Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts
Thesis and Dissertation: Getting Started
Welcome to the Purdue OWL
This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue University. When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice.
Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.
The resources in this section are designed to provide guidance for the first steps of the thesis or dissertation writing process. They offer tools to support the planning and managing of your project, including writing out your weekly schedule, outlining your goals, and organzing the various working elements of your project.
Weekly Goals Sheet (a.k.a. Life Map) [Word Doc]
This editable handout provides a place for you to fill in available time blocks on a weekly chart that will help you visualize the amount of time you have available to write. By using this chart, you will be able to work your writing goals into your schedule and put these goals into perspective with your day-to-day plans and responsibilities each week. This handout also contains a formula to help you determine the minimum number of pages you would need to write per day in order to complete your writing on time.
Setting a Production Schedule (Word Doc)
This editable handout can help you make sense of the various steps involved in the production of your thesis or dissertation and determine how long each step might take. A large part of this process involves (1) seeking out the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding specific document formatting requirements, (2) understanding research protocol limitations, (3) making note of deadlines, and (4) understanding your personal writing habits.
Creating a Roadmap (PDF)
Part of organizing your writing involves having a clear sense of how the different working parts relate to one another. Creating a roadmap for your dissertation early on can help you determine what the final document will include and how all the pieces are connected. This resource offers guidance on several approaches to creating a roadmap, including creating lists, maps, nut-shells, visuals, and different methods for outlining. It is important to remember that you can create more than one roadmap (or more than one type of roadmap) depending on how the different approaches discussed here meet your needs.
Have a language expert improve your writing
Run a free plagiarism check in 10 minutes, generate accurate citations for free.
- Knowledge Base
How to Write a Dissertation or Thesis Proposal
Published on September 21, 2022 by Tegan George . Revised on July 18, 2023.
When starting your thesis or dissertation process, one of the first requirements is a research proposal or a prospectus. It describes what or who you want to examine, delving into why, when, where, and how you will do so, stemming from your research question and a relevant topic .
The proposal or prospectus stage is crucial for the development of your research. It helps you choose a type of research to pursue, as well as whether to pursue qualitative or quantitative methods and what your research design will look like.
You can download our templates in the format of your choice below.
Download Word template Download Google Docs template
Table of contents
What should your proposal contain, dissertation question examples, what should your proposal look like, dissertation prospectus examples, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about proposals.
Prior to jumping into the research for your thesis or dissertation, you first need to develop your research proposal and have it approved by your supervisor. It should outline all of the decisions you have taken about your project, from your dissertation topic to your hypotheses and research objectives .
Depending on your department’s requirements, there may be a defense component involved, where you present your research plan in prospectus format to your committee for their approval.
Your proposal should answer the following questions:
- Why is your research necessary?
- What is already known about your topic?
- Where and when will your research be conducted?
- Who should be studied?
- How can the research best be done?
Ultimately, your proposal should persuade your supervisor or committee that your proposed project is worth pursuing.
A faster, more affordable way to improve your paper
Scribbr’s new AI Proofreader checks your document and corrects spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes with near-human accuracy and the efficiency of AI!
Proofread my paper
Strong research kicks off with a solid research question , and dissertations are no exception to this.
Dissertation research questions should be:
- Focused on a single problem or issue
- Researchable using primary and/or secondary sources
- Feasible to answer within the timeframe and practical constraints
- Specific enough to answer thoroughly
- Complex enough to develop the answer over the space of a paper or thesis
- Relevant to your field of study and/or society more broadly
- What are the main factors enticing people under 30 in suburban areas to engage in the gig economy?
- Which techniques prove most effective for 1st-grade teachers at local elementary schools in engaging students with special needs?
- Which communication streams are the most effective for getting those aged 18-30 to the polls on Election Day?
An easy rule of thumb is that your proposal will usually resemble a (much) shorter version of your thesis or dissertation. While of course it won’t include the results section , discussion section , or conclusion , it serves as a “mini” version or roadmap for what you eventually seek to write.
Be sure to include:
- A succinct introduction to your topic and problem statement
- A brief literature review situating your topic within existing research
- A basic outline of the research methods you think will best answer your research question
- The perceived implications for future research
- A reference list in the citation style of your choice
The length of your proposal varies quite a bit depending on your discipline and type of work you’re conducting. While a thesis proposal is often only 3-7 pages long, a prospectus for your dissertation is usually much longer, with more detailed analysis. Dissertation proposals can be up to 25-30 pages in length.
Writing a proposal or prospectus can be a challenge, but we’ve compiled some examples for you to get your started.
- Example #1: “Geographic Representations of the Planet Mars, 1867-1907” by Maria Lane
- Example #2: “Individuals and the State in Late Bronze Age Greece: Messenian Perspectives on Mycenaean Society” by Dimitri Nakassis
- Example #3: “Manhood Up in the Air: A Study of Male Flight Attendants, Queerness, and Corporate Capitalism during the Cold War Era” by Phil Tiemeyer
Receive feedback on language, structure, and formatting
Professional editors proofread and edit your paper by focusing on:
- Academic style
- Vague sentences
- Style consistency
See an example
If you want to know more about AI for academic writing, AI tools, or research bias, make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!
- Survivorship bias
- Self-serving bias
- Availability heuristic
- Halo effect
- Hindsight bias
- Deep learning
- Generative AI
- Machine learning
- Reinforcement learning
- Supervised vs. unsupervised learning
- Grammar Checker
- Paraphrasing Tool
- Text Summarizer
- AI Detector
- Plagiarism Checker
- Citation Generator
The research methods you use depend on the type of data you need to answer your research question .
- If you want to measure something or test a hypothesis , use quantitative methods . If you want to explore ideas, thoughts and meanings, use qualitative methods .
- If you want to analyze a large amount of readily-available data, use secondary data. If you want data specific to your purposes with control over how it is generated, collect primary data.
- If you want to establish cause-and-effect relationships between variables , use experimental methods. If you want to understand the characteristics of a research subject, use descriptive methods.
A thesis or dissertation outline is one of the most critical first steps in your writing process. It helps you to lay out and organize your ideas and can provide you with a roadmap for deciding what kind of research you’d like to undertake.
Generally, an outline contains information on the different sections included in your thesis or dissertation , such as:
- Your anticipated title
- Your abstract
- Your chapters (sometimes subdivided into further topics like literature review , research methods , avenues for future research, etc.)
A well-planned research design helps ensure that your methods match your research aims, that you collect high-quality data, and that you use the right kind of analysis to answer your questions, utilizing credible sources . This allows you to draw valid , trustworthy conclusions.
The priorities of a research design can vary depending on the field, but you usually have to specify:
- Your research questions and/or hypotheses
- Your overall approach (e.g., qualitative or quantitative )
- The type of design you’re using (e.g., a survey , experiment , or case study )
- Your sampling methods or criteria for selecting subjects
- Your data collection methods (e.g., questionnaires , observations)
- Your data collection procedures (e.g., operationalization , timing and data management)
- Your data analysis methods (e.g., statistical tests or thematic analysis )
A dissertation prospectus or proposal describes what or who you plan to research for your dissertation. It delves into why, when, where, and how you will do your research, as well as helps you choose a type of research to pursue. You should also determine whether you plan to pursue qualitative or quantitative methods and what your research design will look like.
It should outline all of the decisions you have taken about your project, from your dissertation topic to your hypotheses and research objectives , ready to be approved by your supervisor or committee.
Note that some departments require a defense component, where you present your prospectus to your committee orally.
Formulating a main research question can be a difficult task. Overall, your question should contribute to solving the problem that you have defined in your problem statement .
However, it should also fulfill criteria in three main areas:
- Feasibility and specificity
- Relevance and originality
Cite this Scribbr article
If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.
