Writing a PhD Dissertation: How to do it

Going to university can be a difficult experience for anyone at anytime in their life. Completing a degree to a high standard is not easy and can, therefore, take time and effort. You may spend years slaving away at your keyboard, waiting to finish your BA so you can move on further. It can be a gruelling process and as such, you may consider whether it is all worth it until you gain that qualification. Once you have gained it and moved on to your MA you may consider whether you should continue in education, whether you have learnt enough. However, as with many humans, this isn’t the end of your journey. Knowledge is a tempting elixir that may force you to go on further and further, tempting you and eventually leading you to decide to do your PhD.


When you do finally decide to start your PhD you may feel apprehensive, nervous about completing this rung, the final rung for many, of the academic ladder. It is, after all, a final an important step in realising your potential as an academic and as a person in education. As such, you may feel nervous and overly stressed about completing your PhD dissertation. It is, in of itself, a major accomplishment and once you are fully aware of how to do it then you will be certain of succeeding and achieving greater things outside academia. Yet, if you don’t know how exactly to approach your dissertation you may feel nervous. Don’t worry, this article will explain exactly how to complete your dissertation to the highest possible standard.

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One of the most important parts of ensuring that your dissertation is one that you will be proud of is ensuring that you choose the right topic. If you choose a topic that doesn’t entirely suit you then you will be unlikely to write a dissertation that is as effective as it could be. This is particularly true when your reach PhD level; you will be spending a great deal of time and effort researching, writing and editing your dissertation and, therefore, it would be unfortunate if you choose a topic that either didn’t suit you or wasn’t of the best possible standard for your abilities. However, of course, by the time you get to PhD level, you will be used to deciding how to pick a topic. This doesn’t mean that you still may not make a bad choice and therefore it is wise to break down why exactly you might want to choose a topic and whether you should make the decision based on the reason that will be listed below. We will use a History PhD as an example to help demonstrate why particularly elements are important to consider – all the comments may not necessarily apply to your dissertation, but they should still help to inform you of why you should make the choice that you do.

  • Familiarity. This may seem like an odd place to start in deciding your dissertation topic, but it is an important one to consider. Familiarity with your topic can often be a great strength in choosing whether you should pursue this particular topic or not. Whilst you may feel bored or lacking in passion with the topics you have done previously, this doesn’t mean that you should try to tackle an area of a subject that you are otherwise unfamiliar with. This will only inevitably make you feel, throughout the process, that you do not know enough about it; that you are only a beginner who is being asked to perform a major feat of educational discipline that you may feel unable to do. Given that you will be investing a great deal of time, effort and money into your dissertation, surely it is not a reasonable idea to attempt to try to tackle a topic that you only have the slightest awareness of, simply because you think it may be interesting to do? As Sherlock Holmes once said, data is the means by which we build up theories; if the data you use is incomplete because of a lack of knowledge then like the bricklayer who tries to build a house without equipment he has used before it is likely that your logic will fall down. This isn’t to say that for your dissertation for your PhD that you should attempt to only follow the topics which you have pursued before. No, it simply means that you need to be certain that you have a strong grasp of the subject that you are dealing with before you take the plunge. Take, for instance, a student who is doing a History PhD; they may be an expert on Native American history but express interest in doing a PhD on the Anglo Saxons – if they are not familiar enough or know enough about the subject then, regardless of their expertise, they will be unlikely to succeed.
  • Expansion of the field. One of the key things that must be considered when deciding whether to do a dissertation on a topic is whether you can expand the field of research. This means that you have to be certain that you can bring something new to the development of the discipline. If you are attempting to do a PhD in a subject that is oversaturated with similar work, then it will mean that what you can bring to it via your own dissertation may be limited. This is not to say that you should not tackle areas that have already had work conducted in them – you will be unlikely, unless you want to do a PhD in a cutting-edge area of Maths or Science, to do a dissertation in a topic that has not already had years of research poured into it. However, if you have a choice between doing a PhD in a topic area that is oversaturated with material or one which could provide some new and exciting areas of exploration for a student, it may be wise to tackle the latter. This is not to say, of course, that you should choose a topic based solely on the lack of dissertation that have been written in it; this would be fool hardy as you can’t be certain that there is enough content to write a full and engaging dissertation in that topic. To go back to your earlier example, if a History student decides to do their PhD and thinks that they should tackle late Minoan Pottery as opposed to the Industrial Revolution, regardless of whether there is enough information on the former to write a sterling piece of work and irrespective of their knowledge of the latter, then they would be unlikely to produce a dissertation that was engaging or of the highest possible standard. This is why it is vitally important that you always make sure that the topic you are looking at is one that you not only know about but has a wide enough pool of information and hasn’t been saturated to death so that you can produce a good piece of work from it.
  • Can you do it? This is one of the hardest and yet most vital questions when considering your dissertation topic – can you do it? This doesn’t simply mean can you write your dissertation to the highest possible standard or questioning your ability to grasp the topic. It means, do you have the ability to do the job to a high standard and can you do it in the time frame that you have? If you are uncertain as to the answer, then you may perhaps need to tackle a different dissertation topic or re consider your PhD completely. It is vitally important that you consider whether you can truly devote the time, energy and creativity to your PhD and whether you can ensure that it will be as good as possible. As with any academic qualification, a PhD will eat up your time and thoughts. It will make you toss and turn in bed and invade every free moment of your time. You have to be entirely certain as to whether your dissertation can be as strong as you want it to be.
  • Why are you doing it? Finally, after considering all the other elements that are important to doing your PhD it is time to consider the final, greatest hurdle of all – why are you doing it? There are many reasons a person may do a PhD; to further the field of intellectual inquiry; to help advance themselves in their career; to understand the world of academia to a greater degree; because they simply want to. When considering doing a dissertation and a PhD you must think of all these things and consider whether you want to do your PhD and whether you are doing it for the right reason. You may feel as if you have to get a PhD to stay at the head of the game or to be considered a proper member of the intellectual community. It isn’t always necessary to get a qualification if you don’t need it. Yet, if you have a burning desire to learn and want to exert yourself more then it cannot be a bad thing that you are doing a dissertation for a PhD.

Researching your dissertation can be a painful and at times disheartening affair. Now that you have chosen your topic and your dissertation question you may feel as if the most difficult part of your work is done. It isn’t, of course, and gathering all the material that you want to use for your magnum opus can be tricky. However, as long as you remember that you are doing it for something that you want to do and that you need to do then you will be sure to sail through it. As long as you keep to a regular schedule, allow yourself time to rest your eyes and spend some time away from your book or your computer screen and be aware that at some point your work will be done you won’t be able to stop yourself from enjoying the process of gathering all the data you need to write a fine piece of work.

Once you have completed researching your dissertation, it is time to write it. The process of writing a dissertation can be at times discouraging and difficult to understand – you can feel as if you have written three thousand words when you’ve only written thirty. This is the reason that so many people put off doing a dissertation, whether at BA level or when they are doing their PhD, to later on in the process. This is somewhat of a mistake – cutting your work down into chunks so that you aren’t spending all day, every day writing will ensure that the process is much easier and much less stressful.

After you have gone through the process of choosing your topic, spent time researching it and finally written it, it is time to edit. The process of editing can sometimes feel soul destroying, but you have to remember that its purpose is to improve your work and ensure that it is of the highest possible quality.

Hopefully, this article will have enlightened you as to how to write a PhD dissertation. However, there may be some elements you aren’t certain of. Perhaps we can help?

Our writers deal with a breadth of writing projects from dissertations to CVs to cover letters and so much more. So why not contact us today and see how we can help you.

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