Learn to Write a Good Dissertation

00:00 Jan 01





The overall objective of this paper is to provide a guide that will assist students in the selection of their dissertation topics, development of their dissertation proposals and 

the writing of their final dissertations.

 At the end of the seminar, students should:

- understand what a dissertation is and its importance, and subject matter.

-be able to identify and avoid the common problems in undergraduate dissertations.

-To help students select their dissertation topics.

-To highlight the requirements and content of dissertations.

-To be able to develop a research or dissertation proposal.


If you think writing a dissertation is easy then you need to think twice.

The essence of this paper is to help students submit a good dissertation for the award of their degrees.

First of all students need to know the importance of not only writing dissertations, but fully understanding dissertations. A dissertation is not all about getting grades. A Dissertation stretches far beyond achieving your degree. It is the first test of your creativity. A dissertation is an opportunity to identify and explore your own areas of interest. A Dissertation is supposed to be an Academic piece of work. Thus we need to look, at concepts, principles, methodologies, Analysis. It might be a synthesis of most of what you have acquired over the years in college. It is a structured piece of work. It is not an article. Your Dissertation says a lot about you. It highlights your ability to communicate, test your power of analysis, and to make meaningful conclusions. With your dissertations, you have the capacity to know your strength or weakness. Dissertations show whether you have the ability to plan or to make decisions under stress


The last discussion I had with the external examiner, she said that she had to downgrade almost all dissertation graded A because they lack Academic content. Based on that I decided to review Dissertations written by IPAM Students(undergraduate for the past  3-4 years). The question I asked my self is whether there is a drop in academic standard, or are we concentrating more on taught than research work. If we look at it from the Academic point of view then the inability of students to present a good dissertation imply that they will not get better grades. However, if our students cannot present a good dissertation, then they would not be able to identify and solve problems on contemporary issues in later life. They would also not be able to develop projects that will assist their communities and country.

Some of the problems associated with students' dissertation are as follows:

-In appropriate topic

-Similar topics

-Lack of understanding of literature review

-Literature review too long.

-Objectives unrelated to the topic

-Objectives not properly stated

-Problem statement not well structured

-Grammatical errors

-Lack of consistency and logical flow throughout the dissertation

-Questionnaires inappropriate.


-Outcome predictable.



  • -Dissertations are in most cases the students first detailed original piece of work

-         To a great extent students who really understand dissertation writing will be able to develop practical projects on their own. Because you have written a dissertation does not mean you understand dissertations, e.g. ask some people who have written dissertations to explain what a problem statement is and you will be surprised. Don't try to write a dissertation without understanding what dissertation is about. e.g. Those who pick a dissertation from the library, not knowing whether its good or not and then copy the format, will write a dissertation, but definitely do not understand what a dissertation is. If you've written dissertation without understanding a dissertation then that means your dissertation is not good enough. The fact that Lecturers don't publish in Sierra Leone might be due to the fact that they do not understand how to write a good dissertation, or they have forgotten. . A research paper in a journal is just a summarized form of dissertation. However this could also be allocated to the fact that there are no incentives.

  • -Some dissertation may be published. Certain dissertations written by students have been published. Even undergraduate students.

  • -Some people have developed a career based on their dissertation. There is a case of a Nigerian studying in London, who based her dissertation on the British rail (route) and made a discovery that saved them a lot of money and was employed as a consultant.

  • - Some Dissertations contribute to important discoveries. Certain companies like Microsoft, pay substantial amount of money for Researcher or volunteers to go through Students dissertation for new ideas or innovations.


  • Students also should understand the requirements of dissertations for each university.

  • -What weighting is allocated to dissertation in your University? Six credits, equal to two subjects. So an A in Dissertation means two A's as in two subjects.

  • Of course you need to write your dissertation within your subject area

  • -What should be the sections of your dissertation, How many chapters

  • -What should be the minimum number of words?

  • -What should be the format?

  • -What should be the color? In certain universities each course area has their own color.

  • -How are marks allocated to the different parts of the dissertation.(See attached marking scheme)

  • -Dissertation Presentation: The standard layout required is A4 page, single sided, one and a half line spacing with 40mm left hand margin for binding and right margin not less than 15mm. (see dissertation guide for IPAM).


Definitely there will always be a good number of theses than there are writers. The only problem is choosing one. As long as there are problems to be solved, issues to be addressed, opportunities to be exploited, and discoveries to be made, relationships to be established, comparisons to be effected, theories to be proved, or Hypothesis to be tested,  there will always be dissertations, thesis, or projects to be written. This statement highlights the focus and scope of dissertations. Is the world round or flat?  This question took a very long time to answer.

The Dissertation process.

"Topics just don't emerge from the blues"

:Choosing a topic is a process. It starts with recognition of a problem. It then moves along the following stages:

-Problem/opportunity, Relationships identification, formulation

-Creation of the Research design

-Choice of method of research

-Collection of Data

-Analysis of Data

-Writing and presenting the report.

