What do Colleges and Universities Expect from your Dissertation?

We are often asked by our clients, ‘what does the University or College actually expect from my Thesis?’ That’s a really pertinent question and here’s what we think based on our three decades in this game…


As one might expect, there are some essentials expected no matter what the College, Institute or University: Spelling, punctuation, grammar, formatting, headings, figures, tables, citations are repeated over and over in even a cursory glance through regulations (and, you should always read the regulations fully. We are often amazed here at the Clinic with the amount of postgrads that have failed to read regulations in their entirety and then wonder why Examiners mark them down.  Of course, if you can’t get these easy-to-follow instructions right at postgraduate level, the supervisor and examiners are not going to read on to see if you got the research question and answers right and you are starting from a negative position! Fortunately, this is one of many areas where editors excel. If you provide your Departmental guidelines to us, the editors at the Dissertation Doctor’s Clinic can ensure that your dissertation is formatted correctly, without spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors.


As you might expect, Universities and Colleges offer a great deal of advice on this section. Perhaps the most consistent concern is the fact that all too many students tend to ONLY paraphrase or quote the literature. Evidence of having read a book or a particular study alone is not sufficient to secure that all important grade. Evidence certainly provides the foundation of a study, but a thesis requires structure, analysis, evaluation, interpretation, and most importantly, synthesis of the evidence. A student should neither supply too little an amount of literature or too extensive an amount of literature. So, what’s the rule of thumb? Supply enough information to effectively support your topic, whilst avoiding providing literature that does not truly pertain to your topic. Quantity and quality: these are the keys to an effective literature review.


Let’s jump to the end! The conclusion is really significant. Our experience from our examination colleagues is that the introduction and conclusion are often the first two paragraphs read. Although a conclusion should map back and/or correspond to the introduction, it has a much larger remit. A conclusion should utilise the information provided to take the next step for the reader. It should offer applications, directions, recommendations and reflections. The conclusion should extend beyond the boundaries of the research and provide vision. Your vision.


The general consensus revealed a prevalence of broad, unclear theses. Some people offer grandiose theses that are far beyond the scope of a dissertation. Universities advise students to keep the thesis succinct and concise. You should be able to clearly explain your thesis to anyone within one or two minutes. If you try to do this and find yourself flailing for an explanation or taking ten minutes to provide an adequate explanation, you might consider narrowing your focus further. Don’t think about inventing the wheel; focus on one of the spokes!


There are far too many research questions that are not new, exciting or even well thought out. Lots of  research questions are predictable (as is the entire dissertation) or meaningless (because no new information has been considered). A meaningful research question must be relevant and unexplored. It must provide at least a slight shift from previous explorations. It must give credence to your research efforts.


In conclusion, although writing a dissertation can be a daunting process, you can rely on certain specific qualities that will make your dissertation outstanding:

  • Have a really interesting and thought provoking research question that will engage your readers.
  • Have a solid structure from start to finish.
  • Ensure your literature review is wide-ranging, contemporaneous, properly referenced and evaluate, connect, and interpret it.
  • Do not restate, repeat or bring up new data in your conclusion. Instead, consider what the next step should be. Where is your dissertation leading for your as a researcher and for the potential reader?
  • Ensure you have kept to your Department’s ‘Dissertation Writing’ guidelines.
  • Seek advice when you are stuck.

The editors at the Dissertation Doctor’s Clinic are knowledgeable about every facet of dissertation writing. We will support you every step of the way. Bon Voyage!

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