guide to writing a dissertation

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Guide to writing a dissertation

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Establishing the importance of your topic, and the potential areas of research within that topic, will help you more easily write your introduction, literature review, and methodology the three areas that most often comprise a dissertation proposal. The proposal should delineate the purpose of your dissertation, as well as outline how you propose to conduct your research.

Having a detailed and comprehensive dissertation proposal will aid you in the long-term dissertation writing process, allowing you to stay focused and avoiding becoming overly ambitious in the scope of your research. As you consider the three chapters that will most likely comprise your proposal — the introduction, the literature review, and the methodology — also consider the factors that contribute to that goal.

This includes reading and researching, particularly literature within the last five years, collecting and analyzing information, organizing and reorganizing your arguments and analysis, drafting and rewriting each section of each chapter, and proofreading, possibly with the help of academic professionals. The first part of your proposal is the first chapter. This will include an introduction to the topic, as well as background on the problem. Next, you will typically present the statement of the problem you hope to address with your study, as well as the purpose of the study.

You will then delve into your research questions and design of your study in a truncated form — the third chapter of your proposal will go more deeply into these areas. The second part of your proposal is Chapter 2, which is your literature review. In this review, you will develop a synthesis of the extant literature around your topic. This will be based on studies from accredited scholars and researchers within the past five years.

This chapter helps to identify the gaps in the literature, which you are proposing to fill with your study. Finally, the proposal concludes with Chapter 3, the methodology. In this chapter, you will document how you propose to conduct the study with enough detail so that others would be able to replicate your process.

This will include presenting and justifying your methodology and methods, as well as your population, sample size, data collection and analysis methods, and limitations. When you begin to think seriously about your dissertation, as well as who your advisor will be since this person also serves as the chair for your dissertation committee , you should also start to think about what other professors could serve as members of your committee.

Each committee has its own form, as well as its own set of expectations; however, there are some generalizations to consider when thinking about your committee. First, just like your advisor, your committee members will have an active role in helping shape your dissertation proposal, and will read your final dissertation in its entirety, offering recommendations, notes, and suggestions for changes.

Indeed, your committee serves as your primary reading audience, a fact that should remain in the forefront of your thinking as you write your project. Members should be chosen to create a balanced and comprehensive committee. Most often, this means that you should choose professors who will be able to provide methodological or discipline-related expertise. While one or some may be within your department, you may also choose committee members from complementary departments, particularly if your project is interdisciplinary in nature.

Dissertations are daunting! They take time and effort, and planning can be your best ally in making sure that you have devoted the needed energy and time to write, re-write, and go through the revision process with your advisor and committee. With any sort of writing that includes complex thought, an outline is a lifesaver. For a dissertation, it is almost compulsory. First writing, and then keeping to, a dissertation outline will allow you to stay focused on your main argument and not go adrift of your primary claims.

Most dissertations have a similar procedure, which you can follow below:. Literature Review: The literature review is an essential — if not overwhelming — element to your dissertation. Often requiring over 75 sources, most of which should be from the last five years of academic research, the literature review not only does offers a justification for your particular focus of research by synthesizing the existing literature and identifying those gaps, but it also provides a rationale for your methodological approach.

One of the more comprehensive elements of your project, the literature review requires that you both summarize and analyze the extant research in your field of study. The summary part of the literature review is not just a condensation of the individual studies that have been conducted in your area of study, but instead should be a cogent and focused explanation of the main issues, challenges, gaps, and germane findings of those studies.

In this way, the summary of the current literature helps you to define the field of study as it exists in the last five years, as well as rationalize the need for your own study to contribute to that field. This element requires you to engage with the text, not as a passive reader, but as an active academic. Sometimes, the actual writing of the dissertation can be the hardest part.

This stems, in part, from the sheer volume of writing you need to do, which can seem overpowering. To help calm those nerves, think of how you can best manage your time to write most efficiently and effectively. Consider giving yourself a weekly word count target — for instance, 1, words every week — to help you feel motivated. Or carve out the same day and time each week to work — Dissertation Wednesdays — which can make you feel accountable.

