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How To Write A Dissertation Or Thesis

8 straightforward steps to craft an a-grade dissertation.

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) Expert Reviewed By: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | June 2020

Writing a dissertation or thesis is not a simple task. It takes time, energy and a lot of will power to get you across the finish line. It’s not easy – but it doesn’t necessarily need to be a painful process. If you understand the big-picture process of how to write a dissertation or thesis, your research journey will be a lot smoother.  

In this post, I’m going to outline the big-picture process of how to write a high-quality dissertation or thesis, without losing your mind along the way. If you’re just starting your research, this post is perfect for you. Alternatively, if you’ve already submitted your proposal, this article which covers how to structure a dissertation might be more helpful.

How To Write A Dissertation: 8 Steps

  • Clearly understand what a dissertation (or thesis) is
  • Find a unique and valuable research topic
  • Craft a convincing research proposal
  • Write up a strong introduction chapter
  • Review the existing literature and compile a literature review
  • Design a rigorous research strategy and undertake your own research
  • Present the findings of your research
  • Draw a conclusion and discuss the implications

Start writing your dissertation

Step 1: Understand exactly what a dissertation is

This probably sounds like a no-brainer, but all too often, students come to us for help with their research and the underlying issue is that they don’t fully understand what a dissertation (or thesis) actually is.

So, what is a dissertation?

At its simplest, a dissertation or thesis is a formal piece of research , reflecting the standard research process . But what is the standard research process, you ask? The research process involves 4 key steps:

  • Ask a very specific, well-articulated question (s) (your research topic)
  • See what other researchers have said about it (if they’ve already answered it)
  • If they haven’t answered it adequately, undertake your own data collection and analysis in a scientifically rigorous fashion
  • Answer your original question(s), based on your analysis findings

 A dissertation or thesis is a formal piece of research, reflecting the standard four step academic research process.

In short, the research process is simply about asking and answering questions in a systematic fashion . This probably sounds pretty obvious, but people often think they’ve done “research”, when in fact what they have done is:

  • Started with a vague, poorly articulated question
  • Not taken the time to see what research has already been done regarding the question
  • Collected data and opinions that support their gut and undertaken a flimsy analysis
  • Drawn a shaky conclusion, based on that analysis

If you want to see the perfect example of this in action, look out for the next Facebook post where someone claims they’ve done “research”… All too often, people consider reading a few blog posts to constitute research. Its no surprise then that what they end up with is an opinion piece, not research. Okay, okay – I’ll climb off my soapbox now.

The key takeaway here is that a dissertation (or thesis) is a formal piece of research, reflecting the research process. It’s not an opinion piece , nor a place to push your agenda or try to convince someone of your position. Writing a good dissertation involves asking a question and taking a systematic, rigorous approach to answering it.

If you understand this and are comfortable leaving your opinions or preconceived ideas at the door, you’re already off to a good start!

 A dissertation is not an opinion piece, nor a place to push your agenda or try to  convince someone of your position.

Step 2: Find a unique, valuable research topic

As we saw, the first step of the research process is to ask a specific, well-articulated question. In other words, you need to find a research topic that asks a specific question or set of questions (these are called research questions ). Sounds easy enough, right? All you’ve got to do is identify a question or two and you’ve got a winning research topic. Well, not quite…

A good dissertation or thesis topic has a few important attributes. Specifically, a solid research topic should be:

Let’s take a closer look at these:

Attribute #1: Clear

Your research topic needs to be crystal clear about what you’re planning to research, what you want to know, and within what context. There shouldn’t be any ambiguity or vagueness about what you’ll research.

Here’s an example of a clearly articulated research topic:

An analysis of consumer-based factors influencing organisational trust in British low-cost online equity brokerage firms.

As you can see in the example, its crystal clear what will be analysed (factors impacting organisational trust), amongst who (consumers) and in what context (British low-cost equity brokerage firms, based online).

Need a helping hand?

good phd thesis

Attribute #2:   Unique

Your research should be asking a question(s) that hasn’t been asked before, or that hasn’t been asked in a specific context (for example, in a specific country or industry).

For example, sticking organisational trust topic above, it’s quite likely that organisational trust factors in the UK have been investigated before, but the context (online low-cost equity brokerages) could make this research unique. Therefore, the context makes this research original.

One caveat when using context as the basis for originality – you need to have a good reason to suspect that your findings in this context might be different from the existing research – otherwise, there’s no reason to warrant researching it.

Attribute #3: Important

Simply asking a unique or original question is not enough – the question needs to create value. In other words, successfully answering your research questions should provide some value to the field of research or the industry. You can’t research something just to satisfy your curiosity. It needs to make some form of contribution either to research or industry.

For example, researching the factors influencing consumer trust would create value by enabling businesses to tailor their operations and marketing to leverage factors that promote trust. In other words, it would have a clear benefit to industry.

So, how do you go about finding a unique and valuable research topic? We explain that in detail in this video post – How To Find A Research Topic . Yeah, we’ve got you covered 😊

Step 3: Write a convincing research proposal

Once you’ve pinned down a high-quality research topic, the next step is to convince your university to let you research it. No matter how awesome you think your topic is, it still needs to get the rubber stamp before you can move forward with your research. The research proposal is the tool you’ll use for this job.

So, what’s in a research proposal?

The main “job” of a research proposal is to convince your university, advisor or committee that your research topic is worthy of approval. But convince them of what? Well, this varies from university to university, but generally, they want to see that:

  • You have a clearly articulated, unique and important topic (this might sound familiar…)
  • You’ve done some initial reading of the existing literature relevant to your topic (i.e. a literature review)
  • You have a provisional plan in terms of how you will collect data and analyse it (i.e. a methodology)

At the proposal stage, it’s (generally) not expected that you’ve extensively reviewed the existing literature , but you will need to show that you’ve done enough reading to identify a clear gap for original (unique) research. Similarly, they generally don’t expect that you have a rock-solid research methodology mapped out, but you should have an idea of whether you’ll be undertaking qualitative or quantitative analysis , and how you’ll collect your data (we’ll discuss this in more detail later).

Long story short – don’t stress about having every detail of your research meticulously thought out at the proposal stage – this will develop as you progress through your research. However, you do need to show that you’ve “done your homework” and that your research is worthy of approval .

So, how do you go about crafting a high-quality, convincing proposal? We cover that in detail in this video post – How To Write A Top-Class Research Proposal . We’ve also got a video walkthrough of two proposal examples here .

Step 4: Craft a strong introduction chapter

Once your proposal’s been approved, its time to get writing your actual dissertation or thesis! The good news is that if you put the time into crafting a high-quality proposal, you’ve already got a head start on your first three chapters – introduction, literature review and methodology – as you can use your proposal as the basis for these.

Handy sidenote – our free dissertation & thesis template is a great way to speed up your dissertation writing journey.

What’s the introduction chapter all about?

The purpose of the introduction chapter is to set the scene for your research (dare I say, to introduce it…) so that the reader understands what you’ll be researching and why it’s important. In other words, it covers the same ground as the research proposal in that it justifies your research topic.

What goes into the introduction chapter?

