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Where history matters, five things you need to think about when starting your dissertation.

When you look back at all the things you do at university, well, the academic things, your dissertation should be the thing of which you are most proud. For history students, it is the headline event.  You’ll spend a large chunk of your final year, and probably a whack of your penultimate year, working on it: it will most likely be the lengthiest thing you produce as an undergrad, and it will sit on a shelf in your house long after you graduate, finished and bound like a proper published work. It’s the thing you can show your friends and family for years to come – an essay’s an essay, but the dissertation looks and feels that bit different, that bit more significant.

Yet the dissertation can also be scary. It looms ahead of you throughout first and second year, when all you really know of it comes from the harassed looking third years camped out in the library. They might terrify you with mind-boggling scare stories, or they might have really helpful advice, like this recent Guardian blog post . You don’t really get to practice it, like you do with essays and presentations and the like – you only get one shot at the dissertation. You probably don’t have classes in how to do the dissertation, you’re just expected to get on with it (you’re not really, but I’ll cover that in another post).

This post will cover the things you need to consider at the start of the dissertation process, when you’re coming up with the initial ideas and as you start your research. In particular, I’m going to focus on how you go about deciding what to work on. The dissertation’s big selling point – you get to work on whatever you want – is also what terrifies a lot of people – how on earth do you pick one thing? Finding the topic that will allow you to complete a good dissertation is challenging, but not impossible, and there are some things to bear in mind as you start to narrow down a topic.

  • You need to be interested in whatever topic you pick

You've got the whole of history to choose from - it's a historical Smörgåsbord!

  • Easy tends to be simple, which tends to be a bit boring for you working on the topic, and a bit less impressive for the person marking the finished product. Don’t play things too safe or you end up scuppering your research project before you start.
  • Sometimes you might have something entirely new to work with – a document from your family, for example, or access to a private archive, or people who are willing to give you interviews on a particular topic. Go for it!
  • Some people enjoy basing their dissertations on their own extra-curricular interests, leading to dissertations on various sporting and cultural topics. If you’re interested in music, film, fashion, or a particular sport, you might want to think about building your dissertation around that, and using the archives or museums dedicated to that particular area to find sources.
  • Each year, the same topics appeal to large numbers of students, but they don’t all write the same dissertation. Each will put their own spin or emphasis on a different area. If you’re looking at the wives of Henry VIII for example, one student might look at their influence on Henry’s religious policy, one student might look at the networks each woman was part of, and one student might look at their representations in literature (or film, or art… you get my point). Similarly with dissertations on the Battle of Jutland, British reactions to the French Revolution or the Hitler Youth – all topics which prove to be perennially popular, but which all have scope to be developed in very different ways.
  • You might want to revisit a ‘traditional’ topic using a new or unusual theoretical model – popular approaches include using gender or class or postmodernist theories to look at particular topics.
  • “Good dissertations will incorporate an element of originality, nevertheless, either in the question or questions posed, the sources examined in order to answer the question, or in a combination of both. The ideal is to produce not a cut-down book, but a pithy, well-argued and well documented examination of a topic which has a bearing on a historical question or debate. This ideal can be achieved in a number of ways: by original archival research, but equally through synthesis, by combining data or modes of analysis, or posing questions relatively unexplored in the historical literature.”
  • You might want to check what your own institution says about this.
  • Some institutions require you to do a dissertation linked to your special subject, in which case you have the security of knowing you will get to dedicate a lot of time to your subject, and most likely you will have pretty expert supervision, but you will need to make sure you don’t self-plagiarise.
  • Even more risky is going back to what you did for A-Level. Yes, some people will have a genuine love for what they studied at school, but the expectations and requirements are totally different when you’re at university.  A lot of people come unstuck by retreating back to the comfort blanket of what they were told in a classroom at 17-18 and forget to employ all the individual analytical skills they’ve been honing over their time at university.

Ultimately, as you’re going to be living with this topic for the best part of a year, you don’t want to be bored silly by the end of the first month. There will be times when you struggle to commit as much time to your dissertation work as much as you want/should, and if you’re really sick to the back teeth of the subject, it is that bit harder to make yourself go to the library, or do that bit more reading, or look at that next document.