Everyone is different in what works and what stimulates. You, a blank screen, and a blinking cursor. Instead, try these methods to help loosen you up and get the words flowing through your fingertips. Everyone deals with procrastination, but how can you really make the best out of every opportunity? Sometimes taking a break is important to reformulate your ideas or get a new perspective on your existing work. First, consider taking inventory and checking to see if you are burned out or merely avoiding the work you need to do.

It can be helpful to figure out when you seem to procrastinate and what those behaviors often are. This will help you stop the behavior. It may also be useful to consider why you are procrastinating. Sometimes there are psychological barriers that are stopping you from working — a fear of failure, or conversely, fear of success.

Naming what is behind your avoidance can also be invaluable to getting past your stoppage. Try creating a productive work environment, if you still find yourself procrastinating. Working with the television on or with roommates around might not aid in your writing process.

Constantly checking email or watching cute animal videos may have the same effect. Find a space where you have a chance at getting your best work done. The best way to write your dissertation is…to write your dissertation.

It sounds silly, but that is exactly what you need to do: fortify your willpower and write — even a little bit — every single day. Treat writing your dissertation like any other part of your daily routine — taking your vitamins, brushing your teeth, eating your vegetables. Be rational in your daily goals. Instead, start with an achievable amount of time, perhaps 15 minutes to start, and work your way up.

Schedule breaks and allow yourself to turn your brain off every now and then. Instead of the standard structure outlined here, you might organise your chapters around different themes or case studies. Other important elements of the dissertation include the title page , abstract , and reference list.

Many programs have strict requirements for formatting the dissertation title page. The title page is often used as cover when printing and binding your dissertation. The acknowledgements section is usually optional, and gives space for you to thank everyone who helped you in writing your dissertation.

This might include your supervisors, participants in your research, and friends or family who supported you. Learn more. The abstract is a short summary of your dissertation, usually about words long. In the abstract, make sure to:. In the table of contents, list all of your chapters and subheadings and their page numbers.

The dissertation contents page gives the reader an overview of your structure and helps easily navigate the document. All parts of your dissertation should be included in the table of contents, including the appendices. You can generate a table of contents automatically in Word. If you have used a lot of tables and figures in your dissertation, you should itemise them in a numbered list. You can automatically generate this list using the Insert Caption feature in Word. If you have used a lot of abbreviations in your dissertation, you can include them in an alphabetised list of abbreviations so that the reader can easily look up their meanings.

If you have used a lot of highly specialised terms that will not be familiar to your reader, it might be a good idea to include a glossary. List the terms alphabetically and explain each term with a brief description or definition. The introduction should:. Everything in the introduction should be clear, engaging, and relevant to your research. By the end, the reader should understand the what , why and how of your research. Not sure how? Read our guide on how to write a dissertation introduction.

Before you start on your research, you should have conducted a literature review to gain a thorough understanding of the academic work that already exists on your topic. This means:. For example, it might aim to show how your research:. The literature review often becomes the basis for a theoretical framework , in which you define and analyse the key theories, concepts and models that frame your research.

In this section you can answer descriptive research questions about the relationship between concepts or variables. The methodology chapter or section describes how you conducted your research, allowing your reader to assess its validity. You should generally include:. Your aim in the methodology is to accurately report what you did, as well as convincing the reader that this was the best approach to answering your research questions or objectives. Next, you report the results of your research.

You can structure this section around sub-questions, hypotheses, or topics. Only report results that are relevant to your objectives and research questions. In some disciplines, the results section is strictly separated from the discussion, while in others the two are combined.

For example, for qualitative methods like in-depth interviews, the presentation of the data will often be woven together with discussion and analysis, while in quantitative and experimental research, the results should be presented separately before you discuss their meaning.

In the results section it can often be helpful to include tables, graphs and charts.

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Your mindset is an important part of the process. Think of it this way: if you follow this dissertation guide and you still don't manage to write the paper, you can always rely on the best dissertation writing service. With that sense of security, you'll carry on doing your best. However, the term dissertation is also used for the final project that PhD candidates present before gaining their doctoral degree.

It doesn't matter whether we are talking about an undergraduate or PhD dissertation; the form of the assignment is very similar, although the PhD project is much more serious. This guide will be useful both for undergraduate and PhD students, who are working on their dissertation projects, as well as for students developing theses for MA programs. Most candidates usually start with great enthusiasm, but this intimidating project can throw them to despair.

