Tricks for Dummies: What Is a Doctoral Dissertation

A doctoral dissertation is a technical work that supports the candidature of an academic degree or professional qualification. It presents the authors thesis and proves it with evidence (data) and analysis. The doctoral dissertation is required to be clear and complete, but not necessary comprehensive. The research of the author creates evidence in support of the thesis the arguments prove it.

Thesis: A dissertation should not be confused with a thesis. A thesis is a hypothesis; a claim. The dissertation is the work done to prove the validity of the claim. A thesis should be original and significant and must have the potential to add to scientific knowledge.

Since the dissertation is a technical document meant for technical readers, it should follow a format and some rules. The general rules are:

  1. Every statement should relate to the proof of the thesis.
  2. Every statement should be either common knowledge, or cited from technical sources. Otherwise, it should be related to the original results found by the candidate.
  3. Omit statements that do not fill the above criteria.

Before writing your dissertation- the formal, scientific document; you should have a thesis you are happy with, and which has been approved by the supervisor.

Your thesis statement should include three to four lines clearly presenting a hypothesis. It should not be too lengthy. The rule of thumb is that you should be able to tell the statement of your thesis to anyone who asks. Of course, that would be impossible if your thesis itself is an hour-long presentation!

You will start developing your dissertation once you have a clear statement of thesis. The first thing is developing a one-page abstract. An abstract contains your claims and the description of how you are going to prove them, plus, the validity and usefulness of your conclusions.

Abstract writing is best learnt from examples. You can search University databases for some samples.

The dissertation itself is a detailed document consisting of about six chapters. Generally, used structures are a variation of the following:

  • Introduction: A clear statement of your thesis and its significance should start the introduction. This is where you define the terminology you are going to use. The scope AND limitations of your work etc.
  • Abstract.
  • Proof of theorems or validation: Here you give proof of the abstract model.
  • Data or measurements: All the data collected and all the sources.
  • Additional results.
  • Conclusions, discussion and future suggestions: Here you neatly tie everything together and present the conclusions, their ramifications and the way for future work.