• Terminal paper requirement of graduate
students pursuing a doctorate
• A document that demonstrates one’s
professional proficiency in a discipline or
• Demonstration of an understanding of the state of
– Critical appreciation of existing work
• A novel contribution
– Evaluated systematically
• The final and usually the most challenging
hurdle that stands between students and their
being awarded a doctoral degree.
• Opens a new area
• Provides unifying
• Resolves long-standing
• Thoroughly explores area
• Contradicts existing
• Experimentally validates
• Produces ambitious
• Provides empirical data
• Derives superior
algorithms (problemsolving procedures)
• Develops new
• Develops new tool
• Produces negative result
• Useful contribution to knowledge !
• Readers will ask
– what is the question here ?
– is it a good question ?
– is it adequately answered ?
– is there a contribution to previous knowledge?
– general introduction
– summary of the question
– justification for question
– Bird eye view of the result
• Background information
– particularly if you span two or more traditional
areas (dissertations/theses often do)
• Literature review (print and online)
– state of the art
– organized by ideas, not time/author/geography
• The research question (core/foundation)
– concise statement of question
– justification, refer closely to review (analysis)
– explain why question is worthwhile
• Description -Design/methods/methodology
– Possibly many sections to some chapters balance
– Aim to show that question has been fully
– Show relevance of work to solution
– Avoid detailing blind alleys unless they contribute
to showing that question is answered
• Conclusions, generally in three sections
• short concise statements of inferences made as a
result of the work done
• conclusions must be directly related to the research
question/problem raised previously
– summary of contribution
• examiners will scrutinize this section
– future research
• useful to people following in your tracks
– closely tied to the review done early in the
– examiners usually check out this section early on
and will form preliminary assessment notions
early, so pay attention
– references must appear in the main body
– use the guidelines prescribed by your university
• Comprehensive and in correct form
• Citing and Referencing - APA; Harvard
scientific format; MLA; or your University
may have its own prescribed format
– material which casts light on the work done
but which would impede the clear delivery of
• mathematical proofs unless prime focus
• program listings
• huge tables of data
Chapter by Chapter
Organization of the
• Introduce the subject area (Overview and
definition) and explain the research topic.
• State your research question(s) or research
• Scope and limitations of the study.
• Importance of the topic you have selected.
• This Chapter should be revised after writing
Chapter 2 (Literature Review)
• Keep introduction shorts and focused
• It is a review of what has been published on that topic
so that you do not duplicate someone else’s work.
• Conduct a thorough literature search before designing
your methodology and collecting your data.
• The literature review should provide context and
clarify the relationship between your topic and
previous work in that area.
• When writing the literature review, present major
themes, theories, and ideas that have been published
in the area, and the findings of related studies.
• Conclude the review of the literature with a short
section that describes your topic, highlighting why it
is important to address the problem you have
• This chapter describes exactly the steps that you took
to investigate your research problem.
• Explains your research design
• the methodology that you selected (survey, interviews,
historical research, document analysis or extended
literature review for example)
• the instruments that you used and how they were
developed, the sample that you selected, and the
description of your data collection process.
• Copies of correspondence, instruments if you used any
(questionnaires or interview scripts), raw data if
appropriate and other items relating to the methodology
are included as appendices, with references from the
appropriate place in this chapter.
• It describes what you found in your research,
without discussion, interpretation or
reference to the literature.
• Just the facts, presented as tables, figures,
interview summaries and/or descriptions of
what you found that is important and
• The objective is to present a simple, clear and
complete account of the results of your
• Relate your findings to your original statement
of the problem and your literature review.
• Begin by briefly summarizing the previous
chapters, then discuss what you found.
• Ask yourself why the results were what they
were, and then try to provide meaningful
answers to the question.
• Feel free to interpret objectively and subjectively
and to make references to what others have said
on the subject.
• Make sure that every conclusion you draw is
defensible and not just your own personal
• Summarize your conclusions from the discussion
• Note the limitations of your study.
• Show that you are aware of the methodological
limitations of your study, for example the small
size of your sample, or the fact that you set out to
examine only one part of a bigger problem. Make
recommendations relating to the problem that
you investigated, for example by making practical
suggestions on how to improve the situation in
the organization in which your research took
• Make recommendations for areas that require
• Writing a dissertation is hard, painful work
– You’ve already done the fun part (the research)
• It’s unlike any other document
– Dissertation writing is not a marketable skill
• Some people never manage to write one
– 99% perspiration
– 1% inspiration?