Thus a dissertation is structured along the stages highlighted above

- First you have to read, think, and discuss about your ideas. Keep a notebook for jotting  down ideas, questions, and

-References. Start with a fairly broad focus. Of course you have to locate your particular study within a broader academic debate.

 Until you begin reading, researching and writing, you can't begin to narrow your focus.

-Try to formulate your topic into question that explores a relationship between two or more ideas, variables, concepts, phenomena, events or things. You don't need to know the answers before you start.

-Also, don't drift along waiting for the perfect topic to arrive: Almost anything you choose, once framed in terms of a feasible academic project can become a good thesis topic.

-Although the subject or topic of your dissertation will need to be related to principles, concepts and issues covered in your advanced topics course(s), this is an opportunity to identify and explore your own areas of interest.

-As well as considering your personal enthusiasms, it is also important that you design your project with an awareness of the constraints that you face.

Questions you should ask yourself include:

-Will the topic sustain your interest over the months to come.

-Is there an existing literature within which you can locate your work

-Is there sufficient material to provide the evidence that you are going to need?

-Is the topic one that you can research with the time and resources available?

-Do you have the time and opportunity for empirical work?

Always remember the following:

A dissertation topic does not need to be a totally new, groundbreaking, re-write the textbooks revelation.

Studying an old dissertation in a new way, from a different perspective, can be a new contribution.

- All Dissertations are geared towards solving a particular problem or identifying opportunities. Therefore be sure your chosen topic addresses a real problem or question.

-The chosen dissertation topic must be appropriate for the subjects you have available to work with. You should be able to apply the techniques, concepts, principles that you have acquired.

-Ideally, your topic should be of interest to your advisor.

-         - A good thesis should contribute to the field or subject area. Determine a gap in the existing scholarship, such as a question that hasn't been addressed, or a new application of established methodologies.

-         Look at recently published journal articles and books as well as recently completed thesis in your department, because authors often suggest questions and areas for further research arising from their work.

-         Alternatively a topic will come out of previous university assignments or work related issues, so investigate the kind of projects you have enjoyed working on in the past.

-Find gaps in knowledge in your area of study. It is essential to know what has been studied and discovered before, relevant to your field, and then try to identify gaps in your field.

e.g Is there an accounting standard for public sector?. Is it effective?.

Are marketing principles applied in Non governmental organizations:

What are consumers  perception of the proliferation of banks in Sierra Leone. What will be the effect on the economy.  

-Look for something clear not vague. Your dissertation is your research which demonstrates your understanding of the subject in a clear manner.

-Be organized, Maximize your research efforts

-choose a subject area first- then a dissertation topic.

-Your research skills. One way to evaluate your research skills and make sure they are up to par is to pursue a potential topic in your research methods or statistics courses where you can get immediate feedback from an instructor. You can use these courses to work out potential problems in your methodology or your review of the literature.

-         A good thesis topic is firmly located in a current literature,

-         Is there an existing field of literature in which you can work? Is there enough literature available?


Proposals for dissertation are always dependent on the subject field you are interested in. You may propose a subject under accounting, education, philosophy, business, history or the social sciences.

A sample proposal needs to have quality outline before you can send it to your professor. Some of the required parts can be learned. The following below are the required parameters of your dissertation proposal.


-Problem statement

-Aims and objectives


-Brief review of literature.

-Research methodology

Unless otherwise requested by the institution, of supervisor, about 3-5 pages is enough to highlight the above issues and to convince the supervisor that the topic selected is worthy of investigation


The introduction is a summary of 100-200 words stating what the objectives are, what you are going to write about. Many students confuse this section with the background/history sections but generally they will be expected to be kept separate.

A good formula for your introduction is to put the issue into context as concisely as possible. Answer the questions:

-Is there a problem?

-What is it?

-Why does it need to be solved?

-Who will benefit from your investigation?

-In what sense will they benefit

-In what sense will my contribution add to what is already known

-How in general terms are you going to solve the problem. e.g, collect data, analyses data.

-By what methods? e.g case study

-What are the constraints or limitations of the study.

Problem Statement:

Problems are normally seen as deviations from the normal. Think of your health problem as the gap between what should occur in your community and what is occurring. It's the gap between an acceptable or desirable health status and the current status.

How to do it.

To write your problem statement, briefly answer these questions:

-What should be occurring?

-What is occurring?

-Who is affected and to what degree?

-What could happen if the problem is not addressed?