  • Primary sources are key

The biggest hurdle for undergraduates starting out on a dissertation is working out their primary source base. Pretty much all UK history departments expect you to conduct primary research in order to complete your dissertation – your conclusions will be based on the evidence you have assembled from the various primary sources you’ve consulted, rather than on the secondary reading you’ve completed. This is why a dissertation is not simply a long essay – where you might have made reference to particular documents, images, objects etc. when putting together an essay, you’re unlikely to have based your entire argument on their analysis before, but rather used them to back up or develop points you’ve picked up in the secondary reading.

  • You will be expected to have read widely from the secondary literature as well, as you will need to demonstrate awareness of the wider field in which your dissertation sits – by which I mean you will need to show you know who the key thinkers are, what they’ve said, what people have said about what they’ve said, and where your research sits with that. Also, you will get a sense of where to look for sources from the secondary literature. Your main work, however, will be with the primary sources.

You may have the most fascinating idea for a dissertation, but if you don’t have the primary sources that allow you to investigate that topic, you need to rethink it. Things to consider include:

  • The best way to find out if you’re going to run into source-availability problems of this nature is to go and discuss your ideas with a member of staff early on. Don’t be discouraged if they confirm there are limited sources for your first topic idea – listen to their alternative suggestions.
  • If you need to go to archives and libraries (most dissertations students do), where are they? When will you go? How will you fund your trip? Some libraries and departments have limited funds to support undergraduate dissertation research – check with your department’s dissertation coordinator.
  • Government documents in various countries are subject to restrictions over when and how they are made available to the public and to researchers.
  • Keep an eye out for trial access to resources through your institution’s library. These are often valid for a limited period of time, and you need to make the most of them whilst you can!
  • If you’re going to an archive or library, will you be allowed to take digital photographs of documents?  This can save tons of time, but not all repositories allow it.
  • If you want to look at a non-British topic, you will need to consider how strong your languages are to cope with both the primary and secondary source work. If you’re looking at a medieval or early modern topic, you will need to be aware of how the language has changed over time (there are often dictionaries available to help you do this).
  • You might be able to work with translated documents, but this raises issues of translation quality and selection that you will need to discuss with your supervisor.

Shakespeare's will is written in early modern 'secretary hand' & most students would need some paleography lessons before tackling something like this.

  • If you’re working with manuscripts, particularly those several hundred years old, you might need to do some paleography training. The National Archives have a useful online tutorial to get you started, but you should also see what support your library can give you.
  • If you’re going to be working with statistical data, you might need some training in using databases and producing graphs to illustrate your research.
  • If your proposed project involves oral history and interviews, you will need to talk to someone about how to go about setting up and conducting interviews, in particular if your department has any ethical standards guidelines of which you need to be aware.
  • Your dissertation needs to be manageable

Because dissertations are so much longer than essays, students often think they need to ‘scale up’ their topic accordingly. But there are some things you need to bear in mind:

  • If a professional historian has spent their entire career and many books trying to answer the same question you’ve set yourself in your dissertation, your question is too big.
  • One student once told me they were going to read the entirety of Martin Luther’s output at the start of their dissertation. When I mentioned there were over 50 volumes in the version in our library, let’s just say they rethought this idea.
  • It can help to compare the scope of a dissertation with the scope of a journal article, as they tend to be of a similar length – journal articles are often about the 8,000 word mark, dissertations about 9-10,000 words. Most journal articles are highly focused, but clearly tie in to themes in the wider scholarship.
  • Working with a supervisor

Throughout your dissertation, you will work with a member of staff who acts as your supervisor. This is usually a very different way of working for most students, and we’ll have more advice about working with supervisors here over the next few weeks. There are a couple of things you will need to consider as you start:

  • All members of staff are able to give advice on good research practices, discuss scheduling and planning, give advice on scope and focus, read draft work and give feedback. These are, after all, things we have to deal with in our own work.
  • Don’t assume staff research interests from their teaching responsibilities – read through the webpages of all staff available to supervise dissertations, see what periods and areas they study, but also what approaches they take, and go and talk to them about your plans at an early stage. Students often come to me about doing particular things because I’ve mentioned something related in a lecture, when actually there are other staff members who work on areas more closely related to that topic.
  • If you do end up working with someone who literally wrote the book on your topic, it can be daunting to engage in debate with someone whose work you’re using. Also, they will know the subject inside out, and will be able to identify any minor flaws or gaps in your work, which some people find helpful, but others find stressful.
  • There’s usually a limit on the number of students any particular member of staff can supervise. You can probably work out which are going to be the most popular general areas for research (Tudors, Nazis, Modern Britain!) and guess which staff members are going to be in high demand. If you pick another area, you could get a supervisor who has fewer students clamouring for their time.
  • Arrange meetings with potential supervisors as soon as you can within your institution’s dissertation process. You will get advice & feedback at an early stage, and staff will also see that you’re keen and that might be useful if they get any say in who they supervise.
  • Your supervisor is there to guide you, not to teach you. You shouldn’t expect them to provide you with reading lists or find you sources – even if they’re a world expert on your dissertation topic. They might give you some places to start looking, and most supervisors I know pass on details of things they come across that they think might be of interest to students, but their main job is to support you as you do your own research, and to give you feedback on your progress.
  • Above all, trust in your own skills

The dissertation is your masterpiece – in the traditional sense, as in a piece of work that you produce to show your mastery of the skills you’ve learnt in the course of your degree. In your essays, seminars, lectures and presentations, you will have been learning to present periods of history, identify key evidence, construct arguments, and engage your audience. You will have a sense of what kind of historian you are, what sources you want to work with, the kinds of ideas you find engaging, and this is where you get to show all of that off. The dissertation is where you get to be a historian. It takes planning and organisation, but it’s also incredibly rewarding.

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Jake Smith

Oct 5, 2021

Does the dissertation topic have to be original?

Does dissertation topic have to be original?

If you go to a dissertation writing service , they will often tell you that your dissertation topic does not have to be original. However, there is nothing written in the rules of standard academic writing which states this fact and it is quite misleading.

For example: If you wanted to do research on the impact of technology on modern day teenagers and that is the only research topic you could find before you start writing your dissertation, it is likely that other people will have already done research on this topic. If someone has done their dissertation on the same topic before you, then yours will be nothing more than copying what was written previously. You cannot claim that you are doing any new or original research because it is not your study or research.

What is The Difference between Standard Academic Writing and Dissertation Writing?

There are basically two types of academic writing, dissertation and standard academic writing . Each type has its own set of rules and guidelines; however, there is a fine line between the two that often causes confusion and misinterpretation. Here is a brief summary of what you need to know.

Standard Academic Writing: There are three main types and each has its very own characteristics and formalities which you must follow:

1. Term Paper: Term papers can be written for classes, internships, reports, etc. However, they all operate under the same set of standards and regulations. It is a research paper that is written within a time limit and it must be unique, original, and relevant. It goes without saying that you cannot use term papers from other sources including books or internet articles. You can only write about your own thesis/argument which means you should have done extensive research on the topic before writing. Furthermore, do not plagiarize — it is never okay!

2. Research Paper: A research paper is similar to a term paper in some ways. It usually comes with guidelines and an outline; however, the primary difference between the two lies in its purpose. Whereas a term paper requires you to write about your own thesis/argument, a research paper requires you to actually do research on a topic. This means you should gather data, information, research results, etc. and then use it to write your thesis/argument. You can even draw examples from other sources including books or internet articles but try to avoid plagiarizing.

3. Book Review: A book review is very similar to a research paper in some ways; however, there are a few differences that you should be aware of. First of all, your research paper will have a specific thesis/argument whereas a book review does not require you to do any form of original research. All you need to do is present the major ideas in the book and then share your opinion on them through writing. You can also give examples from the book but try to stay away from plagiarizing.

4. In short, standard academic writing has a set of rules and frameworks that you must follow for each type of paper you write. As long as you stick to those standards and guidelines, there is no way of getting your writing rejected — provided it’s written well, of course.

