METHODS

Now comes the most crucial and functional part of the doctoral work, the materials/subjects and methods section. This part can be considered as the motor of the PhD work. The reliability, sensitivity and specificity of the motor must be checked before embarking on a long journey. Controlling the controls is the best guide for a precise and authentic work. Usually materials and methods contain components such as a description of the species involved, their number, age, weight and anthropometric parameters, types of surgical procedures and anesthesia if applied, and a detailed description of methodology. Continuous or point measurements should be thoroughly described. However, a dynamic method should always be preferred to static one.

The experimental protocol should be designed after a small pilot study, which is especially advisable in research on human subjects. A detailed and well-thought experimental protocol forms the basis of conditions under which the results would be obtained. Any deviation from the experimental protocol will affect the outcome, and the interpretation of results. It may be noted that great discoveries are usually accidental and without a protocol, based merely on careful observation! However, for the sake of a publication, a protocol has to be designed after the discovery. After having described the different phases of the experimental protocol with the help of a schematic diagram e.g., showing variables, time period and interventions, the selection of a statistical method should be discussed. Negative results should not be disregarded because they represent the boundary conditions of positive results. Sometimes the negative results are the real results.

It is usual practice that most PhD candidates start writing the methodological components first. This is followed by writing the results. The pre-requisites for writing results are that all figures, tables, schematic diagrams of methods and a working model should be ready. They should be designed in such a way that the information content of each figure should, when projected as a frame be visually clear to audience viewing it from a distance of about fifty feet. It is often observed that the presenters themselves have difficulty in deciphering a frame of the Power-Point being projected in a conference.

The results of a doctoral thesis should be treated like a bride. The flow of writing results becomes easier if all figures and tables are well prepared. This promotes the train of thoughts required to analyze the data in a quantitative fashion. The golden rule of writing results of a thesis is to describe what the figure shows. No explanation is required. One should avoid writing anything which is not there in a figure. Before writing one should observe each diagram for some time and make a list of observations in the form of key words. The more one has understood the information content of a figure; the better will be the fluency of writing. The interruption of the flow in writing most often indicates that an author has not understood the results. Discussion with colleagues or reference to the literature is the only remedy, and it functions sometimes like a caesarean procedure.

Statistical methods are good devices to test the degree of authenticity and precision of results if appropriately applied. The application of statistical technique in human studies poses difficulties because of large standard deviations. Outliers must be discussed, if they are excluded for the sake of statistical significance. Large standard deviations can be minimized by increasing the number of observations. If a regression analysis is not weighted, it gives faulty information. The correlation coefficient value can change from 0.7 to 0.4 if the regression analysis is weighted using Fisher’s test. The dissection of effect from artifact should be analysed in such a way that the signal to noise ratio of a parameter should be considered. A competent statistician should always be consulted in order to avoid the danger of distortion of results.

The legend of a figure should be well written. It contains a title, a brief description of variables and interventions, the main effect and a concluding remark conveying the original message. The writing of PhD work is further eased by a well maintained collection of data in the form of log book, original recordings, analyzed references with summaries and compiling the virgin data of the study on master plan sheet to understand the original signals before submitting to the procedures of statistics. The original data belong to the laboratory of an institution where it came into being and should be preserved for 5-7 years in the archive for the sake of brevity.

This is the liveliest part of a thesis. Its main goal is to defend the work by staging a constructive debate with the literature. The golden rule of this written debate should be that a rigid explanation looks backward and a design looks forward. The object is to derive a model out of a jig-saw puzzle of information. It should be designed in such a way that the results of the present study and those of authors from the literature can be better discussed and interpreted. Agreement and disagreement can be better resolved if one considers under what experimental conditions the results were obtained by the various authors. It means that the boundary conditions for each result should be carefully analyzed and compared.

The discussion can be divided into the following parts:

  • criticism of material/subjects and methods
  • a list of important observations of the present study
  • interpretation and comparison of results of other authors using a literature table
  • design of a model
  • claim of an original research work
  • The criticism of the methodological procedure enables a candidate to demonstrate how precisely the research work has been carried out. The interpretation of results depends critically on the strict experimental protocol and methods. For example, an epidemiological work is a study of a population. However, if the population sampling is done regularly at a specific location; the question arises as to how a result derived from a localized place can be applied to the whole population.
  • After having discussed at length the strong and weak points of material/subjects and methods, one should list in a telegraphic design the most important observations of the present study. This may form a good agenda to initiate interpretation, argument, reasoning and comparison with results of other authors. The outcome of this constructive debate should permit the design of a working model in the form of a block diagram. All statements should be very carefully referenced. The ratio of agreement and disagreement should indicate the ability of the author to reconcile conflicting data in an objective and quantitative way. Attempts should be made to design a solution out of the given quantum of information. It is also well known that most of the processes of human physiology can only be understood if their time course is known. The dynamic aspect of interpretation of results is therefore more powerful and superior to the static one. 16 Therefore a continuous record of variables should be preferred and sought to reveal the secrets hidden in the kinetics.
  • Finally, the discussion should conclude how far the study was successful in answering the questions being posed at the end of the introduction part. Usually a doctoral thesis raises more questions than it answers. In this way research does not come to a standstill and does become a life time engagement for a committed scientist. Also it is important to note that all scientific theses should be quantifiable and falsifiable, otherwise they lose the spirit and fragrance of a scientific research.
  • The author’s claim of original work is finally decided by the critical review of his research work by the literature and the number of times being cited. It can be easily read by a high rate of a citation index of a publication and invitation. When a methodological research clicks, one becomes a star overnight.

