Dissertations: Conducting Research

Instruction: These are guidelines for conducting a dissertation which usually pose a big problem for post graduate students. This is an adaptation of a text placed in the Internet without copyright limitations. You are sure to realize that, no matter how advanced you are in your field or how novel and promising your ideas might be for your research, it will take too much time for you to achieve your goal because of your failure to demonstrate your achievements in the selected field. On reading and understanding the following text your purpose will be to verify what you know about the standard guidelines of writing a dissertation. This will be your goal as a competitor for the candidate degree. However your goal as an examinee is to get ready to present these guidelines employing the vocabulary that you acquire in this section at your English candidate exam.

Writing a dissertation in your field is similar to writing a scientific report, in which the main goal is the demonstration of acquired knowledge in a selected field. The research in dissertations is a difficult aspect as your field of science has many diverse directions.

Despite the diversity of subjects, there are accepted methodological approaches in writing dissertations. This article will provide a guide on the important elements of dissertations, and the way they can be approached.

The Steps in Dissertations

The common steps that can be identified through the process of writing a dissertation are as follows:

Identifying a research problem — such step in dissertations implies asking questions regarding an identified problem, considering the feasibility of them being answered.

A literature review A review of literature will indicate the gaps in specific knowledge in the selected field. It should be highlighted that in terms of division to sections, it can be stated that the literature review is one of the largest sections in dissertations, serving two purposes, i.e. demonstrating the accumulated knowledge and identifying the gaps in it.

Formulating a hypothesis — basically, hypotheses are the assumptions made through the preliminary investigation. One or more are selected as the basis of the dissertation, and which are tested in the study.

Data collection — according to the established hypothesis, the type of data to be collected will be determined. At the same time, the nature of the requested data will require assessing the most effective methods of its collection, e.g. quantitative or qualitative data. Accordingly, several aspects should be determined in dissertations such as the samples, the body of data, and the appropriate method of data measurement.

Analysis of findings and presentation results.

Useful Tips:

The «thinking about it stage» is when you are finally faced with the reality of completing your degree. Usually the early phases of a graduate program proceed in clear and very structured ways. The beginning phases of a graduate program proceed in much the

same manner as an undergraduate degree program. There are clear requirements and expectations, and the graduate student moves along, step by step, getting ever closer to the completion of the program.

One day, however, the clear structure begins to diminish and now you’re approaching the thesis/dissertation stage. This is a new and different time. These next steps are more and more defined by you and not your adviser, the program, or the department.

Be realistic about the time that you’re willing to commit to your research project. If it’s a 10 year project that you’re thinking about admit it at the beginning and then decide whether or not you have 10 years to give to it. If the project you’d like to do is going to demand more time than you’re willing to commit then you have a problem.

Research proposal. Assuming you’ve done a good job of «thinking about» your research project, you’re ready to actually prepare the proposal. A word of caution those students who tend to have a problem in coming up with a viable proposal often are the ones that have tried to rush through the «thinking about it» part and move too quickly to trying to write the proposal. Here’s a final check. Do each of these statements describe you? If they do you’re ready to prepare your research proposal.

I am familiar with other research that has been conducted in areas related to my research project.

( Yes, it’s me) ( No, not me)

I have a clear understanding of the steps that I will use in conducting my research.

( Yes, it’s me) ( No, not me)

I feel that I have the ability to get through each of the steps necessary to complete my research project.

( Yes, it’s me) ( No, not me)

I know that I am motivated and have the drive to get through all of the steps in the research project.

( Yes, it’s me) ( No, not me)

Writing a dissertation. The major myth in writing a dissertation is that you start writing at Chapter One and then finish your writing at Chapter Five. This is seldom the case. The most productive approach in writing the dissertation is to begin writing those parts of the dissertation that you are most comfortable with. Then move about in your writing by completing various sections as you think of them. At some point you will be able to spread out in front of you all of the sections that you have written. You will be able to sequence them in the best order and then see what is missing and should be added to the dissertation. This way seems to make sense and builds on those aspects of your study that are of most interest to you at any particular time. Go with what interests you, start your writing there, and then keep building!

Review two or three well organized and presented dissertations. Examine their use of headings, overall style, typeface and organization. Use them as a model for the preparation of your own dissertation. In this way you will have an idea at the beginning of your writing what your finished dissertation will look like. A most helpful perspective!

A simple rule if you are presenting information in the form of a table or graph make sure you introduce the table or graph in your text. And then, following the insertion of the table/graph, make sure you discuss it. If there is nothing to discuss then you may want to question even inserting it.