George, T. (2023, July 18). How to Write a Dissertation or Thesis Proposal. Scribbr. Retrieved November 14, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/dissertation/thesis-dissertation-proposal/
Is this article helpful?
Other students also liked, a step-by-step guide to the writing process, 10 research question examples to guide your research project, dissertation & thesis outline | example & free templates, what is your plagiarism score.
The 7 Best Dissertation Writing Services in the U.S.
Seattle, Washington, UNITED STATES
SEATTLE, March 26, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Dissertation writing services are becoming more and more popular amidst the rise of online learning. A recent study conducted by Stressays revealed that the popularity of such services increased by 20% in 2021, compared to the same period of time in 2020.
The most common reasons why Ph.D. students seek dissertation writing help were: lack of assistance from dissertation supervisor, coping with dissertation stress, and poor motivation.
Due to the rising demand, more and more companies continue to emerge. Stressays scoured the internet, collected more than 500 student reviews, and ranked seven of the most popular Ph.D. dissertation writing services in 2021. These sites were evaluated based on the quality of dissertations they write, their pricing, customer support, and the expertise of writers — all of which are important to get your money’s worth.
Below, you will find seven dissertation writing service reviews that will help you make up your mind about which company to choose in case you need any help with your thesis or dissertation.
1. PaperHelp — Most Popular, Best Option
According to numerous reviews from graduate students, PaperHelp is the best dissertation writing service you can find online. It has been around for over ten years and has long grown to be the go-to website for students of all academic levels.
The website is very user-friendly, making navigation very easy and stress-free. From the first page, you are greeted with a calculator that enables you to calculate the price of your order. Prices vary depending on the academic level, type of paper, number of pages, and the deadline you decide on, dissertation writing help starts at $20 per page.
They also take their recruiting process very seriously. Every single dissertation writer has to go through a series of rigorous tests before getting accepted. They recruit degreed writers including those with masters or Ph.D. in different fields of study. You can decide to choose a basic writer with three years of experience, an advanced writer, or a top writer with the highest ratings.
Unlike most websites, PaperHelp offers a money back guarantee and plagiarism-free report, ensuring that every piece of work is original.
- Money-back guarantee
- Assistance at any stage of your dissertation
- Team of 482 Ph.D. specialists
- Plagiarism free
- Affordable rates
- Expert writers
- Fast response rate
- Plagiarism report costs extra.
- Extra fees on assigning top and advanced writers.
JustDoMyEssay is a top-rated thesis writing service that you can always rely on. Writers are handpicked from top-tier academic colleges and universities. The website permits only academically-proven and highly experienced writers to join the fold. By hiring a dissertation writer on JustDoMyEssay, you get yourself a chance to work with a knowledgeable person who is directly qualified in your field of study.
Although there isn’t a price calculator available, the platform’s pricing structure is based on the paper’s complexity, the writer's preference, and the deadline chosen. Rates start from $17 for a single page. You can request assistance for a full dissertation document or just individual chapters.
- Money-back policy
- High academic standards
- Security, confidentiality, and discretion
- Strict plagiarism-free report
- Original content
- Active support system
- Bad pricing option
- Small discounts
- Extra charge on advanced writers
- Only one free revision
SpeedyPaper is a strong competitor amongst other PhD writing services. They have a reputation for providing a customer-centric approach to their work. This means the writers are not trying to make a quick buck off you, rather they listen to your needs and tailor their work to suit your requirements.
SpeedyPaper services spread across various academic disciplines, including dissertations, theses, assignments, resumes, business plans, and a lot more.
You have the option of choosing pro writers with more experience and skills than the average writers available. The rates for writing a dissertation start at $14 for a single page. The turnover time for papers is fast, as well as their customer support system.
- On-time delivery
- Quality Papers
- Plagiarism report
- Unlimited number of revisions available
- Extra charges for a plagiarism report.
- Extra charge for picking top writers of your preference.
Armed with an army of professional academic and business writers, EssayPro is easily one of the most popular dissertation services available. The platform offers rewriting, proofreading, editing services in various fields of study. Writers are sectioned based on fields of expertise, with short bios and ratings, enabling you to make better-informed choices.
EssayPro rates are very affordable, dissertation assistance rates start from $12 for a single page. For every extra page, there is a 5% discount rate, up to 7 pages for a 30% discount, making the overall order a fair price for the quality of work.
EssayPro provides dissertation writing help across a multitude of different subjects and disciplines (law, economics, ethics, philosophy, political theory and sciences). The writers are friendly and fast on delivery, with fast turnaround time as quick as a 6-hour time frame. The customer response rate is equally as satisfying. They offer a free plagiarism report as well as an unlimited number of revisions.
- Plagiarism-free report
- Unlimited number of revisions
- 100% Money-back guarantee
- Flexible discount system
- Quick turnaround
- 27/4 Customer Support
- Increased rate due to bidding method
- Unsmooth payment interface.
Grademiners is one of the oldest dissertation writing platforms on the internet. Their service span across diverse subject areas delivering quality on both simple and complex papers. Projects aren’t confined to only essays and school work. Their capabilities stretch to accommodate business writing services as well. Projects such as math problems, movie reviews, PowerPoint presentations, lab reports, resume writing, along with a long list of other paper types are available as well.
Expert writers are recruited from various distinguished universities to join the fold. The strict assurance policy is one of the most compelling aspects of the platform. Once you place an order, your brief is matched with a writer best suited to handle your project based on their qualifications. This makes the quality of work even more refined than average. Also, the editors and proofreaders on the team ensure that all your instructions are met and the paper meets expectations.
Pricing starts from $11 per page but varies due to your specifications. The price calculator available will help you estimate the price of your paper.
- Timely delivery
- Original writing and high quality of work
- Fast turnaround
- Skillful in tackling complex projects.
- $15 discount for first-time orders.
- 2 weeks free revisions request.
- Extra fees for premium and top writers
- Extra $14 for plagiarism-free report
Founded in 2015, WiseEssays has been providing dissertation help and assisting Ph.D. students in academic research, editing, proofreading, and writing dissertations from scratch in different subject areas. They have degreed writers who are skilled in specific disciplines.
The platform offers free revisions as long it is within 10 days before the delivery date. In case you are not satisfied with the service, they offer a money-back guarantee, removing the factor of risk on your part.
The rates are a little higher than average, with a starting price of $22 per page for a 14-day deadline. As usual, rates vary depending on an academic level, the complexity of the paper, the number of pages, and turnover time.
Although WiseEssays offers original writing and quality content, their customer support can be a pain in the neck. There isn’t any provision for a live chat for a quick response.
- Original Writing
- Free revisions
- Pricey rates
- Extra charges for a plagiarism report and abstract page.
- Inadequate customer support
99Papers has gained an exceptional reputation over the years as one of the platforms that stand out from the competition. The company works with thousands of professional freelance writers and editors with academic backgrounds and years of expertise to deliver original and superior work that rises above mediocre content that is easily found all over the internet. Writers are recruited from top U.K. and U.S. universities as well as ESL writers that possess a perfect command of the English language.
Pricing rates are fair. A one page of a PhD dissertation costs $26. Prices vary depending on certain requirements. You can request a paper in a 3-hour time frame, although that would cost a lot more than having it done by a day or a week.
There’s a twist to this platform. Some of the premium features offered by other writing platforms are free, such as a free bibliography page. They also offer an unlimited number of revisions in a 10-day time frame. The exceptional quality of service has resonated with users over the years evidenced by the positive reviews of satisfied customers.
- Plagiarism-free check
- Fast response rate and competent feedback structure
- Extra fees for top and ESL writers selection
- First-timer discount unavailable
- Extra $9 for plagiarism-free report
Given the list of the various thesis writing services to choose from, you might still be undecided. Finding a platform you can readily trust and invest in can be hard. So before you go ahead to choose from the list, know where your priorities lie. There’s no disputing how important these companies are to both graduate and undergraduate students and professionals who sometimes require extra assistance to keep up with tight schedules. These companies usually offer a wide range of services, including academic papers that cut across a vast number of fields, and business writing as well.