· What is Dissertation Writing :

A dissertation is a research paper that you write as part of your academic studies. In other words, it’s the culmination of all your previous writing experiences which focus on gathering data and information from different sources to support your argument/thesis.

In short, a dissertation requires you to do extensive research and then write about it.

Why Is Originality and Uniqueness so Important for a Dissertation?

You must remember that the purpose of your dissertation is to produce original ideas and information. You cannot write about something that has already been written before by someone else. Doing so will not only make you look foolish but also cause you academic failure because it is not your study or research. You should also keep in mind that a dissertation is not something you can “cheat” on. You cannot copy and paste information from another source even if it pertains to the same topic because the audience will be able to tell. In other words, make sure all your ideas are original!

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What does originality mean in undergraduate dissertation?

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Planning your dissertation: Producing original work

You will see from the Faculty marking criteria that the best dissertations make some kind of original contribution to the subject. This is what is meant in the criteria by references to an ‘individual argument’, a ‘new approach’, or work that is ‘independent and enterprising’.

The challenge of coming up with an original argument or approach for your dissertation can seem extremely daunting, but the following clarifications may help.

Originality does not need to mean coming up with a world-shattering new theory which will change the direction of your discipline. It can emerge through:

If you feel that everything has already been said, take some time to go back to your primary texts and think critically about what has been published on them. They might present accurate analysis, but is there another side to the story? Is there a different emphasis you could bring to balance their perspective? Have they ignored some contradictions in the text(s)?

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does your dissertation have to be original

does your dissertation have to be original

5 Ways To Write An Original Dissertation

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You’ve dreaded it since your first lecture. Now second year is coming to a close and you can’t put it off anymore. Your dissertation is beckoning, asking you to at least think about it.

Many people struggle with their degree dissertation. For some it’s the sheer enormity of the task, for others the scope, and still more just aren’t sure whether to do something they are interested in or something that will get them the best grade.

To get the most out of your dissertation, though, one thing is necessary: originality. Below are five ways to make sure you write an original dissertation.

Discover your passion

The first thing to do is find out what you are passionate about. Although it may seem obvious to research a subject you’re interested in, too many people instead choose an area where sources will be widely available.

Although that would make writing your dissertation easier, it means that your piece of research will have been studied many times before .

Discover what you are passionate about, then delve deep into research and find a niche that’s more  you  than universal.

Read other people’s work

To write an original dissertation, you might think that reading other people’s work might have the opposite effect.

However, other people’s dissertations will tell you what has already been written, and what subjects have been done to death.

This work will tell you what not to do , while the sources in the bibliography could pique your interest or navigate you to an interesting way to conduct research.

Discuss your ideas with friends.

Too many people have had that moment of rushing to their friends, ready to share a great new idea, only for their friends to tell them they covered that topic two months ago.

It’s a shame with a normal essay. But when it comes to your dissertation, the news that others’ have had your ground-breaking idea before can be shattering. Talk through your half-formed ideas with trusted friends before committing.

Discuss your ideas with your tutor early on

Although tutors shouldn’t be treated like an academic crutch, they are a great resource, with a wealth of experience.

More importantly, they will have read more dissertations then you thought possible, and will quickly be able to tell you if you are writing something different.

If you do this early, before the end of your second year, you will be in a strong position, with your tutor’s approval, allowing you to enjoy your summer without dissertation dread.

Go to an archive

Using the resources available to you at your university’s library is vital. However that will only take you so far. If you want to use the rare piece that turns your dissertation from good essay to original research, then you need to hit the archive. The process can be frustrating and at times boring, but when that rare nugget is found, it will be worth it.

Researching and then writing a dissertation that is an original piece of work is a difficult but ultimately rewarding experience. Just keep telling yourself that when alone in a dusty archive.

Inspiring Interns is a  graduate recruitment  agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for  internships . To  hire graduates  or browse the  graduate jobs Manchester and London have to offer, visit their website.