The process of planning, research, and writing will be the longest and most complex challenge you've ever committed to. The end result will be very rewarding, but you might go through several obstacles to get to that point. These are some of the most common problems students have when writing their dissertations:.

The dissertation may seem like an overwhelming challenge. We offer the tips that make the dissertation seem like something you can do. You'll slowly head into the right direction when you follow this guide on how to write a dissertation step by step. As the term itself suggests, this is a proposal for the final dissertation project, which should persuade the committee members that you're going to commit to a valuable, interesting, and complex questions. This is a shorter paper than the final dissertation, but it's equally as important because this is the point when you'll think of a significant question and you'll set up a plan for assembling information and writing the paper.

Even if the proposal is not mandatory in your university, you should still write it and discuss the points with your mentor. These are the main points to pay attention to when wondering how to write a dissertation proposal:. All these questions are important for making the final commitment. Make sure to brainstorm and choose a theme that will be valuable, unique, and reasonable. You don't want to end up with a too complex question that would trick you in a dead end.

The question you choose should lead you to a testable hypothesis that you can prove with strong arguments. Discuss few alternatives of the dissertation title with your mentor before you start writing the proposal. If you want to make the proposal convincing, its format has to be clean and easy to follow.

Here are the points you should include in the proposal:. Often students get stuck with this part of the dissertation and ask for dissertation proposal writing help at professional services. That's also okay as it can be really difficult to write or there is completely no time for it. The dissertation research stage is going to determine the overall development of your project.

It has to be methodical and effective, since you don't want to waste your time reading and analyzing irrelevant resources. Here are a few tips that will help you go through it:. It's important to find enough resources to fully understand the phenomenon you're focused on, but you'll need to stop researching at one point or another. Many students fall into a trap: they think they have to read everything that was ever written regarding the dissertation question they are about to elaborate.

How much time do you plan to spend in the research stage? Make a timeline and stay committed to it. The point of the research stage is to show you have read around the topic and you understand the previous research that has been conducted, but you've also understood its limitations.

The Internet is a good starting place during the research stage. However, you have to realize that not everything you read on the Internet is absolutely true. Double-check the information you find and make sure it comes from a trustworthy resource. Use Google Scholar to locate reliable academic sources. Wikipedia is not a reliable source, but it can take you to some great publication if you check out the list of references on the pages of your interest. Librarians are really helpful at this point of the project development.

Don't avoid the actual library and ask the librarian to provide you with some interesting publications. You have to take notes; otherwise you'll end up seriously confused and you won't know where you located a certain important argument that you plan to use. Use Evernote , Penzu , or another online tool to write down notes about your impressions, as well as the sources you plan to reference.

Now, you're left with the most important stage of the dissertation writing process: composing the actual project, which will be the final product of all your efforts. It's surprising to see that many students have some level of confidence during the previous two stages of the process, but they crack when they realize they don't really know how to write a dissertation. Remember: you already did a great job up to this point, so you have to proceed. Everything is easier when you have a plan.

You already have the dissertation proposal, which is a preliminary outline for the actual dissertation. However, you still need a more detailed outline for the large project. Did the research stage lead you in an unexpected direction? Make sure to include the new points in your outline. To understand how to write a dissertation introduction you need to know that this chapter should include a background of the problem, and a statement of the issue.

Then, you'll clarify the purpose of the study, as well as the research question. Next, you'll need to provide clear definitions of the terms related to the project. You will also expose your assumptions and expectations of the final results. In this chapter of the dissertation, you will review the research process and the most important acknowledgements you've come down to. This part of the dissertation is focused on the way you located the resources and the methods of implementation of the results.

You will be spending a whole lot of time on this topic, so holding your interest is a great way to maintain your commitment to your dissertation project. First, think about topics that would fit with your current career or your career goals. What makes sense for where you see yourself going personally and professionally? Next, you must consider whether your topic is meaningful to your chosen academic field, and if there is a gap in the literature.

That is, you want to make sure your choice has intellectual significance and has not already been written about. During this phase, it may be useful to seek the advice of academic professionals who may help you identify gaps in research or discover a previously unknown problem that your research can address.