Type-II: CUMULATIVE DOCTORAL THESES

Another way of writing a doctoral work is a cumulative type of thesis. 11 It consists of a few original publications in refereed journals of repute. It is supplemented by a concise summary about the research work. This type of thesis is usually practiced in Sweden, Germany and other countries. It has the advantage of being doubly refereed by the journals and the faculty of health sciences. Additionally, papers are published during a doctoral work. A declaration has to be given to the faculty of science about the sharing of research work in publications, provided there are co-authors. The weightage should be in favour of the PhD candidate, so that the thesis can ethically be better defended before the team of august research faculty.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

A critical review of this manuscript by Dr. Roger Sutton, Dr. Khalid Khan, Dr. Bukhtiar Shah and Dr. Satwat Hashmi is gratefully acknowledged.

Dedicated to the memory of Mr. Azim Kidwai for his exemplary academic commitment and devotion to the science journalism in Pakistan.

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5 routes to getting a Doctorate

While most of those studying for a PhD take the PhD by thesis pathway, there are five viable routes to achieving a Doctorate, with both full-time and part-time options available

PhD by thesis

This is the most common means of getting a Doctorate. Over the three or four years of research at university, your PhD supervisor will support you as you aim to produce a thesis based on your research proposal .

A thesis is typically 60,000-90,000 words in length - although this can vary between institutions. For instance, the University of Glasgow's College of Social Sciences expects a thesis to be 70,000 to 100,000 words including references, bibliography and appendices, while the University of Cambridge has set an upper limit of 80,000 words.

Once completed, you'll need to defend your PhD thesis in front of a panel of examiners during your viva voce .

Doctorate by publication

This route involves submitting previously published work - such as books, book chapters and journal articles, which together form a coherent body of work and show evidence of an original contribution to a particular field of study.

The PhD by publication route is often taken by mid-career academics that haven't had the opportunity to undertake a standard Doctorate degree.

Generally, a minimum of five to eight published pieces are required, but this varies between institutions and depends on their length. The published work will be assessed to the same rigorous standards as a traditional PhD by thesis.

You must also provide a written supporting statement, which typically ranges from 5,000 to 15,000 words.

For instance, the University of Westminster asks for a commentary of 5,000 words (science and technology subjects) or 10,000 words (arts, social sciences and humanities). On the other hand, Queen Margaret University Edinburgh requires 12,000 to 15,000 words on the rationale and theoretical context for the portfolio of published work.

The work will then be presented to an academic committee. A supervisor will assist you with selecting which publications to submit, as well as guidance on the supporting statement.

Some universities accept only their own graduates for a PhD by publication, while others restrict this route to their academic staff. In general, you should have graduated from your first degree at least seven years ago to be eligible.

For example, The University of Manchester has published its own Guidance for the PhD By Published Work , with eligibility only extending to current members of staff.

Professional Doctorate

This type of Doctorate includes a significant taught component and a smaller research project, and is geared primarily towards current professionals in vocational sectors such as:

  • engineering and manufacturing
  • teaching and education .

Professional Doctorates are often taken on a part-time basis and can last between two and eight years. Like their standard PhD counterparts, they usually begin in October or January.

While you won't typically be looking to get an academic job , your research is expected to contribute to theory as well as professional practice. Projects often revolve around a real-life issue that affects your employer.

Several professional Doctorates, such as the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (DClinPsy), are accredited by a professional body - for instance, the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) and The British Psychological Society (BPS) - and may also lead to a professional qualification .

Common titles for graduates of professional Doctorate degrees include:

  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
  • Doctor of Education (EdD)
  • Doctor of Engineering (EngD)
  • Doctor of Medicine (MD).

Unlike many professional Doctorates, the EngD is typically offered as a full-time course and is aimed at young engineering graduates with little or no professional experience.

Integrated PhD

This four-year qualification, also known as the New Route PhD, involves studying a one-year research Masters degree (MRes) before progressing onto a three-year PhD.

Offered by a select number of universities across the UK, integrated PhDs are supported by the government and the British Council through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) .