Generally, choosing price over quality can easily backfire, and you would end up wasting both your time and money. In that regard, always choose the platform with a money-back guarantee and a strict satisfaction policy, which will act as a hedge against the poor quality of work. But importantly, scout through the websites to see which one resonates best with you.
Getting Help With Ph.D. Dissertation
A custom dissertation will be written according to your requirements and committees’ expectations. Even though it is not mandatory, you can provide your writer with some dissertations completed by students that your committees have worked with before. It will help a writer to understand committees’ expectations (what kind of sources they expect you to use, what is the structure of chapters, headings, etc.) and write the best dissertation for you. You can order a complete dissertation or individual chapters.
Here’s the complete list of services that you can benefit from:
- Full dissertation
- Literature review
Getting Help With Master’s Thesis
Master’s thesis is a long form academic paper that is quite similar to doctoral dissertation. Even though it is one of the longest papers you will have to write, it is generally shorter and more focused than a typical dissertation. This is a paper that you submit in support of candidature for an academic degree or professional qualification, so you will have to present original research and findings.
A professional writer will be able to provide you with the top-notch thesis writing help at any point of your thesis writing process. It doesn’t matter if you’re only just getting started writing it or you need help finish it.
Are Custom Dissertation Writing Services Legal?
There are no laws that prohibit paying for dissertation writing. Anybody can order an assignment from a dissertation service without any negative legal consequences. It’s absolutely lawful to ask professional writers to complete a paper for you if you cannot cope with it.
Even though it may seem unethical for some people, it does not mean that getting a dissertation writing assistance is illegal. If you are honest with yourself and realize your weak points but still want to submit a decent paper that will move you to the top of students’ rating, you have the right for that.
Just make sure that your work doesn’t contain plagiarized ideas and that it’s 100% original. If the quality of a written assignment is excellent, then you shouldn’t have any doubts about submitting it.
How Do I Find the Best Dissertation Writing Service?
The most popular way to find the best dissertation writing site is by using a search engine like Google. Just type your search query and have a look at the list of companies offering services that you need. Pay special attention to the websites at the top of the list but don’t limit your choice to them.
Scroll a little bit down and read about some other companies represented in the online market. Don’t forget to check user reviews before you make a final decision. Try to be unbiased while reading someone’s feedback and don’t neglect negative comments as they can be the most objective ones.
Another way to find an excellent dissertation writing service is by asking your peers. Probably, some of them have already ordered assignments from professional writers, so you can ask for recommendations. Your friends’ opinion can be very valuable as it’s based on real experience.
- Utility Menu
- Questions about Expos?
- Writing Support for Instructors
Your thesis is the central claim in your essay—your main insight or idea about your source or topic. Your thesis should appear early in an academic essay, followed by a logically constructed argument that supports this central claim. A strong thesis is arguable, which means a thoughtful reader could disagree with it and therefore needs your careful analysis of the evidence to understand how you arrived at this claim. You arrive at your thesis by examining and analyzing the evidence available to you, which might be text or other types of source material.
A thesis will generally respond to an analytical question or pose a solution to a problem that you have framed for your readers (and for yourself). When you frame that question or problem for your readers, you are telling them what is at stake in your argument—why your question matters and why they should care about the answer . If you can explain to your readers why a question or problem is worth addressing, then they will understand why it’s worth reading an essay that develops your thesis—and you will understand why it’s worth writing that essay.
A strong thesis will be arguable rather than descriptive , and it will be the right scope for the essay you are writing. If your thesis is descriptive, then you will not need to convince your readers of anything—you will be naming or summarizing something your readers can already see for themselves. If your thesis is too narrow, you won’t be able to explore your topic in enough depth to say something interesting about it. If your thesis is too broad, you may not be able to support it with evidence from the available sources.
When you are writing an essay for a course assignment, you should make sure you understand what type of claim you are being asked to make. Many of your assignments will be asking you to make analytical claims , which are based on interpretation of facts, data, or sources.
Some of your assignments may ask you to make normative claims. Normative claims are claims of value or evaluation rather than fact—claims about how things should be rather than how they are. A normative claim makes the case for the importance of something, the action that should be taken, or the way the world should be. When you are asked to write a policy memo, a proposal, or an essay based on your own opinion, you will be making normative claims.
Here are some examples of possible thesis statements for a student's analysis of the article “The Case Against Perfection” by Professor Michael Sandel.
Descriptive thesis (not arguable)
While Sandel argues that pursuing perfection through genetic engineering would decrease our sense of humility, he claims that the sense of solidarity we would lose is also important.
This thesis summarizes several points in Sandel’s argument, but it does not make a claim about how we should understand his argument. A reader who read Sandel’s argument would not also need to read an essay based on this descriptive thesis.
Broad thesis (arguable, but difficult to support with evidence)
Michael Sandel’s arguments about genetic engineering do not take into consideration all the relevant issues.
This is an arguable claim because it would be possible to argue against it by saying that Michael Sandel’s arguments do take all of the relevant issues into consideration. But the claim is too broad. Because the thesis does not specify which “issues” it is focused on—or why it matters if they are considered—readers won’t know what the rest of the essay will argue, and the writer won’t know what to focus on. If there is a particular issue that Sandel does not address, then a more specific version of the thesis would include that issue—hand an explanation of why it is important.
Arguable thesis with analytical claim
While Sandel argues persuasively that our instinct to “remake” (54) ourselves into something ever more perfect is a problem, his belief that we can always draw a line between what is medically necessary and what makes us simply “better than well” (51) is less convincing.
This is an arguable analytical claim. To argue for this claim, the essay writer will need to show how evidence from the article itself points to this interpretation. It’s also a reasonable scope for a thesis because it can be supported with evidence available in the text and is neither too broad nor too narrow.
Arguable thesis with normative claim
Given Sandel’s argument against genetic enhancement, we should not allow parents to decide on using Human Growth Hormone for their children.
This thesis tells us what we should do about a particular issue discussed in Sandel’s article, but it does not tell us how we should understand Sandel’s argument.
Questions to ask about your thesis
- Is the thesis truly arguable? Does it speak to a genuine dilemma in the source, or would most readers automatically agree with it?
- Is the thesis too obvious? Again, would most or all readers agree with it without needing to see your argument?
- Is the thesis complex enough to require a whole essay's worth of argument?
- Is the thesis supportable with evidence from the text rather than with generalizations or outside research?
- Would anyone want to read a paper in which this thesis was developed? That is, can you explain what this paper is adding to our understanding of a problem, question, or topic?
- Tips for Reading an Assignment Prompt
- Asking Analytical Questions
- What Do Introductions Across the Disciplines Have in Common?
- Anatomy of a Body Paragraph
- Tips for Organizing Your Essay
- Strategies for Essay Writing: Downloadable PDFs
- Brief Guides to Writing in the Disciplines
- Schedule an Appointment
- English Grammar and Language Tutor
- Drop-in hours
- Harvard Guide to Using Sources
- Departmental Writing Fellows
- Writing Advice: The Harvard Writing Tutor Blog
- Formatting Your Dissertation
Harvard Griffin GSAS strives to provide students with timely, accurate, and clear information. If you need help understanding a specific policy, please contact the office that administers that policy.
- Application for Degree
- Credit for Completed Graduate Work
- Ad Hoc Degree Programs
- Acknowledging the Work of Others
- Advanced Planning
- Dissertation Submission Checklist
- Publishing Options
- Submitting Your Dissertation
- English Language Proficiency
- PhD Program Requirements
- Secondary Fields
- Year of Graduate Study (G-Year)
- Master's Degrees
- Grade and Examination Requirements
- Conduct and Safety
- Financial Aid
On this page:
Language of the Dissertation
Page and text requirements, body of text, tables, figures, and captions, dissertation acceptance certificate, copyright statement.