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Here’s how not to do your dissertation

does your dissertation have to be original

Retrospect can be great for self-improvement but for me it is only an unkind reminder of all the things I did wrong whilst writing my dissertation. So someone may as well benefit from my mistakes and that someone may as well be you …By Nuala Clarke

Here’s how not to do your dissertation:

Don’t just do a topic because you like it

When I started to look at topics, I read books that touched upon a variety of different subjects until I found a couple that caught my interest. I’m rather partial to a bit of religious literature so I went for Dante’s Inferno. Turns out a lot of other people are interested in it too and there’s shed loads of material written on it. I’d hit gold. Or so I thought…

As it happens, lots of material written on your subject doesn’t actually make your life easier. It means that you’ll find it incredibly hard to write an original dissertation, in which you don’t just regurgitate what other scholars have already said. Rather, do your research and find a topic that hasn’t been done to death. It’ll make a more engaging research project for you and a more interesting read for your tutor.

Don’t wait and hope for your ideal tutor

The right tutor can make or break a dissertation, especially if this is your first large assignment. And it isn’t luck of the draw either. If you know that there’s a tutor that will benefit your style of working or one that has expertise on your subject, go and speak to them. I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to chat about your ideas. This will also mean that they’re aware that you’d like them as a tutor, which will make all the difference when tutors are allocated. Similarly, if things aren’t working out with your tutor, ask to swap. It’s worth speaking up if you’re not happy, especially if this is going to affect your dissertation.

Also your tutor isn’t your keeper; it’s up to you to set periodical deadlines and keep to them!

Don’t be a stubborn know-it-all

I remember when my tutor told me not to use a particular word in a specific context. It seems quite trivial now, but at the time I was adamant that I was right in my vocabulary choices and proceeded to use the word anyway. In retrospect, that probably wasn’t the best idea, seeing as my tutor was going to be marking my dissertation… So remember, your dissertation tutor with their PhD and years of experience probably knows a little bit about writing dissertations so do try to heed their advice.

Don’t over-read and under-write

Reading into your chosen subject is probably the best thing about doing a dissertation. As your knowledge grows, you feel more confident and sure in your topic. However, it’s tempting to read just one more little article when actually your time would be better spent writing something down. It’s actually rather difficult to convert all those pages of notes into a cohesive argument and it does take some time and dedication. I often found myself convincing myself and others that one more chapter was essential to my theory, until my friend told me that I was just procrastinating and to get on with it. Is denial the first stage of a dissertation?

Remember to keep track of everything you read! Try using Endnote Online to organise your bibliography.

Don’t write each chapter the day before it’s due

(I’m really hoping that my tutor doesn’t read this.) Yes, guilty. I’m one of those. And while it might have got me by with termly essays, it doesn’t really cut it when writing a 10,000 word dissertation.

So here’s my advice: write it as you go along. Your dissertation might look like a giant rambling thought explosion at first, but after some nifty editing, it’ll turn out much better than if you’d hastily written it in a fight against the clock. You’ll also be better able to move around your ideas when they’re all in front of you on paper, rather than grasping at half-formed thoughts in your head.

Leaving plenty of time will also mean you aren’t that person frantically running around trying to find somewhere to print and bind your dissertation the day before it’s due. Trust me, you don’t want to be left to the mercy of odd opening hours and a dodgy USB.

Top tip: work out your layout and presentation in advance. It took me hours to figure out how to begin my page numbers three sheets into a document.

So there we have it – how not to do your dissertation. With any luck you’ll be able to look back on your dissertation process without the lingering burden of regret. Help out your fellow students by commenting with any other tips!

Image: Head in Hands/Alex Proimos/CC BY-NC 2.0

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What is a Ph.D. Dissertation?

[I wrote this in 1993 as a letter to a student concerning a draft of his dissertation. in 2003 I edited it to remove some specific references to the student and present it as a small increment to the information available to my grad students. --spaf]

Let me start by reviewing some things that may seem obvious:

Let's revisit the idea of the thesis itself. It is a hypothesis, a conjecture, a theorem. The dissertation is a formal, stylized document used to argue your thesis. The thesis must be significant, original (no one has yet demonstrated it to be true), and it must extend the state of scientific knowledge.

