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Publishing material from your thesis
Your rights to publish.
You retain the copyright in your thesis unless:
- your research is sponsored or funded by a funder with a claim on the intellectual property
- your research builds upon existing intellectual property generated by, or jointly invented with, Imperial employees or associates
- you are concurrently an employee of Imperial College London during your period of study
For details see Intellectual property
In principle, you may reproduce, or give others permission to reproduce, parts or the whole of your thesis but you must consider:
- third party works and the permission you have been given to use them - if your permission does not extend to the intended use, send a second permission request to the owner of the third party copyright work
- any plans to apply for a patent application, meaning that you must postpone communication of your research through an embargo
Discuss any of the above issues with your supervisor.
Publishing in a journal
Journals generally accept papers based on work already written up in a thesis. Individual journal polices on what a journal considers to be prior publication can be found within the ‘information for authors’ section of the journal website. The United Kingdom Council of Research Repositories (UKCoRR) have produced this Thesis prior publications spreadsheet on some of the publisher policies that you can use as guidance. If a publisher is concerned that your thesis has already been published online, you may apply for an embargo .
Your paper should be a reworking of the material in your thesis and written to conform to the journal's style guide. The course (publication section), offered by the Graduate School, offers helps and tips.
When quoting from your thesis or reusing figures, avoid self-plagiarism by citing and referencing any extracts copied or adapted from your thesis appropriately.
Publishing your whole thesis
If you intend to publish your thesis or are approached by a publisher, request a copy of the publishing agreement before signing it - make sure that publication is in your best interests and will not restrict your future use of the content.
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7 steps to writing a dissertation
While you may be experienced in revising and writing essays, your dissertation requires careful planning, extensive research, and time management to succeed
Your dissertation is a key part of your degree course and a testament to your ability to conduct research, analyse data, and write a clear argument. Dissertations can be challenging, but they are also rewarding experiences that allow you to explore a topic in-depth and make a significant contribution to your field of study.
To achieve your academic goals, it is important to act on feedback, use your supervision time to your advantage, and demonstrate a strong knowledge of your subject. Whether you're writing an undergraduate, Masters , or PhD dissertation, these seven steps can help you stay on track.
1. Choose your topic wisely
Selecting the right topic is the foundation of a successful dissertation. It is important to choose a topic that is:
- Relevant to your academic discipline and interests. This will ensure that you are passionate about your topic and have the necessary background knowledge to conduct meaningful research.
- Intriguing and thought-provoking . A well-chosen topic will inspire you to ask interesting questions and develop original insights.
- Specific enough to allow for in-depth analysis, yet broad enough to provide enough research material. A topic that is too narrow may be difficult to research or produce meaningful findings, while a topic that is too broad may be difficult to cover in the allowed time and word count.
Consider your career goals and what topics are relevant to the field you hope to work in after graduation. It's also important to be open to change, as it's common for students to modify their dissertation topic as they explore the subject more.
Once you have identified a potential topic, seek guidance from your supervisor. They can help you to refine your choice, identify relevant sources, and develop a research plan.
2. Check what's required of you
Read your marking criteria carefully. It is also important to consult the module guidelines and follow the instructions on any additional parts to your main assignment, such as a project plan, literature review or a critical reflection.
Neal Bamford, associate lecturer at London Metropolitan University, reports that his marking process always begins by 'distilling criteria to what students need to provide and how many marks this is worth.'
'Several dissertations I mark don't include a project plan in their submission. This is worth 20% of the overall mark, so students lose out on a significant portion of their grade'.
Before you begin to plan, make sure you understand what's expected of you. Find out:
- what academic writing looks like in your discipline
- the word count
- when and where you must submit your dissertation.
3. Conduct in-depth research
Research at this stage in the process is often referred to as a literature review. This is where you are expected to gather relevant sources, articles, and studies from libraries, and online academic resources to identify the existing research on your topic and to develop your own research questions.
'Form your own opinion and argue for it using research. A history of the topic is always helpful, as it shows that you understand how things got to this point in time,' says Neal.
Be sure to take careful notes on each source and organise them for easy reference. You need to critically evaluate and analyse the sources to ensure their credibility and relevance to your research. This will be helpful when citing your sources in the writing stage.
Don't forget to seek guidance from your advisor throughout the research process. They can provide you with valuable feedback, relevant sources, and support.
4. Develop a strong thesis statement
A well-defined thesis statement is a roadmap for your dissertation. It should concisely state your main argument or research question and provide a clear direction for your paper. Your thesis statement will guide your entire writing process, so take the time to fully understand it before you begin to write.
When writing a thesis statement:
- Be specific and focused - avoid broad or vague statements.
- Remember that your thesis needs to be arguable - it should be a statement that can be supported or proved false with evidence.
- Make sure your thesis is realistic - you need to be able to research and write about it in the allotted time and space.
Once you have a draft of your thesis statement, share it with your supervisor and other trusted peers. They can provide you with feedback and help you to refine your statement.
If your research disproves your original statement, it can be a disappointing experience. However, it is important to remember that this is a normal part of the research process.
'Many of my students believe that if they don't find the answer they're expecting, then their work is worthless,' says Neal.
'This is not the case. You don't have to find the answer to produce valuable research. Documenting your process and conclusions, even if they are inconclusive, can help others to avoid repeating your work and may lead to new approaches.'
5. Proofread and edit
After working on your dissertation for such a long time, it can be tempting to end the process once you have finished writing, but proofreading is an essential step in ensuring that it is polished and error-free.
To help with the proofreading process:
- Read your dissertation aloud . This can help you to catch errors that you might miss when reading silently.
- Change your environment to see your work with fresh eyes.
- Focus on one thing at a time such as grammar, spelling, or punctuation to avoid getting overwhelmed.
To edit your dissertation, begin by reviewing its overall structure and flow. Make sure that your arguments are well-organised and that your ideas are presented in a logical order.
Next, check your grammar, spelling, and punctuation carefully. You can use a grammar checker, but it is important to proofread your work yourself to identify stylistic or subject-specific errors.
'Make sure you understand the reference style your university prefers. Formatting and labelling of images, tables etc. is vitally important and will be marked,' says Neal.
You should also ensure that your dissertation is formatted using the correct font, font size, margins, and line spacing.
6. Seek feedback and finalise
Once you have made your final revisions, seek feedback from your advisor or board members.
To get the most out of your feedback, be specific about what you are looking for. For example, you might ask for feedback on the overall structure and flow of your dissertation, the strength of your arguments, or the clarity of your writing.
Be open to feedback, even if it's negative. Remember that your advisor is there to help you improve your work, so it's important to take the time to understand and implement the feedback you receive.
