How to write a dissertation?

By Priya Chetty on June 17, 2010

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

  • Topic
  • Literature & methodology
  • Conclusion

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

Dissertation topic

There is no smoke without fire. In a dissertation, if the 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 Bookkeeping.

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

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



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, and all specifications are met. Precise words, with no unnecessary elaboration, define the synopsis. the contents of the synopsis are more or less the same, irrespective of the subject and the topic.

The ideal contents of the 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 weightage is given to primary and secondary data, what kind of primary research is undertaken, and what secondary research sources are used.
  • Limitations of the study: No study has no limitations. What cant be done in your thesis due to important reasons is specified. eg. an emerging trend like Blog Marketing will find almost no primary information in India due to lack of presence currently.


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. The 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 avoid more 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 a 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 says so).
  • 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, an unnecessary sentence in a paragraph, or an unnecessary word in a sentence. And, say everything is essential.


Secondary data

Initially, you may require certain secondary data for a 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 a various mediums:

  • Websites
  • Newspaper
  • Journals
  • Magazines, etc.


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 shape the analysis and the conclusion of the dissertation.


Analysis and conclusion

A committed reader would indeed understand that a dissertation is incomplete without proper analysis and a reasonable conclusion. A dissertation is analysed through the collection of 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 on 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 a 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.


Priya is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Project Guru, a research and analytics firm based in Gurgaon. She is responsible for the human resource planning and operations functions. Her expertise in analytics has been used in a number of service-based industries like education and financial services.

Her foundational educational is from St. Xaviers High School (Mumbai). She also holds MBA degree in Marketing and Finance from the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, Delhi (2008).

Some of the notable projects she has worked on include:

  • Using systems thinking to improve sustainability in operations: A study carried out in Malaysia in partnership with Universiti Kuala Lumpur.
  • Assessing customer satisfaction with in-house doctors of Jiva Ayurveda (a project executed for the company)
  • Predicting the potential impact of green hydrogen microgirds (A project executed for the Government of South Africa)

She is a key contributor to the in-house research platform Knowledge Tank.

She currently holds over 300 citations from her contributions to the platform.

She has also been a guest speaker at various institutes such as JIMS (Delhi), BPIT (Delhi), and SVU (Tirupati).



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