Your topic should be discussed with your chair or advisor, and will ultimately have to be approved by your committee, so allow yourself some flexibility in tweaking, altering, and slightly changing your ideas to best align with what your scholarly advisors have to say. Once you have decided on your topic, you should start thinking about how to frame it as a problem that needs to be addressed, and the argument that you will be making about how to address such a problem.

This requires not only research to situate your claims and your topic as a whole but also some analysis of how you will approach this problem through original research. In large part, choosing an advisor also called a chair or a mentor can be just as important as selecting a topic.

Your advisor should not only be a scholar in your field, but should also be someone with whom you have — or can have — an academic relationship. An advisor is there to guide you, to offer suggestions and advice on how to re-frame or re-think elements of your topic, research, and dissertation; an advisor also is there to help keep you on track through the dissertation phases — from choosing your topic to writing the proposal to writing your results to defending your dissertation.

He or she should be an ally whom you can trust, but also someone who can motivate and critique you. Consider choosing a professor with whom you have had class before and have had a positive experience with; it can be more challenging to have an advisor with whom you have never worked.

Establishing the importance of your topic, and the potential areas of research within that topic, will help you more easily write your introduction, literature review, and methodology the three areas that most often comprise a dissertation proposal. The proposal should delineate the purpose of your dissertation, as well as outline how you propose to conduct your research.

Having a detailed and comprehensive dissertation proposal will aid you in the long-term dissertation writing process, allowing you to stay focused and avoiding becoming overly ambitious in the scope of your research. As you consider the three chapters that will most likely comprise your proposal — the introduction, the literature review, and the methodology — also consider the factors that contribute to that goal. This includes reading and researching, particularly literature within the last five years, collecting and analyzing information, organizing and reorganizing your arguments and analysis, drafting and rewriting each section of each chapter, and proofreading, possibly with the help of academic professionals.

The first part of your proposal is the first chapter. This will include an introduction to the topic, as well as background on the problem. Next, you will typically present the statement of the problem you hope to address with your study, as well as the purpose of the study. You will then delve into your research questions and design of your study in a truncated form — the third chapter of your proposal will go more deeply into these areas. The second part of your proposal is Chapter 2, which is your literature review.

In this review, you will develop a synthesis of the extant literature around your topic. This will be based on studies from accredited scholars and researchers within the past five years. This chapter helps to identify the gaps in the literature, which you are proposing to fill with your study. Finally, the proposal concludes with Chapter 3, the methodology. In this chapter, you will document how you propose to conduct the study with enough detail so that others would be able to replicate your process.

This will include presenting and justifying your methodology and methods, as well as your population, sample size, data collection and analysis methods, and limitations. When you begin to think seriously about your dissertation, as well as who your advisor will be since this person also serves as the chair for your dissertation committee , you should also start to think about what other professors could serve as members of your committee.

Each committee has its own form, as well as its own set of expectations; however, there are some generalizations to consider when thinking about your committee. First, just like your advisor, your committee members will have an active role in helping shape your dissertation proposal, and will read your final dissertation in its entirety, offering recommendations, notes, and suggestions for changes. Indeed, your committee serves as your primary reading audience, a fact that should remain in the forefront of your thinking as you write your project.

Members should be chosen to create a balanced and comprehensive committee. Most often, this means that you should choose professors who will be able to provide methodological or discipline-related expertise. While one or some may be within your department, you may also choose committee members from complementary departments, particularly if your project is interdisciplinary in nature.

Dissertations are daunting! They take time and effort, and planning can be your best ally in making sure that you have devoted the needed energy and time to write, re-write, and go through the revision process with your advisor and committee. With any sort of writing that includes complex thought, an outline is a lifesaver. For a dissertation, it is almost compulsory.

First writing, and then keeping to, a dissertation outline will allow you to stay focused on your main argument and not go adrift of your primary claims. Most dissertations have a similar procedure, which you can follow below:. Literature Review: The literature review is an essential — if not overwhelming — element to your dissertation.

Often requiring over 75 sources, most of which should be from the last five years of academic research, the literature review not only does offers a justification for your particular focus of research by synthesizing the existing literature and identifying those gaps, but it also provides a rationale for your methodological approach. One of the more comprehensive elements of your project, the literature review requires that you both summarize and analyze the extant research in your field of study.

