A roadmap for writing your dissertation

Before you can undertake any research and start writing your dissertation, you need to go through four basic steps.

You have to choose a topic, identify the problem, formulate a main research question and sub-questions, and create a research design.

Step 1. Choose your topic

The first step is to select a dissertation topic. This can be done in a number of ways, and your academic program may have specific guidelines that you have to follow. For instance, your supervisor may give you a list of topics for you to choose from. It could also be that you build on research that you or others at your university have already undertaken.

If you are writing your dissertation for a specific “client” (such as a company where you have worked or interned), that organization may also have an issue that it wants you to investigate. In this case, you should liaise closely with your main contact person at that organization.

Once you have identified a possible topic, you will need to get it approved by your academic supervisor (who may have ideas concerning how to refine it). Your supervisor will also help to guide you through other requirements of your program that you may be required to follow.

Step 2. Identify the problem

The next step is to define the problem. A problem statement is an important prerequisite to a research question and helps create focus for your dissertation.

Step 3. Formulate research questions

Once you know what the problem is and why research is needed, the next step is to formulate a main research question to frame your work. See examples of research questions.

  • The main research question
What is the basic question you trying to answer through your research?

You should then break this question down into a series of sub-questions that address more specific topics. All of the answers to the sub-questions should together enable you to answer the main research question.

  • Sub-questions
What more specific questions do you have to answer in order to be able to answer your main research question?

Instead of using sub-questions, you can also prepare a conceptual framework and formulate hypotheses.

Step 4. Create a research design

The next step is to determine how you will go about answering your research questions. How will you get information, what will you investigate, and who will you speak to? And what research methods will you use? This should all be included in your research design.

Research proposal

The above steps constitute a research proposal that explains what you hope to achieve with your dissertation and how. Once your supervisor has approved your proposal, it will guide you throughout the rest of your dissertation process. However, make sure that you always keep your supervisor informed of your progress and pay close attention to your school’s requirements.

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