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Writing and Publishing the Dissertation: The Writing Process

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Writing the Dissertation

Randolph, Justus J., (2009, June 4). A guide to writing the dissertation literature review. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation 14(13).

Levine, S. Joseph. Writing or presenting your thesis or dissertation.

What Does a Dissertation Look Like?

Most dissertations are organized around FIVE sections or steps. Understanding these systematic steps helps you find and use the published work of other researchers, and that understanding will help you write your own paper.

Not all doctoral level programs use the same research terminology, but in general the sections are arranged as follows.

  • Introduction to the problem or purpose of the study and why research was undertaken,
  • The literature review: to show that no one else has covered the topic or to show how it builds on someone else's work,
  • The description of the methodology or procedure used to research and gather data on the problem: including data gathering instruments, participants and designs, research instruments,
  • The results or data collected: eg. this methodology for that problem,
  • The analysis or the conclusions, discussion or summary drawn from the data or results.

What Is a Literature Review?

After the act of researching your literature review and exploring those of other researchers, comes the equally engaging act of writing your own.

Notes on structuring a literature review: ideas on how-to and how-not-to.

  • In order to familiarize yourself with the different formats used for literature reviews, look at many literature reviews in the published dissertations found under the Dissertations tab in this subject guide. 
  • Consider a set of documents that discuss one or more themes on a subject.
  • Model the documents as a matrix: each row is a document, each column is a topic potentially discussed by that document (this is not unlike a document/term matrix).
  • An annotated bibliography: “write across the rows” -- dealing with each document in turn. This is a good way to annotate individual articles to remind the researcher for later retrieval, but makes for a very poor literature review.
  • Another approach would be a meta-analysis of results in a given discipline or on a subtopic or theme.
  • A best practices literature review is thematically based and a good process to develop one is to, “write down the columns”: taking up each theme in turn and discussing it with reference to the documents.
  • Analyze the document strengths and weakness as it relates to your theme or topic, much as a movie reviewer does a movie.

Visit the SAGE Research Methods database for more information about developing a literature review. Also see our guide Research Guide for Doctoral Students.

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