How to write a dissertation?

A dissertation is an argument or a formal discussion about  a hypothetical situation. Dissertation is a document which contains research findings, interpretation, analysis and conclusion on the topic. Dissertation is a final year submission to asses a candidate’s ability to conduct an independent research. The three most important factors that determine a good dissertation is:

  • Topic
  • Literature & methodology
  • Conclusion

Length of a dissertation vary on the depth of the study to be conducted. An undergraduate students’ dissertation is expected to be much shorter than that of a PhD’s. But there are other factors that influence the length of a dissertation, like the topic / hypothesis of the dissertation, and the research tools.

Dissertation topic

There is no smoke without fire. In a dissertation, if conclusion is the smoke, the topic is the heart of the fire. Selection of the topic depends on the trend- if the trend is towards ‘effective marketing strategies due to innumerable M and A’s, the best topic is the one surrounding it. If the country witnesses an Enron- like scandal, you’d rather pick a topic in Book- keeping.

Several other factors also have to be kept in mind like:

  • Availability of data.
  • Time available.
  • Effective primary and secondary research sources.
  • Complexity of the analysis and conclusion.

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Synopsis

A synopsis is a plan of the entire dissertation. since it opens the door to the castle, it has to be made attractive. its approval would mean the topic is good enough for the examiner, all specifications met. Precise words, with no unnecessary elaboration defines the synopsis. the contents of a synopsis are more or less the same, irrespective of the subject and the topic.

The ideal contents of a synopsis are:

  • Working title: only the title/ topic of the dissertation is mentioned.
  • Purpose: Why have we chosen the topic? What is to be gained from the study? How would it help our knowledge base and what are the relevant factors?
  • Objective: What do we stand to gain from the topic? all the factors we intend to prove in the thesis are mentioned in the objective part.
  • Scope of the study: How far does the study go to prove the scope? for eg. meeting important people (CEO of a company) to discuss the topic.
  • Research methodology: Gives the details about the kind of research to be undertaken. The weight-age given to primary and secondary data, what kind of primary research is undertaken and what sources of secondary research are used.
  • Limitations of the study: No study has no limitations. What cant be done in your thesis due to important reasons are specified. eg. an emerging trend like Blog Marketing will find almost no primary information in India due to lack of presence currently.

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Content of the dissertation

Make sure that your own work gets enough room. Eg. a 70 page thesis should not have 50 pages of introduction, background and other related work, and merely 10 pages of primary research followed by 10 pages of conclusion.

  • Make clear that your own contribution is clearly delineated from what has already been there.
  • Balance chapters. Introduction and conclusion should be the shortest ones. The others may vary from 5 to 40 pages (depending on the total size of the thesis). Avoid a single dominating chapter (e.g., one with 40 pages if all others have 5 is an indication that something is wrong).
  • Structure into chapters, sections, subsections, and paragraphs.
  • Try to avoidmore than 3 levels of numbered headlines unless really necessary (if you find it necessary this may tell you that your overall structure needs to be reworked).
  • You may use two levels of unnumbered headlines for further structuring (e.g., bold and italics), optionally peered with bullet or numbered lists.
  • These should not show up in the table of contents.The usual rules for scientific writing (proper citations, references, etc.) apply.
  • Separate thoughts by using different paragraphs (1 thought = 1 paragraph).
  • Do not make paragraphs too long (maybe your thought has more structure).
  • Write down what you mean (and make sure it saysso).
  • Avoid sentences without meaning (just because something sounds or reads nicely does not imply that it has a purpose).
  • Never have an unnecessary paragraph in a chapter, or an unnecessary sentence in a paragraph, or an unnecessary word in a sentence. And, say everything essential.

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Secondary data

Initially you may require certain secondary data for better understanding of the object of the thesis i.e. background of the product, issue, organisation or the industry in question. However, it must be noted that too much data on the object would destroy the purpose. Our ultimate attempt is the reasoning of the topic through research, analysis and conclusion.

Secondary data is also used occasionally throughout the process. It is a platform of support which makes the reason and conclusion more convincing. Secondary data can be collected through various medium:

  • Websites
  • Newspaper
  • Journals
  • Magazines, etc.

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Primary data

Your thesis breathes primary data. Without the primary data a dissertation is useless. The key point here is that the data you collect is unique to you and your research. Until you publish no one else has access to it. Various sources of primary data are:

  • Questionnaires
  • Interviews
  • Focus group interviews
  • Observation
  • Case-studies
  • Diaries
  • Critical incidents
  • Portfolios

The topic of the dissertation plays a major role in deciding the form of data to be used. If you were to examine the methods of manipulation of accounts so as to evade taxes of a company, you would receive the data only through direct sources. These sources are the books of the company. No person could understand the average person’s opinion about Airtel Services unless a hundred people are questioned through questionnaires. Primary data shapes the analysis and the conclusion of the dissertation.

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Analysis and conclusion

A committed reader would indeed understand that a dissertation is incomplete without a proper analysis and a reasonable conclusion. A dissertation is analysed through the collection of the primary and secondary data. It need not be written like a novel. For a survey of hundred respondents, results would only state: 50% yes, 20% no, 30% cant say. Results are displayed rather than discussed. Based on the analysis, one can arrive at a conclusion. A conclusion represents your perspective of the topic. So do not hesitate to speak your mind (so long as it is well reasoned and sensible!). No two minds think the same, so your conclusion can hardly go wrong. Conclusions are often the most difficult part of dissertation. Many candidates feel that they have nothing left to say at the end. Ideally a candidate needs to keep in mind that the conclusion is often what a reader remembers best. Your conclusion should be the best part of your paper.

Ideally a conclusion should

  • Stress the importance of the dissertation statement.
  • Give the dissertation a sense of completeness.
  • Leave a final impression on the reader.

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Priya Chetty

Partner at Project Guru
Priya is a master in business administration with majors in marketing and finance. She is fluent with data modelling, time series analysis, various regression models, forecasting and interpretation of the data. She has assisted data scientists, corporates, scholars in the field of finance, banking, economics and marketing.

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Discussions

4 Comments.

  1. thanks for the post

  2. Great post. There is a free citation generator, which will help anyone who is writing a thesis, in terms of proper citations.

  3. I like reading through an article that will make people think.

  4. Great info and right to the point. I don’t know if this is truly the best place to ask but do you people have any ideea where to employ some professional writers? Thank you 🙂

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