This can vary slightly between universities and degrees, but generally, the introduction chapter will include the following:

  • A brief background to the study, explaining the overall area of research
  • A problem statement , explaining what the problem is with the current state of research (in other words, where the knowledge gap exists)
  • Your research questions – in other words, the specific questions your study will seek to answer (based on the knowledge gap)
  • The significance of your study – in other words, why it’s important and how its findings will be useful in the world

As you can see, this all about explaining the “what” and the “why” of your research (as opposed to the “how”). So, your introduction chapter is basically the salesman of your study, “selling” your research to the first-time reader and (hopefully) getting them interested to read more.

How do I write the introduction chapter, you ask? We cover that in detail in this post .

The introduction chapter is where you set the scene for your research, detailing exactly what you’ll be researching and why it’s important.

Step 5: Undertake an in-depth literature review

As I mentioned earlier, you’ll need to do some initial review of the literature in Steps 2 and 3 to find your research gap and craft a convincing research proposal – but that’s just scratching the surface. Once you reach the literature review stage of your dissertation or thesis, you need to dig a lot deeper into the existing research and write up a comprehensive literature review chapter.

What’s the literature review all about?

There are two main stages in the literature review process:

Literature Review Step 1: Reading up

The first stage is for you to deep dive into the existing literature (journal articles, textbook chapters, industry reports, etc) to gain an in-depth understanding of the current state of research regarding your topic. While you don’t need to read every single article, you do need to ensure that you cover all literature that is related to your core research questions, and create a comprehensive catalogue of that literature , which you’ll use in the next step.

Reading and digesting all the relevant literature is a time consuming and intellectually demanding process. Many students underestimate just how much work goes into this step, so make sure that you allocate a good amount of time for this when planning out your research. Thankfully, there are ways to fast track the process – be sure to check out this article covering how to read journal articles quickly .

Dissertation Coaching

Literature Review Step 2: Writing up

Once you’ve worked through the literature and digested it all, you’ll need to write up your literature review chapter. Many students make the mistake of thinking that the literature review chapter is simply a summary of what other researchers have said. While this is partly true, a literature review is much more than just a summary. To pull off a good literature review chapter, you’ll need to achieve at least 3 things:

  • You need to synthesise the existing research , not just summarise it. In other words, you need to show how different pieces of theory fit together, what’s agreed on by researchers, what’s not.
  • You need to highlight a research gap that your research is going to fill. In other words, you’ve got to outline the problem so that your research topic can provide a solution.
  • You need to use the existing research to inform your methodology and approach to your own research design. For example, you might use questions or Likert scales from previous studies in your your own survey design .

As you can see, a good literature review is more than just a summary of the published research. It’s the foundation on which your own research is built, so it deserves a lot of love and attention. Take the time to craft a comprehensive literature review with a suitable structure .

But, how do I actually write the literature review chapter, you ask? We cover that in detail in this video post .

Step 6: Carry out your own research

Once you’ve completed your literature review and have a sound understanding of the existing research, its time to develop your own research (finally!). You’ll design this research specifically so that you can find the answers to your unique research question.

There are two steps here – designing your research strategy and executing on it:

1 – Design your research strategy

The first step is to design your research strategy and craft a methodology chapter . I won’t get into the technicalities of the methodology chapter here, but in simple terms, this chapter is about explaining the “how” of your research. If you recall, the introduction and literature review chapters discussed the “what” and the “why”, so it makes sense that the next point to cover is the “how” –that’s what the methodology chapter is all about.

In this section, you’ll need to make firm decisions about your research design. This includes things like:

  • Your research philosophy (e.g. positivism or interpretivism )
  • Your overall methodology (e.g. qualitative , quantitative or mixed methods)
  • Your data collection strategy (e.g. interviews , focus groups, surveys)
  • Your data analysis strategy (e.g. content analysis , correlation analysis, regression)

If these words have got your head spinning, don’t worry! We’ll explain these in plain language in other posts. It’s not essential that you understand the intricacies of research design (yet!). The key takeaway here is that you’ll need to make decisions about how you’ll design your own research, and you’ll need to describe (and justify) your decisions in your methodology chapter.

2 – Execute: Collect and analyse your data

Once you’ve worked out your research design, you’ll put it into action and start collecting your data. This might mean undertaking interviews, hosting an online survey or any other data collection method. Data collection can take quite a bit of time (especially if you host in-person interviews), so be sure to factor sufficient time into your project plan for this. Oftentimes, things don’t go 100% to plan (for example, you don’t get as many survey responses as you hoped for), so bake a little extra time into your budget here.

Once you’ve collected your data, you’ll need to do some data preparation before you can sink your teeth into the analysis. For example:

  • If you carry out interviews or focus groups, you’ll need to transcribe your audio data to text (i.e. a Word document).
  • If you collect quantitative survey data, you’ll need to clean up your data and get it into the right format for whichever analysis software you use (for example, SPSS, R or STATA).

Once you’ve completed your data prep, you’ll undertake your analysis, using the techniques that you described in your methodology. Depending on what you find in your analysis, you might also do some additional forms of analysis that you hadn’t planned for. For example, you might see something in the data that raises new questions or that requires clarification with further analysis.

The type(s) of analysis that you’ll use depend entirely on the nature of your research and your research questions. For example:

  • If your research if exploratory in nature, you’ll often use qualitative analysis techniques .
  • If your research is confirmatory in nature, you’ll often use quantitative analysis techniques
  • If your research involves a mix of both, you might use a mixed methods approach

Again, if these words have got your head spinning, don’t worry! We’ll explain these concepts and techniques in other posts. The key takeaway is simply that there’s no “one size fits all” for research design and methodology – it all depends on your topic, your research questions and your data. So, don’t be surprised if your study colleagues take a completely different approach to yours.

The research philosophy is at the core of the methodology chapter

Step 7: Present your findings

Once you’ve completed your analysis, it’s time to present your findings (finally!). In a dissertation or thesis, you’ll typically present your findings in two chapters – the results chapter and the discussion chapter .

What’s the difference between the results chapter and the discussion chapter?

While these two chapters are similar, the results chapter generally just presents the processed data neatly and clearly without interpretation, while the discussion chapter explains the story the data are telling  – in other words, it provides your interpretation of the results.

For example, if you were researching the factors that influence consumer trust, you might have used a quantitative approach to identify the relationship between potential factors (e.g. perceived integrity and competence of the organisation) and consumer trust. In this case:

  • Your results chapter would just present the results of the statistical tests. For example, correlation results or differences between groups. In other words, the processed numbers.
  • Your discussion chapter would explain what the numbers mean in relation to your research question(s). For example, Factor 1 has a weak relationship with consumer trust, while Factor 2 has a strong relationship.

Depending on the university and degree, these two chapters (results and discussion) are sometimes merged into one , so be sure to check with your institution what their preference is. Regardless of the chapter structure, this section is about presenting the findings of your research in a clear, easy to understand fashion.

Importantly, your discussion here needs to link back to your research questions (which you outlined in the introduction or literature review chapter). In other words, it needs to answer the key questions you asked (or at least attempt to answer them).

For example, if we look at the sample research topic:

In this case, the discussion section would clearly outline which factors seem to have a noteworthy influence on organisational trust. By doing so, they are answering the overarching question and fulfilling the purpose of the research .