The summary part of the literature review is not just a condensation of the individual studies that have been conducted in your area of study, but instead should be a cogent and focused explanation of the main issues, challenges, gaps, and germane findings of those studies. In this way, the summary of the current literature helps you to define the field of study as it exists in the last five years, as well as rationalize the need for your own study to contribute to that field.

This element requires you to engage with the text, not as a passive reader, but as an active academic. Sometimes, the actual writing of the dissertation can be the hardest part. This stems, in part, from the sheer volume of writing you need to do, which can seem overpowering. To help calm those nerves, think of how you can best manage your time to write most efficiently and effectively. Consider giving yourself a weekly word count target — for instance, 1, words every week — to help you feel motivated.

Or carve out the same day and time each week to work — Dissertation Wednesdays — which can make you feel accountable. Everyone is different in what works and what stimulates. You, a blank screen, and a blinking cursor. Instead, try these methods to help loosen you up and get the words flowing through your fingertips. Everyone deals with procrastination, but how can you really make the best out of every opportunity? Sometimes taking a break is important to reformulate your ideas or get a new perspective on your existing work.

First, consider taking inventory and checking to see if you are burned out or merely avoiding the work you need to do. It can be helpful to figure out when you seem to procrastinate and what those behaviors often are.

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It's often easier to add information, than have to cut down a long chapter that you've slaved over for hours. Save your work! Remember to save your work frequently to somewhere you can access it easily. It's a good idea to at least save a copy to a cloud-based service like Google Docs or Dropbox so that you can access it from any computer - if you only save to your own PC, laptop or tablet, you could lose everything if you lose or break your device.

After the initial enthusiasm wears off, it can be hard to keep motivated — it's also natural to feel confused and overwhelmed at points throughout your dissertation; this is all part of sustaining a longer project. Here are some suggestions to keep you going:.

Break down large, unappealing tasks into smaller bearable ones. Molehills are always easier to climb than mountains! Give yourself rewards when you've completed tasks - these might range from a cup of coffee, to an exercise session, or a night out.

If you're not in a good thinking mood, do more straightforward tasks like compiling the bibliography or doing the title page. If you're feeling confused about what you're doing, try writing a short paragraph summarising what your research is about. This can help you find a focus again. If you're feeling overwhelmed, try identifying the one thing that you need to do next ; often this will logically lead to further steps, and you'll be able to get started again.

Talk to friends or your supervisor about what you're doing ; explaining where you are in your project and how it's going can help clarify your thinking. This stage can be time consuming, so leave yourself enough time to have a final read through of your dissertation to pick up any lingering mistakes or typos. Good presentation matters — it gives a professional appearance and puts the reader in a good mood. So it is worth making sure you have enough time to proof-read and get your layout right.

If you're trying to track down that missing reference for your bibliography, you can always ask your Academic Liaison Librarian for help finding it. Undergraduate dissertations are usually 'soft bound'. This means having a soft card cover, with the pages joined together with comb, spiral, or thermal binding. You can get this done at many print shops, often while you wait.

It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results. Home Planning your dissertation Researching your dissertation Managing your data Writing up your dissertation Introduction Managing your time Structuring your dissertation Writing up Keeping going Finishing off and checking through Useful links for dissertations and major projects Study Advice Guide: Dissertations and Major Projects Download a printable PDF version of this guide.

Study Advice Helping students to achieve study success with guides, video tutorials, seminars and one-to-one advice sessions. Maths Support Centre Help with the maths and statistics you need to succeed in your studies. Academic writing LibGuide Expert guidance on punctuation, grammar, writing style and proof-reading. Guide to citing references Includes guidance on why, when and how to use references correctly in your academic writing.

The Final Chapter An excellent guide from the University of Leeds on all aspects of research projects. Academic Phrasebank Use this site for examples of linking phrases and ways to refer to sources. Data literacy support ELearning course and free resource to anyone looking to build fundamental data skills, regardless of skill level.

Managing your time Don't panic! Plan an overall work schedule Break down your dissertation into stages and plan backwards from your deadline to fit them all in. Managing time for your dissertation video Watch this brief video tutorial for more on the topic.