The first thing you need to do is to come up with no more than three sentences that express your thesis. Your committee must agree that your statements form a valid thesis statement. You too must be happy with the statement -- it should be what you will tell anyone if they ask you what your thesis is (few people will want to hear an hour presentation as a response).

Once you have a statement of thesis, you can begin to develop the dissertation. The abstract, for instance, should be a one-page description of your thesis and how you present the proof of it. The abstract should summarize the results of the thesis and should stress the contributions to science made thereby.

Perhaps the best way to understand how an abstract should look would be to examine the abstracts of several dozen dissertations that have already been accepted. Our university library has a collection of them. This is a good approach to see how an entire dissertation is structured and presented. MIT press has published the ACM doctoral dissertation award series for over a decade, so you may find some of those to be good examples to read -- they should be in any large technical library.

The dissertation itself should be structured into 4 to 6 chapters. The following is one commonly-used structure:

Let's look at these in a little more detail

Chapter I, Introduction. Here, you should clearly state the thesis and its importance. This is also where you give definitions of terms and other concepts used elsewhere. There is no need to write 80 pages of background on your topic here. Instead, you can cover almost everything by saying: "The terminology used in this work matches the definitions given in [citation, citation] unless noted otherwise." Then, cite some appropriate works that give the definitions you need. The progress of science is that we learn and use the work of others (with appropriate credit). Assume you have a technically literate readership familiar with (or able to find) common references. Do not reference popular literature or WWW sites if you can help it (this is a matter of style more than anything else -- you want to reference articles in refereed conferences and journals, if possible, or in other theses).

Also in the introduction, you want to survey any related work that attempted something similar to your own, or that has a significant supporting role in your research. This should refer only to published references. You cite the work in the references, not the researchers themselves. E.g., "The experiments described in [citation] explored the foo and bar conditions, but did not discuss the further problem of baz, the central point of this work." You should not make references such as this: "Curly, Moe and Larry all believed the same in their research [CML53]" because you do not know what they actually believed or thought -- you only know what the paper states. Every factual statement you make must have a specific citation tied to it in this chapter, or else it must be common knowledge (don't rely on this too much).

Chapter II. Abstract Model. Your results are to be of lasting value. Thus, the model you develop and write about (and indeed, that you defend) should be one that has lasting value. Thus, you should discuss a model that is not based on Windows, Linux, Ethernet, PCMIA, or any other specific technology. It should be generic in nature, and should capture all the details necessary to overlay the model on likely environments. You should discuss the problems, parameters, requirements, necessary and sufficient conditions, and other factors here. Consider that 20 years ago (ca 1980) the common platform was a Vax computer running VMS or a PDP-11 running Unix version 6, yet well-crafted theses of the time are still valuable today. Will your dissertation be valuable 20 years from now (ca 2020), or have you referred to technologies that will be of only historical interest?

This model is tough to construct, but is really the heart of the scientific part of your work. This is the lasting part of the contribution, and this is what someone might cite 50 years from now when we are all using MS Linux XXXXP on computers embedded in our wrists with subspace network links!

Chapters III & IV, Proof. There are basically three proof techniques that I have seen used in a computing dissertation, depending on the thesis topic. The first is analytic, where one takes the model or formulae and shows, using formal manipulations, that the model is sound and complete. A second proof method is stochastic, using some form of statistical methods and measurements to show that something is true in the anticipated cases.

Using the third method, you need to show that your thesis is true by building something according to your model and showing that it behaves as you claim it will. This involves clearly showing how your implementation model matches the conditions of your abstract model, describing all the variables and why you set them as you do, accounting for confounding factors, and showing the results. You must be careful to not expend too much effort describing how standard protocols and hardware work (use citations to the literature, instead). You must clearly express the mapping of model to experiment, and the definition of parameters used and measured.

Chapter V. Additional results. This may be folded into Chapter III in some theses, or it may be multiple chapters in a thesis with many parts (as in a theory-based thesis). This may be where you discuss the effects of technology change on your results. This is also a place where you may wish to point out significant results that you obtained while seeking to prove your central thesis, but which are not themselves supportive of the thesis. Often, such additional results are published in a separate paper.