Your discussion here needs to link back to your research questions. It needs to answer the key questions you asked in your introduction.

For more information about the results chapter , check out this post for qualitative studies and this post for quantitative studies .

Step 8: The Final Step Draw a conclusion and discuss the implications

Last but not least, you’ll need to wrap up your research with the conclusion chapter . In this chapter, you’ll bring your research full circle by highlighting the key findings of your study and explaining what the implications of these findings are.

What exactly are key findings? The key findings are those findings which directly relate to your original research questions and overall research objectives (which you discussed in your introduction chapter). The implications, on the other hand, explain what your findings mean for industry, or for research in your area.

Sticking with the consumer trust topic example, the conclusion might look something like this:

Key findings

This study set out to identify which factors influence consumer-based trust in British low-cost online equity brokerage firms. The results suggest that the following factors have a large impact on consumer trust:

While the following factors have a very limited impact on consumer trust:

Notably, within the 25-30 age groups, Factors E had a noticeably larger impact, which may be explained by…

Implications

The findings having noteworthy implications for British low-cost online equity brokers. Specifically:

The large impact of Factors X and Y implies that brokers need to consider….

The limited impact of Factor E implies that brokers need to…

As you can see, the conclusion chapter is basically explaining the “what” (what your study found) and the “so what?” (what the findings mean for the industry or research). This brings the study full circle and closes off the document.

In the final chapter, you’ll bring your research full circle by highlighting the key findings of your study and the implications thereof.

Let’s recap – how to write a dissertation or thesis

You’re still with me? Impressive! I know that this post was a long one, but hopefully you’ve learnt a thing or two about how to write a dissertation or thesis, and are now better equipped to start your own research.

To recap, the 8 steps to writing a quality dissertation (or thesis) are as follows:

  • Understand what a dissertation (or thesis) is – a research project that follows the research process.
  • Find a unique (original) and important research topic
  • Craft a convincing dissertation or thesis research proposal
  • Write a clear, compelling introduction chapter
  • Undertake a thorough review of the existing research and write up a literature review
  • Undertake your own research
  • Present and interpret your findings

Once you’ve wrapped up the core chapters, all that’s typically left is the abstract , reference list and appendices. As always, be sure to check with your university if they have any additional requirements in terms of structure or content.  

good phd thesis

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20 Comments

Romia

thankfull >>>this is very useful

Madhu

Thank you, it was really helpful

Elhadi Abdelrahim

unquestionably, this amazing simplified way of teaching. Really , I couldn’t find in the literature words that fully explicit my great thanks to you. However, I could only say thanks a-lot.

Derek Jansen

Great to hear that – thanks for the feedback. Good luck writing your dissertation/thesis.

Writer

This is the most comprehensive explanation of how to write a dissertation. Many thanks for sharing it free of charge.

Sam

Very rich presentation. Thank you

Hailu

Thanks Derek Jansen|GRADCOACH, I find it very useful guide to arrange my activities and proceed to research!

Nunurayi Tambala

Thank you so much for such a marvelous teaching .I am so convinced that am going to write a comprehensive and a distinct masters dissertation

Hussein Huwail

It is an amazing comprehensive explanation

Eva

This was straightforward. Thank you!

Ken

I can say that your explanations are simple and enlightening – understanding what you have done here is easy for me. Could you write more about the different types of research methods specific to the three methodologies: quan, qual and MM. I look forward to interacting with this website more in the future.

Thanks for the feedback and suggestions 🙂

Osasuyi Blessing

Hello, your write ups is quite educative. However, l have challenges in going about my research questions which is below; *Building the enablers of organisational growth through effective governance and purposeful leadership.*

Dung Doh

Very educating.

Ezra Daniel

Just listening to the name of the dissertation makes the student nervous. As writing a top-quality dissertation is a difficult task as it is a lengthy topic, requires a lot of research and understanding and is usually around 10,000 to 15000 words. Sometimes due to studies, unbalanced workload or lack of research and writing skill students look for dissertation submission from professional writers.

Nice Edinam Hoyah

Thank you 💕😊 very much. I was confused but your comprehensive explanation has cleared my doubts of ever presenting a good thesis. Thank you.

Sehauli

thank you so much, that was so useful

Daniel Madsen

Hi. Where is the excel spread sheet ark?

Emmanuel kKoko

could you please help me look at your thesis paper to enable me to do the portion that has to do with the specification

my topic is “the impact of domestic revenue mobilization.

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How to tackle the PhD dissertation

Finding time to write can be a challenge for graduate students who often juggle multiple roles and responsibilities. Mabel Ho provides some tips to make the process less daunting

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Writing helps you share your work with the wider community. Your scholarship is important and you are making a valuable contribution to the field. While it might be intimidating to face a blank screen, remember, your first draft is not your final draft! The difficult part is getting something on the page to begin with. 

As the adage goes, a good dissertation is a done dissertation, and the goal is for you to find balance in your writing and establish the steps you can take to make the process smoother. Here are some practical strategies for tackling the PhD dissertation.

Write daily

This is a time to have honest conversations with yourself about your writing and work habits. Do you tackle the most challenging work in the morning? Or do you usually start with emails? Knowing your work routine will help you set parameters for the writing process, which includes various elements, from brainstorming ideas to setting outlines and editing. Once you are aware of your energy and focus levels, you’ll be ready to dedicate those times to writing.

While it might be tempting to block a substantial chunk of time to write and assume anything shorter is not useful, that is not the case. Writing daily, whether it’s a paragraph or several pages, keeps you in conversation with your writing practice. If you schedule two hours to write, remember to take a break during that time and reset. You can try:

  • The Pomodoro Technique: a time management technique that breaks down your work into intervals
  • Taking breaks: go outside for a walk or have a snack so you can come back to your writing rejuvenated
  • Focus apps: it is easy to get distracted by devices and lose direction. Here are some app suggestions: Focus Bear (no free version); Forest (free version available); Cold Turkey website blocker (free version available) and Serene (no free version). 

This is a valuable opportunity to hone your time management and task prioritisation skills. Find out what works for you and put systems in place to support your practice. 

  • Resources on academic writing for higher education professionals
  • Stretch your work further by ‘triple writing’
  • What is your academic writing temperament?

Create a community

While writing can be an isolating endeavour, there are ways to start forming a community (in-person or virtual) to help you set goals and stay accountable. There might be someone in your cohort who is also at the writing stage with whom you can set up a weekly check-in. Alternatively, explore your university’s resources and centres because there may be units and departments on campus that offer helpful opportunities, such as a writing week or retreat. Taking advantage of these opportunities helps combat isolation, foster accountability and grow networks. They can even lead to collaborations further down the line.

  • Check in with your advisers and mentors. Reach out to your networks to find out about other people’s writing processes and additional resources.
  • Don’t be afraid to share your work. Writing requires constant revisions and edits and finding people who you trust with feedback will help you grow as a writer. Plus, you can also read their work and help them with their editing process.
  • Your community does not have to be just about writing!  If you enjoy going on hikes or trying new coffee shops, make that part of your weekly habit.  Sharing your work in different environments will help clarify your thoughts and ideas.