Visit Research Council funding for further information on research and funding for different types of PhD.

The integrated PhD involves a combination of taught materials, practical experience and advanced research. This allows you to learn subject-specific methodologies, while building the transferable skills that will enable you to become a leader in your chosen profession.

Institutions can also develop personalised integrated PhD programmes to meet each student's needs. For example, universities may offer you the opportunity to gain a postgraduate certificate (PGCert) in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education - perfect if you're considering a career as a higher education lecturer .

Online/distance learning PhD

As PhDs are based primarily on independent research rather than time spent in lectures and seminars, distance learning has always been a viable route for many Doctoral students.

PhDs by distance learning offered by course providers such as The Open University are therefore a good option to consider if you've got family or work commitments or are an international student - as this gives you the chance to undertake Doctoral research without having to live close to your chosen institution. It's also a suitable mode of study if your subject requires you to be based in a specific location away from the university.

For the most part, you'll be in touch with your supervisor by phone, email or Skype/Zoom. You'll need to bear in mind that even if you opt for this form of research, you'll generally still need to attend university for one or two weeks of each academic year for meetings and to receive research skills training. Your final exam may be undertaken either face-to-face or virtually.

With online PhDs, you can usually register as a full or part-time student. The level of fees you pay varies between institutions - some charge the same as for a standard PhD while others offer a reduced rate.

Check that any funding you plan to apply for is available to distance learning students, as this isn't always the case.

Search for online/distance learning PhDs .

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The PhD Proofreaders

How To Structure A PhD Thesis

Nov 21, 2019

How To Structure A PhD Thesis

Introduction

Universities and supervisors often assume that PhD students know how to structure their PhD theses. But often this assumption is false, which can cause considerable headache and uncertainty.  It can also waste a lot of time and money as you engage in a process of trial and error working out what goes where.

If you go to your university’s library, you’ll find whole shelves of   books on how to structure or write your PhD . Many of these are great, and I highly recommend you check them out, but here I want to present to you a thesis structure 101 lesson.

I’ve read those books,   proofread hundreds of PhDs   and   coached   dozens of students and want to take what I know and run you through a basic introduction to structuring your PhD   thesis .

In what follows, I’ll talk you through the basic outline of a typical thesis. This mirrors and expands upon the   PhD Writing Template   I’ve created. If you haven’t already downloaded it, you can find it   here .  

Now, I want to make an important observation: what I present below is an outline of the   typical   thesis. Yours may differ, whether considerably or just a little. That’s fine. The purpose is to give you an overarching summary so that when you do approach the books and guides that exist, you’ve already got a basic understanding of what goes where and why.

So, in what follows, I’ll walk you through each of the main sections and talk about what the purpose of each is, offer some tips for planning and writing them, and show you how they relate to one another.

At the end, I’ll tell you about an   email based course   I’ve put together that will teach you how to plan, structure and write your thesis. It goes into a lot more detail than I’ve presented here, so check it out if you’d like to learn more. 

How to Structure an Abstract

Your abstract should be a short summary at the beginning of the thesis that sums up the research, summarises the separate sections of the thesis and outlines the contribution.

Above all, your PhD abstract should answer the question: ‘So what?’ In other words, what is the contribution of your thesis to the field?

  • What is the reason for writing the thesis?
  • What are the current approaches and gaps in the literature?
  • What are your research question(s) and aims?
  • Which methodology have you used?
  • What are the main findings?
  • What are the main conclusions and implications?

One thing that should be obvious is that you can’t write your abstract until the study itself has been written. It’ll typically be the last thing you write (alongside the acknowledgements).

The tricky thing about writing a great PhD abstract is that you haven’t got much space to answer the six questions above. There are a few things to consider though that will help to elevate your writing and make your abstract as efficient as possible:

  • Give a good first impression by writing in short clear sentences.
  • Don’t repeat the title in the abstract.
  • Don’t cite references.
  • Use keywords from the document.
  • Respect the word limit.
  • Don’t be vague – the abstract should be a self-contained summary of the research, so don’t introduce ambiguous words or complex terms.
  • Focus on just four or five essential points, concepts, or findings. Don’t, for example, try to explain your entire theoretical framework.
  • Edit it carefully. Make sure every word is relevant (you haven’t got room for wasted words) and that each sentence has maximum impact.
  • Avoid lengthy background information.
  • Don’t mention anything that isn’t discussed in the thesis.
  • Avoid overstatements.
  • Don’t spin your findings, contribution or significance to make your research sound grander or more influential that it actually is.

How to Structure an Introduction

The introduction serves three purposes:

  • Establish your territory.
  • Establish and justify your niche.
  • Explain the significance of your research.