Another simple rule if you have a whole series of very similar tables try to use similar words in describing each. Don’t try and be creative and entertaining with your writing. If each introduction and discussion of the similar tables uses very similar wording then the reader can easily spot the differences in each table.

We are all familiar with how helpful the Table of Contents is to the reader.

What we sometimes don’t realize is that it is also invaluable to the writer.

Use the Table of Contents to help you improve your manuscript. Use it to see if you’ve left something out, if you are presenting your sections in the most logical order, or if you need to make your wording a bit more clear. Thanks to the miracle of computer technology, you can easily copy/paste each of your headings from throughout your writing into the Table of Contents.

Then sit back and see if the Table of Contents is clear and will make good sense to the reader. You will be amazed at how easy it will be to see areas that may need some more attention. Don’t wait until the end to do your Table of Contents. Do it early enough so you can benefit from the information it will provide to you.

If you are including a Conclusions/Implications section in your dissertation make sure you really present conclusions and implications. Often the writer uses the conclusions/implications section to merely restate the research findings.

Don’t waste my time. I’ve already read the findings and now, at the Conclusion/Implication section, I want you to help me understand what it all means. This is a key section of the dissertation and is sometimes best done after you’ve had a few days to step away from your research and allow yourself to put your research into perspective.

If you do this you will no doubt be able to draw a variety of insights that help link your research to other areas. I usually think of conclusions/implications as the «So what» statements. In other words, what are the key ideas that we can draw from your study to apply to my areas of concern.

Potentially the silliest part of the dissertation is the Suggestions for Further Research section. This section is usually written at the very end of your writing project and little energy is left to make it very meaningful. The biggest problem with this section is that the suggestions are often ones that could have been made prior to you conducting your research.

Read and reread this section until you are sure that you have made suggestions that emanate from your experiences in conducting the research and the findings that you have evolved. Make sure that your suggestions for further research serve to link your project with other projects in the future and provide a further opportunity for the reader to better understand what you have done.

Now it’s time to write the last chapter. But what chapter is the last one? My perception is that the last chapter should be the first chapter. I don’t really mean this in the literal sense. Certainly you wrote Chapter One at the beginning of this whole process. Now, at the end, it’s time to «rewrite» Chapter One. After you’ve had a chance to write your dissertation all the way to the end, the last thing you should do is turn back to Chapter One.

Reread Chapter One carefully with the insight you now have from having completed Chapter Five. Does Chapter One clearly help the reader move in the direction of Chapter Five? Are important concepts that will be necessary for understanding Chapter Five presented in Chapter One?

Answer the following questions:

  • Do you agree that writing a dissertation in your field is similar to writing a scientific report?
  • Do you know the accepted methodological approaches in writing dissertations? If you do, where did you learn them?
  • Are you taking all these steps in writing your dissertation?
  • What stages have you already passed?
  • What stage are you in currently? What t steps are to be taken yet?
  • Do you see any difference between the steps described her and the Ukrainian standards?

Prepare a 2 minute story about the framework of the format of your dissertation.


Errors in subject/verb agreement

If a subject is singular, the verb must be singular. If the subject is plural, the verb must be plural.

Minerals in seawater exists in the same proportions in all of the oceans of the world.

The plural subject minerals requires a plural verb, exist. You might have found this question tricky because the singular noun seawater comes between the subject and the verb, and you may have mistaken that word for the true subject.

Bowling, one of the most popular indoor sports, are getting popular all over the Crimea and in other areas of Ukraine.

The subject of the sentence is bowling, not sports. The singular verb form is

should therefore be used.

There are some special rules about subject-verb agreement that you should be familiar with:

A sentence with two subjects joined by and takes a plural verb. E.g.:The chemistry lab and the physics lab are . . .

Some words end in -s but are singular in form. Many of these words are the names of fields of study {economics, physics, and so on). News is another word of this kind. E.g.:

Economics is . . . The news was . . .

Irregular plurals (children, feet, mice, and so on) take plural verbs. E.g.: The women were . . . His feet are . . .

When a clause begins with the expletive there, the verb may be singular or plural, depending on the grammatical subject.

Subjects with each and every take singular verbs. (This includes compound words like everyone and everything.) E.g.:

Each state has . . .

Each of the representatives was . . .

Every person was . . .

Everyone wants . . .

The verb in relative clauses depends on the noun that the relative pronoun refers to. E.g.:

The house that was built . . .

The students who were selected . . .