Chapter VI. Conclusions and Future work. This is where you discuss what you found from your work, incidental ideas and results that were not central to your thesis but of value nonetheless, (if you did not have them in Chapter V) and other results. This chapter should summarize all the important results of the dissertation --- note that this is the only chapter many people will ever read, so it should convey all the important results.

This is also where you should outline some possible future work that can be done in the area. What are some open problems? What are some new problems? What are some significant variations open to future inquiry?

Appendices. Appendices usually are present to hold mundane details that are not published elsewhere, but which are critical to the development of your dissertation. This includes tables of measurement results, configuration details of experimental testbeds, limited source code listings of critical routines or algorithms, etc. It is not appropriate to include lists of readings by topic, lists of commercial systems, or other material that does not directly support the proof of your thesis.

Here are some more general hints to keep in mind as you write/edit:

As a rule of thumb, a CS dissertation should probably be longer than 100 pages, but less than 160. Anything outside of that range should be carefully examined with the above points in mind.

Keep in mind that you -- the Ph.D. candidate -- are expected to become the world's foremost expert on your topic area. That topic area should not be unduly broad, but must be big enough to be meaningful. Your advisor and committee members are not supposed to know more about the topic than you do -- not individually, at least. Your dissertation is supposed to explain your findings and, along with the defense, demonstrate your mastery of the area in which you are now the leading expert. That does not mean writing everything you know -- it means writing enough about the most important points that others can agree with your conclusions.

Last of all, don't fall into the trap that ties up many a candidate, and causes some of them to flame out before completion: your thesis does not need to be revolutionary. It simply needs to be an incremental advancement in the field. Few Ph.D. dissertations have ever had a marked impact on the field. Instead, it is the set of publications and products of the author that may change the field.

If your dissertation is like most, it will only be read by your committee and some other Ph.D. candidates seeking to build on your work. As such, it does not need to be a masterwork of literature, nor does it need to solve a long-standing problem in computing. It merely needs to be correct, to be significant in the judgement of your committee, and it needs to be complete. We will all applaud when you change the world after graduation. And at that you will find that many well-known scientists in CS have made their careers in areas different from their dissertation topic. The dissertation is proof that you can find and present original results; your career and life after graduation will demonstrate the other concerns you might have about making an impact.

So get to work!

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What is a dissertation? How is it different from an essay?

There are some obvious differences: an essay is relatively short – usually 1500 to 2500 words – and you are told clearly what to do by someone else. For example: Describe and evaluate major theories of globalisation.

A dissertation is a subject you chose for yourself. The first usage of the word in the English language in 1651 also gives a useful starting definition: “an extended written treatment of a subject”.

Another useful clue is found in the Latin origin of the word – dissertation comes from a Latin word ‘dissertare’ = ‘to debate’.

What does the word ‘debate’ imply? A discussion involving different points of view or sets of ideas. A dissertation will therefore not only examine a subject but will review different points of view about that subject.

Here’s another definition that underlines some more important characteristics of a dissertation: “a substantial paper that is typically based on original research and that gives evidence of the candidate’s mastery both of her own subject and of scholarly method.”

A dissertation will show that the writer knows her subject, the key facts and different points of view in it – but it also advances a point of view resulting from original research. Remember that ‘original’ does not mean ‘something that’s never been done before’ but rather ‘something that you do for yourself’.

A dissertation also “gives evidence of the candidate’s mastery […] of scholarly method”. This sounds terribly daunting but don’t be put off. The phrase is telling you that you will have to lift your game to write a successful dissertation. ‘Scholarly method’ means that you will be expected to do more and better reading and research than for a standard undergraduate essay. It means that your work will display accuracy and skill in its investigation and discussion of a subject. It means that your discussion will give evidence of critical analysis i.e. standing back from your subject and weighing up pros and cons. It means you will show that you understand that, for example, aspects of particular theories or viewpoints are open to question.

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Thesis Vs. Dissertation — Know the difference and similarities!