The reader should be able to understand the whole thesis just by reading the introduction. It should tell them all they need to know about:

  • What your thesis is about
  • Why it is important
  • How it was conducted
  • How it is laid out

How to Structure a Literature Review

Imagine you’re making a new model of mobile phone. You’d need to look at old models to see how other people are designing them (and so you know how yours will differ) and to see how they are made. You’ll need to look for their flaws, and get an idea of where they can be improved.

That’s because you can’t make something new if you don’t know what the old one looks like.

The literature review is the same. You use it to make the case for your research by surveying the work that’s already been done in your discipline (and sometimes beyond). It’s a bit like a family tree. You use it to trace the lineage of your study. Putting it in its place.

A literature review has three objectives:

  • Summarise what has already been discussed in your field, both to demonstrate that you understand your field and to show how your study relates to it.
  • Highlight gaps, problems or shortcomings in existing research to show the original contribution that your thesis makes.
  • Identify important studies, theories, methods or theoretical frameworks that can be applied in your research.
  • Pick a broad topic
  • Find the way in
  • Who’s saying what and when
  • Narrow down the field
  • Narrow does the sources
  • Think about questions that haven’t been asked
  • Write early, write quickly and write relevantly

how to do thesis doctorate

Your PhD Thesis. On one page.

Use our free PhD Structure Template to quickly visualise every element of your thesis.

How to Structure a Theory Framework Chapter

The theory framework is the scaffolding upon which your thesis is built. When you’re done writing your theory framework chapter or section, your reader should be able to answer these questions:

  • What theoretical concepts are used in the research? What hypotheses, if any, are you using?
  • Why have you chosen this theory?
  • What are the implications of using this theory?
  • How does the theory relate to the existing literature, your problem statement and your epistemological and ontological positions? How has this theory has been applied by others in similar contexts? What can you learn from them and how do you differ?
  • How do you apply the theory and measure the concepts (with reference to the literature review/problem statement)?
  • What is the relationship between the various elements and concepts within the model? Can you depict this visually?

That means that a theory framework can take different forms: 

It can state the theoretical assumptions underpinning the study.

  • It can connect the empirical data to existing knowledge.
  • It can allow you to come up with propositions, concepts or hypotheses that you can use to answer ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions.

Broadly speaking, a theory framework can be used to either derive certain testable assumptions or as a way of making sense of your data. In both cases, it structures your data collection by focusing your attention on a small subset of concepts.

You can, therefore, think of it as a toolbox. In your literature review, you outlined the problem that needs ‘fixing’. The theory framework is a toolbox stuffed full of concepts, variables, or hypotheses (your tools) that you’ll then use to address the problem and do the fixing.

You can find an   extended guide on creating your theory framework . Check it out if you’re still struggling.

When you discuss theory, you are seeking to provide a background examination of what other researchers think about a phenomenon and how they have conceptualised it. You should discuss the relevance of particular theoretical approaches for your study, and you should take care to consider the dominant theoretical schools in your field. This shows the examiner you have understood the state of the art.

But, you should do so critically, and question the suitability of any theories that exist or that you are creating to your particular study. That means that you should discuss previous applications of theory in order to discuss what implications they have for your own research.

The reason you do this is that your discipline likely has accepted and ’tried and tested’ ways of doing things. In many cases, this is an advantage, because it can serve as inspiration for your choice of concepts, hypotheses or variables, and can influence your choice of methods.

In other cases, it may be that the existing theory is ill-equipped to account for your particular phenomenon. In either case, you need to demonstrate a good understanding of what that theory is discussing, both to demonstrate your skills as a researcher and scholar, but also to justify your own theoretical and methodological position. 

How to Structure a Methods Chapter

The job of a methods chapter is:

  • To summarise, explain and recount how you answered your research questions and to explain how this relates to the methods used by other scholars in similar contexts and similar studies
  • To discuss – in detail – the techniques you used to collect the data used to answer your research questions 
  • To discuss why the techniques are relevant to the study’s aims and objectives
  • To explain how you used them

Your reader should be able to answer the following questions when they’re done reading it:

  • What did you did do to achieve the research aims?
  • Why did you choose this particular approach over others?
  • How does it relate to your epistemological and ontological positions?
  • What tools did you use to collect data and why? What are the implications?
  • When did you collect data, and from whom?
  • What tools have you used to analyze the data and why? What are the implications? Are there ethical considerations to take into account?

How to Structure an Empirical Chapter

  • What are the results of your investigations?  
  • How do the findings relate to previous studies?  
  • Was there anything surprising or that didn’t work out as planned?  
  • Are there any themes or categories that emerge from the data?   
  • Have you explained to the reader why you have reached particular conclusions?
  • Have you explained the results?

Having your PhD proofread will save you time and money

Our top-rated PhD proofreaders check your writing, formatting, references and readability. The goal? To make sure your research is written and presented in the most compelling manner possible. 

That way, you’ll have complete peace of mind prior to submission and save yourself months of costly revisions. 