Once you have addressed all the feedback, you can prepare your final submission. It's important to follow the guidelines carefully before submitting. Be sure to hand in your dissertation on time, as late submissions may be penalised or even rejected.
Online hand in is the most common method of dissertation submission, and you will typically need to upload a PDF file to an online portal. Follow the instructions carefully - you may need to provide additional information, such as your student ID number or the title of your dissertation.
Some institutions still require dissertations to be submitted in hard copy. If this is the case, you will need to submit a bound copy of your dissertation to your department office. You may also need to pay the binding fee.
Be sure to check with your advisor or department office for specific instructions on how to submit your dissertation in hard copy. You may have to submit multiple copies of your dissertation, and you be required to to include a title page, abstract, and table of contents.
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Dissertations and research projects
General advice and resources to support you throughout your research-based dissertation or project.
This is a general resource to help you with the basics of organising and writing a research-based dissertation or project. The Go further section at the end includes advice on work-based dissertations and signposts other resources.
You should consult your course or programme information, including online sources, and project supervisor or programme director for subject-specific guidance.
Dissertations and research projects are an opportunity to focus on particular question, and plan and undertake your own research to explore it further. Many students really enjoy being an independent researcher and becoming the expert on their work. The format varies depending on the disciplinary context, subject area, your research questions and the project. You may be reviewing the literature, analysing a novel, developing and testing a new method or doing a work-based project. However there are some common factors:
- They are an independent piece of work. You will be working under supervision to some extent and may be collaborating with others, but ultimately you are submitting a piece of independent thought and writing.
- They tend to have a large word count. This is to allow you to do sufficient in-depth analysis and discussion of the topic.
- They require a large investment of time, thought and energy throughout the process. As a significant body of academic work, you need to maintain effort whilst reading, researching, thinking, writing and redrafting it.
Choosing your dissertation or project
Whether you are choosing your dissertation from a selection of topics or you are proposing your own, there are a range of factors to consider. For example:
- What is the starting point for your work, i.e. previous or related research?
- How feasible is your project / proposal?
- Do you have enough time and resources to complete it?
- Will it be of an appropriate academic level?
A key questions to ask is “How interested am I in this topic?” You will be working on your dissertation or project for some time, so having a genuine interest in the topic will help to keep you motivated. If you have any questions specific to your topic or project, you should ask your supervisor, programme director or another member of staff who teaches you.
Planning your dissertation or research project
A research-based dissertation or project is a large piece of work requiring a high level of critical analysis. To achieve this you will have to allow time, not just for the researching phase, but also for the writing and editing stages. You will need to give yourself plenty of time to:
- Read around your topic and undertake background research;
- Digest and think about what you are learning and writing;
- Complete experiments, fieldwork, interviews or project placements;
- Analyse data, findings or results, and interpret them;
- Think about and decide on your conclusions.
Taking a project management approach to your dissertation or research project might be a more effective way to successfully complete it. The Time management page has tips and tools for organising your time.
Time management webpage and tools
The dissertation and project planner can be used to think about the different stages and help give you an overall view of the process. There are some general points and questions to act as prompts, spaces you can add your own notes in and some useful tips and resources.
Dissertation and project planner (pdf) Dissertation and project planner (rtf)
Writing your dissertation
You should not underestimate the time that should be allocated to writing your dissertation. Writing will involve planning, background research, drafting, redrafting, and proof-reading and editing.
First draft : Your first draft is about getting words on the page. For example, it may sketch out your first thoughts, arguments and potential structure. You can review these and use them to check: are you focussed on the right topics and questions? Is your structure and line of thought sensible? This is also a good time to set up your format requirements (e.g. page layouts, references).
Redrafts : Redrafting is where you expand and refine your ideas and argument. You may also find that as you are writing the direction of your argument changes; for example this could be due to your literature research producing new avenues of thought or your experiments turning up unexpected results. This is a good time to review the focus of your initial question, and whether your arguments or conclusions are still sensible.
Final draft(s) : Your final draft(s) is where you cast a critical eye over your work and assess how effective it is in communicating your argument and conclusions - does it answer the question? You should also check that your presentation, spelling and grammar are appropriate and polished, all your references are included, and your are following the appropriate format guidance.
It is a good idea to take a break between writing and reviewing your work. Try to leave at least a day between writing before you pick it up again, the longer the better. This allows you to look at your work with an analytical eye, looking for ways to improve. Imagine you are reading your work as someone who is not so familiar with the topic: would a reader be able to follow and understand your argument? Do your ideas link? Have you signposted on from one section to the next? Remember also to look back at your question/title, does your dissertation address it? Does it follow a logical structure?
To check the flow of your argument or line of reasoning you can test pieces of your text using set criteria. To help revise and restructure your text you can make a reverse outline. Both of these techniques are available on our Editing and proofreading page.
Editing and proofreading
Producing a professional document
Information Services provide information and guidance about how to produce a thesis or dissertation using Microsoft Word.
Producing a thesis or dissertation using Microsoft Word (EASE log in required)
Thesis Hub: Producing your thesis or dissertation in Word
Choosing a reference manager
A referencing management tool can help you to collect and organise and your source material to produce a bibliography or reference list.
Referencing and reference management
As part of your research you will produce and use research data in a variety of forms from quantitative and/or qualitative research. This may be data you generate yourself or obtained from other researchers, data repositories or public records. You need to make choices about what you use, handle your data correctly and document all of this process.
The University’s Research Data Service helps staff and students be effective with their research data before, during and after their project. They have created an introductory handbook on Data Mindfulness for taught students writing a dissertation. This handbook is accompanied by a set of short videos. Together these cover topics including what data is, how to store it, file organisation and dealing with your data after your hand-in. There is advice in the handbook on working with sensitive data and issues such as privacy, confidentiality and disclosure.
Data Mindfulness handbook
Data Mindfulness videos
Many courses and programmes, particularly at Postgraduate level, offer the opportunity to carry out a work-based dissertation. These opportunities vary between Schools and Programmes but will typically involve students tackling a research question identified by an organisation such as a business, a public sector organisation or a charity. A work based dissertation project can be invaluable for your employability and for career development.
If you are interested in carrying out a work-based dissertation you may need to start planning earlier than you would for a more traditional academic dissertation. If your Programme offers this opportunity, you will be given this information at the start of Semester 1. If you would like to source and set up a dissertation project with an external organisation yourself, you will need to speak with your Programme Director or Course Organiser first.
You can draw on resources developed by the Making the Most of Masters project.
Making the Most of Masters
Work-based projects – advice for students
There are a variety of study guides available on dissertation and project writing. Books aimed at postgraduate students can also be useful for undergraduates. Our IAD Resource List has a selection available in University libraries.
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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:
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What Is a Dissertation? | 5 Essential Questions to Get Started
Published on 26 March 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on 5 May 2022.