Address the why

The PhD dissertation writing process is often lengthy and it is sometimes easy to forget why you started. In these moments, it can be helpful to think back to what got you excited about your research and scholarship in the first place. Remember it is not just the work but also the people who propelled you forward. One idea is to start writing your “acknowledgements” section. Here are questions to get you started:

  • Do you want to dedicate your work to someone? 
  • What ideas sparked your interest in this journey? 
  • Who cheered you on? 

This practice can help build momentum, as well as serve as a good reminder to carve out time to spend with your community. 

You got this!

Writing is a process. Give yourself grace, as you might not feel motivated all the time. Be consistent in your approach and reward yourself along the way. There is no single strategy when it comes to writing or maintaining motivation, so experiment and find out what works for you. 

Suggested readings

  • Thriving as a Graduate Writer by Rachel Cayley (2023)
  • Destination Dissertation by Sonja K. Foss and William Waters (2015)
  • The PhD Writing Handbook by Desmond Thomas (2016).

Mabel Ho is director of professional development and student engagement at Dalhousie University.

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 .

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Writing a Postgraduate or Doctoral Thesis: A Step-by-Step Approach

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A key characteristic looked after by postgraduate or doctoral students is how they communicate and defend their knowledge. Many candidates believe that there is insufficient instruction on constructing strong arguments. The thesis writing procedure must be meticulously followed to achieve outstanding results. It should be well organized, simple to read, and provide detailed explanations of the core research concepts. Each section in a thesis should be carefully written to make sure that it transitions logically from one to the next in a smooth way and is free of any unclear, cluttered, or redundant elements that make it difficult for the reader to understand what is being tried to convey. In this regard, students must acquire the information and skills to successfully create a strong and effective thesis. A step-by-step description of the thesis/dissertation writing process is provided in this chapter.

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Nayak, U.Y., Hoogar, P., Mutalik, S., Udupa, N. (2023). Writing a Postgraduate or Doctoral Thesis: A Step-by-Step Approach. In: Jagadeesh, G., Balakumar, P., Senatore, F. (eds) The Quintessence of Basic and Clinical Research and Scientific Publishing. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-99-1284-1_48

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Think of yourself as a member of a jury, listening to a lawyer who is presenting an opening argument. You'll want to know very soon whether the lawyer believes the accused to be guilty or not guilty, and how the lawyer plans to convince you. Readers of academic essays are like jury members: before they have read too far, they want to know what the essay argues as well as how the writer plans to make the argument. After reading your thesis statement, the reader should think, "This essay is going to try to convince me of something. I'm not convinced yet, but I'm interested to see how I might be."

An effective thesis cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." A thesis is not a topic; nor is it a fact; nor is it an opinion. "Reasons for the fall of communism" is a topic. "Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe" is a fact known by educated people. "The fall of communism is the best thing that ever happened in Europe" is an opinion. (Superlatives like "the best" almost always lead to trouble. It's impossible to weigh every "thing" that ever happened in Europe. And what about the fall of Hitler? Couldn't that be "the best thing"?)

A good thesis has two parts. It should tell what you plan to argue, and it should "telegraph" how you plan to argue—that is, what particular support for your claim is going where in your essay.

Steps in Constructing a Thesis

First, analyze your primary sources.  Look for tension, interest, ambiguity, controversy, and/or complication. Does the author contradict himself or herself? Is a point made and later reversed? What are the deeper implications of the author's argument? Figuring out the why to one or more of these questions, or to related questions, will put you on the path to developing a working thesis. (Without the why, you probably have only come up with an observation—that there are, for instance, many different metaphors in such-and-such a poem—which is not a thesis.)

Once you have a working thesis, write it down.  There is nothing as frustrating as hitting on a great idea for a thesis, then forgetting it when you lose concentration. And by writing down your thesis you will be forced to think of it clearly, logically, and concisely. You probably will not be able to write out a final-draft version of your thesis the first time you try, but you'll get yourself on the right track by writing down what you have.

Keep your thesis prominent in your introduction.  A good, standard place for your thesis statement is at the end of an introductory paragraph, especially in shorter (5-15 page) essays. Readers are used to finding theses there, so they automatically pay more attention when they read the last sentence of your introduction. Although this is not required in all academic essays, it is a good rule of thumb.

Anticipate the counterarguments.  Once you have a working thesis, you should think about what might be said against it. This will help you to refine your thesis, and it will also make you think of the arguments that you'll need to refute later on in your essay. (Every argument has a counterargument. If yours doesn't, then it's not an argument—it may be a fact, or an opinion, but it is not an argument.)

This statement is on its way to being a thesis. However, it is too easy to imagine possible counterarguments. For example, a political observer might believe that Dukakis lost because he suffered from a "soft-on-crime" image. If you complicate your thesis by anticipating the counterargument, you'll strengthen your argument, as shown in the sentence below.

Some Caveats and Some Examples

A thesis is never a question.  Readers of academic essays expect to have questions discussed, explored, or even answered. A question ("Why did communism collapse in Eastern Europe?") is not an argument, and without an argument, a thesis is dead in the water.

A thesis is never a list.  "For political, economic, social and cultural reasons, communism collapsed in Eastern Europe" does a good job of "telegraphing" the reader what to expect in the essay—a section about political reasons, a section about economic reasons, a section about social reasons, and a section about cultural reasons. However, political, economic, social and cultural reasons are pretty much the only possible reasons why communism could collapse. This sentence lacks tension and doesn't advance an argument. Everyone knows that politics, economics, and culture are important.

A thesis should never be vague, combative or confrontational.  An ineffective thesis would be, "Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe because communism is evil." This is hard to argue (evil from whose perspective? what does evil mean?) and it is likely to mark you as moralistic and judgmental rather than rational and thorough. It also may spark a defensive reaction from readers sympathetic to communism. If readers strongly disagree with you right off the bat, they may stop reading.

An effective thesis has a definable, arguable claim.  "While cultural forces contributed to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the disintegration of economies played the key role in driving its decline" is an effective thesis sentence that "telegraphs," so that the reader expects the essay to have a section about cultural forces and another about the disintegration of economies. This thesis makes a definite, arguable claim: that the disintegration of economies played a more important role than cultural forces in defeating communism in Eastern Europe. The reader would react to this statement by thinking, "Perhaps what the author says is true, but I am not convinced. I want to read further to see how the author argues this claim."

A thesis should be as clear and specific as possible.  Avoid overused, general terms and abstractions. For example, "Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe because of the ruling elite's inability to address the economic concerns of the people" is more powerful than "Communism collapsed due to societal discontent."

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Finishing your PhD thesis: 15 top tips from those in the know

Trying to complete a PhD thesis in time for the October deadline? We share some advice on getting over that final hurdle

  • The key to a successful PhD thesis? Write in your own voice

Many PhD students are now in the final throes of writing their thesis. Turning years of research into a single, coherent piece of work can be tough, so we asked for tips from supervisors and recent PhD graduates. We were inundated with tweets and emails – and @AcademiaObscura helpfully created a Storify of the tweets. Below is a selection of the best tips.