How to Structure a Discussion Chapter 

The discussion chapter is the place in which you discuss your empirics. Many people find it the hardest chapter, primarily because it’s the stage at which you start to flex your academic muscles and speak like a doctor. It is here that you start to push the boundaries of knowledge.

That’s a hard thing to do, largely because you’ve probably never had to do it before. All through your masters and undergraduate work you’ve learnt what other people have found. Now you’re finding out things that no-one else knows.

The difference between a discussion and an empirical chapter is subtle, but I’ve written   a detailed guide   that will clear up any confusion you’ve got.

How to Structure a Conclusion

The job of the conclusion is to:

  • Fully and clearly articulate the answer to your research questions
  • Discuss how the research is related to your aims and objectives
  • Explain the significance of the work
  • Outline its shortcomings
  • Suggest avenues for future research

It is not the place to introduce new ideas and concepts, or to present new findings.

Your job is to reflect back on your original aims and intentions and discuss them in terms of your findings and new expertise.

Three things to do in a conclusion:

  • Own your research by speaking with authority! You’ve earned the right to do that by the time you reach your conclusion 
  • See the thesis and not the detail. Drive home the contribution that the thesis has made. Whatever it is, you need to shout about it. Loudly. Like an expert.
  • Each chapter is a piece of the puzzle and only when they are all slotted together do you have an entire thesis. That means that a great conclusion is one that shows that the thesis is bigger than the sum of its individual chapters. 
  • By the time the reader has finished reading the conclusion, they should be able to answer the following questions:
  • Have you briefly recapped the research questions and objectives?
  • Have you provided a brief recount of the answer to those questions?
  • Have you clearly discussed the significance and implications of those findings?
  • Have you discussed the contribution that the study has made?
  • Do the claims you are making align with the content of the results and discussion chapters?

Wrapping Up 

There’s clearly a lot more that can be said about how to structure each of these sections. Go to your university library and you’ll find dozens of books on how to write a PhD. Google it and you’ll find thousands of posts. It’s hard to know where to start.

That’s why  I’ve put together an  email based course on How To Write Your Thesis . Over twelve emails you’ll get detailed chapter guides that expand on the above, a ton of templates, checklist and worksheets, and lots of curated videos and external resources to really cement your learning. By the end, you’ll understand what goes where and why and would have saved yourself a bunch of time and energy sifting through all those books and posts.

That way, you can write more, worry less and graduate sooner.

To sign up,   click here . 

Hello, Doctor…

Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Be able to call yourself Doctor sooner with our five-star rated How to Write A PhD email-course. Learn everything your supervisor should have taught you about planning and completing a PhD.

Now half price. Join hundreds of other students and become a better thesis writer, or your money back. 

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26 comments.

Abdullahi

This is seriously and absolutely helpful but some terminologies used may not be understood by most beginners in research methodology. Beginners would better understand the use of chapter1, etc. Thank you.

Dr. Max Lempriere

Thanks for the useful feedback. Enjoy the rest of your day.

Lallé M. ZOUBA

Wonderful…. It is really practical to have such tips… Many thanks….

You’re welcome!

Ahmed aldhafeeri

Well done Max, very informative post.

Great. Thanks for the kind words.

Dean -

Cheers Max! Sent it on to many friends starting the journey

Great. Thanks Dean!

Maureen

Hi Dr Lumpriere,

Thanks for creating this website, it is really helpful to situate oneself – I am really new to this. In your experience, how many hours does one (roughly. – of course depending on the scope of the project) have to dedicate to a PhD weekly on average?

Thanks again, Maureen

Hi Maureen – it really depends on so many factors, including how much familiarity you already have with research and how quickly you want to finish. It’s hard to say! I devoted around 3/4 of full time to mine per week – so roughly 30 hours. But then I had never conducted research before, didn’t have any caregiving responsibilities, and wanted to complete quickly.

Felix

Thanks a lot for dedicating your time and effort to helping those who are still struggling with writing up their PhD!

Best, Felix

You’re welcome Felix.

Adebayo Adeleye

Good job. Thanks for the information here.

You’re welcome! Glad you found it useful.

Eric

This is great, I am impressed by the guideline. I shall consult these steps as I work on my Thesis for my PhD.

Iram

Thanks for this information keep it up.

Carlo Butera

Very interesting and useful job!

Stephen Ubah

Well done Dr Max. Quite helpful, thanks

Adebanjo Babawale

I am really grateful for this tip. God bless the writer in Jesus’ name

Iyua Mbah

Thank you for this guide.

Salin Gurung

Thank you very much for the information. It’s very useful.

Marta

This article is insanely helpful. Especially the questions that should be answered in each part. Even though I was aware of most of it, seeing it all put together so neatly helps a lot. Thank you!

Wow. Such great praise. Thanks!