Managing time for your dissertation transcript Read along while watching the video tutorial. Structuring your dissertation Dissertations based on qualitative or quantitative research are usually organised as follows: Other dissertations may be based around discussions of themes or texts: Abstract Chapter 1.

Structuring your dissertation video Watch this brief video tutorial for more on the topic. Structuring your dissertation transcript Read along while watching the video tutorial. Writing up Your dissertation may be the longest piece of writing you have ever done, but there are ways to approach it that will help to make it less overwhelming.

Write your references properly and in full from the beginning. Writing up your dissertation video Watch this brief video tutorial for more on the topic. Writing up your dissertation transcript Read along while watching the video tutorial. Dropbox Cloud-based storage for electronic files.

Literature reviews LibGuide Expert guidance on researching and writing your literature review. Doing your literature review video Watch this brief video tutorial for more on the topic. Doing your literature review transcript Read along while watching the video tutorial. Keeping going After the initial enthusiasm wears off, it can be hard to keep motivated — it's also natural to feel confused and overwhelmed at points throughout your dissertation; this is all part of sustaining a longer project.

Here are some suggestions to keep you going: Break down large, unappealing tasks into smaller bearable ones. Finishing off and checking through This stage can be time consuming, so leave yourself enough time to have a final read through of your dissertation to pick up any lingering mistakes or typos.

Talking through your revised dissertation plan or structure with your supervisor can help you stay focused on the research, and determine if it's logical. As you consider what needs to be achieved by the submission deadline, Christie recommends that you factor in time for:. This careful approach can be rewarded by the end result, suggests Alex, who also recommends Gantt charts as a useful tool for planning the research and writing process for some writers.

When you're ready to begin writing, aim for a suitable target - for example 1, words each week, as this can be both motivating and productive. Start writing straight away, and use the writing process as a tool to help you better understand the topic. Check that you've addressed everything you want to cover once a section is complete.

Each should serve its own particular function, linking well with the rest of the content. Editing can be the beginning, not the endpoint of your writing,' says Alex. You should frequently back up, make research notes and maintain a comprehensive list of your sources. Alex's colleague, Marta Ulanicka, also a learning development adviser at Leicester, stresses the importance of maintaining a questioning and critical mindset throughout the dissertation writing process - both in relation to your own work and findings, as well as those of others.

You'll also need to explain your reasoning to the reader. An assessor cannot give you the credit for forming a strong argument unless you provide evidence of how you reached a particular conclusion. As well as ensuring your bibliography contains plenty of references, make sure you've paid attention to the correct spelling of names and theories. A thorough editing process is vital to ensuring you produce a well-structured, coherent and polished piece of work. Leave yourself sufficient time to engage with your writing at a number of levels - from reassessing the logic of the whole piece, to proofreading, to checking you've paid attention to aspects such as the correct spelling of names and theories and the required referencing format.

The University of Leicester's The art of editing study guide suggests a five stage process to dissertation writing and provides further guidance on what might be involved at each stage. In addition to ensuring your main argument is supported by relevant citations, also make it clear to the reader that you're aware of the contributions of the most influential theories and research within your topic - as not doing so might make a writer appear ill-informed.

If you've used your time efficiently and adhered to a plan, even if things don't go exactly how you envisaged, there's no need to panic. Remember, you've chosen your dissertation topic after careful consideration, so ignore any irrational thoughts about possibly starting again from scratch.

Ultimately, your dissertation will become one of your greatest-ever achievements. Jobs and work experience Search graduate jobs Job profiles Work experience and internships Employer profiles What job would suit me? Job sectors Apprenticeships Working abroad Gap year Self-employment. Search postgraduate courses Funding postgraduate study Universities and departments Study abroad Conversion courses Law qualifications.

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University life. On this page Choose your research topic carefully Check what's required of you Have a clear goal and structure Write as you go Continue to question Don't underestimate the editing stage Enjoy the achievement. Your approach to one of the most important challenges of your academic career will determine the quality of your finished work - discover how to devise and stick to a work schedule Devoting sufficient time to planning and structuring your written work while at university is important, but when it comes to that all-encompassing dissertation, it's essential that you prepare well.