1) Make sure you meet the PhD requirements for your institution “PhD students and their supervisors often presume things without checking. One supervisor told his student that a PhD was about 300 pages long so he wrote 300 pages. Unfortunately the supervisor had meant double-spaced, and the student had written single-spaced. Getting rid of 40,000 extra words with two weeks to go is not recommended.” ( Hannah Farrimond, lecturer in medical sociology, Exeter University)

2) Keep perspective “Everyone wants their thesis to be amazing, their magnum opus. But your most important work will come later. Think of your PhD as an apprenticeship. Your peers are unlikely to read your thesis and judge you on it. They are more likely to read any papers (articles, chapters, books) that result from it.” ( Dean D’Souza, PhD in cognitive neuroscience, Birkbeck, University of London)

3) Write the introduction last “Writing the introduction and conclusion together will help to tie up the thesis together, so save it for the end.” ( Ashish Jaiswal, PhD in business education, University of Oxford)

4) Use apps “ Trello is a project management tool (available as a smartphone app) which allows you to create ‘boards’ on which to pin all of your outstanding tasks, deadlines, and ideas. It allows you to make checklists too so you know that all of your important stuff is listed and to-hand, meaning you can focus on one thing at a time. It’s satisfying to move notes into the ‘done’ column too.” ( Lucy Irving, PhD in psychology, Middlesex University)

5) Address the unanswered questions “There will always be unanswered questions – don’t try to ignore or, even worse, obfuscate them. On the contrary, actively draw attention to them; identify them in your conclusion as areas for further investigation. Your PhD viva will go badly if you’ve attempted to disregard or evade the unresolved issues that your thesis has inevitably opened up.” ( Michael Perfect, PhD in English literature, University of Cambridge)

6) Buy your own laser printer “A basic monochrome laser printer that can print duplex (two-sided) can be bought online for less than £100, with off-brand replacement toners available for about £30 a pop. Repeatedly reprinting and editing draft thesis chapters has two very helpful functions. Firstly, it takes your work off the screen and onto paper, which is usually easier to proof. Secondly, it gives you a legitimate excuse to get away from your desk.” ( James Brown, PhD in architectural education, Queen’s University Belfast)

7) Checking is important “On days when your brain is too tired to write, check quotations, bibliography etc so you’re still making progress.” ( Julia Wright, professor of English at Dalhousie University, Canada)

8) Get feedback on the whole thesis “We often get feedback on individual chapters but plan to get feedback from your supervisor on the PhD as a whole to make sure it all hangs together nicely.” ( Mel Rohse, PhD in peace studies, University of Bradford)

9) Make sure you know when it will end “Sometimes supervisors use optimistic words such as ‘You are nearly there!’ Ask them to be specific. Are you three months away, or do you have six months’ worth of work? Or is it just a month’s load?” ( Rifat Mahbub, PhD in women’s studies, University of York)

10) Prepare for the viva “Don’t just focus on the thesis – the viva is very important too and examiners’ opinions can change following a successful viva. Remember that you are the expert in your specific field, not the examiners, and ask your supervisor to arrange a mock viva if practically possible.” ( Christine Jones , head of school of Welsh and bilingual studies, University of Wales Trinity St David)

11) Develop your own style “Take into account everything your supervisor has said, attend to their suggestions about revisions to your work but also be true to your own style of writing. What I found constructive was paying attention to the work of novelists I enjoy reading. It may seem that their style has nothing to do with your own field of research, but this does not matter. You can still absorb something of how they write and what makes it effective, compelling and believable.” ( Sarah Skyrme, PhD in sociology, Newcastle University)

12) Remember that more is not always better “A PhD thesis is not a race to the highest page count; don’t waste time padding.” ( Francis Woodhouse, PhD in mathematical biology, University of Cambridge)

13) Get a buddy “Find a colleague, your partner, a friend who is willing to support you. Share with them your milestones and goals, and agree to be accountable to them. This doesn’t mean they get to hassle or nag you, it just means someone else knows what you’re up to, and can help to check if your planning is realistic and achievable.” ( Cassandra Steer, PhD in criminology, University of Amsterdam)

14) Don’t pursue perfectionism “Remember that a PhD doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. Nothing more self-crippling than perfectionism.” ( Nathan Waddell, lecturer in modernist literature, Nottingham University )

15) Look after yourself “Go outside. Work outside if you can. Fresh air, trees and sunshine do wonders for what’s left of your sanity.” ( Helen Coverdale, PhD in law, LSE)

Do you have any tips to add? Share your advice in the comments below.

Join the higher education network for more comment, analysis and job opportunities , direct to your inbox. Follow us on Twitter @gdnhighered.

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Know How to Structure Your PhD Thesis

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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.

PhD Thesis Editing Plus

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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  • http://orcid.org/0000-0003-4308-4219 David Barrett 1 ,
  • http://orcid.org/0000-0001-9104-1999 Alison Rodriguez 2 ,
  • Joanna Smith 3
  • 1 Faculty of Health Sciences , University of Hull , Hull , UK
  • 2 School of Healthcare , University of Leeds , Leeds , West Yorkshire , UK
  • 3 School of Healthcare , University of Leeds , Leedss , West Yorkshire , UK
  • Correspondence to Dr David Barrett, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Hull, Hull HU6 7RX, UK; D.I.Barrett{at}hull.ac.uk

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All doctoral students strive for the day—after years of often all-consuming study—that their thesis is ready to submit. For both doctoral students and supervisors there is often trepidation about whether the thesis will meet the criteria to merit the award of a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). As anxieties increase, doctoral students often ask what makes a good PhD, something we explored in a recent ‘Research Made Simple’ article, 1 but perhaps the more important question is ‘what makes a PhD student successful?’ In this article we outline the core criteria on which PhD theses are judged and offer suggestions for achieving success.

How are PhDs assessed

Traditionally, a PhD involves 3 to 4 years of full-time study (or a longer part-time programme), which is assessed by the student submitting the work they have undertaken as a thesis or—less commonly—a portfolio of published papers and an associated narrative (sometimes referred to as ‘PhD by publication’). In addition, the student must undertake an oral defence of their work through a discussion (the ‘viva’) with examiners, who are deemed to be experts in the field of study or with related methodological expertise. 2

Sets out the problem and context of the research, including theoretical perspectives.

Outlines existing approaches that have addressed the problem or related issues before, typically by undertaking a thorough critical analysis of literature and identifying a gap in the evidence.

Justifies and critically evaluates the research methodologies and methods chosen to address the problem.

Presents the finding of the research and how they add to existing knowledge.

Makes recommendations as to how the findings can advance the discipline and improve practice, and/or suggest further research directions.

What criteria are used to assess a PhD thesis?

The core criteria for PhD success—ubiquitous to all disciplines and universities—are that the student;

Has made an original and significant contribution to knowledge of the topic under investigation;

Draws on a well-argued and cohesive conceptual/theoretical framework;

Demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate and justify the research methodology and methods adopted;

Can convey information (written and verbally) succinctly;

Produces a thesis is of sufficient rigour that the work is evaluated as publishable in relevant discipline-specific journal(s).

Table 1 highlights some of the key ingredients of PhD success, in terms of the study, thesis and viva.