- Table of Contents
Front and Back Matter
Supplemental material, dissertations comprising previously published works, top ten formatting errors, further questions.
- Related Contacts and Forms
When preparing the dissertation for submission, students must follow strict formatting requirements. Any deviation from these requirements may lead to rejection of the dissertation and delay in the conferral of the degree.
The language of the dissertation is ordinarily English, although some departments whose subject matter involves foreign languages may accept a dissertation written in a language other than English.
Most dissertations are 100 to 300 pages in length. All dissertations should be divided into appropriate sections, and long dissertations may need chapters, main divisions, and subdivisions.
- 8½ x 11 inches, unless a musical score is included
- At least 1 inch for all margins
- Body of text: double spacing
- Block quotations, footnotes, and bibliographies: single spacing within each entry but double spacing between each entry
- Table of contents, list of tables, list of figures or illustrations, and lengthy tables: single spacing may be used
Fonts and Point Size
Use 10-12 point size. Fonts must be embedded in the PDF file to ensure all characters display correctly.
If you are unsure whether your chosen font will display correctly, use one of the following fonts:
If fonts are not embedded, non-English characters may not appear as intended. Fonts embedded improperly will be published to DASH as-is. It is the student’s responsibility to make sure that fonts are embedded properly prior to submission.
Instructions for Embedding Fonts
To embed your fonts in recent versions of Word, follow these instructions from Microsoft:
- Click the File tab and then click Options .
- In the left column, select the Save tab.
- Clear the Do not embed common system fonts check box.
For reference, below are some instructions from ProQuest UMI for embedding fonts in older file formats:
To embed your fonts in Microsoft Word 2010:
- In the File pull-down menu click on Options .
- Choose Save on the left sidebar.
- Check the box next to Embed fonts in the file.
- Click the OK button.
- Save the document.
Note that when saving as a PDF, make sure to go to “more options” and save as “PDF/A compliant”
To embed your fonts in Microsoft Word 2007:
- Click the circular Office button in the upper left corner of Microsoft Word.
- A new window will display. In the bottom right corner select Word Options .
- Choose Save from the left sidebar.
Using Microsoft Word on a Mac:
Microsoft Word 2008 on a Mac OS X computer will automatically embed your fonts while converting your document to a PDF file.
If you are converting to PDF using Acrobat Professional (instructions courtesy of the Graduate Thesis Office at Iowa State University):
- Open your document in Microsoft Word.
- Click on the Adobe PDF tab at the top. Select "Change Conversion Settings."
- Click on Advanced Settings.
- Click on the Fonts folder on the left side of the new window. In the lower box on the right, delete any fonts that appear in the "Never Embed" box. Then click "OK."
- If prompted to save these new settings, save them as "Embed all fonts."
- Now the Change Conversion Settings window should show "embed all fonts" in the Conversion Settings drop-down list and it should be selected. Click "OK" again.
- Click on the Adobe PDF link at the top again. This time select Convert to Adobe PDF. Depending on the size of your document and the speed of your computer, this process can take 1-15 minutes.
- After your document is converted, select the "File" tab at the top of the page. Then select "Document Properties."
- Click on the "Fonts" tab. Carefully check all of your fonts. They should all show "(Embedded Subset)" after the font name.
- If you see "(Embedded Subset)" after all fonts, you have succeeded.
The font used in the body of the text must also be used in headers, page numbers, and footnotes. Exceptions are made only for tables and figures created with different software and inserted into the document.
Tables and figures must be placed as close as possible to their first mention in the text. They may be placed on a page with no text above or below, or they may be placed directly into the text. If a table or a figure is alone on a page (with no narrative), it should be centered within the margins on the page. Tables may take up more than one page as long as they obey all rules about margins. Tables and figures referred to in the text may not be placed at the end of the chapter or at the end of the dissertation.
- Given the standards of the discipline, dissertations in the Department of History of Art and Architecture and the Department of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Planning often place illustrations at the end of the dissertation.
Figure and table numbering must be continuous throughout the dissertation or by chapter (e.g., 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, etc.). Two figures or tables cannot be designated with the same number. If you have repeating images that you need to cite more than once, label them with their number and A, B, etc.
Headings should be placed at the top of tables. While no specific rules for the format of table headings and figure captions are required, a consistent format must be used throughout the dissertation (contact your department for style manuals appropriate to the field).
Captions should appear at the bottom of any figures. If the figure takes up the entire page, the caption should be placed alone on the preceding page, centered vertically and horizontally within the margins.
Each page receives a separate page number. When a figure or table title is on a preceding page, the second and subsequent pages of the figure or table should say, for example, “Figure 5 (Continued).” In such an instance, the list of figures or tables will list the page number containing the title. The word “figure” should be written in full (not abbreviated), and the “F” should be capitalized (e.g., Figure 5). In instances where the caption continues on a second page, the “(Continued)” notation should appear on the second and any subsequent page. The figure/table and the caption are viewed as one entity and the numbering should show correlation between all pages. Each page must include a header.
Landscape orientation figures and tables must be positioned correctly and bound at the top so that the top of the figure or table will be at the left margin. Figure and table headings/captions are placed with the same orientation as the figure or table when on the same page. When on a separate page, headings/captions are always placed in portrait orientation, regardless of the orientation of the figure or table. Page numbers are always placed as if the figure were vertical on the page.
If a graphic artist does the figures, Harvard Griffin GSAS will accept lettering done by the artist only within the figure. Figures done with software are acceptable if the figures are clear and legible. Legends and titles done by the same process as the figures will be accepted if they too are clear, legible, and run at least 10 or 12 characters per inch. Otherwise, legends and captions should be printed with the same font used in the text.
Original illustrations, photographs, and fine arts prints may be scanned and included, centered between the margins on a page with no text above or below.
Use of Third-Party Content
In addition to the student's own writing, dissertations often contain third-party content or in-copyright content owned by parties other than you, the student who authored the dissertation. The Office for Scholarly Communication recommends consulting the information below about fair use, which allows individuals to use in-copyright content, on a limited basis and for specific purposes, without seeking permission from copyright holders.
Because your dissertation will be made available for online distribution through DASH , Harvard's open-access repository, it is important that any third-party content in it may be made available in this way.
Fair Use and Copyright
What is fair use?
Fair use is a provision in copyright law that allows the use of a certain amount of copyrighted material without seeking permission. Fair use is format- and media-agnostic. This means fair use may apply to images (including photographs, illustrations, and paintings), quoting at length from literature, videos, and music regardless of the format.
How do I determine whether my use of an image or other third-party content in my dissertation is fair use?
There are four factors you will need to consider when making a fair use claim.
1) For what purpose is your work going to be used?
- Nonprofit, educational, scholarly, or research use favors fair use. Commercial, non-educational uses, often do not favor fair use.
- A transformative use (repurposing or recontextualizing the in-copyright material) favors fair use. Examining, analyzing, and explicating the material in a meaningful way, so as to enhance a reader's understanding, strengthens your fair use argument. In other words, can you make the point in the thesis without using, for instance, an in-copyright image? Is that image necessary to your dissertation? If not, perhaps, for copyright reasons, you should not include the image.
2) What is the nature of the work to be used?
- Published, fact-based content favors fair use and includes scholarly analysis in published academic venues.
- Creative works, including artistic images, are afforded more protection under copyright, and depending on your use in light of the other factors, may be less likely to favor fair use; however, this does not preclude considerations of fair use for creative content altogether.
3) How much of the work is going to be used?
