This article presents tips for writing a monograph dissertation, and effectively realising the related research. This content is an example of the components of your dissertation.
the figures below contains the content of a monograph dissertation. This content is an example of the components of your dissertation.
It is vital to see your dissertation project as a pull-based process where you aim all the activities to serve the realisation of the final product, your monograph. Start realising your research, and especially writing your dissertation as early as possible. There is no need to over-plan, or aim towards perfectionism at early stages. This way you will learn-by-doing.
In some cases, writing a monograph dissertation may be more straightforward than writing of a compilation. If you are left alone with your dissertation project, a monograph may be a sensible option. On the other hand, a compilation dissertation will provide an additional academic merit through publications, potentially better enabling academic career as a future option. An additional benefit of a compilation is the potential of involving other people as co-authors, as the publications are academic merit also for them. Many University departments favour compilation dissertations as the articles will improve their results, and enable following your progress. The risks of a monograph dissertation include, your research becoming obsolete if the process takes for too long, and a need to fully rewrite the entire dissertation, when you think it is ready, due to it not optimally documenting the core content. It would also be utterly unfortunate for you, should the preexaminers rejected your work completely at such a late stage.
The following will describe a recommendation for the writing process of a monograph dissertation and provides tips for different phases.
1. Research topic – initial outlining
The work towards writing a doctoral dissertation starts by outlining the research topic, including a potential research problem or a set of ideas. A perfect understanding is not required at this point, but your work will clarify while progressing. Ask others to comment your topic/ideas. Do not get stuck with the initial ideas. The topic may change and be refocused during the dissertation project. You do not need to know everything beforehand. Writing some elements of your dissertation will probably provide new ideas and help progressing.
Listing potential key words, aspects, or problems you are searching solutions for may help in outlining your research topic. A PhD student may think that his/her dissertation will provide a solution even to a broad challenge. In some rare cases it may be so, however, most often it is sensible to narrow your research topic adequately.
2. Initial literature review
Conduct an initial literature review on the subject matter of your dissertation. However, it is not practical to collect a large pile of books onto the corner of your table and read them thoroughly. Instead, screen some relevant material, e.g. 5-10 books and 10-30 scientific articles. This is to get a level of understanding of recent research close to your topic. Ask your supervisor and colleagues for advice when selecting the books and articles.
You can write summary/summaries by combining the core content of the books/articles discussing similar matters into a single report, e.g. 3-5 pages. These reports can later be utilised as a frame for the theoretical part of your dissertation. You may also be able to obtain credits for these summaries.
Beware of losing yourself in the literature for a too long time, or overemphasising the initial literature review. The purpose at this point is not to come up with perfect literature review, but familiarise with the subject matter. Use no longer than 1-2 months for this phase.
3. Research plan for dissertation
After initial literature review, start writing the first version of the research plan for your dissertation (see Figure 3). Even, if you have completed a research plan for your research group already when joining them, it may be sensible to either have a separate plan for reaching your dissertation, or adjust your original plan to cover these aspects. Among other purposes, your research plan will act as a mean of communication with colleagues and your supervisor. Research plan enables applying for research grants/other funding and guides your research. There is no need to aim for perfectionism as this is merely an initial version of your research plan. Your dissertation research plan will evolve during the process. We encourage flexible planning, meaning that it is important to have a vision towards which you aim with your dissertation; however, it is not meaningful to tie up your hands, instead allow the plan to live while your understanding is enhanced.
Do maintain the following parallel versions of your research plan:
- 4 pages (the main version)
- 1 page summary
- (more extensive version for your own purposes, where you describe the scientific gap your dissertation aims to address and how you realise the practical aspects of your research)
These versions enable more effective application of research grants. You can adjust and target different foundations and funding bodies, instead of always writing a completely new one. Do update your research plan regularly, at least in the pace of application deadlines for research grants, 2-3 times a year.
More extensive and precise version of your research plan can be done later during your dissertation process, if needed for your own purposes. In the more extensive version, you can better describe the scientific problem that is tackled by your dissertation, and how you realise the empirical research.
Figure 3. Research plan content for grant applications
4. Research method
Next, it may be sensible to study scientific research methods. This way you ensure that you realise your research in a manner that is scientifically sound. In addition, you may be able to obtain some credits.
Concentrate on methods that you believe are useful for your research (discuss with your supervisor and colleagues). Research methods include terminology that may seem difficult to grasp. Unnecessary snobbery with this terminology is not essential; instead try to adequately understand the essence for the purpose of your dissertation work.
