How To Write an Outstanding Dissertation

I love to edit dissertations, and at this point in my career, I have edited more of them than I can count! Although each university certainly has its own set of guidelines,

and although various fields use different types of research methods and headings, all dissertations display common themes. This observation led me on a quest this weekend. I canvassed a multitude of university websites worldwide: Australia, South Africa, England, Canada, and the United States, among other places. Then I created a running tally of those qualities that universities find most essential to a strong dissertation. Read on to learn what universities really want! Knowing the expectations can help to remove frustrations.


The most important trait listed on university websites comprised all of the essentials: spelling, grammar, punctuation, formatting, headings, figures, tables, citations, and so forth! Some universities even devoted the entire website to these basics. According to them, if you can’t get these easy-to-follow instructions right, they are not going to read on to see if you got the content right! Fortunately, this is one of many areas where editors excel. If you provide your university guidelines, the editors at WordsRU can ensure that your dissertation is formatted correctly, without spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors.


The conclusion is much more significant than some might think. In fact, several universities warned that the introduction and conclusion are often the first two paragraphs read. Some writers incorrectly think that the conclusion should restate the information provided in the introduction.  Although a conclusion certainly should match or correspond to the introduction, it has a much bigger job. A conclusion should use the information provided to take the next step. It can offer applications, directions, or reflections. The conclusion should extend beyond the boundaries of the research and provide vision.


Universities had a great deal of advice to offer on this section. Their greatest concern was the fact that writers tended to ONLY paraphrase or quote the literature. They emphasized the point that evidence alone is not sufficient. Evidence provides the foundation, but that structure requires analysis, evaluation, interpretation, and most importantly, synthesis of the evidence. In other words, you must be a part of the literature review! Universities also warned against supplying too little an amount of literature or too extensive an amount of literature. Without providing a set amount, they made the essence clear: you should supply enough information to effectively support your topic, but you should avoid providing literature that does not truly pertain to your topic. Quantity and quality: these are the keys to an effective literature review.


The general consensus revealed a prevalence of broad, unclear theses. Some people offer grandiose theses that are far beyond the scope of a dissertation. Universities advise students to keep the thesis succinct and concise. You should be able to clearly explain your thesis to anyone within one or two minutes. If you try to do this and find yourself flailing for an explanation or taking ten minutes to provide an adequate explanation, you might consider narrowing your focus further. Don’t think about inventing the wheel; focus on one of the spokes!


Universities have noted an abundance of research questions that are not exactly new. They have found that many research questions are predictable (as is the entire dissertation) or meaningless (because no new information has been considered). The research question must be relevant, meaningful, and as yet, unexplored. It doesn’t have to be outrageously different (If it were, there would be no literature!), but it must provide at least a slight shift from previous explorations. It must give credence to your research efforts.


Although perseverance was not in the top five, it was number six (along with having enough research information and making use of advisors and other sounding boards). Some universities adopted a personal approach, noting that the overwhelming intrusions of daily life could often lead one to simply give up. More than once, I encountered this link that provides a wealth of tips on ways to beat the stress and get the job done.


I couldn’t very well ignore tip number two! In conclusion, although writing a dissertation can be an overwhelming process, you can rely on certain specific qualities that will make your dissertation outstanding:

  • Keep your thesis clear and focused.
  • Make sure your research question is seeking new, meaningful information.
  • Gather relevant literature and make sure to evaluate, connect, and interpret it.
  • Do not restate in your conclusion. Instead, consider what the next step should be. Where is your dissertation leading?
  • Check to make sure that you have adhered to your university’s guidelines in every way.
  • Don’t give up!

(And the application:) If you combine these tips with the information that your university has already provided, you should be well on your way to success. Throughout the process, you will not be alone. The editors at WordsRU are knowledgeable about every facet of dissertation writing. We will support you every step of the way. Good luck!

Question: What has been your biggest stumbling block during the dissertation process?