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As a graduate student, you may need to complete a thesis or dissertation as part of your program's graduation requirements. While theses are common among master’s students and dissertations among doctoral students, this may not apply universally across all programs. We encourage you to reach out to your program adviser to determine the specific requirements for your culminating project.

Office of Theses and Dissertations

The Office of Theses and Dissertations is the unit of the Graduate School responsible for certifying that theses and dissertations have been prepared in accordance with formatting requirements established by the Graduate School, the University Libraries, and the graduate faculty of Penn State. We are here to help you navigate the review and approval process to ensure you are able to graduate on time.

Cover of the 2023-2024 Penn State Graduate School Thesis and Dissertation Handbook

The Thesis and Dissertation Handbook explains Penn State formatting requirements for all master’s theses and doctoral dissertations. It covers the submission process and approval deadlines, the responsibilities of each student, and provides page examples. We highly recommend all students doing theses or dissertations to carefully review the handbook.

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Questions about theses, dissertations, or Graduate School commencement should be directed to the Graduate School Office of Theses and Dissertations (OTD) .

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Among these resources, you can get help from the Graduate Writing Center and the Statistical Counseling Center, notify the University of your intent to graduate, and prepare for Commencement.

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Preliminary review.

Reviews are scheduled through Microsoft Bookings following the instructions on the Preliminary Technical Review page.

All reviews should be made using your school email address ending in @baylor.edu.

All reviews take place online via Teams. You will receive a Teams meeting link in the confirmation email you receive after scheduling.

You most likely used an email other than your school email ending in @baylor.edu. The confirmation emails with the links often go to spam; please check that folder.

Use the options on your confirmation email to reschedule your review. Please do not try to reschedule via email.

Appointment slots are limited; you should only sign up for one preliminary review to ensure there is opportunity for all students to have a review. The only exception is if a Dissertation and Thesis staff member directs you to sign up for an additional appointment.

You must submit your materials to your profile in Vireo at least one hour prior to your review. If your materials are not submitted, you risk having your review cancelled.

Reviews for students who have clearly not applied the required formatting will be cancelled. Students will be notified via email.

Vireo Submission (Baylor's Submission Portal)

Students submit through Baylor’s Dissertation and Thesis submission portal, Vireo, which can be accessed at https://baylor-etd.tdl.org/. The manuscript and all accompanying documents will be uploaded there.  We do not accept documents via email.

You should only use the “Shibboleth Login” following the instructions on the Preliminary Review page. Do not create an account with an email/password. It should require you to use Duo to login after clicking “Shibboleth Login.”

Yes. Students should never create a new submission, even if they are temporarily unable to upload. (See next question.) All revisions, forms, and other documents must be submitted to the same profile.

The system will only allow uploads if your status is set to “Needs Corrections.” Please email  [email protected]  and a consultant will change your status.

Students are not able to change basic submission information once it is submitted. Please email the changes you need made to  [email protected]  and we will make those changes in the system for you.

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a) Click on the correct signature page (number of committee members = number of lines) b)When you see the screen that says "Please Wait," click on the download button in the right-hand corner of the screen.  c) Save the document to your computer. d) Go to the folder where you saved the signature page.  e) Right click, select "Open With" and click on "Adobe." 

Click “print” and select “Microsoft Print to PDF.” This will allow you to save as a regular PDF without fillable fields.

No. You should turn in the signed page with signatures from all committee members and your department chair; the Graduate School will obtain the Dean’s signature.

No. The Graduate School does not accept paper copies of any forms or manuscripts. All paperwork should be uploaded directly to the student’s Vireo submission portal. Physical forms that are dropped off at the office will be shredded.

Baylor provides KIC scanners for student use in Moody Library, including in the Graduate Research Center on the 2 nd  floor. Students may also choose to use scanning apps on their phones, such as Scannable, etc. Photographs or sloppy scans of forms are not accepted.

No. The only forms submitted directly by the department are both online: The Announcement of Oral Exam form and the Results of Oral Examination form. Departments who assist in obtaining signatures should send the signed forms back to the student, who will then submit.

Students should submit forms (unsigned and signed signature pages, Copyright and Availability form, and Approval of Final Dissertation/Thesis Copy form) directly to Vireo. Doctoral students will need to submit the Doctoral Investment Form online.

It is your responsibility to schedule far enough in advance to ensure that all committee members can meet  prior  to the defense deadline.

As long as you have all of your materials and final revisions turned in by the 10-day deadline, you may make necessary formatting changes after that deadline.

All changes should be made within 48 hours of receiving the notification email.

The Dissertation and Thesis Office works through submissions as quickly as possible. Timelines vary by individual student based on how quickly they turn in revisions, how many revisions they have, and whether we have received all of their forms.

Master's students'  information is sent to our Student Records area immediately upon approval in  Vireo . After receiving the Vireo approval email, please allow for a few days for that requirement to be cleared on your audit.