- Small, or less significant, amounts favor fair use. A good rule of thumb is to use only as much of the in-copyright content as necessary to serve your purpose. Can you use a thumbnail rather than a full-resolution image? Can you use a black-and-white photo instead of color? Can you quote select passages instead of including several pages of the content? These simple changes bolster your fair use of the material.
4) What potential effect on the market for that work may your use have?
- If there is a market for licensing this exact use or type of educational material, then this weighs against fair use. If however, there would likely be no effect on the potential commercial market, or if it is not possible to obtain permission to use the work, then this favors fair use.
For further assistance with fair use, consult the Office for Scholarly Communication's guide, Fair Use: Made for the Harvard Community and the Office of the General Counsel's Copyright and Fair Use: A Guide for the Harvard Community .
What are my options if I don’t have a strong fair use claim?
Consider the following options if you find you cannot reasonably make a fair use claim for the content you wish to incorporate:
- Seek permission from the copyright holder.
- Use openly licensed content as an alternative to the original third-party content you intended to use. Openly-licensed content grants permission up-front for reuse of in-copyright content, provided your use meets the terms of the open license.
- Use content in the public domain, as this content is not in-copyright and is therefore free of all copyright restrictions. Whereas third-party content is owned by parties other than you, no one owns content in the public domain; everyone, therefore, has the right to use it.
For use of images in your dissertation, please consult this guide to Finding Public Domain & Creative Commons Media , which is a great resource for finding images without copyright restrictions.
Who can help me with questions about copyright and fair use?
Contact your Copyright First Responder . Please note, Copyright First Responders assist with questions concerning copyright and fair use, but do not assist with the process of obtaining permission from copyright holders.
Pages should be assigned a number except for the Dissertation Acceptance Certificate . Preliminary pages (abstract, table of contents, list of tables, graphs, illustrations, and preface) should use small Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, v, etc.). All pages must contain text or images.
Count the title page as page i and the copyright page as page ii, but do not print page numbers on either page .
For the body of text, use Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.) starting with page 1 on the first page of text. Page numbers must be centered throughout the manuscript at the top or bottom. Every numbered page must be consecutively ordered, including tables, graphs, illustrations, and bibliography/index (if included); letter suffixes (such as 10a, 10b, etc.) are not allowed. It is customary not to have a page number on the page containing a chapter heading.
- Check pagination carefully. Account for all pages.
A copy of the Dissertation Acceptance Certificate (DAC) should appear as the first page. This page should not be counted or numbered. The DAC will appear in the online version of the published dissertation. The author name and date on the DAC and title page should be the same.
The dissertation begins with the title page; the title should be as concise as possible and should provide an accurate description of the dissertation. The author name and date on the DAC and title page should be the same.
- Do not print a page number on the title page. It is understood to be page i for counting purposes only.
A copyright notice should appear on a separate page immediately following the title page and include the copyright symbol ©, the year of first publication of the work, and the name of the author:
© [ year ] [ Author’s Name ] All rights reserved.
Alternatively, students may choose to license their work openly under a Creative Commons license. The author remains the copyright holder while at the same time granting up-front permission to others to read, share, and (depending on the license) adapt the work, so long as proper attribution is given. (By default, under copyright law, the author reserves all rights; under a Creative Commons license, the author reserves some rights.)
- Do not print a page number on the copyright page. It is understood to be page ii for counting purposes only.
An abstract, numbered as page iii , should immediately follow the copyright page and should state the problem, describe the methods and procedures used, and give the main results or conclusions of the research. The abstract will appear in the online and bound versions of the dissertation and will be published by ProQuest. There is no maximum word count for the abstract.
- indented on the first line of each paragraph
- The author’s name, right justified
- The words “Dissertation Advisor:” followed by the advisor’s name, left-justified (a maximum of two advisors is allowed)
- Title of the dissertation, centered, several lines below author and advisor
Dissertations divided into sections must contain a table of contents that lists, at minimum, the major headings in the following order:
- Front Matter
- Body of Text
- Back Matter
Front matter includes (if applicable):
- acknowledgements of help or encouragement from individuals or institutions
- a dedication
- a list of illustrations or tables
- a glossary of terms
- one or more epigraphs.
Back matter includes (if applicable):
- supplemental materials, including figures and tables
- an index (in rare instances).
Supplemental figures and tables must be placed at the end of the dissertation in an appendix, not within or at the end of a chapter. If additional digital information (including audio, video, image, or datasets) will accompany the main body of the dissertation, it should be uploaded as a supplemental file through ProQuest ETD . Supplemental material will be available in DASH and ProQuest and preserved digitally in the Harvard University Archives.
As a matter of copyright, dissertations comprising the student's previously published works must be authorized for distribution from DASH. The guidelines in this section pertain to any previously published material that requires permission from publishers or other rightsholders before it may be distributed from DASH. Please note:
- Authors whose publishing agreements grant the publisher exclusive rights to display, distribute, and create derivative works will need to seek the publisher's permission for nonexclusive use of the underlying works before the dissertation may be distributed from DASH.
- Authors whose publishing agreements indicate the authors have retained the relevant nonexclusive rights to the original materials for display, distribution, and the creation of derivative works may distribute the dissertation as a whole from DASH without need for further permissions.
It is recommended that authors consult their publishing agreements directly to determine whether and to what extent they may have transferred exclusive rights under copyright. The Office for Scholarly Communication (OSC) is available to help the author determine whether she has retained the necessary rights or requires permission. Please note, however, the Office of Scholarly Communication is not able to assist with the permissions process itself.
- Missing Dissertation Acceptance Certificate. The first page of the PDF dissertation file should be a scanned copy of the Dissertation Acceptance Certificate (DAC). This page should not be counted or numbered as a part of the dissertation pagination.
- Conflicts Between the DAC and the Title Page. The DAC and the dissertation title page must match exactly, meaning that the author name and the title on the title page must match that on the DAC. If you use your full middle name or just an initial on one document, it must be the same on the other document.
- Abstract Formatting Errors. The advisor name should be left-justified, and the author's name should be right-justified. Up to two advisor names are allowed. The Abstract should be double spaced and include the page title “Abstract,” as well as the page number “iii.” There is no maximum word count for the abstract.
- The front matter should be numbered using Roman numerals (iii, iv, v, …). The title page and the copyright page should be counted but not numbered. The first printed page number should appear on the Abstract page (iii).
- The body of the dissertation should be numbered using Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3, …). The first page of the body of the text should begin with page 1. Pagination may not continue from the front matter.
- All page numbers should be centered either at the top or the bottom of the page.
- Figures and tables Figures and tables must be placed within the text, as close to their first mention as possible. Figures and tables that span more than one page must be labeled on each page. Any second and subsequent page of the figure/table must include the “(Continued)” notation. This applies to figure captions as well as images. Each page of a figure/table must be accounted for and appropriately labeled. All figures/tables must have a unique number. They may not repeat within the dissertation.
- Any figures/tables placed in a horizontal orientation must be placed with the top of the figure/ table on the left-hand side. The top of the figure/table should be aligned with the spine of the dissertation when it is bound.
- Page numbers must be placed in the same location on all pages of the dissertation, centered, at the bottom or top of the page. Page numbers may not appear under the table/ figure.
- Supplemental Figures and Tables. Supplemental figures and tables must be placed at the back of the dissertation in an appendix. They should not be placed at the back of the chapter.
- Permission Letters Copyright. permission letters must be uploaded as a supplemental file, titled ‘do_not_publish_permission_letters,” within the dissertation submission tool.
- DAC Attachment. The signed Dissertation Acceptance Certificate must additionally be uploaded as a document in the "Administrative Documents" section when submitting in Proquest ETD . Dissertation submission is not complete until all documents have been received and accepted.
- Overall Formatting. The entire document should be checked after all revisions, and before submitting online, to spot any inconsistencies or PDF conversion glitches.