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The academic world is filled with many different types of writing assignments, each with its own unique set of requirements and expectations. One common source of confusion for students is the distinction between a thesis and a dissertation. Both are long-form academic works, but there are several key differences between the two that are important to understand.

In Shakespeare’s day, a candidate for a master’s degree would write a thesis, an original paper in which he maintained a certain proposition. Whereas, completion of a doctoral program required submission and defense of a dissertation. He would read his thesis to his committee, after which he sat in silence while two faculty members gave point-by-point refutations of everything the candidate said.

The focus here was on the student’s ideas and his ability to arrange and express them clearly. If a student wished to advance further in academia he could pursue a dissertation. This was more of a  literature review . He would read widely in a particular area and write up his findings, discussing the various authorities and their opinions. The point was to demonstrate that he was well-versed in the literature of the field. While the confusion between the two terms is understandable, we shall tackle the dissertation vs. thesis topic in this article and provide unambiguous insights on it.

Table of Contents

What Is a Thesis?

A thesis is a critically written scholarly piece of research work. Typically, it is submitted by students graduating from a master’s program. The purpose of a thesis is to allow students to showcase their knowledge and expertise within the subject matter they have been studying as part of the program.

What Is a Dissertation?

A dissertation is a comparatively lengthier piece of scholarly writing that accounts for your research work throughout the doctoral program. A researcher earns the Ph.D. after submitting and defending his/her dissertation. It includes all information about the original research or expanded research on a new or existing topic conducted by the Ph.D. candidate.

Dissertation vs. Thesis: Differences

Dissertation vs. Thesis: Similarities

Dissertation vs. Thesis: Europe

In Europe, the original distinction between a thesis and a dissertation has been largely retained. A doctoral thesis is a focused piece of original research that is performed to obtain a Ph.D. A dissertation is part of a broader post-graduate research project.


However, the thesis has evolved since original research nowadays requires plenty of background research . So, a thesis will contain extensive citations and references to earlier work, although the focus remains on the original work that comes out of it.

Dissertation vs. Thesis: USA

In the United States, the definition of a thesis is almost the opposite of that in Europe. Because a thesis is shorter than a dissertation it gradually came to mean a preliminary degree on the way to a doctorate. A thesis is now performed to earn a Master’s degree. In scientific fields, a master’s candidate takes advanced coursework and gains hands-on experience in a research project but does not direct the project to the same extent that he would in a doctoral program. In a master’s project, the student’s ideas are welcomed and expected but the focus is on obtaining technical expertise, not doing original research. Engineering students commonly obtain Master’s degrees and seldom go on to get PhDs. In other fields such as Chemistry, the opposite is true, with a Master’s degree no longer being required as the first step for a doctorate. Almost everyone I know who received a Master’s degree in Chemistry got one because they dropped out of graduate school and wrote their truncated research as a Master’s project.

In a Nutshell

Needless to say, the dissertation vs. thesis facts are real. Therefore, using one term instead of another is not acceptable as an academic. One must remember the purpose of each and use them accordingly. However, one is not undermined by the other. Whether you are writing a thesis or a dissertation, both must be done with the same seriousness. Both require critical technical and soft skills. Improving your time management and academic writing skills plays a major role in acing both forms of scholarly writing.

How do you decipher dissertation vs. thesis? Should the interchanged usage of these terms be acceptable? How is your approach to writing a thesis different from that of a dissertation? What are the other differences associated with the thesis and dissertation? Let us know in the comments section below!

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    Students are often told their dissertation needs to be 'original'. This sends many people into a big panic, trying to find a topic that's never

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    It means that you'll find it incredibly hard to write an original dissertation, in which you don't just regurgitate what other scholars have

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    As a general rule, every statement in your dissertation must be common knowledge, supported by citation to technical literature, or else original results proved

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    Remember that 'original' does not mean 'something that's never been done ... The phrase is telling you that you will have to lift your game to write a

  10. Thesis Vs. Dissertation

    However, the thesis has evolved since original research nowadays requires plenty of background research. So, a thesis will contain extensive citations and