Doctoral students'  information is sent to our Student Records area immediately upon approval in  ProQuest  (see section below.) After receiving the Vireo approval email, doctoral students should follow the instructions in the email in order to upload to ProQuest. They will receive an email from ProQuest alerting them when their ProQuest submission has been approved. After receiving the ProQuest approval email, please allow for a few days for that requirement to be cleared on your audit.

ProQuest Submission (Global repository; Required for doctoral students AFTER Vireo Approval)

Students should only upload to ProQuest after receiving the approval email from Vireo stating that their dissertation (or thesis) is approved and ready for submission. The Vireo approval email includes instructions on how to upload to ProQuest, including the information in the questions below.

After approval on Vireo, go to your Vireo submission and download the “primary document” on file. This will include your unsigned signature page and be the official copy of your dissertation approved by Baylor. This is the document you should upload to ProQuest. It is also the document you should use for all future printings/copies of your dissertation.

Baylor does not pay any fees associated with ProQuest submission and publication. The “Traditional Publishing” option is free through ProQuest and is what the majority of students select.

Based on US Copyright laws, your dissertation is automatically protected by copyright in your name when it assumes "fixed form." Whether or not you want to formally register that copyright with the US Copyright Office is up to you.

You should choose the embargo that matches the one indicated on your Copyright and Availability form. If you chose a 5-year embargo, you will need to use the “Note to Administrator” to let us know, and we will manually enter that embargo before approval.

Bound copies are processed only after submissions are delivered to the system on the day of commencement. This means you will need to wait several weeks after your graduation for your copies to arrive. Baylor is not involved in printing or delivering bound copies; any questions regarding printed and bound copies should be directed to ProQuest.

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Graduate Student Self-Care

Self-care, the intentional and active cultivation of health and wellbeing, has been found to support favorable outcomes across an array of life domains. In addition to preventing and managing disease, burnout, and vicarious traumatization, self-care can promote health and optimal wellbeing. In some occupations (e.g., nursing, psychology, social work), it is mandated as an ethical imperative to prevent impaired professional functioning and associated deleterious effects on clients, patients, and communities served. Yet even in these fields, graduate students report practicing insufficient self-care, which may contribute to decreased retention rates, student productivity, and student wellbeing. As a population with limited time and access to resources, graduate students may need additional external, institutional, and program support to be able to practice effective self-care. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing lifestyle imbalances present in graduate education and further elucidated the need for systemic self-care support. This study uses a systematized review with thematic analysis to compile studies investigating self-care in graduate student populations, with special attention to studies conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Themes that arose include benefits of self-care, individual factors predicting greater self-care use, challenges and barriers to self-care use, recommendations to support self-care in graduate students, and graduate student self-care during COVID-19. Implications and recommendations for programs and institutions are discussed.

To prevent burnout and impaired professional functioning, it is crucial that psychologists practice self-care. Despite its ethical importance, self-care is generally still considered an individual responsibility, and most doctoral trainees in psychology report practicing insufficient self-care. The intensive time and energy demands of doctoral education—combined with other competing responsibilities—may limit opportunities for adequate self-care, which poses negative implications for trainee wellbeing and professional functioning. This study uses qualitative methods to investigate factors in doctoral trainees’ social ecologies that they perceive support and impede their self-care, with the goal of shining light on factors that promote and impede self-care in an increasingly diverse population. Participants identified myriad risk and protective factors; supports and challenges; and coping strategies they perceived as detrimental and beneficial, with many factors identified as beneficial when present and detrimental when absent (or vice versa). The Phenomenological Variant of Ecological Systems theory (PVEST) was used as a framework to understand these results, which suggest that programs and institutions could do more to combat the harmful effects of white supremacy and toxic productivity on student self-care and wellbeing.

Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy
  • Educational Studies

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Additional committee member 2, additional committee member 3, additional committee member 4, usage metrics.

  • Counselling psychology

CC BY 4.0

What to do when you need medical care fast

Call 911, go to the ER, call your doctor or head to urgent care? How to choose.

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Mild discomfort in your chest in the very early hours of the morning. A high fever that hits on Saturday morning and doesn’t respond to over-the-counter pain relievers. A fall that’s left you a bit dizzy. In such situations, should you call your doctor’s practice, visit a nearby urgent care clinic or get to an emergency room?

Sometimes it can be hard to tell. And “going to the ER can be time-consuming and stressful,” says Kevin Biese, director of the division of geriatric emergency medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill. But it’s always better to be safe than sorry, he says. The expert advice here can guide you on the steps to take in some key situations.

Call 911 immediately. For some problems, you want to get to an ER as fast as possible and by ambulance, according to Biese.

“If you call an ambulance, they can begin lifesaving care while you’re on the way to the emergency room,” he says. Plus, the emergency medical technicians in the ambulance can communicate with the hospital, so staff can be ready for you when you arrive. In some cases, EMTs can help determine where to take you for the best care.