  • View inline

Key principles to PhD study success

Justifying methods

The justification of methodological choices is usually presented in a distinct chapter that typically has two components: first, a ‘big picture’ description of the theoretical perspective and methodological justification (sometimes called the research approach), followed by an account of procedure (methods) of how the research was undertaken.

Critical writing

An essential criterion expected from examiners is that students demonstrate criticality in the way they present and defend information. This can be a challenge, and many PhD students perceive that there is little guidance about how to develop effective arguments and few opportunities to develop critical writing skills. 2 3 Similar to developing knowledge and understanding of research methods, students need the knowledge and skills for effective oral communication of ideas and writing. 3

The student must be able to write succinctly and critically to produce a robust and coherent thesis. 2 4 A thesis should open with a clear outline of the problem, informing the reader what the thesis about and why the topic is important. It should detail what contexts and perspectives are relevant and offer an outline to the layout of the thesis. In all chapters, students should consider the following:

Use of ‘signposts’ to tell the reader where they are going to go, summarising afterwards and providing appropriate links throughout.

Meaningful headings: the content of chapters and sections need to reflect the heading.

Avoidance of vague terms or superfluous words, keeping sentences clear and focussed.

Paragraphs that are distinct enough to explore and evaluate a clear issue but linked well enough to enhance the flow of the thesis. A general rule of thumb is that a paragraph should be about half a page: any less and there is limited criticality, any longer and there is a tendency to ramble, lose focus and cause the reader to become disengaged.

A PhD is not about how much the student can write: it is about how well they articulate and critically analyse information.

Critical writing at Doctoral level is essential to establish the quality of the research and the credibility of the researcher. A good thesis creates a portrait of an authoritative and competent researcher, and critical writing is crucial for building the examiners’ confidence in the research undertaken.

Publishable standard of the work

Publishing in refereed journals and conferences is the traditional way in which the research community disseminates findings and builds knowledge, although there is increasing recognition of the role of social media platforms as a means of rapidly sharing knowledge. Refereed journals use recognised standards (such as the CONSORT (Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials) guidelines for trials) 5 and rigorous review processes to assess the quality of a research paper, which must be met for successful publication. It is therefore unsurprising that many examiners view a thesis more favourably if a student provides evidence of having published elements of their work. 6

Summary of key considerations

Unlike undergraduate assessment, there is a paucity of research exploring the assessment of PhDs. However, a study that explored the process and judgements of experienced examiners, 6 provided a valuable summary of the characteristics of a poor and excellent thesis ( table 2 ).

Characteristics of a poor and excellent thesis 6

This article has outlined some of the steps that a PhD student should consider in order to produce a high-quality thesis and ensure a successful viva. We have considered how it is important that decision-making is transparent in the thesis, and defendable in the oral defence/viva. A PhD thesis should show evidence of originality and theoretical/conceptual cohesiveness, communicated via the student’s critical writing ability. The thesis and defence provide students with the opportunity to share their knowledge and expertise in the field, offers them a methodological stage and gives the platform to share their critical perceptions, experiences and expertise.

  • Rodriguez A ,
  • McKenna C , et al
  • Wellington J
  • Campbell MK ,
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  • Altman DG , et al
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Twitter @barrett1972, @ARodriguez339, @josmith175

Competing interests None declared.

Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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Thesis and Dissertation: Getting Started

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

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

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

Setting a Production Schedule (Word Doc)

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

Creating a Roadmap (PDF)

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

good phd thesis

  • How to Write an Abstract for a Dissertation or Thesis
  • Doing a PhD

What is a Thesis or Dissertation Abstract?

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines an abstract in academic writing as being “ a few sentences that give the main ideas in an article or a scientific paper ” and the Collins English Dictionary says “ an abstract of an article, document, or speech is a short piece of writing that gives the main points of it ”.

Whether you’re writing up your Master’s dissertation or PhD thesis, the abstract will be a key element of this document that you’ll want to make sure you give proper attention to.

What is the Purpose of an Abstract?

The aim of a thesis abstract is to give the reader a broad overview of what your research project was about and what you found that was novel, before he or she decides to read the entire thesis. The reality here though is that very few people will read the entire thesis, and not because they’re necessarily disinterested but because practically it’s too large a document for most people to have the time to read. The exception to this is your PhD examiner, however know that even they may not read the entire length of the document.

Some people may still skip to and read specific sections throughout your thesis such as the methodology, but the fact is that the abstract will be all that most read and will therefore be the section they base their opinions about your research on. In short, make sure you write a good, well-structured abstract.

How Long Should an Abstract Be?

If you’re a PhD student, having written your 100,000-word thesis, the abstract will be the 300 word summary included at the start of the thesis that succinctly explains the motivation for your study (i.e. why this research was needed), the main work you did (i.e. the focus of each chapter), what you found (the results) and concluding with how your research study contributed to new knowledge within your field.

Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States of America, once famously said:

good phd thesis

The point here is that it’s easier to talk open-endedly about a subject that you know a lot about than it is to condense the key points into a 10-minute speech; the same applies for an abstract. Three hundred words is not a lot of words which makes it even more difficult to condense three (or more) years of research into a coherent, interesting story.

What Makes a Good PhD Thesis Abstract?

Whilst the abstract is one of the first sections in your PhD thesis, practically it’s probably the last aspect that you’ll ending up writing before sending the document to print. The reason being that you can’t write a summary about what you did, what you found and what it means until you’ve done the work.

A good abstract is one that can clearly explain to the reader in 300 words:

  • What your research field actually is,
  • What the gap in knowledge was in your field,
  • The overarching aim and objectives of your PhD in response to these gaps,
  • What methods you employed to achieve these,
  • You key results and findings,
  • How your work has added to further knowledge in your field of study.

Another way to think of this structure is:

  • Introduction,
  • Aims and objectives,
  • Discussion,
  • Conclusion.

Following this ‘formulaic’ approach to writing the abstract should hopefully make it a little easier to write but you can already see here that there’s a lot of information to convey in a very limited number of words.

How Do You Write a Good PhD Thesis Abstract?

The biggest challenge you’ll have is getting all the 6 points mentioned above across in your abstract within the limit of 300 words . Your particular university may give some leeway in going a few words over this but it’s good practice to keep within this; the art of succinctly getting your information across is an important skill for a researcher to have and one that you’ll be called on to use regularly as you write papers for peer review.

Keep It Concise

Every word in the abstract is important so make sure you focus on only the key elements of your research and the main outcomes and significance of your project that you want the reader to know about. You may have come across incidental findings during your research which could be interesting to discuss but this should not happen in the abstract as you simply don’t have enough words. Furthermore, make sure everything you talk about in your thesis is actually described in the main thesis.

Make a Unique Point Each Sentence

Keep the sentences short and to the point. Each sentence should give the reader new, useful information about your research so there’s no need to write out your project title again. Give yourself one or two sentences to introduce your subject area and set the context for your project. Then another sentence or two to explain the gap in the knowledge; there’s no need or expectation for you to include references in the abstract.

Explain Your Research

Some people prefer to write their overarching aim whilst others set out their research questions as they correspond to the structure of their thesis chapters; the approach you use is up to you, as long as the reader can understand what your dissertation or thesis had set out to achieve. Knowing this will help the reader better understand if your results help to answer the research questions or if further work is needed.

