When you are studying at the undergraduate or graduate level, you will more often than not be asked to prepare a dissertation. This written, research-based submission is typically crucial to graduation from the degree you wish to obtain, especially in when studying a master’s or PhD degree. Read on to find out some essential facts about the paper and how you can present yours to the best standard possible.  

What is a dissertation? 

A dissertation is sometimes called a thesis in some countries. The terms are sometimes used interchangeably or there may be some differences between them. Either way, a dissertation is a significant research project carried out as part of a university degree, sometimes the final one. In this paper, students present the findings they discovered when researching a question they chose to answer themselves.

The goal of this project is typically to develop and test research skills and to make sure they have learned the necessary independent research skills before they graduate from their degree. This can help to determine their final grades. Even though students receive help and support from mentors or professors along the way, the project is very independent, and typically the student is in charge of it. 

This assignment is usually the most challenging and crucial project completed at the undergraduate or graduate level. It usually requires months and months of preparation and work around the clock. Even though it’s challenging, it can also be very gratifying, especially if you love the topic you are researching and are invested in the findings of your research project. 

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How do I find a suitable dissertation topic?

To find a suitable topic, you should first look at the topics that interest you and that you wouldn’t mind spending hours and hours learning about. This is because you will be writing the paper over a long period of time, so having a passionate topic can tide you over when you are exhausted.

The originality of the topic is also a highly critical matter when selecting your topic. This is highly important so that the department can accept your proposal for the thesis you are writing. Don’t worry though: you don’t have to pick a topic that has never been chosen before, though, of course, this is w benefit for you! However, the angle of research and approach should be original. Try to choose a niche that has a unique perspective. You can find out if your strategy is unique through thorough research!

Types of dissertations

When it comes to dissertations, there are two types. These types are Empirical and non Empirical dissertations. Empirical ones involve gathering data, either putting theories into action or largely focusing on lab work. 

Non-empirical dissertations use existing data to analyse them or put a twist on them. With this data, you come up with fruitful conclusions that you present in your paper. You should also explore the applications of the work, practical and theoretical. 

What is a dissertation proposal?

In order to go for a specific dissertation topic, you need first to present your research idea to the department and have it approved. You typically submit a proposal which is a document that typically has a particular format and outlines what your research topic is. You also talk about your methodology and present your expected results. Sometimes it takes a few submissions of this dissertation proposal to approve and start working on your topic. 


Requirements of dissertation 

There are specific requirements for your research topic and whatever type of dissertation you choose to write. In your dissertation, you’ll need to elucidate on the following concepts. 

  • Defining and presenting a straightforward research question
  • Identifying research areas and issues related
  • Showing reliable sources (the number depends on the requirement of your department)
  • Analysing legitimacy of research
  • Presenting both sides of the debate and analysing them thoroughly
  • Offering a reasonable conclusion that is supported by the data and your results 
  • Following all formatting guidelines for your institution 

When it comes to the length of your paper, you have to check the requirements of your department. Depending on the country, they may be presented in characters or words. Generally, schools expect from 10 to 12,000 words at undergraduate levels, while they expect anywhere from 15,000 to 25,000 words at graduate study levels. You may be expected to present a dissertation of around 50,000 words for your PhD. 

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Typical format 

After having your proposal topic being accepted, you should look into the format of the dissertation that your department is asking for. In general, there are several sections that you should include in the paper. 


This section gives a quick insight into the research question or questions you intend to answer. It also contains a preview of the chapters of the entire paper so that the reader knows what’s coming up next. 

Literature review

The first section of the paper is usually the literature review. This chapter gives a deep dive into the literature you have found relating to your topic. You critique and group them into sections and analyse them extensively.


The methodology section has details of the research methods you intend to use. In most institutions, you choose whether you will follow a qualitative or quantitative research approach. You basically tell the reader how you will gather the data and the analytical technique you will use to analyse it.  


In this section, you present details about the data analysis. You talk in detail about how you will analyse the data you have collected. 

Findings/ Results 

 The findings section gives your own personal take on the data and compares what you had found to the research that already existed before you carried out yours. You also talk about the future research possibilities, implications of the data and any limitations you may have faced. 

In general, the order of chapters in a thesis follows an order that the reader should consider logical, from proposing the research idea to building theories and explaining how they researched before finally presenting their results, the dissertation’s most important section. 

It’s recommended to look at previous dissertations presented to your department before handing in yours to compare them and see if you are on the right track. It would help if you also looked into the different types of methodology before choosing your own one to ensure that the approach you have chosen is the most suitable for your research. 

What happens after I have completed my dissertation?

After handing in your paper, two internal and one external examiner will look over your report. In some schools, you will also have to orally present your paper, a presentation known as a ‘viva’. The word viva comes from the Latin phrase ‘viva voce’, which translates to ‘the living voice’. 

In this viva discussion, you will need to present your paper and defend it against a panel of examiners. In this discussion, these examiners will tell you if you have passed or not. This discussion can also have several outcomes. For example, you could be awarded the degree, awaiting a final confirmation with revisions being made. If your paper wasn’t up to the expectations, you could also be awarded a lower degree. You could also fail your dissertation, but this isn’t common as your supervisor will typically not let you submit your paper before it as at least at an average level. 


In conclusion, your dissertation is an independent research project that is arguably the most important one you hand in during the course of your study for a degree. This research typically follows a particular outline that you should check to make sure it follows the correct format for your school. Finally, after submitting it, you may or may not be asked to present it orally and defend it, so you should be sure to know your research like the back of your hand!