To get a doctor’s degree, you must become familiar with current scientific knowledge of your subject, add to this knowledge by making an original discovery, and then report the results in a dissertation. The dissertation is a monograph, i.e., a self-contained piece of work, written solely by the PhD candidate and no one else. It sets out a certain problem that the candidate has worked on under the guidance of one or more academic advisors. It motivates and defines the problem, reviews existing approaches to the problem, identifies through critical analysis a clear gap for a possible novel academic contribution, and spells out a so-called hypothesis, which is a proposed explanation for the problem or a proposed solution to a problem. The dissertation also explains in sufficient detail, and justifies, the work undertaken to decide on the hypothesis (or hypotheses as the case may be). This work typically involves a combination of further literature studies, theoretical analysis, experimental design, data collection, carrying out experiments, data analysis, and drawing conclusions. A good dissertation also delineates the limitation of the work done or the conclusions drawn and outlines possible future research directions.
Most Universities in the world award a PhD degree for demonstrating the ability to carry out independent research to academic standards. Normally, a successful PhD candidate shows this ability by
- Having studied a particular area within a subject for three to four years
- Having made at least one new discovery and/or at least one contribution to the knowledge of a sub-area within the chosen area of the subject.
- Having written a thesis about that area, placing the own independent, novel contribution in context and comparing it critically with other approaches.
- Having defended the thesis in the so-called viva, which is a discussion with examiners, who are experts in the area.
- Having managed a project from beginning to end.
- Having consolidated your communication, information-seeking and intellectual skills.
A good dissertation will:
- Have a clear objective, based on a well-worked out thesis or central question.
- Be well planned and widely researched.
- Show that the student has a good grasp of relevant concepts and is able to apply these in their own work.
- Include analysis, critical evaluation and discussion, rather than a simple description.
- Contain consistent and correct referencing.
- Be structured and expressed in an appropriate academic way.
- Show your tutors that you have learnt something on the course and have been able to use this to produce a well-argued extended piece of academic work.
A mediocre dissertation will:
- Have a very general or unclear title.
- Be poorly planned, with a narrow field of research.
- Rely heavily on source material, with little or no attempt to apply this to the student’s aims.
- Be mostly descriptive.
- Contain little or no referencing, perhaps in an incorrect format.
- Be poorly structured, with possible plagiarism of source material.
- Not convince your tutors that you have learnt much.
Structure of a dissertation
All dissertations will vary in format, style and design. It is important that you familiarise yourself with the particular requirements of your institution and degree programme. A typical format guide would require the dissertation to be word-processed with double or one-and-a-half spacing, and a wide left margin to enable binding. Most formats would include:
- Title Page
- Dedication page
- Declaration page
- Certification page
- List of Tables (if any)
- List of Figures (if any)
- List of Abbreviations (if any), alphabetically ordered
- Literature Review
- Materials and Methods
- Summary/Conclusion, Recommendations (if appropriate)
Mistakes while writing a dissertation:
- An incorrect committee- the committee listed on your title page (and the signatures you submit to the Graduate Division) must match your currently approved committee.
- Do not use a different name than that which is officially recognized.
- Page numbers- Read the section on pagination carefully.
- Page rotation- some pages may be rotated to a landscape orientation. However, page numbers must appear in the same place throughout the document.
- If you have an approved designated emphasis, it must be listed on your title page and your abstract.
- Do not include the signature/approval page in your electronic dissertation. The abstract must be unsigned.
- Do not include previous degrees on your title page.
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