• If you’re lucky, your dissertation will be read by:
– Your supervisor
– Your committee
• It’s the union card for academia
– You all have to suffer like we did!
• In the process, you will learn
– How to research
– How to write
• You get to add “Dr” to your name
– Great aunts, etc. are most impressed
• It will introduce you/your research to a wider
– Dissertation committee
• It will make you famous
– Look at the statistics
• It will radically change science
– Look at the statistics
• It will advance our knowledge
– Just a little
– Main benefit is in teaching you to research
• It will be read by others
– Your dissertation committee
– If unlucky, it will suffer the same fate as many other dissertations did!
• So I’m motivated
• When do I actually start writing?
– 6 months before the end of my grant?
– No, the day you start your PhD
– Write it all down!
• Don’t worry, it’s never too late to start
• “Your dissertation is your baby”
– Give it 9 months
• Write it up
• Fill in gaps, expts …
• “You have to know when to let it go”
– Put a fence around what you’ve done
• How many units? (12) –how many do you enroll?
– Depends on the course policy of the program
• How long is a piece of string ?
• Writing up is one of the MAJOR activities of
• Organization of ideas is the hard bit
• You will find weaknesses/flaws only when
you start to write up, - state them!
• Allow approx. 30% of time for writing up
• Dissertation committee
• Who should be on your committee?
– Ideally you and your supervisor/advisor/mentor will come to a
• Important, well-known researchers
People notice if your committee was “tough”
You’ll get good feedback
They may employ you
They may recommend you to others
• Why decide your committee before you start writing?
You can target your thesis at them
They’re busy people
Even busy people have open dates in their diaries a year ahead
They’ll still manage to schedule other events on the day of your viva
• Supervision - i.e. guidance and suggestion,
not marking, teaching, correction, auxiliary
worker input /analysis.
• Realisation of research and quality- student.
• Supervisor - decide work plan with student,
try to keep on-track and to time. Available to
discuss ideas, problems and queries as these
arise, but not to lay out a blueprint.
• You’re not in this on your own
• Your supervisor is on your side
– Your success is their success
– If draft chapters contain simple spelling mistakes and typos
• Mind-reading skills
– Motivation dipping
– Absence = illness
• Set up regular meetings with your advisor.
• Come prepared with a work plan/questions: Be open, honest, and
forthcoming about any difficulties you may be experiencing.
• Be professional: there is no need to hide if you’ve struggled to
meet a deadline, have questions, etc.
• Your dissertation supervisor is your ally, not your adversary.
• Writing each chapter
• Don’t start with the Introduction or Conclusion
• Start where you feel happiest
– Typically a middle chapter
– Write outwards
– Finally Conclusions and end with the Introduction
• Write everything with your dissertation message in
• You’ll discover holes in your research
Theorems you haven’t proved
Experiments you didn’t run
Different problems or parameters
• Mix writing with more research
RULE OF THREE
• Within each chapter, repeat yourself 3 times
– Intro. We will show ..
– Body. Show them ..
– Concl. We have shown ..
• Within thesis, repeat your contributions 3 times
– Intro chapter
– Main chapters
– Conclusion chapter
• But don’t bore reader
– E.g. in introduction be brief, in conclusions be broader
• Informal text
– Examiners will jump on imprecision
“.. The main problem in CP is modelling ..”
– A thesis is an argument!
“.. A major bottleneck preventing the uptake of CP is modelling [Freuder,
• Complex sentences full of long words
– A dissertation should be a simple, convincing argument!
• Entertainment or humor
– Joke footnote
• "bad", "good", "nice", "terrible", "stupid"
A scientific dissertation does not make moral judgments
Nothing is perfect.
• "an ideal solution"
You're judging again
• "lots of, kind of, type of, something like”
vague & colloquial
• "actually, really"
define terms precisely to eliminate the need to clarify
• Avoid prove.
• Use show, demonstrate, indicate, support,
suggest, imply, appear, etc.
• Hedging terms such as may be, might be,
could be, probably, possibly may be used
as needed, but avoid using too many
hedges in one sentence and/or overall.
• It is recommended that you follow certain convention to
facilitate the writing process and make your dissertation
• It is useful to look at other dissertation and get an idea
about the approach that people adopt to present their
findings and arguments.
• Do not wait for your supervisor to tell you what fonts, size
and spacing you should use. That is a waste of time and it
shows that you did not do your homework.
