How To Write A Dissertation: 8 Great, But Simple, Steps

Posted on Apr 17, 2024

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Learning how to write a dissertation is a complex journey that many academics must take. In this article, I break down the complexity of how to write a dissertation into eight actionable steps. 

Whether you are in your first year of undergrad and preparing for the future, or your professor just assigned you your dissertation, this guide is for you. 

A brief note: if you are not currently a student but writing in other capacities, learning how to write a dissertation effectively can greatly benefit you. You can apply many of the following steps to your writing, fiction or nonfiction. 

How To Write A Dissertation: What’s Covered

What Is A Dissertation? 

A dissertation is an extensive, academic paper many students must write and submit prior to receiving their degree. Learning how to write a thesis is one of the first steps to understanding how to write a dissertation. 

Dissertations typically fall into one of two categories: empirical or non-empirical: 

  • Empirical dissertations focus on finding (and documenting the collection of) new data.
  • Non-empirical dissertations rely on theories and methods, usually assessing already existing data. 

This paper (usually the longest you will write while obtaining your degree) allows you to compile your research and present it in a concise, focused format. With this groundwork laid, let’s move on to how you write your paper.

How Do You Write A Dissertation?

You learn how to write a dissertation just as you learn how to write a manuscript: step by step. For example, there are many ways to build tension in writing, but how you choose to do so depends on you, the author. 

So, how do you structure a dissertation? Follow this eight-step guide and use it as a scaffholding for which you can take your own creative liberties.

1. Identify Your Topic 

Depending on the college or university you attend, your professor may assign you a particular topic. If you have free reign of the subject matter you wish to discuss, narrow your topic down to your topic three choices. 

Then, pick the one that you are most interested in and believe you will write about most effectively. 

Below are a few questions to ask yourself as you consider your choices: 

  • What are my long-term career goals?
  • What next-steps do I need to take to reach them?
  • What are my major interests? 
  • What topic am I well-versed in?

Once you choose your topic, move on to step two. 

2. Develop Your Thesis Statement 

If you’ve studied opinion writing, you know the importance of sharing a specific angle or viewpoint with your audience. Learning how to write a thesis stresses this same idea. 

Continuing with the example above, let’s say you are an academic who wants to convince people to publish a book to boost their credibility.

Follow these steps to develop your thesis statement:

  • Pinpoint your key topic
    • Write a book
  • Focus on the audience for your topic
    • Aspiring thought-leaders 
  • Choose your angle or position
    • Aspiring thought-leaders should publish books
  • Make a statement (be prepared to provide factual support)
    • Aspiring thought-leaders should publish books because books establish writers as experts in their fields. 

Now that you know what you’re writing your thesis on, it’s time to dive into the research. 

3. Conduct Research 

Remember, when learning how to write a thesis, everything hinges on the validity of your thesis statement. This is no different with writing your dissertation. This is why conducting quality research is so key. 

While you can take a trip to your local library, here are a few online places that may help you: 

  • Academic journals 
  • Peer reviewed papers 
  • Quality publications 

Be sure you compile enough research to truly support your claim. Additionally, it’s extremely helpful to use research that is established and understood to be fact and/or is up to date. 

4. Organize Your Study 

Once you have your thesis statement written and your research is all compiled, it’s time to organize your work. Book coaches often reinforce the idea of writing for the benefit of the reader. The same goes for writing your final thesis. 

How can you organize your paper in a way that smoothly guides your audience from first sentence to last? 

  • Do you need to build awareness around your topic? 
  • Do you need to arouse curiosity or interest? 
  • Is your audience already on board and looking for validity? 

Answering these questions will help as you organize your work. 

5. Include Valid Sources 

Whether you write an empirical or non-empirical dissertation, make sure you use valid sources. As helpful as Wikipedia can be, it’s usually not allowed in dissertation-level writing. Use peer-reviewed sources instead, and keep track of all your sources in a place like Zotero

Review point four for where to look when researching how to write a dissertation that is truly credible.

6. Edit For Tone And Structure 

Part of learning how to write a dissertation centers on understanding the importance of tone and structure. The tone authors use in academia is much more formal than one an author may use in their personal memoir. 

Additionally, the core of dissertations is often in the sources (see above), so building on your sources is a crucial part of writing a credible dissertation. 

Bonus: don’t forget about the importance of line editing! A well-articulated, but poorly edited dissertation will not put your hard work in a positive light.

7. Seek Out Professional Feedback 

Just as fiction authors often seek feedback on their plot, characters, and dialogue, you should seek feedback when you write your dissertation. You’ll want to know how strong your argument is, how well-supported your research is, can someone else follow the logical flow from section to section, etc.  

8. Review Your Work As If You Are The Professor 

Finally, allow yourself to step away from your dissertation for several days. After you have some space, go back through and read your paper as if you are your professor. 

Look for the following: 

  • Does my paper follow a logical sequence? 
  • Did I check for plagiarism?
  • Did I follow the rubric?  

Viewing your work from a different angle can help you spot inconsistencies and errors you may have otherwise missed.

How Long Does It Take To Write A Dissertation?

While the actual writing of your dissertation may not take a full year, how long you take to create your dissertation depends on your chosen methods. Just as there are plotters (writers who plot their book prior to writing) and pantsers (writers who do not plot their book and simply begin writing) when it comes to writing manuscripts, the same is true for dissertations. 

You may want to conduct preliminary research to ensure you structure your dissertation in the best way possible.

Rather than plunge directly into writing, make sure you craft a standout thesis statement, create a thoughtful structure, and find credible sources (or come up with your own data). 

How To Write A Dissertation: Take Your Next Step Today

Learning how to write a dissertation is basically writing an academically focused, condensed book on a particular topic. Consider Richard Hugo’s, The Triggering Town, for a more informal, yet highly educational, example.

To get started, book your free call today. We can’t wait to speak with you!

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