A dissertation is a large research project undertaken at the end of a degree. It involves in-depth consideration of a problem or question chosen by the student. It is usually the largest (and final) piece of written work produced during a degree.
The length and structure of a dissertation vary widely depending on the level and field of study. However, there are some key questions that can help you understand the requirements and get started on your dissertation project.
Table of contents
When and why do you have to write a dissertation, who will supervise your dissertation, what type of research will you do, how should your dissertation be structured, what formatting and referencing rules do you have to follow, frequently asked questions about dissertations.
A dissertation, sometimes called a thesis, comes at the end of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. It is a larger project than the other essays you’ve written, requiring a higher word count and a greater depth of research.
You’ll generally work on your dissertation during the final year of your degree, over a longer period than you would take for a standard essay . For example, the dissertation might be your main focus for the last six months of your degree.
Why is the dissertation important?
The dissertation is a test of your capacity for independent research. You are given a lot of autonomy in writing your dissertation: you come up with your own ideas, conduct your own research, and write and structure the text by yourself.
This means that it is an important preparation for your future, whether you continue in academia or not: it teaches you to manage your own time, generate original ideas, and work independently.
Prevent plagiarism, run a free check.
During the planning and writing of your dissertation, you’ll work with a supervisor from your department. The supervisor’s job is to give you feedback and advice throughout the process.
The dissertation supervisor is often assigned by the department, but you might be allowed to indicate preferences or approach potential supervisors. If so, try to pick someone who is familiar with your chosen topic, whom you get along with on a personal level, and whose feedback you’ve found useful in the past.
How will your supervisor help you?
Your supervisor is there to guide you through the dissertation project, but you’re still working independently. They can give feedback on your ideas, but not come up with ideas for you.
You may need to take the initiative to request an initial meeting with your supervisor. Then you can plan out your future meetings and set reasonable deadlines for things like completion of data collection, a structure outline, a first chapter, a first draft, and so on.
Make sure to prepare in advance for your meetings. Formulate your ideas as fully as you can, and determine where exactly you’re having difficulties so you can ask your supervisor for specific advice.
Your approach to your dissertation will vary depending on your field of study. The first thing to consider is whether you will do empirical research , which involves collecting original data, or non-empirical research , which involves analysing sources.
Empirical dissertations (sciences)
An empirical dissertation focuses on collecting and analysing original data. You’ll usually write this type of dissertation if you are studying a subject in the sciences or social sciences.
- What are airline workers’ attitudes towards the challenges posed for their industry by climate change?
- How effective is cognitive behavioural therapy in treating depression in young adults?
- What are the short-term health effects of switching from smoking cigarettes to e-cigarettes?
There are many different empirical research methods you can use to answer these questions – for example, experiments , observations, surveys , and interviews.
When doing empirical research, you need to consider things like the variables you will investigate, the reliability and validity of your measurements, and your sampling method . The aim is to produce robust, reproducible scientific knowledge.
Non-empirical dissertations (arts and humanities)
A non-empirical dissertation works with existing research or other texts, presenting original analysis, critique and argumentation, but no original data. This approach is typical of arts and humanities subjects.
- What attitudes did commentators in the British press take towards the French Revolution in 1789–1792?
- How do the themes of gender and inheritance intersect in Shakespeare’s Macbeth ?
- How did Plato’s Republic and Thomas More’s Utopia influence nineteenth century utopian socialist thought?
The first steps in this type of dissertation are to decide on your topic and begin collecting your primary and secondary sources .
Primary sources are the direct objects of your research. They give you first-hand evidence about your subject. Examples of primary sources include novels, artworks and historical documents.
Secondary sources provide information that informs your analysis. They describe, interpret, or evaluate information from primary sources. For example, you might consider previous analyses of the novel or author you are working on, or theoretical texts that you plan to apply to your primary sources.
Dissertations are divided into chapters and sections. Empirical dissertations usually follow a standard structure, while non-empirical dissertations are more flexible.
Structure of an empirical dissertation
Empirical dissertations generally include these chapters:
- Introduction : An explanation of your topic and the research question(s) you want to answer.
- Literature review : A survey and evaluation of previous research on your topic.
- Methodology : An explanation of how you collected and analysed your data.
- Results : A brief description of what you found.
- Discussion : Interpretation of what these results reveal.
- Conclusion : Answers to your research question(s) and summary of what your findings contribute to knowledge in your field.
Sometimes the order or naming of chapters might be slightly different, but all of the above information must be included in order to produce thorough, valid scientific research.
Other dissertation structures
If your dissertation doesn’t involve data collection, your structure is more flexible. You can think of it like an extended essay – the text should be logically organised in a way that serves your argument:
- Introduction: An explanation of your topic and the question(s) you want to answer.
- Main body: The development of your analysis, usually divided into 2–4 chapters.
- Conclusion: Answers to your research question(s) and summary of what your analysis contributes to knowledge in your field.
The chapters of the main body can be organised around different themes, time periods, or texts. Below you can see some example structures for dissertations in different subjects.
- Political philosophy
This example, on the topic of the British press’s coverage of the French Revolution, shows how you might structure each chapter around a specific theme.
This example, on the topic of Plato’s and More’s influences on utopian socialist thought, shows a different approach to dividing the chapters by theme.
This example, a master’s dissertation on the topic of how writers respond to persecution, shows how you can also use section headings within each chapter. Each of the three chapters deals with a specific text, while the sections are organised thematically.
Like other academic texts, it’s important that your dissertation follows the formatting guidelines set out by your university. You can lose marks unnecessarily over mistakes, so it’s worth taking the time to get all these elements right.
Formatting guidelines concern things like:
- line spacing
- page numbers
- title pages
- presentation of tables and figures
If you’re unsure about the formatting requirements, check with your supervisor or department. You can lose marks unnecessarily over mistakes, so it’s worth taking the time to get all these elements right.
How will you reference your sources?
Referencing means properly listing the sources you cite and refer to in your dissertation, so that the reader can find them. This avoids plagiarism by acknowledging where you’ve used the work of others.
Keep track of everything you read as you prepare your dissertation. The key information to note down for a reference is:
- The publication date
- Page numbers for the parts you refer to (especially when using direct quotes)
Different referencing styles each have their own specific rules for how to reference. The most commonly used styles in UK universities are listed below.
You can use the free APA Reference Generator to automatically create and store your references.
APA Reference Generator
The words ‘ dissertation ’ and ‘thesis’ both refer to a large written research project undertaken to complete a degree, but they are used differently depending on the country:
- In the UK, you write a dissertation at the end of a bachelor’s or master’s degree, and you write a thesis to complete a PhD.
- In the US, it’s the other way around: you may write a thesis at the end of a bachelor’s or master’s degree, and you write a dissertation to complete a PhD.
