Writing a dissertation is a huge undertaking that can be very overwhelming for students, not only because it is the longest paper that most students will write, but because it usually involves doing primary research, which is very different from other papers. Rather than summing up or analyzing someone else’s work, writing a dissertation is more about creating your own work and ideas.
Following this step by step guide will give you an idea what to expect, and make the whole process much more approachable and manageable.
Its easy to think that choosing a topic for your dissertation would be a simple process, but in reality it will require a lot of effort and careful thought. By choosing a good topic you’ll be setting yourself up for success with the rest of your project, and inversely, a bad or difficult topic will continue to set you back. When picking a topic you should be sure to choose something that you find personally interesting, because you’ll be working on it for a significant amount of time. It is also important to pick a topic of an appropriate scope—keep in mind how much time you’ll have to complete your project, and make sure that your topic is narrow enough to accomplish it in that time.
Depending on where you are in the process, you may or may not already have an advisor assigned to you or picked out for your project. Some people will work very closely with their advisor on their research, while others will simply serve to keep them on track. Decide what kind of relationship you want to have with your advisor, and pick someone who you get along with personally and who you feel you can learn a lot from.
It’s easy to get sucked into starting your research with a very detailed literature review or background research, mostly because this is the kind of research that most students are most comfortable with. But one of the first things that you should do is to set out a detailed research methodology. A good rule of thumb is to make this methodology much more detailed that you think it should be, so that anyone could replicate your project based on it. When writing your methodology, be sure to explain why you did things the way you did, why you chose to include or exclude certain elements, and any assumptions you’re making.