PhD Dissertation

How to write PhD dissertation that excels:

An Aspirant’s Guide To Dissertation Universe

phd dissertation

Creating an excellent PhD dissertation is a pursuit that requires some more skills beside diligent researching per se and writing a paper of some 500 pages length crammed with high-brow reasoning. It involves at least three years of intimate communication with your three-member dissertation committee (full-fledged professors in your field). You are to meet all their requirements (being a tough task even for hard-boiled scientists, to say nothing of the novices), and here are some tips on how to do it.

General reflections

A PhD dissertation is a lengthy, formal document that argues in defense of a particular thesis. The research performed to support the thesis must be original and substantial, and the dissertation must show it to be so. In particular, a dissertation highlights original contributions. The scientific method means starting with a hypothesis and then collecting evidence to support or deny it. The most difficult aspect of writing a dissertation consists of organizing the evidence and associated discussions into a coherent form. The essence of a dissertation is critical thinking, not experimental data: analysis and concepts form the heart of the work. A dissertation concentrates on principles: it states the lessons learned, and not merely the facts behind them. In general, every statement in a dissertation must be supported either by a reference to published scientific literature or by original work. Moreover, a dissertation does not repeat the details of critical thinking and analysis found in published sources; it uses the results as fact and refers the reader to the source for further details. Each statement in a dissertation must be correct and defensible in a logical and scientific sense; the discussions in a dissertation must satisfy the most stringent rules of logic applied to mathematics and science.

Language aspects

Each sentence in a PhD dissertation must be complete and correct in a grammatical sense. The writing in a dissertation must be crystal clear. Shades of meaning matter; the terminology and prose must make fine distinctions. The words must convey exactly the meaning intended, nothing more and nothing less. A dissertation must satisfy the stringent rules of formal grammar. It means there are no:

  • contractions,
  • colloquialisms,
  • slurs,
  • undefined technical jargonisms,
  • hidden jokes,
  • slang words.

Canonical Organization

In general, every PhD dissertation must define the problem that motivated the research, tell why that problem is important, tell what others have done, describe the new contribution, document the experiments that validate the contribution, and draw conclusions. There is no canonical organization for a dissertation; each is unique, but the following example is a good starting point:

Chapter 1: Introduction

An overview of the problem; its importance; a summary of extant work and a statement of your hypothesis or specific question to be explored.

Chapter 2: Definitions

Include new terms only; make the definitions precise, concise, and unambiguous.

Chapter 3: Conceptual Model

Describe the central concept underlying your work. Make it a ”theme” that ties together all your arguments. It should provide an answer to the question posed in the introduction at a conceptual level. If necessary, add another chapter to give additional reasoning about the problem or its solution.

Chapter 4: Experimental Measurements

Describe the results of experiments that provide evidence in support of your thesis. Usually experiments either emphasize proof-of-concept (demonstrating the viability of a method/technique) or efficiency (demonstrating that a method/technique provides better performance than those that exist).

Chapter 5: Corollaries and Consequences

Describe variations, extensions, or other applications of the central idea.

Chapter 6: Conclusions

Summarize what was learned and how it can be applied; mention the possibilities for future research.

Abstract is a few-paragraphs summary of the the dissertation. Describe the problem and the research approach; emphasize the original contributions.

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