The main difference is in terms of scale – a dissertation is usually much longer than the other essays you complete during your degree.
Another key difference is that you are given much more independence when working on a dissertation. You choose your own dissertation topic , and you have to conduct the research and write the dissertation yourself (with some assistance from your supervisor).
Dissertation word counts vary widely across different fields, institutions, and levels of education:
- An undergraduate dissertation is typically 8,000–15,000 words
- A master’s dissertation is typically 12,000–50,000 words
- A PhD thesis is typically book-length: 70,000–100,000 words
However, none of these are strict guidelines – your word count may be lower or higher than the numbers stated here. Always check the guidelines provided by your university to determine how long your own dissertation should be.
At the bachelor’s and master’s levels, the dissertation is usually the main focus of your final year. You might work on it (alongside other classes) for the entirety of the final year, or for the last six months. This includes formulating an idea, doing the research, and writing up.
A PhD thesis takes a longer time, as the thesis is the main focus of the degree. A PhD thesis might be being formulated and worked on for the whole four years of the degree program. The writing process alone can take around 18 months.
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Writing a Thesis or Dissertation
A course for students who are either writing, or preparing to write, a dissertation or thesis for their degree course at oxford, course timetable: michaelmas term 2023.
Enrolment will close at 12 noon on Wednesday of Week 1 of term (11 October 2023).
To ensure that we have time to set you up with access to our Virtual Learning Environment (Canvas), please make sure you have enrolled and paid no later than five working days before your course starts.
MT = Michaelmas Term (October - December); HT = Hilary Term (January - March); TT = Trinity Term (April-June)
This course is designed for students who are either writing, or preparing to write, a dissertation or thesis for their degree course at Oxford. Each lesson focuses on a different part of the thesis/dissertation/articles (Introductions, Literature Reviews, Discussions etc.), as well as the expected structure and linguistic conventions. Building upon the foundational understanding provided by our other Academic English courses (particularly Introduction to Academic Writing and Grammar, and Key Issues), this course prepares students for the challenges of organising, writing and revising a thesis or dissertation.
- Gain an understanding of the different organisational structures used within Humanities, Social Sciences and Natural Sciences dissertations and theses
- Consider works of previous Oxford students in order to understand the common structural, linguistic and stylistic issues that arise when drafting a research project
- Increase competence in incorporating citations into texts, including choosing appropriate tenses and reporting verbs
- Learn how to structure the various parts of a dissertation or thesis (Introduction, Literature Review, Discussion, Conclusion and Abstract)
For Learners with an Oxford University SSO (Single Sign-On) simply click on the enrol button next to the class that you wish to join.
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Turning your MSc dissertation into an academic paper
23 May 2019
Tips for students
Students who complete the MSc in Evidence Based Health Care at the University of Oxford often produce high quality research for their dissertation, which we encourage them to publish in academic journals. Dr Anne-Marie Boylan is the Dissertation Coordinator for the MSc in EBHC. She spoke to Mark Howe, a dentist who recently completed his MSc about his experiences of writing up his MSc thesis for publication in the Journal of Dentistry.
What challenges did you face in getting your thesis published?
I found condensing the dissertation down to meet the word count required for the journal whilst maintaining all the important points was a big challenge. This took a substantial amount of time and quite a lot of editing. I also faced lots of challenges because of what was required in the submission process. The formatting the journal required for tables and figures was different to what I had created for my thesis. They didn’t always convert cleanly when uploaded, which took some time to identify and correct. Despite all my efforts to ensure I followed the guidelines for authors, the manuscript was returned immediately due to issues with format changes and missing entries. But I got there in the end.
What did you think about the reviewers’ feedback?
The initial comments ranged from just basic proof-reading corrections to what felt like quite extensive criticism. So you need to be prepared for frustration and rejection. The publication process assumes you work in a close-knit experienced team where there is access to people who have published before, which isn’t always the case for MSc students.
The reviewers asked for amendments to what I thought were very important aspects of the research. I saw this an opportunity to argue that these data should not be changed.
How did you feel when your article was accepted?
I felt relief rather than joy as the profession now had to accept there were some weaknesses in their previous robust results. Getting the dissertation published was for me the true endpoint of the MSc in evidence-based healthcare as my research was now going into the public domain. I was surprised to see how expensive it was to make my paper ‘Open Access’. I had no funding for this so it’s behind a pay wall.
What would you say to other students who are preparing their thesis for publication?
Choose your journal carefully.
Be patient – the submission process is more experiential than intuitive. Try and get some advice from colleagues who have published more papers in your field.
Be prepared to defend your research against the reviewer’s comment where necessary. Try not to take the reviewers comments personally. Maintain a calm perspective, and possibly leave the manuscript for a few days before working through the corrections.
Mark’s paper can be accessed using the following reference : Howe, M.-S., Keys, W. and Richards, D. (2019) ‘Long-term (10-year) dental implant survival: A systematic review and sensitivity meta-analysis’, Journal of Dentistry. Elsevier B.V., 84(March), pp. 9–21. doi: 10.1016/j.jdent.2019.03.008.
Read Mark’s blog summarising his research findings here.
What to read next
'rejection is part of the process'.
22 July 2019
EBHC programmes Students
Rejection is part of the process: Turning your dissertation into an academic paper
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What does this mean to you as a library user?
When you need to access a PhD thesis from another UK based HE institution you should check EThOS to either download a thesis which has already been digitised or to request that a UK thesis be supplied to you.
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If you have any queries about using EThOS contact the Document Delivery Team ( [email protected] or the Library Helpdesk ).
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How to Publish Your PhD
- Sarah Caro - Oxford University Press
Drawing on nearly twenty years in the book business Sarah Caro explains in a clear and accessible way the key issues facing the would-be author. Within the context of today's fast changing world where new technologies and increasing globalization continue to impact on academia and the world of academic publishing, key issues are discussed ranging from whether publishing your PhD is always the best way to enhance your career prospects to whether you should focus on journals or books.
A wealth of practical information and advice is included on:
- choosing a publisher
- revising your thesis
- putting together a proposal
- surviving the review process
- negotiating a contract
- working with your publishers marketing department.
The book is designed to be an easy to use, one stop guide with examples, chapter summaries and further reading. It will be an invaluable resource for emerging researchers across the broadest range of the humanities and social sciences and for all those teaching and advising them, in Europe and the US.
SAGE Study Skills are essential study guides for students of all levels. From how to write great essays and succeeding at university, to writing your undergraduate dissertation and doing postgraduate research, SAGE Study Skills help you get the best from your time at university. Visit the SAGE Study Skills hub for tips, resources and videos on study success!
Visit the SAGE Study Skills hub for tips, resources and videos on study success!