The phrase the number of + plural noun takes a singular verb. The phrase a number of + plural noun takes a plural verb. E.g.:

The number of trees is . . .

A number of important matters have . . .

Singular subjects used with phrases such as along with, accompanied by, together with, as well as, and in addition to take singular verbs. E.g.:

The mayor, along with the city council, is . . .

Together with his friends, Mark has . . .

Quantities of time, money, distance, and so on usually take a singular verb. E.g.: Five hundred dollars was . . .

Two years has . . .

Ten miles is . . .

Exercise: Problems involving subject-verb agreement.

Directions: Underline the form that correctly completes each sentence. Then circle the subject with which the underlined verb agrees. The first one is done as an example.

The first bridge to be built with electric lights (was/were) the Brooklyn Bridge. .

Ethics (is/are) the study of moral duties, principles, and values. There (is/are) two types of calculus, differential and integral.

.George Gershwin, together with his brother Ira, (was/were) the creator of the first musical comedy to win a Pulitzer Prize.

.In a chess game, the player with the white pieces always (moves/move) first.

.The Earth and Pluto (is/are) the only two planets believed to have a single moon.

A number of special conditions (is/are) necessary for the formation of a geyser.

Each of the Ice Ages (was/were) more than a million years long.

The battery, along with the alternator and starter, (makes/make) up the electrical system of a car.

Teeth (is/are) covered with a hard substance called enamel.

The more-or-less rhythmic succession of economic booms and busts (is/are) referred to as the business cycle.

The number of protons in the nucleus of an atom (varies/vary) from element to element.

All trees, except for the tree fern, (is/are) seed-bearing plants.

Fifteen hundred dollars a year (was/were) the per capita income in the United States in 1950.

Everyone who (goes/go) into the woods should recognize common poisonous plants such as poison ivy and poison oak.

More items involving parallel structures

In certain structure items, the correct use of parallel structures is tested. Parallel structures have :the same grammatical form and function. Look at the following sentences:

She spends her leisure time hiking, camping, and fishing.

He changed the oil, checked the tire pressure, and filled the tank with gas. Nancy plans to either study medicine or major in biology.

Nancy plans to study either medicine or biology.

All of the structures in italics are parallel. In the first, three gerunds are parallel; in the second, three main verbs; in the third, two simple forms; and in the fourth, two nouns. Many other structures must be parallel in certain sentences: adjectives, adverbs, infinitives, prepositional phrases, noun clauses, and others.

The most common situation in which parallel structures are required is in a sequence in the first two sentences above. Parallel structures are also required with correlative conjunctions such as either...or or not only...but also.


Yalta has a pleasant climate, and many fascinating neighborhoods.

exciting scenery,

has exciting scenery

that the scenery is exciting

the scenery is exciting,

This sentence contains a series of three objects after the verb has: the first and third are noun phrases (a pleasant climate and many fascinating neighborhoods). To be parallel, the second object must also be a noun phrase. Therefore, choice (A) is the correct answer; (B), (C), and (D) are not parallel.


Identify and correct errors involving subject-verb agreement

The experimental site, islands off Noumea in New Caledonia,

a) is remote from any human activity.

b) are remote from any human activity.

c) remote from any human activity.

d) both are remote from any human activity.

Contrary to the results of the experiment 1 in the middle of the island rather than on its edges, 2 of sea water-freshwater interaction.

a) fresh water prove to be intensively concentrated

b) fresh water proves to be intensively concentrated

c) fresh waters are intensively concentrated

d) prove fresh water is to be intensively concentrated


a) that is the usual zones

b) which are the usual zones

c) it are the usual zones

d) there are the usual zones

Complementary _derived from a hydrogeological model

the importance of vegetation cover and the island’s topography

a) analyses….. have revealed

b) analyses….. has revealed

c) analyses….. is revealed

d) analyses….. are revealed

The density of the vegetation and the greater degree of soil development.

a) is maximal in the sand dunes near the sea.

b) are maximal in the sand dunes near the sea.

c) it is maximal in the sand dunes near the sea.

d) they are maximal in the sand dunes near the sea.

On the island margins , with dilution of the underground water.

a) the phenomenon is observed

b) are observed the phenomenon

c) there are the phenomenon

d) it is the phenomenon

A number of special conditions (is/are) necessary for the underground water sources to form.

There (is/are) two types of water reservoirs in the Crimea. Two years (is/are) a long time when you have to wait.

The number of trees in the National Park is not great. Each of the students (is/are) to submit their papers. No news (is/are) good news.

The President along with his advisers (is/are) expected to arrive in an hour.