Some clearly written books may help in adopting the necessary aspects. In our opinion best books are ones originally designed to be used as University textbooks and that are targeted for large markets, such as the USA. However, beware of unnecessarily complicated books as the issue itself is already complex enough. The best books are field specific. For example, in the field of industrial engineering and management, Bryman & Bell – Business research methods and Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill – Research methods for business students may prove beneficial.
5. Planning experimental research
Using your research plan, design the practical steps to conduct your experiments. You may also be able to utilise the results of earlier research projects, or even utilise work by other people, i.e. lab assistants or students, to conduct some of this work. Do not forget that you will have to acknowledge the contribution of others in your manuscripts.
Update your research plan after planning experimental research.
6. Realising experimental research
Realise your research plan. Be systematic and remember adequate documenting. If your research includes interviews, record and transcribe everything. In research that includes measurements, it is vital to adequately record all measurements, deviations, and observations. This way you will have your material in a written form, enabling effective analyses. The motivation for systematic documenting is that you may think differently afterwards and wish to analyse from an angle you did not think of during the experiments.
7. Analysing and documenting results
Analyse the data you have obtained. If your research in qualitative, avoid overcomplicated presentation of your results. The results should be presented so that outsiders find it easy to grasp. For example, if you have an intention of dividing your findings into categories, four may be better than twelve. Clear results are also easier to publish!
Start writing the practical elements of your dissertation and ask others to comment.
8. Finalising theory
Write the theoretical elements of your dissertation. This means that now it is the time to conduct a systematic literature review.
Utilise the theoretical summaries you may have done before, and condense them where necessary. Complement the theory with new aspects, viewpoints and references. Describe the theoretical frame of your subject matter. Synthesise the essence of theory that is relevant to your research and present this at the end of your theory chapter.
Google Scholar is one way to find references effectively. However, as mentioned in the beginning of this guide, concentrate on essential and avoid unnecessarily chasing terms. Try to understand the true message of the articles you cite.
9. Writing of introduction chapter
Now write the Introduction chapter. Utilise a funnel principle, meaning narrowing the focus, paragraph-by-paragraph, starting from a more general and ending with the research questions, which you effectively answer in the thesis. This will help in making your text more logical for an outsider and easier to follow.
The core content of Introduction:
- Justify why the topic of your dissertation is important (Background & research environment).
- Describe the research problem and its background (Objectives & Scope).
- Consider whether the original research questions are still correct by comparing them with your results, theory, and adjust the questions if needed. Using research questions aid the reader to follow the structure of your dissertation and to understand the logic of your research.
- Write a description of the scientific approach of your research (methodology) and how your research has been realised.
10. Making and documenting conclusions
Write the Discussion section of your dissertation by paying attention to the following:
- Answer your research questions
- Reflect your research and its results
against existing literature
against practice. Who benefits of your research and how?
- Assess the scientific reliability and validity of your research.
- Describe the limitations of your research.
- Describe any recommended topics for further study.
11. Finalising your dissertation
Check whether the research questions, reasoning and the results match. Refine the research questions if necessary. Pay special attention to the way your research questions and the answers have been worded as the answer must match the questions exactly.
Write the Abstract by briefly describing:
the topic of your dissertation
justification / why is it needed
utilised research methods
theoretical and practical implications
Finalise the different elements of your dissertation. Pay special attention to the style and format requirements of the publisher.
12. Give the dissertation to your supervisor for final comments
Carefully consider your supervisor’s comments and make changes in the manuscript, if necessary. If he/she does not understand what you have written, you should find another way to write it.
If you are not a native English speaker, send the dissertation for a professional language checker before forwarding it to your opponents. Finally, it may be beneficial to have someone to proof-read your text. If you cannot find anybody do it yourself.
13. Forward your dissertation to your opponents
If you receive critical feedback, do not get depressed! Be analytical, this is the time for a final effort. It may be beneficial to discuss the comments with others, as you may overreact when your own work is being criticised. The required changes are probably smaller than you first think. Contemplate the fundamental reasons behind the feedback, and tackle them. Be systematic and make the required changes to the dissertation.
Prepare a point-to-point response to the reviewers, where
you clearly present any changes made. This will allow the pre-examiners to avoid reading the entire dissertation again
you present counter-arguments for issues that you believe are not necessary to change