Keep It Factual

Keep the content of the abstract factual; that is to say that you should avoid bringing too much or any opinion into it, which inevitably can make the writing seem vague in the points you’re trying to get across and even lacking in structure.

Write, Edit and Then Rewrite

Spend suitable time editing your text, and if necessary, completely re-writing it. Show the abstract to others and ask them to explain what they understand about your research – are they able to explain back to you each of the 6 structure points, including why your project was needed, the research questions and results, and the impact it had on your research field? It’s important that you’re able to convey what new knowledge you contributed to your field but be mindful when writing your abstract that you don’t inadvertently overstate the conclusions, impact and significance of your work.

Thesis and Dissertation Abstract Examples

Perhaps the best way to understand how to write a thesis abstract is to look at examples of what makes a good and bad abstract.

Example of A Bad Abstract

Let’s start with an example of a bad thesis abstract:

In this project on “The Analysis of the Structural Integrity of 3D Printed Polymers for use in Aircraft”, my research looked at how 3D printing of materials can help the aviation industry in the manufacture of planes. Plane parts can be made at a lower cost using 3D printing and made lighter than traditional components. This project investigated the structural integrity of EBM manufactured components, which could revolutionise the aviation industry.

What Makes This a Bad Abstract

Hopefully you’ll have spotted some of the reasons this would be considered a poor abstract, not least because the author used up valuable words by repeating the lengthy title of the project in the abstract.

Working through our checklist of the 6 key points you want to convey to the reader:

  • There has been an attempt to introduce the research area , albeit half-way through the abstract but it’s not clear if this is a materials science project about 3D printing or is it about aircraft design.
  • There’s no explanation about where the gap in the knowledge is that this project attempted to address.
  • We can see that this project was focussed on the topic of structural integrity of materials in aircraft but the actual research aims or objectives haven’t been defined.
  • There’s no mention at all of what the author actually did to investigate structural integrity. For example was this an experimental study involving real aircraft, or something in the lab, computer simulations etc.
  • The author also doesn’t tell us a single result of his research, let alone the key findings !
  • There’s a bold claim in the last sentence of the abstract that this project could revolutionise the aviation industry, and this may well be the case, but based on the abstract alone there is no evidence to support this as it’s not even clear what the author did .

This is an extreme example but is a good way to illustrate just how unhelpful a poorly written abstract can be. At only 71 words long, it definitely hasn’t maximised the amount of information that could be presented and the what they have presented has lacked clarity and structure.

A final point to note is the use of the EBM acronym, which stands for Electron Beam Melting in the context of 3D printing; this is a niche acronym for the author to assume that the reader would know the meaning of. It’s best to avoid acronyms in your abstract all together even if it’s something that you might expect most people to know about, unless you specifically define the meaning first.

Example of A Good Abstract

Having seen an example of a bad thesis abstract, now lets look at an example of a good PhD thesis abstract written about the same (fictional) project:

Additive manufacturing (AM) of titanium alloys has the potential to enable cheaper and lighter components to be produced with customised designs for use in aircraft engines. Whilst the proof-of-concept of these have been promising, the structural integrity of AM engine parts in response to full thrust and temperature variations is not clear.

The primary aim of this project was to determine the fracture modes and mechanisms of AM components designed for use in Boeing 747 engines. To achieve this an explicit finite element (FE) model was developed to simulate the environment and parameters that the engine is exposed to during flight. The FE model was validated using experimental data replicating the environmental parameters in a laboratory setting using ten AM engine components provided by the industry sponsor. The validated FE model was then used to investigate the extent of crack initiation and propagation as the environment parameters were adjusted.

This project was the first to investigate fracture patterns in AM titanium components used in aircraft engines; the key finding was that the presence of cavities within the structures due to errors in the printing process, significantly increased the risk of fracture. Secondly, the simulations showed that cracks formed within AM parts were more likely to worsen and lead to component failure at subzero temperatures when compared to conventionally manufactured parts. This has demonstrated an important safety concern which needs to be addressed before AM parts can be used in commercial aircraft.

What Makes This a Good Abstract

Having read this ‘good abstract’ you should have a much better understand about what the subject area is about, where the gap in the knowledge was, the aim of the project, the methods that were used, key results and finally the significance of these results. To break these points down further, from this good abstract we now know that:

  • The research area is around additive manufacturing (i.e. 3D printing) of materials for use in aircraft.
  • The gap in knowledge was how these materials will behave structural when used in aircraft engines.
  • The aim was specifically to investigate how the components can fracture.
  • The methods used to investigate this were a combination of computational and lab based experimental modelling.
  • The key findings were the increased risk of fracture of these components due to the way they are manufactured.
  • The significance of these findings were that it showed a potential risk of component failure that could comprise the safety of passengers and crew on the aircraft.

The abstract text has a much clearer flow through these different points in how it’s written and has made much better use of the available word count. Acronyms have even been used twice in this good abstract but they were clearly defined the first time they were introduced in the text so that there was no confusion about their meaning.

The abstract you write for your dissertation or thesis should succinctly explain to the reader why the work of your research was needed, what you did, what you found and what it means. Most people that come across your thesis, including any future employers, are likely to read only your abstract. Even just for this reason alone, it’s so important that you write the best abstract you can; this will not only convey your research effectively but also put you in the best light possible as a researcher.

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Prizes for Best PhD Thesis 2023

Stock image of a trophy

The Department of Chemistry is pleased to announce the following prizes for outstanding work by graduate students. These awards, announced each spring, recognize doctoral research and carry a $1,000 prize. The awards were established in Academic Year 2021-22 and are funded by endowments made possible through the philanthropic support of faculty, friends, and alumni.

George H. Cady Prize for Best Thesis in Inorganic Chemistry

Ben Mitchell earned his Ph.D. in 2023 for his work with Assistant Professor Alexandra Velian on “Leveraging Molecular Nanoclusters for Atomistic Insights Into Reactive Interfaces.” He is now a Science, Technology, and Policy Fellow of the Building Technologies Office in the Department of Energy. As a fellow, Ben works on advancing a range of innovative technologies and solutions to decarbonize commercial building infrastructure. Ben is based in Washington, DC.

Gary and Sue Christian Prize for Best Thesis in Analytical Chemistry

Caitlin Cain will earn her Ph.D. in 2024 for her work with Professor Robert Synovec on “Advances in the Chemometric Analysis of Multiway Chromatographic Data to Improve Discovery and Identification.” In summer 2024, she will begin a postdoctoral research position with Professor Robert Kennedy at the University of Michigan, where she will probe our understanding of the brain metabolome with use of capillary liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry and chemometric data analysis methods.

B. Seymore Rabinovitch Prize for Best Thesis in Physical Chemistry

Kristina Herman will earn her Ph.D. in 2024 for her work with Affiliate Professor Sotiris Xantheas titled “Extension of the Many-Body Expansion (MBE) to Periodic Systems: Developing Tools to Analyze and Improve Models of Intermolecular Interactions.” Kristina has accepted a position as a postdoctoral scholar with Prof. Greg Voth's group at the University of Chicago where she will develop multiscale computational models of the HIV life cycle.