- You can view dissertations successfully published from your department in DASH . This is a great place to check for specific formatting and area-specific conventions.
- Contact the Office of Student Affairs with further questions.
Student affairs, explore events.
What this handout is about.
This handout suggests strategies for developing healthy writing habits during your dissertation journey. These habits can help you maintain your writing momentum, overcome anxiety and procrastination, and foster wellbeing during one of the most challenging times in graduate school.
Tackling a giant project
Because dissertations are, of course, big projects, it’s no surprise that planning, writing, and revising one can pose some challenges! It can help to think of your dissertation as an expanded version of a long essay: at the end of the day, it is simply another piece of writing. You’ve written your way this far into your degree, so you’ve got the skills! You’ll develop a great deal of expertise on your topic, but you may still be a novice with this genre and writing at this length. Remember to give yourself some grace throughout the project. As you begin, it’s helpful to consider two overarching strategies throughout the process.
First, take stock of how you learn and your own writing processes. What strategies have worked and have not worked for you? Why? What kind of learner and writer are you? Capitalize on what’s working and experiment with new strategies when something’s not working. Keep in mind that trying out new strategies can take some trial-and-error, and it’s okay if a new strategy that you try doesn’t work for you. Consider why it may not have been the best for you, and use that reflection to consider other strategies that might be helpful to you.
Second, break the project into manageable chunks. At every stage of the process, try to identify specific tasks, set small, feasible goals, and have clear, concrete strategies for achieving each goal. Small victories can help you establish and maintain the momentum you need to keep yourself going.
Below, we discuss some possible strategies to keep you moving forward in the dissertation process.
Pre-dissertation planning strategies
Get familiar with the Graduate School’s Thesis and Dissertation Resources .
Learn how to use a citation-manager and a synthesis matrix to keep track of all of your source information.
Skim other dissertations from your department, program, and advisor. Enlist the help of a librarian or ask your advisor for a list of recent graduates whose work you can look up. Seeing what other people have done to earn their PhD can make the project much less abstract and daunting. A concrete sense of expectations will help you envision and plan. When you know what you’ll be doing, try to find a dissertation from your department that is similar enough that you can use it as a reference model when you run into concerns about formatting, structure, level of detail, etc.
Think carefully about your committee . Ideally, you’ll be able to select a group of people who work well with you and with each other. Consult with your advisor about who might be good collaborators for your project and who might not be the best fit. Consider what classes you’ve taken and how you “vibe” with those professors or those you’ve met outside of class. Try to learn what you can about how they’ve worked with other students. Ask about feedback style, turnaround time, level of involvement, etc., and imagine how that would work for you.
Sketch out a sensible drafting order for your project. Be open to writing chapters in “the wrong order” if it makes sense to start somewhere other than the beginning. You could begin with the section that seems easiest for you to write to gain momentum.
Design a productivity alliance with your advisor . Talk with them about potential projects and a reasonable timeline. Discuss how you’ll work together to keep your work moving forward. You might discuss having a standing meeting to discuss ideas or drafts or issues (bi-weekly? monthly?), your advisor’s preferences for drafts (rough? polished?), your preferences for what you’d like feedback on (early or late drafts?), reasonable turnaround time for feedback (a week? two?), and anything else you can think of to enter the collaboration mindfully.
Design a productivity alliance with your colleagues . Dissertation writing can be lonely, but writing with friends, meeting for updates over your beverage of choice, and scheduling non-working social times can help you maintain healthy energy. See our tips on accountability strategies for ideas to support each other.
Write when you’re most productive. When do you have the most energy? Focus? Creativity? When are you most able to concentrate, either because of your body rhythms or because there are fewer demands on your time? Once you determine the hours that are most productive for you (you may need to experiment at first), try to schedule those hours for dissertation work. See the collection of time management tools and planning calendars on the Learning Center’s Tips & Tools page to help you think through the possibilities. If at all possible, plan your work schedule, errands and chores so that you reserve your productive hours for the dissertation.
Put your writing time firmly on your calendar . Guard your writing time diligently. You’ll probably be invited to do other things during your productive writing times, but do your absolute best to say no and to offer alternatives. No one would hold it against you if you said no because you’re teaching a class at that time—and you wouldn’t feel guilty about saying no. Cultivating the same hard, guilt-free boundaries around your writing time will allow you preserve the time you need to get this thing done!
Develop habits that foster balance . You’ll have to work very hard to get this dissertation finished, but you can do that without sacrificing your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Think about how you can structure your work hours most efficiently so that you have time for a healthy non-work life. It can be something as small as limiting the time you spend chatting with fellow students to a few minutes instead of treating the office or lab as a space for extensive socializing. Also see above for protecting your time.
Write in spaces where you can be productive. Figure out where you work well and plan to be there during your dissertation work hours. Do you get more done on campus or at home? Do you prefer quiet and solitude, like in a library carrel? Do you prefer the buzz of background noise, like in a coffee shop? Are you aware of the UNC Libraries’ list of places to study ? If you get “stuck,” don’t be afraid to try a change of scenery. The variety may be just enough to get your brain going again.
Work where you feel comfortable . Wherever you work, make sure you have whatever lighting, furniture, and accessories you need to keep your posture and health in good order. The University Health and Safety office offers guidelines for healthy computer work . You’re more likely to spend time working in a space that doesn’t physically hurt you. Also consider how you could make your work space as inviting as possible. Some people find that it helps to have pictures of family and friends on their desk—sort of a silent “cheering section.” Some people work well with neutral colors around them, and others prefer bright colors that perk up the space. Some people like to put inspirational quotations in their workspace or encouraging notes from friends and family. You might try reconfiguring your work space to find a décor that helps you be productive.
Elicit helpful feedback from various people at various stages . You might be tempted to keep your writing to yourself until you think it’s brilliant, but you can lower the stakes tremendously if you make eliciting feedback a regular part of your writing process. Your friends can feel like a safer audience for ideas or drafts in their early stages. Someone outside your department may provide interesting perspectives from their discipline that spark your own thinking. See this handout on getting feedback for productive moments for feedback, the value of different kinds of feedback providers, and strategies for eliciting what’s most helpful to you. Make this a recurring part of your writing process. Schedule it to help you hit deadlines.
Change the writing task . When you don’t feel like writing, you can do something different or you can do something differently. Make a list of all the little things you need to do for a given section of the dissertation, no matter how small. Choose a task based on your energy level. Work on Grad School requirements: reformat margins, work on bibliography, and all that. Work on your acknowledgements. Remember all the people who have helped you and the great ideas they’ve helped you develop. You may feel more like working afterward. Write a part of your dissertation as a letter or email to a good friend who would care. Sometimes setting aside the academic prose and just writing it to a buddy can be liberating and help you get the ideas out there. You can make it sound smart later. Free-write about why you’re stuck, and perhaps even about how sick and tired you are of your dissertation/advisor/committee/etc. Venting can sometimes get you past the emotions of writer’s block and move you toward creative solutions. Open a separate document and write your thoughts on various things you’ve read. These may or may note be coherent, connected ideas, and they may or may not make it into your dissertation. They’re just notes that allow you to think things through and/or note what you want to revisit later, so it’s perfectly fine to have mistakes, weird organization, etc. Just let your mind wander on paper.
Develop habits that foster productivity and may help you develop a productive writing model for post-dissertation writing . Since dissertations are very long projects, cultivating habits that will help support your work is important. You might check out Helen Sword’s work on behavioral, artisanal, social, and emotional habits to help you get a sense of where you are in your current habits. You might try developing “rituals” of work that could help you get more done. Lighting incense, brewing a pot of a particular kind of tea, pulling out a favorite pen, and other ritualistic behaviors can signal your brain that “it is time to get down to business.” You can critically think about your work methods—not only about what you like to do, but also what actually helps you be productive. You may LOVE to listen to your favorite band while you write, for example, but if you wind up playing air guitar half the time instead of writing, it isn’t a habit worth keeping.
