Magoosh GRE

How to Structure a PhD Thesis

| June 4, 2013

A PhD dissertation is a significant piece of independent writing, which demonstrates the PhD candidate’s capability to conduct substantial and ground-breaking research.[1] The PhD dissertation must address gaps in current research or contribute to the body of knowledge. Your work must somehow make a difference in your field.

Although universities tend to have their own guidelines, which provide specific instructions on how to write PhD dissertations, most dissertations include the following information:

  • Title
    • The title should be as concise as possible and must provide an accurate description of the dissertation.[2]
  • Abstract
    • The abstract is usually a few paragraphs only and provides a summary of the dissertation.[3] The abstract must provide a brief description of the research problem(s), the methodology used to solve it/them, the key findings of the study, and the main results or conclusions of the research. The abstract is not an introduction – think of it as the résumé of your thesis. It is advisable to write the abstract after the research is completed so that all the information needed are already available.[4]
  • Introduction
    • The introduction discusses the main topic being investigated and highlights its significance. The research problems and/or hypotheses must be stated as simply and clearly as possible. It should also tell where the thesis is going. The introduction should be interesting so that the reader is enticed to read the succeeding chapters.[5]
    • In a nutshell, the introduction should provide: an overview of the problem; why it is important; a statement of hypothesis; and/or questions to be explored.[6]
  • Literature Review
    • The literature review should address where the problem/s came from, what is already known about the problem/s, and what method/s have been tried to solve it.[7]
    • In writing the literature review, it is important to acknowledge the role of each study that has helped in the creation of your thesis. You must be constructively critical of the both the benefits and shortcomings of each study so that it can help to justify the approach you used for your study.[8]
  • How to Structure a PhD ThesisMethodologies
    • The methodology section may contain sub-sections such as Materials and Methods and Theory. The materials and methods section shows the details of data collection and materials used to conduct the study. This will help other researchers to reproduce exactly what you have done. For theoretical work that is not original, it is important to include information to allow the reader to understand the arguments used in the thesis.[9]
    • You must explain why you picked the methodology or approach. It might be useful to discuss what other methodologies or approaches you considered and why these were discarded.[10]
  • Results and Discussion
    • The results of the study should be presented with as much detailed as possible. For quantitative and experimental studies, it must be clear how these results were obtained (i.e. what were the conditions which resulted in the findings). The discussion should provide interpretations behind the results and must explain how these fit into the existing body of knowledge.[11]
  • Conclusion and Recommendations
    • The conclusion should state what lessons were learned and the overall insights about the study. It should summarize what has been learned and how it can be applied. This chapter should also mention the possibilities for future research.[12]
  • References
    • The references chapter lists down all the resources used in the study. This includes journals, books, papers, articles, and other documents that were relevant in the writing of the thesis. It is very important to include all references used and to use proper referencing throughout the dissertation. Universities usually give advice on which citation style to use in the thesis.

 


[1] Narasimhan, P. (2006). How to Write a Good (no, Great) PhD Dissertation. Available: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~priya/ICSOC-PhDSymp-2006-dist.pdf. Last accessed 4th May 2013.

[2]Harvard University. (2013). Dissertation Guidelines. Available: http://www.gsas.harvard.edu/images/stories/pdfs/form%20of%20dissertation.pdf. Last accessed 4th May 2013.

[3]Purdue University. (2012). How to Write a Dissertation. Available: http://www.cs.purdue.edu/homes/dec/essay.dissertation.html. Last accessed 4th May 2013.

[4] The University of New South Wales. (1996). How to Write a PhD Thesis. Available: http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/~jw/thesis.html. Last accessed 4th May 2013.

[5] The University of New South Wales. (1996). How to Write a PhD Thesis. Available: http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/~jw/thesis.html. Last accessed 4th May 2013.

[6]Purdue University. (2012). How to Write a Dissertation. Available: http://www.cs.purdue.edu/homes/dec/essay.dissertation.html. Last accessed 4th May 2013.

[7]The University of New South Wales. (1996). How to Write a PhD Thesis. Available: http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/~jw/thesis.html. Last accessed 4th May 2013.

[8]Narasimhan, P. (2006). How to Write a Good (no, Great) PhD Dissertation. Available: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~priya/ICSOC-PhDSymp-2006-dist.pdf. Last accessed 4th May 2013.

[9]The University of New South Wales. (1996). How to Write a PhD Thesis. Available: http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/~jw/thesis.html. Last accessed 4th May 2013.

[10]Narasimhan, P. (2006). How to Write a Good (no, Great) PhD Dissertation. Available: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~priya/ICSOC-PhDSymp-2006-dist.pdf. Last accessed 4th May 2013.

[11]The University of New South Wales. (1996). How to Write a PhD Thesis. Available: http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/~jw/thesis.html. Last accessed 4th May 2013.

[12]Purdue University. (2012). How to Write a Dissertation. Available: http://www.cs.purdue.edu/homes/dec/essay.dissertation.html. Last accessed 4th May 2013.

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Category: Phd Writing