Congratulations, Ben, Caitlin, and Kristina!

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  6. How to write your PhD thesis #2: Productivity vs Perfectionism

COMMENTS

  1. Prize-Winning Thesis and Dissertation Examples

    Prize-Winning Thesis and Dissertation Examples. Published on September 9, 2022 by Tegan George.Revised on July 18, 2023. It can be difficult to know where to start when writing your thesis or dissertation.One way to come up with some ideas or maybe even combat writer's block is to check out previous work done by other students on a similar thesis or dissertation topic to yours.

  2. A Guide to Writing a PhD Thesis

    A Guide to Writing a PhD Thesis. 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 ...

  3. How To Write A Dissertation Or Thesis

    Craft a convincing dissertation or thesis research proposal. Write a clear, compelling introduction chapter. Undertake a thorough review of the existing research and write up a literature review. Undertake your own research. Present and interpret your findings. Draw a conclusion and discuss the implications.

  4. OATD

    Advanced research and scholarship. Theses and dissertations, free to find, free to use. October 3, 2022. OATD is dealing with a number of misbehaved crawlers and robots, and is currently taking some steps to minimize their impact on the system. This may require you to click through some security screen.

  5. What Is a Thesis?

    Revised on April 16, 2024. A thesis is a type of research paper based on your original research. It is usually submitted as the final step of a master's program or a capstone to a bachelor's degree. Writing a thesis can be a daunting experience. Other than a dissertation, it is one of the longest pieces of writing students typically complete.

  6. What Is a Dissertation?

    A dissertation is a long-form piece of academic writing based on original research conducted by you. It is usually submitted as the final step in order to finish a PhD program. Your dissertation is probably the longest piece of writing you've ever completed. It requires solid research, writing, and analysis skills, and it can be intimidating ...

  7. What Is a PhD Thesis?

    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 ...

  8. PDF Guidelines for The PhD Dissertation

    Most dissertations are 100 to 300 pages in length. All dissertations should be divided into appropriate sections, and long dissertations may need chapters, main divisions, and even subdivisions. Students should keep in mind that GSAS and many departments deplore overlong and wordy dissertations.

  9. 10 tips for writing a PhD thesis

    Think carefully about 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. Look out for common errors such as dangling modifiers, subject-verb disagreement and inconsistency.

  10. How to tackle the PhD dissertation

    As the adage goes, a good dissertation is a done dissertation, and the goal is for you to find balance in your writing and establish the steps you can take to make the process smoother. ... The PhD dissertation writing process is often lengthy and it is sometimes easy to forget why you started. In these moments, it can be helpful to think back ...

  11. Writing a Postgraduate or Doctoral Thesis: A Step-by-Step ...

    Writing for a doctoral degree thesis puts candidates through emotional endurance tests, prompts identity changes, and reassigns them to modern social and scholarly networks [ 1 ]. These factors make writing a thesis challenging and call for academic, interpersonal, and emotional guidance.

  12. Developing A Thesis

    A good, standard place for your thesis statement is at the end of an introductory paragraph, especially in shorter (5-15 page) essays. Readers are used to finding theses there, so they automatically pay more attention when they read the last sentence of your introduction. Although this is not required in all academic essays, it is a good rule ...

  13. Finishing your PhD thesis: 15 top tips from those in the know

    8) Get feedback on the whole thesis. "We often get feedback on individual chapters but plan to get feedback from your supervisor on the PhD as a whole to make sure it all hangs together nicely ...

  14. Know How to Structure Your PhD Thesis

    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.

  15. How to Write a Great PhD Research Proposal

    Written by Mark Bennett. You'll need to write a research proposal if you're submitting your own project plan as part of a PhD application. A good PhD proposal outlines the scope and significance of your topic and explains how you plan to research it. It's helpful to think about the proposal like this: if the rest of your application explains ...

  16. Dissertation & Thesis Outline

    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 ...

  17. Producing a successful PhD thesis

    All doctoral students strive for the day—after years of often all-consuming study—that their thesis is ready to submit. For both doctoral students and supervisors there is often trepidation about whether the thesis will meet the criteria to merit the award of a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). As anxieties increase, doctoral students often ask what makes a good PhD, something we explored in a ...

  18. PDF How to write a good PhD thesis and survive the viva

    thesis with own contributions is expanded to two to three chapters. There is much freedom: a PhD thesis can have di erent parts, for example for theoretical and experimental work, or di erent parts for di erent methods. Consistent and coherent narrative. Ideally, PhD work leads to publications before the thesis is written.

  19. Thesis and Dissertation: Getting Started

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

  20. How to Write an Abstract for a Dissertation or Thesis

    Having seen an example of a bad thesis abstract, now lets look at an example of a good PhD thesis abstract written about the same (fictional) project: Additive manufacturing (AM) of titanium alloys has the potential to enable cheaper and lighter components to be produced with customised designs for use in aircraft engines. Whilst the proof-of ...

  21. What makes a good PhD thesis? Norms of science as reflected in written

    Abstract This study looks at assessment of PhD theses from two perspectives: criteria in use in assessment reports at a science faculty and norms of science. Fifty assessment reports were analysed inductively, resulting in thirteen categories that examiners consider when assessing a thesis. These categories were compared with norms of science as described in the sociology of science. The study ...

  22. How to Write a Thesis or Dissertation Introduction

    To help guide your reader, end your introduction with an outline of the structure of the thesis or dissertation to follow. Share a brief summary of each chapter, clearly showing how each contributes to your central aims. However, be careful to keep this overview concise: 1-2 sentences should be enough. Note.

  23. How to Choose a PhD Research Topic

    How to Choose a Research Topic. Our first piece of advice is to PhD candidates is to stop thinking about 'finding' a research topic, as it is unlikely that you will. Instead, think about developing a research topic (from research and conversations with advisors). Did you know: It took Professor Stephen Hawking an entire year to choose his ...

  24. What makes a good PhD thesis? 7 clever aspects to perfect!

    In this video, I'm gonna discuss what makes a good PhD thesis! all of the seven aspects that you should affect in order to make your examiners feel determine...

  25. Thesis & Dissertation

    The University of Florida Graduate School's Thesis & Dissertation team helps you format and submit your master's thesis or doctoral dissertation.. As you work on that crowning achievement of your graduate education experience, our Thesis & Dissertation team can inform you about policy and procedure, lead you to helpful resources, and offer sage advice so that you complete and submit your ...

  26. Prizes for Best PhD Thesis 2023

    Gary and Sue Christian Prize for Best Thesis in Analytical Chemistry. Caitlin Cain will earn her Ph.D. in 2024 for her work with Professor Robert Synovec on "Advances in the Chemometric Analysis of Multiway Chromatographic Data to Improve Discovery and Identification." In summer 2024, she will begin a postdoctoral research position with ...

  27. How to Write a Dissertation or Thesis Proposal

    Writing a proposal or prospectus can be a challenge, but we've compiled some examples for you to get your started. Example #1: "Geographic Representations of the Planet Mars, 1867-1907" by Maria Lane. Example #2: "Individuals and the State in Late Bronze Age Greece: Messenian Perspectives on Mycenaean Society" by Dimitri Nakassis.