The point is, figure out what works for you and try to do it consistently. Your productive habits will reinforce themselves over time. If you find yourself in a situation, however, that doesn’t match your preferences, don’t let it stop you from working on your dissertation. Try to be flexible and open to experimenting. You might find some new favorites!
Schedule a regular activity with other people that involves your dissertation. Set up a coworking date with your accountability buddies so you can sit and write together. Organize a chapter swap. Make regular appointments with your advisor. Whatever you do, make sure it’s something that you’ll feel good about showing up for–and will make you feel good about showing up for others.
Try writing in sprints . Many writers have discovered that the “Pomodoro technique” (writing for 25 minutes and taking a 5 minute break) boosts their productivity by helping them set small writing goals, focus intently for short periods, and give their brains frequent rests. See how one dissertation writer describes it in this blog post on the Pomodoro technique .
Quit while you’re ahead . Sometimes it helps to stop for the day when you’re on a roll. If you’ve got a great idea that you’re developing and you know where you want to go next, write “Next, I want to introduce x, y, and z and explain how they’re related—they all have the same characteristics of 1 and 2, and that clinches my theory of Q.” Then save the file and turn off the computer, or put down the notepad. When you come back tomorrow, you will already know what to say next–and all that will be left is to say it. Hopefully, the momentum will carry you forward.
Write your dissertation in single-space . When you need a boost, double space it and be impressed with how many pages you’ve written.
Set feasible goals–and celebrate the achievements! Setting and achieving smaller, more reasonable goals ( SMART goals ) gives you success, and that success can motivate you to focus on the next small step…and the next one.
Give yourself rewards along the way . When you meet a writing goal, reward yourself with something you normally wouldn’t have or do–this can be anything that will make you feel good about your accomplishment.
Make the act of writing be its own reward . For example, if you love a particular coffee drink from your favorite shop, save it as a special drink to enjoy during your writing time.
Try giving yourself “pre-wards” —positive experiences that help you feel refreshed and recharged for the next time you write. You don’t have to “earn” these with prior work, but you do have to commit to doing the work afterward.
Commit to doing something you don’t want to do if you don’t achieve your goal. Some people find themselves motivated to work harder when there’s a negative incentive. What would you most like to avoid? Watching a movie you hate? Donating to a cause you don’t support? Whatever it is, how can you ensure enforcement? Who can help you stay accountable?
Build your confidence . It is not uncommon to feel “imposter phenomenon” during the course of writing your dissertation. If you start to feel this way, it can help to take a few minutes to remember every success you’ve had along the way. You’ve earned your place, and people have confidence in you for good reasons. It’s also helpful to remember that every one of the brilliant people around you is experiencing the same lack of confidence because you’re all in a new context with new tasks and new expectations. You’re not supposed to have it all figured out. You’re supposed to have uncertainties and questions and things to learn. Remember that they wouldn’t have accepted you to the program if they weren’t confident that you’d succeed. See our self-scripting handout for strategies to turn these affirmations into a self-script that you repeat whenever you’re experiencing doubts or other negative thoughts. You can do it!
Appreciate your successes . Not meeting a goal isn’t a failure–and it certainly doesn’t make you a failure. It’s an opportunity to figure out why you didn’t meet the goal. It might simply be that the goal wasn’t achievable in the first place. See the SMART goal handout and think through what you can adjust. Even if you meant to write 1500 words, focus on the success of writing 250 or 500 words that you didn’t have before.
Remember your “why.” There are a whole host of reasons why someone might decide to pursue a PhD, both personally and professionally. Reflecting on what is motivating to you can rekindle your sense of purpose and direction.
Get outside support . Sometimes it can be really helpful to get an outside perspective on your work and anxieties as a way of grounding yourself. Participating in groups like the Dissertation Support group through CAPS and the Dissertation Boot Camp can help you see that you’re not alone in the challenges. You might also choose to form your own writing support group with colleagues inside or outside your department.
Understand and manage your procrastination . When you’re writing a long dissertation, it can be easy to procrastinate! For instance, you might put off writing because the house “isn’t clean enough” or because you’re not in the right “space” (mentally or physically) to write, so you put off writing until the house is cleaned and everything is in its right place. You may have other ways of procrastinating. It can be helpful to be self-aware of when you’re procrastinating and to consider why you are procrastinating. It may be that you’re anxious about writing the perfect draft, for example, in which case you might consider: how can I focus on writing something that just makes progress as opposed to being “perfect”? There are lots of different ways of managing procrastination; one way is to make a schedule of all the things you already have to do (when you absolutely can’t write) to help you visualize those chunks of time when you can. See this handout on procrastination for more strategies and tools for managing procrastination.
Your topic, your advisor, and your committee: Making them work for you
By the time you’ve reached this stage, you have probably already defended a dissertation proposal, chosen an advisor, and begun working with a committee. Sometimes, however, those three elements can prove to be major external sources of frustration. So how can you manage them to help yourself be as productive as possible?
Managing your topic
Remember that your topic is not carved in stone . The research and writing plan suggested in your dissertation proposal was your best vision of the project at that time, but topics evolve as the research and writing progress. You might need to tweak your research question a bit to reduce or adjust the scope, you might pare down certain parts of the project or add others. You can discuss your thoughts on these adjustments with your advisor at your check ins.
Think about variables that could be cut down and how changes would affect the length, depth, breadth, and scholarly value of your study. Could you cut one or two experiments, case studies, regions, years, theorists, or chapters and still make a valuable contribution or, even more simply, just finish?
Talk to your advisor about any changes you might make . They may be quite sympathetic to your desire to shorten an unwieldy project and may offer suggestions.
Look at other dissertations from your department to get a sense of what the chapters should look like. Reverse-outline a few chapters so you can see if there’s a pattern of typical components and how information is sequenced. These can serve as models for your own dissertation. See this video on reverse outlining to see the technique.
Managing your advisor
Embrace your evolving status . At this stage in your graduate career, you should expect to assume some independence. By the time you finish your project, you will know more about your subject than your committee does. The student/teacher relationship you have with your advisor will necessarily change as you take this big step toward becoming their colleague.
Revisit the alliance . If the interaction with your advisor isn’t matching the original agreement or the original plan isn’t working as well as it could, schedule a conversation to revisit and redesign your working relationship in a way that could work for both of you.
Be specific in your feedback requests . Tell your advisor what kind of feedback would be most helpful to you. Sometimes an advisor can be giving unhelpful or discouraging feedback without realizing it. They might make extensive sentence-level edits when you really need conceptual feedback, or vice-versa, if you only ask generally for feedback. Letting your advisor know, very specifically, what kinds of responses will be helpful to you at different stages of the writing process can help your advisor know how to help you.
Don’t hide . Advisors can be most helpful if they know what you are working on, what problems you are experiencing, and what progress you have made. If you haven’t made the progress you were hoping for, it only makes it worse if you avoid talking to them. You rob yourself of their expertise and support, and you might start a spiral of guilt, shame, and avoidance. Even if it’s difficult, it may be better to be candid about your struggles.
Talk to other students who have the same advisor . You may find that they have developed strategies for working with your advisor that could help you communicate more effectively with them.
If you have recurring problems communicating with your advisor , you can make a change. You could change advisors completely, but a less dramatic option might be to find another committee member who might be willing to serve as a “secondary advisor” and give you the kinds of feedback and support that you may need.
Managing your committee
Design the alliance . Talk with your committee members about how much they’d like to be involved in your writing process, whether they’d like to see chapter drafts or the complete draft, how frequently they’d like to meet (or not), etc. Your advisor can guide you on how committees usually work, but think carefully about how you’d like the relationship to function too.
