Students in graduate school may be expected to write a dissertation as a graduation requirement in their chosen field of study. The dissertation is a focused research project that explores a narrowly-defined academic topic, normally beginning with an extensive literature review and culminating in the presentation of the student's own data that results from a unique research effort.
The dissertation research project is usually guided by an advisor at the college or university, and may be reviewed by a thesis or dissertation committee that will establish the guidelines and parameters for the student’s submitted dissertation. The student will check in periodically with the committee as the project is being developed and will often submit early drafts of the work as it progresses to solicit feedback and criticism on the direction the project is taking and/or on whether the project needs to be expanded or narrowed according to the chosen topic.
In the social sciences, the written part of the dissertation will include the following sections: title page, copyright page, abstract, committee page, dedication page, table of contents, purpose of the study, chapters of the study with subheadings, research methodology, description of the research design, sample population and demographics, observational instrument or method for data collection, administration of the instrument, analysis or coding of data, description of the data analysis, relevant existing theories, instrumentation tools, raw data, references, bibliography, appendix for tables, and a glossary or a list of symbols and acronyms used in the report.
Dissertations will be written, edited and revised by the college or university graduate student several times before submitting the final project to the thesis committee. The student should choose a dissertation subject topic very carefully because it will require weeks if not months of devoted research and analysis that will cripple anyone without a genuine interest in the topic.
Graduate students who write dissertations can be expected to:
• Perform research
• Create a research question and hypothesis
• Develop a literature review
• Manage the collection and analysis of data
• Weigh and analyze the data for its usefulness, validity, and reliability
• Discuss and organize the findings
• Write professionally on the topic to produce a publishable document
A resource for students who are writing their dissertation can be seen at the website of The University of Texas - Pan American's Office of Graduate Studies called Thesis and Dissertation in which all of the various stages of writing the dissertation are covered. Another resource would be the writing center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill which has an excellent tutorial for college students called Dissertations.