For instance, if they suspect a stroke, they’ll take you to the nearest specialized stroke center. That’s because it’s important to receive clot-busting drugs within one to three hours after a stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (In some cases, it may be up to 4½ hours.) Below are some examples of when to call 911 right away.

  • Chest pain.
  • Shortness of breath (feeling breathless, gasping for air or, in severe cases, feeling as if you’re suffocating).
  • Facial drooping on one side. This means that if you try to smile, it will be lopsided, according to Biese.
  • Arm weakness on one side. If you raise both arms, one drifts downward.
  • Speech difficulty. You’re unable to speak, or speech is slurred and unclear.
  • A head injury followed by confusion, fainting or falling unconscious.
  • Choking or a breathing stoppage.
  • A spine or neck injury.
  • A severe burn.
  • An electric shock or being struck by lightning.

Go to the ER. In the instances below, going to an emergency department is usually the right step. “Either have someone drive you or call 911,” says Saket Saxena, co-director of the geriatric emergency department at the Cleveland Clinic. You may also want to make your doctor’s office aware. Act if:

  • You have respiratory symptoms (such as coughing, a runny nose or throat pain) plus shortness of breath. This could be a sign that you’re low on oxygen or you’re developing complications such as pneumonia, says Cameron Gettel, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn.
  • You fall and hit your head but are alert and/or think you may have broken a bone. (If you use blood-thinning meds, consider going to an ER after even a minor fall.) You’ll need to be evaluated for a concussion and internal bleeding , Biese says. If X-rays reveal a broken bone, timely care will ease pain and can prevent complications like permanent muscle damage.
  • You have a deep cut that doesn’t stop bleeding after 10 minutes. While an urgent care clinic may be able to take care of a minor cut, a deep gash that may require stitches is best handled at an ER, Gettel says.
  • You experience sudden, intense vomiting that lasts for more than an hour or two. You may need IV fluids. In addition, such vomiting can indicate a life-threatening condition, such as an intestinal blockage.

Call your regular doctor. In most other less obviously urgent — but uncomfortable — situations, such as a painful pulled muscle, first call your doctor’s office. Many primary care practices set aside time for people who need to be seen the same day, Saxena says.

If your regular doctor or another physician in the practice isn’t available, ask to see an advanced practice provider, such as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant, says Terry Fulmer, a registered nurse and president of the John A. Hartford Foundation in New York, which is dedicated to improving health care for older adults. They will have quick access to your medical records and may already be familiar with you.

If your provider’s practice is completely booked but is affiliated with a nearby medical center, check the center’s website to see whether it offers same-day appointments with other doctors in its system. Or consider looking for an opening with another local doctor on Zocdoc, Fulmer says. The online service searches for appointment slots filtering by medical specialty, location and insurance plan. “A lot of physician practices use it because it’s a way to fill last-minute cancellations,” she says.

On evenings and weekends, Saxena suggests phoning your doctor’s practice. There’s usually a provider on call who can advise you on whether you can wait to be seen when the practice reopens or if you need to go to an urgent care clinic or emergency room.

Consider urgent care. For illnesses and injuries that don’t have the potential to be life-threatening, urgent care clinics — which are often open in the evenings and on weekends — might be an option.

“If you tripped and think you sprained your ankle, and it’s after normal business hours, it makes sense to head to the urgent care clinic for an X-ray to make sure, and to get bandaged up,” Gettel says. The clinic can also, for instance, test for the flu and covid-19, check your heart rate and blood pressure, listen to your lungs, and, if you’re experiencing painful urination, check your urine and prescribe antibiotics if you have a urinary tract infection .

Urgent care facilities are usually run by doctors, nurse practitioners or physician assistants. “That’s different from an emergency room, which is staffed with board-certified emergency medicine physicians,” Biese says. “As a result, there may be a difference in experience and skill set.”

They’re best if your symptoms are straightforward. “Most urgent care centers don’t have the wide array of tests needed to try to figure a more complex situation out,” Biese says. And people with serious chronic health conditions, like heart failure, should probably go to an ER outside of their doctor’s office hours.

Another get-seen-fast possibility for simpler problems: pharmacy walk-in clinics at major retailers such as CVS, Target, Walgreens and Walmart, which may be open in the evenings and on weekends. These are a good option for ailments like strep throat, ear infections and urinary tract infections, Fulmer says. They can also treat minor sprains, cuts that don’t require stitches and rashes caused by poison ivy.

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College of engineering, ph.d. dissertation defense - soobum kim, related links.

Title :  Coverage Control for Constrained Heterogeneous Multi-Robot Teams

Dr. Samuel Coogan, ECE, Chair, Advisor

Dr. Magnus Egerstedt, Irvine, Co-Advisor

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