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What is a Dissertation? - A Beginners Guide

If you are pursuing a doctoral degree, you must be wondering what actually a dissertation is. You may have heard about different types of research papers throughout your college life. And, you must have written at least one thesis paper for your Master’s degree. But you might have never heard about the dissertation, or even if you do, you may not be familiar with it.

Students need to write a couple of research papers throughout their academic life. It is essential to improve their research skills, writing skills, and critical thinking skills.

Learn what a dissertation is, its purpose, and its types in this blog.

What is a Dissertation?

A dissertation is a written document based on research completed as part of the Doctoral degree. In some countries, the term ‘Dissertation’ is specifically used for a research paper written for a doctoral program. While in other countries, the terms ‘Thesis’ and ‘Dissertation’ are used interchangeably. However, it is a research project completed for undergraduate or postgraduate degrees.

According to the definition of the dissertation:

“It is a substantial paper that is based on original research. It provides evidence of the student’s knowledge both of his subject and of scholarly methods.”

A well-written dissertation paper shows that the student is familiar with his subject. It shows that the student knows the key facts and various perspectives about his subject. Moreover, it presents a new perspective about the subject and advances a viewpoint resulting from original research. However, ‘original’ doesn’t mean that something has never been done before, but rather, it is something you do for yourself.

Dinah Manns, PhD, faculty chair at Capella University, states that. “The dissertation is often a compilation of academic and practical knowledge. In many cases, it can be the student’s first publication.”

The word ’Dissertation’ originated from the Latin word ‘dissertare,’ which means ‘to debate.’ It implies that a dissertation involves a discussion based on a different perspective or set of ideas. It not only examines a subject but also reviews different viewpoints presented in state of the art about that subject.

For writing a successful research paper, you need to lift your game and learn various scholarly methods. When you write a dissertation, you need to do a lot of research and readings than for a standard academic paper. Usually, professors provide proper guidance for writing a general academic essay but no guidance for a dissertation. It is a completely independent project which shows a student’s research skills.

You need to thoroughly investigate a particular subject and do a critical analysis of the collected information. Your work and discussion should display accuracy and evidence of critical analysis.

You must stand back from your subject and weigh up the pros and cons without being biased. This will demonstrate that you have completely understood your subject and aspects of a particular theory. It also allows people with different points of view to question the subject openly.

What is the Purpose of a Dissertation?

The major objective of a dissertation is to make students conduct original research on a specific topic. It aims to test the student’s independent research skills, which they have acquired during their time at college.

Typically, it allows a student to present his findings in response to a research question he posed. The ultimate purpose of this project is to transform a student into an academic researcher.

For most students, it is the most daunting, critical, and complicated task. However, this is true because it is the longest task a student has ever done during his academic life. It requires plenty of hard work and months of preparation. However, it can be rewarding, specifically when you are passionate about your selected subject.

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Types of Dissertation

There are two basic types of dissertation that will vary depending on your course of study. Whatever academic field you belong to, you need to choose between these two types.

1. Empirical Dissertation

It is a type of dissertation that involves collecting data from different sources. It is all about gathering data and information for getting a degree in science or social sciences degree. For example, you are enrolled in a psychology degree and need to assess the effects of cognitive-behavioral therapy to treat depression.

You need to put into practice ethical and professional guidelines while collecting data from various sources. The following empirical research methods are used to answer the research question.

  • Survey
  • Experiments
  • Interviews
  • Observations

Empirical research aims to produce robust and reproducible scientific knowledge. Therefore, you need to consider specific things like;

  • Sampling methods
  • Validity and reliability of your measurements
  • Variables you’ll investigate

Empirical research usually involves or may be entirely centered on laboratory work. The ultimate purpose of empirical research is to collect data by taking a new perspective into account. For example, analyzing existing data from different angles and making useful comparisons.

2. Non-Empirical Dissertation

Non-empirical dissertation is focused on analyzing existing data and arguments. It presents unique and original analysis but no original data. The core of non-empirical research is to analyze the student’s ability to extract new information from existing data. This research method is designed specifically for arts and humanities academic disciplines.

The non-empirical research is based on the existing data, which means your conclusion will be based on other’s work. You may have to spend a couple of hours in papers and books, analyzing and exploring the author’s work. Make sure you do not just describe what the author has done but critically analyze the practical application of his work.

Non-empirical research requires full immersion in academic books and research papers. You need to present various perspectives and arguments and back them up with reliable evidence. You need to choose primary and secondary resources to collect information.

  • Primary Sources: These are the direct objects of your research. You collect evidence and facts about your subject from these sources. It may include historical documents, artwork, and novels.
  • Secondary Sources: These sources provide information about your analysis. They evaluate, interpret, analyze, and describe the data you have collected from primary sources.

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What is a Difference Between a Thesis and a Dissertation?

You may have heard about both thesis and dissertation, but you may not know the difference between them. In some countries, dissertation or thesis terms are used interchangeably. While in other countries, ‘Thesis’ is used for a research paper written for getting a Master’s degree. And ‘Dissertation’ is used for a research paper written for completing a doctoral degree.

However, both follow the same structure; abstract, introduction, literature review, body, conclusion, bibliography, and appendices. Here are the differences between thesis and dissertation that you should know.

Thesis Dissertation
It marks the end of a Master’s degree It marks the end of a Doctoral degree
Identify and explore problems in existing literature work Present a new problem or idea and explore its solutions
Focused on critically analyzing the state of the artwork Focused on developing new knowledge, theory, or practices
Critical analysis of existing knowledge Contribution of new knowledge
40 to 80 pages 100-300 pages
It takes a year to complete It takes 18 months to 3 years to complete

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