Keep in regular contact with your committee , even if they don’t want to see your work until it has been approved by your advisor. Let them know about fellowships you receive, fruitful research excursions, the directions your thinking is taking, and the plans you have for completion. In short, keep them aware that you are working hard and making progress. Also, look for other ways to get facetime with your committee even if it’s not a one-on-one meeting. Things like speaking with them at department events, going to colloquiums or other events they organize and/or attend regularly can help you develop a relationship that could lead to other introductions and collaborations as your career progresses.
Share your struggles . Too often, we only talk to our professors when we’re making progress and hide from them the rest of the time. If you share your frustrations or setbacks with a knowledgeable committee member, they might offer some very helpful suggestions for overcoming the obstacles you face—after all, your committee members have all written major research projects before, and they have probably solved similar problems in their own work.
Stay true to yourself . Sometimes, you just don’t entirely gel with your committee, but that’s okay. It’s important not to get too hung up on how your committee does (or doesn’t) relate to you. Keep your eye on the finish line and keep moving forward.
Graduate School Diversity Initiatives : Groups and events to support the success of students identifying with an affinity group.
Graduate School Career Well : Extensive professional development resources related to writing, research, networking, job search, etc.
CAPS Therapy Groups : CAPS offers a variety of support groups, including a dissertation support group.
Advice on Research and Writing : Lots of links on writing, public speaking, dissertation management, burnout, and more.
How to be a Good Graduate Student: Marie DesJardins’ essay talks about several phases of the graduate experience, including the dissertation. She discusses some helpful hints for staying motivated and doing consistent work.
Preparing Future Faculty : This page, a joint project of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, the Council of Graduate Schools, and the Pew Charitable Trusts, explains the Preparing Future Faculty Programs and includes links and suggestions that may help graduate students and their advisors think constructively about the process of graduate education as a step toward faculty responsibilities.
Dissertation Tips : Kjell Erik Rudestam, Ph.D. and Rae Newton, Ph.D., authors of Surviving Your Dissertation: A Comprehensive Guide to Content and Process.
The ABD Survival Guide Newsletter : Information about the ABD Survival Guide newsletter (which is free) and other services from E-Coach (many of which are not free).
Make a Gift
- Subject Guides
Academic writing: a practical guide
- Academic writing
- The writing process
- Academic writing style
- Structure & cohesion
- Criticality in academic writing
- Working with evidence
- Assessment & feedback
- Reflective writing
- Examination writing
- Academic posters
Dissertations are a part of many degree programmes, completed in the final year of undergraduate studies or the final months of a taught masters-level degree.
Introduction to dissertations
What is a dissertation.
A dissertation is usually a long-term project to produce a long-form piece of writing; think of it a little like an extended, structured assignment. In some subjects (typically the sciences), it might be called a project instead.
Work on an undergraduate dissertation is often spread out over the final year. For a masters dissertation, you'll start thinking about it early in your course and work on it throughout the year.
You might carry out your own original research, or base your dissertation on existing research literature or data sources - there are many possibilities.
What's different about a dissertation?
The main thing that sets a dissertation apart from your previous work is that it's an almost entirely independent project. You'll have some support from a supervisor, but you will spend a lot more time working on your own.
You'll also be working on your own topic that's different to your coursemate; you'll all produce a dissertation, but on different topics and, potentially, in very different ways.
Dissertations are also longer than a regular assignment, both in word count and the time that they take to complete. You'll usually have most of an academic year to work on one, and be required to produce thousands of words; that might seem like a lot, but both time and word count will disappear very quickly once you get started!
Find out more:
Key dissertation tools
There are lots of tools, software and apps that can help you get through the dissertation process. Before you start, make sure you collect the key tools ready to:
- use your time efficiently
- organise yourself and your materials
- manage your writing
- be less stressed
Here's an overview of some useful tools:
Digital tools for your dissertation [Google Slides]
Setting up your document
Formatting and how you set up your document is also very important for a long piece of work like a dissertation, research project or thesis. Find tips and advice on our text processing guide:
University of York past Undergraduate and Masters dissertations
If you are a University of York student, you can access a selection of digitised undergraduate dissertations for certain subjects:
- History of Art
- Social Policy and Social Work
The Library also has digitised Masters dissertations for the following subjects:
- Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies
- Centre for Medieval Studies
- Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies
- Centre for Women's Studies
- English and Related Literature
- Health Sciences
- History of Art
- Hull York Medical School
- Language and Linguistic Science
- School for Business and Society
- School of Social and Political Sciences
Dissertation top tips
Many dissertations are structured into four key sections:
- introduction & literature review
There are many different types of dissertation, which don't all use this structure, so make sure you check your dissertation guidance. However, elements of these sections are common in all dissertation types.
Dissertations that are an extended literature review do not involve data collection, thus do not have a methods or result section. Instead they have chapters that explore concepts/theories and result in a conclusion section. Check your dissertation module handbook and all information given to see what your dissertation involves.
Introduction & literature review
The Introduction and Literature Review give the context for your dissertation:
- What topic did you investigate?
- What do we already know about this topic?
- What are your research questions and hypotheses?
Sometimes these are two separate sections, and sometimes the Literature Review is integrated into the Introduction. Check your guidelines to find out what you need to do.
Literature Review Top Tips [YouTube] | Literature Review Top Tips transcript [Google Doc]
The Method section tells the reader what you did and why.
- Include enough detail so that someone else could replicate your study.
- Visual elements can help present your method clearly. For example, summarise participant demographic data in a table or visualise the procedure in a diagram.
- Show critical analysis by justifying your choices. For example, why is your test/questionnaire/equipment appropriate for this study?
- If your study requires ethical approval, include these details in this section.
Methodology Top Tips [YouTube] | Methodology Top Tips transcript [Google Doc]
More resources to help you plan and write the methodology:
The Results tells us what you found out .
It's an objective presentation of your research findings. Don’t explain the results in detail here - you’ll do that in the discussion section.
Results Top Tips [YouTube] | Results Top Tips transcript [Google Doc]
The Discussion is where you explain and interpret your results - what do your findings mean?
This section involves a lot of critical analysis. You're not just presenting your findings, but putting them together with findings from other research to build your argument about what the findings mean.
Discussion Top Tips [YouTube] | Discussion Top Tips transcript [Google Doc]
Conclusions are a part of many dissertations and/or research projects. Check your module information to see if you are required to write one. Some dissertations/projects have concluding remarks in their discussion section. See the slides below for more information on writing conclusions in dissertations.
Conclusions in dissertations [Google Slides]
The abstract is a short summary of the whole dissertation that goes at the start of the document. It gives an overview of your research and helps readers decide if it’s relevant to their needs.
Even though it appears at the start of the document, write the abstract last. It summarises the whole dissertation, so you need to finish the main body before you can summarise it in the abstract.
Usually the abstract follows a very similar structure to the dissertation, with one or two sentences each to show the aims, methods, key results and conclusions drawn. Some subjects use headings within the abstract. Even if you don’t use these in your final abstract, headings can help you to plan a clear structure.
Abstract Top Tips [YouTube] | Abstract Top Tips transcript [Google Doc]
Watch all of our Dissertation Top Tips videos in one handy playlist:
Research reports, that are often found in science subjects, follow the same structure, so the tips in this tutorial also apply to dissertations:
Other support for dissertation writing
The general writing pages of this site offer guidance that can be applied to all types of writing, including dissertations. Also check your department guidance and VLE sites for tailored resources.
Other useful resources for dissertation writing:
Appointments and workshops
There is a lot of support available in departments for dissertation production, which includes your dissertation supervisor, academic supervisor and, when appropriate, staff teaching in the research methods modules.
You can also access central writing and skills support:
- << Previous: Reports
- Next: Reflective writing >>
- Last Updated: Oct 31, 2023 10:36 AM
- URL: https://subjectguides.york.ac.uk/academic-writing