Every PhD student should buy a copy of How to Publish your Research before and not after they enroll for a doctoral degree. Informative, practical and insightful, Sarah Caro will become the mentor of every successful PhD student. A mine of information and practical advice, this text is the definitive nuts-and-bolts manual on how to do it. A safe and sure guide. ? ? ? ? ? ?
The book benefits from some mini-case studies of experienced academics’ experiences. These provide a useful alternative perspective. That said, the most valuable parts of the book are those where Caro writes most clearly as a publishing industry insider.
Good supplemental reading early in post-PhD publishing
This book has been recommended to my colleagues who are developing a Teesside University doctorate programme.
Good book with practical advice written in an easy to read style. Good for anyone embarking on a PhD or appropaching completion.
This book contain good practical information on how to get the PhD published.
It is clear and concise with excellents tips.
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- Publishing Your Dissertation in a…
Publishing Your Dissertation in a Scholarly Journal
So you’ve decided you want to earn a PhD. You have read about the road blocks , you’ve selected your committee, and you’ve started writing your dissertation. But why start thinking about a publication? What does that have to do with earning the ultimate degree?
Writing a dissertation without a publication is like going to the trouble of making a cake but not baking it. No one can taste your cake, no one can benefit from your hard work—of course, no one can criticize your work either. But without a publication, or two or three, the dissertation is not technically a total success. You’d be amazed at how many people don’t get a publication out of their dissertation. Without advanced planning, a publication likely won’t happen, because, once again, there are often unanticipated roadblocks.
1. Publication will be completely driven by you and no one else. A publication will not be on the priority list of your dissertation committee. And you will likely be the only one to understand where to publish.
2. Planning is the most important step and the only way to be successful. If you wait until after you go through the dissertation process, you will be too exhausted to publish, and it won’t happen for a year or two. You must plan.
3. Configure your dissertation for three separate publications. This may be three separate chapters, or it may be three different data sets or arms of your data. Link this to the selection of your committee. In my previous articles, I recommended choosing a committee wisely, with different members being associated with different jobs. Committee members should not have similar areas of expertise. Their “jobs” should not overlap. There should be a content expert or literature review expert, a methods person, a results person and a “whip.” Ideally, the “whip” (think politics, as in majority whip or minority whip in Congress) is your dissertation chair. The jobs of each member should be distinct to avoid having members fighting or making conflicting suggestions. Each article should be aligned with a separate expert. So there can be a Review article, a Methods article, and a Results article.
4. You get to decide who is listed as an author on your articles. You will be first author, and your mentor should be last author (a position of honor). If a committee member does not contribute, they ethically should not be included in the list of authors. Many journals now ask you to list the authors along with their meaningful contributions.
5. Decide ahead of time the journals in which you wish to publish. Full disclosure — I am on the board of the Journal of the American Academy of PAs (JAAPA), and I’m a reviewer for the Journal of Physician Assistant Education (JPAE). I’m going to recommend these PA journals for one of your publications. Here is my pitch (although biased): We are THE scholarly journals for the profession. If your data is completely focused on PA education, then select JPAE. Think about JAAPA for any research on PAs themselves or PA analogues. Select a PA journal for a personal touch and some really important feedback. Your article will be on a stage with your peers. This gives you the home crowd advantage.
6. Lose ownership. Remember how I said your dissertation is like your baby? Well, your baby now has gone through elementary school and the tumultuous teenage years and currently is entering college. Your publication needs you to back off and give it some space. It will leave home for a while (often for the long review process). When it comes back, it might need to do some laundry, but it should essentially not look at all like the baby you once knew. A publication should look like a publication, not a dissertation. It should be neat and mature and all grown up.
7. Try for the highest level journal you can realistically get published in. Here is the main problem: time. You cannot ethically submit the same article to multiple journals. You will need to make sure you have three completely separate articles in order to submit to multiple journals. There are many people who believe you should publish in the most prestigious journal you can make it into. I do not disagree with this philosophy; however, the alternative is that your work might not get read in a higher scholarly journal because PAs and PA educators don’t tend to read these other journals. This is for you to decide. There are websites that can help you determine where to publish. But be careful and check out Beall’s List, a list of potentially predatory “scholarly” open-access publishers.
8. Best of luck — and don’t fail to publish. Don’t bake your cake and not put it in the oven. Remember to reach out to your peers within the profession to aid in your success. Ultimately, your committee will be pleased to add a publication to their CVs. They will remember this as their reward for all the hard work that they (and you) put into your PhD.
A publication is the lasting legacy for all of your tough efforts and sacrifice. It is the “so what” of all you have put into this academic Mt. Everest. Consider the impact that your work will have on the profession. Don’t run the marathon (or climb the mountain) and not cross the finish line!
Jennifer Coombs, PhD, MPAS, PA-C
Related news & alerts, fellows share research at forum, charles r. drew university pd finds rewards in health disparities research, aapa-paea research fellows focus on improving pa training and patient care, empowering future pas with the systems approach to medical error .
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How to publish your dissertation?
Although finishing your dissertation may be the final hurdle to completing your doctorate, getting it published may be an important step toward your career as a psychologist.
Finalizing your dissertation is the last obstacle you face in the process of writing but publishing it in some journal or elsewhere is another step that’s difficult if not being carefully analyzed. Dissertation is the soundest piece to start when it comes to publishing, does not matter even it’s a small outcome/result in the giant field of your research. Dissertation is an excellence piece of work possibly which is been thoroughly administered by expert faculty.
Dissertation Pros offer law dissertation help in UK for those students who feel, it’s difficult to complete their dissertation on time. Our law dissertation writing service is one of the most credible among UK’s students. We have expert writers, who are qualified and experienced in their field and meet your criteria of quality content.
While publishing your dissertation, there may be one of these responses you are likely to get, your paper may be acknowledged for publication, second, it may be asked for reviewed and resubmission, and third last your paper simply denied and not accepted.
If your paper gets acknowledged then you will have to reply to any queries from the editor about language or citations, but your hard work paid off. Depending on the journal’s publication schedule and backlog, you can expect to see your article in print, in a year or two.
If your dissertation is asked for reviewed and resubmissions then you are likely to get disappointment because of this response but do not be. It is typical for the publisher to inquire you about reviewing your paper piece based on the comments given by reviewers’ recommendation. However, it is not necessary for you to agree and accept all the reviews given by the readers as everyone has their point of view. If you are asked to review and resubmit answer, make the amendments and return the document as soon as possible.
If your article is not accepted for publishing then do not take it personally because the publisher will be sending you comments given by critics. Go through them wisely and make improvements in desired section. You can state problems with writing simply through your own editing or by operating with a writing expert.
We wish you luck assembling and publishing your work.