• Sample dissertations are available from the Internet and
your library, you can check them out.
• The preferred typeface is Times Roman (11 or 12
• Other typefaces are acceptable (check with your
• Use 1.5 or double-line spacing for the dissertation
• Each page must have a left margin of 3.7 cm to allow
• The top, bottom and right margin shall all be 2.5 cm.
• Justify all your text in the dissertation body (except
when you are using the 6th edition of the APA – flush
• The dissertation must not exceed _____ words (excluding
tables, figures and appendices).
• Most dissertations are between ___ and ____ pages (double
• Figures inserted in the dissertation should appear close to
where they are referenced in the text.
• The usual convention of the figure followed by the figure
title shall be followed.
• Use the Chapter/Figure number convention to label the
figures in the dissertation. For example, Figure 1.2 refers to
the second figure of chapter 1.
• A List of Figures and Tables must be included after the
content page of dissertation
• Select documentation style and apply it consistently
and carefully throughout your dissertation.
• For simplicity and consistency, we recommend APA
style. Recommended manuals include :
• American Psychological Association. Publication
Manual. 6th ed. Washington, D.C.: APA, 2010.
• Modern Language Association. MLA Handbook for
Writers of Research Papers. 4th ed. New York:
• Turabian, Kate. A Manual For Writers Of Term
Papers, Theses And Dissertations. 6th ed.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.
NTU Library Link http://www.ntu.edu.sg/library/index-s.htm
• It’s never possible to cover all issues
– So you will never finish?
– It’s sometimes enough to identify the issues
– Examiners greatly appreciate you identifying limitations
• Much of your dissertation is joint work
– Identify some work that is yours alone
– Include a statement at the start of your contributions:
“Results from this dissertation appear in the following publications. Whilst
much of this dissertation is joint work with my supervisor, I made significant
contributions to Chapters 3-6. In particular, … . “
• Ideas become obvious to you
– You stop writing to a sufficient level of detail
– Especially hurts the opening chapters as they are often
• At some point, your brain will surely become toast
– Take a break
– Eat properly, exercise, sleep …
• Toasted brain is only temporary
– Just look at me?
• Specific to the
Private or Public?
2 to 9 jury members?
Talk or Questions?
• Don’t panic
– You’re probably the world’s
expert on this topic by now!
• Your examiners are human
– They’ve sat in your seat
– They will help you find what
changes (if any) are needed
to make this the required
• Enjoy it
– You’ve the world’s experts in
– They want to talk about your
– How often will that happen in
• If you want, have a
– Get your supervisor to set up a
– Prepare your opening
• Presentation of results • Discussion and
– Have the hypotheses
in fact been tested?
– Are the results shown
to support the
– Is the data properly
– Are the results
– Are patterns identified
– Are the limits of the
– Are the main points to
– Are links made to the
– Is there theoretical
– Are the speculations
• Important Tips:
• Read with an ear toward varied
• Use outlines to track the flow of your
• Try to make explicit connections
between your chapters
• Imagine yourself as critical reader,
rather than writer, and ask:
• Does this make sense?
• Have I defined all of the key
theories and ideas I’ve used?
• Are there any overt holes in my
• You’ve finished writing &
• What do you do next?
– Turn it into a book
– Publish some journal
articles around it
– Make copies for your
– Make a copy for yourself
• Or end up like me!
• It is a good idea to submit to a conference/
write a Working Paper/ give a seminar
• At worst you will get negative feedback
• You may achieve publication or useful
• You’ve finished writing
& defending your
• What do you do next?
– Just think, you’ll never
have to do it again!
Brause, R. S. (1999). Writing your doctoral dissertation (invisible rules for
success). USA: Routledge.
Lunenburg, F. C., & Irby, B. J. (2008). Writing a Successful Thesis or
Dissertation: Tips and Strategies for Students in the Social and
Behavioral Sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage
Miller, A. B. (2009). Finish your dissertation once and for all. USA: American
Rudestam, K.E. & Newton, R.R. (2007). Surviving your dissertation, 3rd ed.
USA: Sage Publications.
Silyn-Roberts, H. (2002). Writing for Science and Engineering: Papers,
Presentations and Reports. Oxford: Buttersworth-Heinemann.
PPT presentations of Toby Walsh
PPT presentations of Suliman Al-Hawamdeh , Division of Information
Studies , Nanyang Technological University
I wish you many happy memories when you write your doctoral