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What Is a Dissertation? | Guide, Examples, & Template
A dissertation is a long-form piece of academic writing based on original research conducted by you. It is usually submitted as the final step in order to finish a PhD program.
Your dissertation is probably the longest piece of writing you’ve ever completed. It requires solid research, writing, and analysis skills, and it can be intimidating to know where to begin.
Your department likely has guidelines related to how your dissertation should be structured. When in doubt, consult with your supervisor.
You can also download our full dissertation template in the format of your choice below. The template includes a ready-made table of contents with notes on what to include in each chapter, easily adaptable to your department’s requirements.
Download Word template Download Google Docs template
- In the US, a dissertation generally refers to the collection of research you conducted to obtain a PhD.
- In other countries (such as the UK), a dissertation often refers to the research you conduct to obtain your bachelor’s or master’s degree.
Table of contents
Dissertation committee and prospectus process, how to write and structure a dissertation, acknowledgements or preface, list of figures and tables, list of abbreviations, introduction, literature review, methodology, reference list, proofreading and editing, defending your dissertation, free checklist and lecture slides.
When you’ve finished your coursework, as well as any comprehensive exams or other requirements, you advance to “ABD” (All But Dissertation) status. This means you’ve completed everything except your dissertation.
Prior to starting to write, you must form your committee and write your prospectus or proposal . Your committee comprises your adviser and a few other faculty members. They can be from your own department, or, if your work is more interdisciplinary, from other departments. Your committee will guide you through the dissertation process, and ultimately decide whether you pass your dissertation defense and receive your PhD.
Your prospectus is a formal document presented to your committee, usually orally in a defense, outlining your research aims and objectives and showing why your topic is relevant . After passing your prospectus defense, you’re ready to start your research and writing.
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The structure of your dissertation depends on a variety of factors, such as your discipline, topic, and approach. Dissertations in the humanities are often structured more like a long essay , building an overall argument to support a central thesis , with chapters organized around different themes or case studies.
However, hard science and social science dissertations typically include a review of existing works, a methodology section, an analysis of your original research, and a presentation of your results , presented in different chapters.
We’ve compiled a list of dissertation examples to help you get started.
- Example dissertation #1: Heat, Wildfire and Energy Demand: An Examination of Residential Buildings and Community Equity (a dissertation by C. A. Antonopoulos about the impact of extreme heat and wildfire on residential buildings and occupant exposure risks).
- Example dissertation #2: Exploring Income Volatility and Financial Health Among Middle-Income Households (a dissertation by M. Addo about income volatility and declining economic security among middle-income households).
- Example dissertation #3: The Use of Mindfulness Meditation to Increase the Efficacy of Mirror Visual Feedback for Reducing Phantom Limb Pain in Amputees (a dissertation by N. S. Mills about the effect of mindfulness-based interventions on the relationship between mirror visual feedback and the pain level in amputees with phantom limb pain).
The very first page of your document contains your dissertation title, your name, department, institution, degree program, and submission date. Sometimes it also includes your student number, your supervisor’s name, and the university’s logo.
Read more about title pages
The acknowledgements section is usually optional and gives space for you to thank everyone who helped you in writing your dissertation. This might include your supervisors, participants in your research, and friends or family who supported you. In some cases, your acknowledgements are part of a preface.
Read more about acknowledgements Read more about prefaces
The abstract is a short summary of your dissertation, usually about 150 to 300 words long. Though this may seem very short, it’s one of the most important parts of your dissertation, because it introduces your work to your audience.
Your abstract should:
- State your main topic and the aims of your research
- Describe your methods
- Summarize your main results
- State your conclusions
Read more about abstracts
The table of contents lists all of your chapters, along with corresponding subheadings and page numbers. This gives your reader an overview of your structure and helps them easily navigate your document.
Remember to include all main parts of your dissertation in your table of contents, even the appendices. It’s easy to generate a table automatically in Word if you used heading styles. Generally speaking, you only include level 2 and level 3 headings, not every subheading you included in your finished work.
Read more about tables of contents
While not usually mandatory, it’s nice to include a list of figures and tables to help guide your reader if you have used a lot of these in your dissertation. It’s easy to generate one of these in Word using the Insert Caption feature.
Read more about lists of figures and tables
Similarly, if you have used a lot of abbreviations (especially industry-specific ones) in your dissertation, you can include them in an alphabetized list of abbreviations so that the reader can easily look up their meanings.
Read more about lists of abbreviations
In addition to the list of abbreviations, if you find yourself using a lot of highly specialized terms that you worry will not be familiar to your reader, consider including a glossary. Here, alphabetize the terms and include a brief description or definition.
Read more about glossaries
The introduction serves to set up your dissertation’s topic, purpose, and relevance. It tells the reader what to expect in the rest of your dissertation. The introduction should:
- Establish your research topic , giving the background information needed to contextualize your work
- Narrow down the focus and define the scope of your research
- Discuss the state of existing research on the topic, showing your work’s relevance to a broader problem or debate
- Clearly state your research questions and objectives
- Outline the flow of the rest of your work
Everything in the introduction should be clear, engaging, and relevant. By the end, the reader should understand the what, why, and how of your research.
Read more about introductions
A formative part of your research is your literature review . This helps you gain a thorough understanding of the academic work that already exists on your topic.
Literature reviews encompass:
- Finding relevant sources (e.g., books and journal articles)
- Assessing the credibility of your sources
- Critically analyzing and evaluating each source
- Drawing connections between them (e.g., themes, patterns, conflicts, or gaps) to strengthen your overall point
A literature review is not merely a summary of existing sources. Your literature review should have a coherent structure and argument that leads to a clear justification for your own research. It may aim to:
- Address a gap in the literature or build on existing knowledge
- Take a new theoretical or methodological approach to your topic
- Propose a solution to an unresolved problem or advance one side of a theoretical debate
Read more about literature reviews
Your literature review can often form the basis for your theoretical framework. Here, you define and analyze the key theories, concepts, and models that frame your research.
Read more about theoretical frameworks
Your methodology chapter describes how you conducted your research, allowing your reader to critically assess its credibility. Your methodology section should accurately report what you did, as well as convince your reader that this was the best way to answer your research question.
A methodology section should generally include:
- The overall research approach ( quantitative vs. qualitative ) and research methods (e.g., a longitudinal study )
- Your data collection methods (e.g., interviews or a controlled experiment )
- Details of where, when, and with whom the research took place
- Any tools and materials you used (e.g., computer programs, lab equipment)
- Your data analysis methods (e.g., statistical analysis , discourse analysis )
- An evaluation or justification of your methods
Read more about methodology sections
Your results section should highlight what your methodology discovered. You can structure this section around sub-questions, hypotheses , or themes, but avoid including any subjective or speculative interpretation here.
Your results section should:
- Concisely state each relevant result together with relevant descriptive statistics (e.g., mean , standard deviation ) and inferential statistics (e.g., test statistics , p values )
- Briefly state how the result relates to the question or whether the hypothesis was supported
- Report all results that are relevant to your research questions , including any that did not meet your expectations.
Additional data (including raw numbers, full questionnaires, or interview transcripts) can be included as an appendix. You can include tables and figures, but only if they help the reader better understand your results. Read more about results sections
Your discussion section is your opportunity to explore the meaning and implications of your results in relation to your research question. Here, interpret your results in detail, discussing whether they met your expectations and how well they fit with the framework that you built in earlier chapters. Refer back to relevant source material to show how your results fit within existing research in your field.
Some guiding questions include:
- What do your results mean?
- Why do your results matter?
- What limitations do the results have?
If any of the results were unexpected, offer explanations for why this might be. It’s a good idea to consider alternative interpretations of your data.
Read more about discussion sections
Your dissertation’s conclusion should concisely answer your main research question, leaving your reader with a clear understanding of your central argument and emphasizing what your research has contributed to the field.
In some disciplines, the conclusion is just a short section preceding the discussion section, but in other contexts, it is the final chapter of your work. Here, you wrap up your dissertation with a final reflection on what you found, with recommendations for future research and concluding remarks.
It’s important to leave the reader with a clear impression of why your research matters. What have you added to what was already known? Why is your research necessary for the future of your field?
Read more about conclusions
It is crucial to include a reference list or list of works cited with the full details of all the sources that you used, in order to avoid plagiarism. Be sure to choose one citation style and follow it consistently throughout your dissertation. Each style has strict and specific formatting requirements.
Common styles include MLA , Chicago , and APA , but which style you use is often set by your department or your field.
Create APA citations Create MLA citations
Your dissertation should contain only essential information that directly contributes to answering your research question. Documents such as interview transcripts or survey questions can be added as appendices, rather than adding them to the main body.
Read more about appendices
Making sure that all of your sections are in the right place is only the first step to a well-written dissertation. Don’t forget to leave plenty of time for editing and proofreading, as grammar mistakes and sloppy spelling errors can really negatively impact your work.
Dissertations can take up to five years to write, so you will definitely want to make sure that everything is perfect before submitting. You may want to consider using a professional dissertation editing service or grammar checker to make sure your final project is perfect prior to submitting.
After your written dissertation is approved, your committee will schedule a defense. Similarly to defending your prospectus, dissertation defenses are oral presentations of your work. You’ll present your dissertation, and your committee will ask you questions. Many departments allow family members, friends, and other people who are interested to join as well.
After your defense, your committee will meet, and then inform you whether you have passed. Keep in mind that defenses are usually just a formality; most committees will have resolved any serious issues with your work with you far prior to your defense, giving you ample time to fix any problems.
As you write your dissertation, you can use this simple checklist to make sure you’ve included all the essentials.
My title page includes all information required by my university.
I have included acknowledgements thanking those who helped me.
My abstract provides a concise summary of the dissertation, giving the reader a clear idea of my key results or arguments.
I have created a table of contents to help the reader navigate my dissertation. It includes all chapter titles, but excludes the title page, acknowledgements, and abstract.
My introduction leads into my topic in an engaging way and shows the relevance of my research.
My introduction clearly defines the focus of my research, stating my research questions and research objectives .
My introduction includes an overview of the dissertation’s structure (reading guide).
I have conducted a literature review in which I (1) critically engage with sources, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of existing research, (2) discuss patterns, themes, and debates in the literature, and (3) address a gap or show how my research contributes to existing research.
I have clearly outlined the theoretical framework of my research, explaining the theories and models that support my approach.
I have thoroughly described my methodology , explaining how I collected data and analyzed data.
I have concisely and objectively reported all relevant results .
I have (1) evaluated and interpreted the meaning of the results and (2) acknowledged any important limitations of the results in my discussion .
I have clearly stated the answer to my main research question in the conclusion .
I have clearly explained the implications of my conclusion, emphasizing what new insight my research has contributed.
I have provided relevant recommendations for further research or practice.
If relevant, I have included appendices with supplemental information.
I have included an in-text citation every time I use words, ideas, or information from a source.
I have listed every source in a reference list at the end of my dissertation.
I have consistently followed the rules of my chosen citation style .
I have followed all formatting guidelines provided by my university.
The end is in sight—your dissertation is nearly ready to submit! Make sure it's perfectly polished with the help of a Scribbr editor.
If you’re an educator, feel free to download and adapt these slides to teach your students about structuring a dissertation.
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A Guide to Publishing a Dissertation
The moment your dissertation is accepted by your university’s graduate college is one of sweet relief. You’ve reached the end of a very long road, and the work is done. Or is it? For many academics, the siren song of pursuing publication strikes not long after the ink is dry on their diploma. The idea of seeing your name in a prestigious academic journal or emblazoned on the spine of a book is indeed tempting. However, submitting to academic journals or becoming a published author can be a lengthy journey of its own.
While publishing your dissertation may seem like the natural next step in your scholarly journey, there is a lot of work that needs to be done before you’ll see your research in a journal or your book on a shelf at your local library or bookstore. Completing your dissertation is the first step to becoming a published author, and there is plenty that you need to know before pursuing publication.
These are a few frequently asked questions about publishing a dissertation:
- Can a dissertation be published?
- What do I have to do to publish my dissertation?
- Who publishes dissertations?
- Why publish a dissertation?
Can a Dissertation Be Published?
Yes. Of course, this is merely the short answer. Since we’re talking about academia, a simple “yes” does not tell the whole story. While there is sometimes an assumption that dissertations get published by the university that granted the author their Ph.D., this is incorrect. Though the final revised and edited copy of a dissertation is bound and can sometimes even be found for sale on sites like Amazon, it is not truly published.
However, the fact that your dissertation has not been published does not mean that you are automatically free to pursue publication. Upon submitting your dissertation to your university, you likely signed some paperwork related to your dissertation as a piece of intellectual property. You might not be free to pursue a publishing contract or publish on your own right away. You’ll want to read the fine print, in the event there is a required waiting period for publishing.
Publishing Your Dissertation in Academic Journals
Dissertation research can be published in two ways; it can either be expanded into a book or pieced out into multiple academic articles. There are benefits to both approaches. While getting a book published often carries more prestige, academic journal articles allow for (relatively) quicker publication, while the research is fresh. Breaking your dissertation down into multiple articles also offers more opportunities for publication.
To pursue article publication, first decide how to deconstruct your manuscript to separate your research into multiple articles. This will involve some revision and structural changes, but the natural “breaks” in your dissertation should already be clearly defined by chapters. The introduction, literature review, and the methodology/results sections can all be transformed into individual articles and submitted to separate journals for publication.
When searching for journals to submit each article to, make a list based on your literature review and reference page. You may want to rank the journals by impact factor or another method, but make sure to submit your articles to top-tier or higher-tier journals first. If they are declined or heavy revision is suggested, you have a lineup of less-competitive journals ready to go.
When I was a newly-minted professor in my first job post-dissertation, I chose to go the journal route and got my dissertation research published as multiple articles. While it does take some work to reconfigure each article into a piece of writing that can exist on its own, I’m glad that I did it this way. I was new to the peer review process and I learned a lot about submitting to academic journals. It was also a good way to add much-needed lines to my CV for my yearly performance evaluations.
Preparing a Book Manuscript
A dissertation is a very long document . It feels like a book, but in reality, your dissertation is not yet a book. Your dissertation is part of a book, and the work ahead of you is to complete your manuscript. You will need to add additional context, and probably flesh out the next steps of your research outlined in the discussion section of your dissertation into fully-realized chapters. What was formerly your dissertation will then be sold as an academic monograph.
It is also important to note that the qualities that make a dissertation successful are unlikely to directly correlate to marketability. Your dissertation may offer a vital contribution to the body of knowledge in your field, but will it sell? Is it timely? Does it have a hook that will make it stand out in a competitive market? These are all questions to take into consideration when preparing an academic manuscript for a broad audience.
Finding Publishers for Your Book
There are a few routes that can be taken when searching for a place to publish a dissertation as a book. The most common is academic publishing. (The other two are commercial and independent, both of which are difficult unless you have a built-in audience or a large social media following.) Every year, academic presses around the country receive proposals and offer book contracts to authors. Many of these presses are affiliated with universities, and their proposal requirements and contract terms are similar.
Many manuscripts that began as dissertations land at university presses. If you are interested in pursuing a contract with a university press, go to their website and familiarize yourself with titles they have published recently. See if they are open to unsolicited submissions and look at their proposal requirements. If it seems like a good fit, consider putting together a proposal and submitting it.
There are quite a few academic publishers and university presses, so you’ll need to do your homework to find the right one for your research. As an academic, one of my favorite parts of any conference is the book fair. I love perusing all the new titles from academic publishers and university presses, and it’s a great way to become familiar with many of them at once.
Another benefit to these book fairs is that tables are often helmed by acquisitions editors. In my experience, talking to an editor for a press that I’m interested in is a great use of downtime at a conference. If you decide to do this, have an elevator pitch of your manuscript memorized and ready to go. If the editor likes it and invites you to submit, your proposal will go to the top of the inbox.
Why Publish a Dissertation?
There are a couple reasons to think about publishing your dissertation. If you are starting your career as an academic, particularly on the tenure track, publishing is an essential part of fulfilling your scholarship requirement. “Publish or perish” remains a very real aphorism in academia, and the more quality publications you add to your CV, the better.
Publishing a dissertation as an academic monograph is also a great way to start making a name for yourself as a scholar. Being an expert in your field has limited utility unless you are writing, publishing, and presenting at conferences consistently. Publishing is a great way to establish your expertise, and having a book to promote can also help you secure lectures at universities and keynote invitations. If you have the time and the inclination, publishing your dissertation can pay dividends (not literally–academic monographs tend to earn their authors very little).
While publishing your dissertation requires a good bit of transformation into a more substantial academic monograph, authoring a book can open a lot of professional doors. Though there are also other projects that will undoubtedly demand your attention–conference presentations, critical articles, new research–publishing your dissertation will give you an opportunity to finally close the book (pun intended) on your graduate research and set your sights on new horizons.
Courtney Watson, Ph.D.
Courtney Watson, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of English at Radford University Carilion, in Roanoke, Virginia. Her areas of expertise include undergraduate and graduate curriculum development for writing courses in the health sciences and American literature with a focus on literary travel, tourism, and heritage economies. Her writing and academic scholarship has been widely published in places that include Studies in American Culture , Dialogue , and The Virginia Quarterly Review . Her research on the integration of humanities into STEM education will be published by Routledge in an upcoming collection. Dr. Watson has also been nominated by the State Council for Higher Education of Virginia’s Outstanding Faculty Rising Star Award, and she is a past winner of the National Society of Arts & Letters Regional Short Story Prize, as well as institutional awards for scholarly research and excellence in teaching. Throughout her career in higher education, Dr. Watson has served in faculty governance and administration as a frequent committee chair and program chair. As a higher education consultant, she has served as a subject matter expert, an evaluator, and a contributor to white papers exploring program development, enrollment research, and educational mergers and acquisitions.
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Revising Your Dissertation for Publication
While a dissertation’s in-depth research and analysis can provide a strong foundation for a book, the dissertation itself is not a book and will not be published by an academic press without substantial revisions. Some acquisitions editors are interested first books, especially if they bring new perspectives and fresh ideas to a field, while others do not often publish first books. If you are considering submitting your dissertation for publication, we recommend that you contact editors at university presses that publish in your subject area for guidance on revising your work. Many editors prefer to be involved in the early stages of this process so they can advise you on how to structure the book and your arguments to create a publishable book. Editors generally require changes in the length, content, tone, and style of a dissertation in order to produce a book that will appeal to buyers in the academic market. Read more about submitting a proposal in our Scholarly Publishing Guide .
Below are selected resources to help you revise your dissertation for publication as a book or journal article(s).
Advice from publishers
- Harvard University Press
- Palgrave Macmillan
- Rowman & Littlefield
- Taylor & Francis
- University of North Carolina Press
- Yale University Press
- Publisher Policies on using content in both a thesis or dissertation and an article (from MIT Libraries)
- From Dissertation to Book by William Germano (Lauinger Library, 4th Floor, PN162 .G37 2013)
- Revising Your Dissertation, Updated Edition : Advice from Leading Editors (updated edition, 2008) edited by Beth Luey (online; GU NetID and password required)
- From Dissertation to Book , Duke University (February 27, 2018)
- From Dissertation to Book ( full transcript ), Harvard University (December 17, 2010)
- How To Turn Your Dissertation into a Book , Yale University (April 6, 2016)
- From Dissertation to Book by Leonard Cassuto (Chronicle of Higher Education, May 30, 2011)
- From Dissertation to Published Book (lanugageandphilosophy.com report on an American Comparative Literature Association workshop)
- Give It a Rest by Laura Portwood-Stacer (Inside Higher Ed, August 6, 2019)
- The Stages of Revising a Dissertation into a Book by Amy Benson Brown (Journal of Scholarly Publishing, vol. 52 no. 2, 2021, p. 127-140) (GU NetID and password required)
- Turning Your Dissertation into a Book (University of Washington)
- Publishing your Dissertation (American Psychological Association)