Examine data on your problem by:




-socio-economic status

-Geographic distribution.

e.g of problems statement:

The Socio-economic impact of Traffic congestion in Sierra Leone.:

 The increase in the number or cars and people in Freetown, and lack of decentralization  of facilities has giving rise or highlighted a looming problem, which if not addressed will affect not only the economy and social life, but development and productivity. That problem is Traffic congestion. Over the past 10 years, not only has the population of Freetown increased by 600 percent from 400,000 to 1.8million but  the traffic situation in Freetown has also become acute. Statistics show that an average of 5,000 cars are imported into the country every year. And since we have maintained the same number of roads since independence with no other means of transportation, e.g sea or rail, the problem therefore could not be over emphasized. Although the issue of adequate roads is one factor leading to the situation, the quality of the roads is a major factor. Research also reveal that of the total of 11,000km of roads in the country, only 900km (10%) of the roads are paved.

If this problem is not addressed in the next five years to 10 years this situation will be so alarming that cars would not be able to move from east to west. The effect on the economy, in terms of Man hours lost, transportation, and productivity would be alarming. Therefore there should be an immediate plan to address this issue if a critical situation is to be addressed in the future.


The Dissertation Background is a section written with the assumption that the reader knows nothing and it should therefore give them a full account of what they need to know to appreciate the issues at stake.

The background and history section of your dissertation highlights the empirical foundation of the topic that you have chosen.

The purpose of a background section is to give the reader the relevant facts about your chosen dissertation topic so that they understand the material or case that you will write about later and how it links to your theoretical question. It must not just fill in details of the place or topic you are researching, but implicitly illustrate the need for and importance of your research.  E.g. How has marketing activities been conducted at the Sierra Leone commercial Bank without a marketing department. If the topic is on marketing strategies in commercial banks in Sierra Leone. The background should not just be background of commercial bank.

Research Question/Hypothesis.

 This section lists the research questions, it is equally acceptable to present the hypothesis.

 An example would be:

1)What are the attitudes of …..

2)Is there a significant difference between…..

3) Is there a significant relationship between…

Significance of the Study:

This section creates a perspective for looking at the problem. It points out how  your study relates to the larger issues and uses a persuasive rationale to justify the reason for your study. It makes the purpose worth pursuing. The significance of the study answers the questions:

Why is your study important?

To whom is it important?

What benefit(s)  will occur if your study is done?


Literature review is the systematic study of all existing work that are relevant to the research. It is concerned with locating reading, evaluating and citing reports of related  


Literature review helps the researcher ascertains the extent to which previous  research addressed the problem at hand.

Literature review also guides the adoption of a different and better methodology for investigating the problem than that earlier planned by the investigation.

During the literature review, the researcher's understanding of the issues involved is broadened. This places the researcher in a better position to profer intelligent guesses about the tentative answers to the research questions(hypothesis

Also, the literature review grants the researcher and awareness of the range of appropriate instruments available for data collection.

e.g If the topic of Dissertation is An Evaluation of the Effectiveness of an Auditing System in the Public Sector, the literature should include discussions about what other authors have written about an effective auditing system in General and in pulic sector in particular. What are the problems, issues, What is the best methodology in investigating such a system. Quote authors.

Research objectives:

The problem/opportunity formulation result in the formulation of the research objectives. These objectives are stated in terms of the precise information necessary and desired to solve the Research problem. Well formulated objectives serve as a road map in developing the research project. They also serve as standard which enables external examiners to evaluate the quality and the value of the work. Were the objectives met, and do the recommendations flow logically from the objectives and the research findings.were the research objectives achieved

Objectives must be as specific and unambiguous as possible. Remember that the entire research effort in terms of time and money is geared toward achieving the objectives. When the researcher highlights the goals of the research the supervisor should agree that the objectives can achieve the goal. The objectives are what is needed to achieve the goals.


The methodology section describes your basic research plan. It usually begins with a few short introductory paragraphs that restate purpose and research questions.

A research design, either descriptive or causal , is chosen according to a project's objectives. The next step is to select a means of gathering data. There are three basic research methods:





Survey research is often descriptive in nature, but can be causal.  Survey research involves an interviewer interacting with respondents, either in person or by mail, to obtain facts, opinions, and attituded. A questionnaire is used to provide an orderly and structured approach to data gathering. Face to face interviews may take place within the respondent's home, in a shopping mall, or in a place of business.

Observation: Observation research is research that monitors respondents actions without direct interaction.


Experiments are the third method researchers use to gather data. An experiment is research in which the investigator changes one or more variable- price, package, design, shelf space, advertising theme, or advertising expenditures, while observing the effects of those changes on another variable.

Selecting the sampling procedure and sample size.

The basic issues are as follows:

-Define the population

-Draw a representative sample from the population

-infer your results from the sample back to the population

The whole idea of inferential research (using a sample to represent the entire population) depends upon an accurate description of the population.

Usually just the population of the study can be defined as follows: All students at ipam offering Business administration and applied accounting…or All potential consumers of our product.

Sampling Procedure:

The sampling procedure should be described in extensive detail. There are numerous sampling methods from which to choose. Describe in detail, how you will select the sample. Use specific names, place, etc. Here you apply the methods learned, not describe them in terms of their advantages and disadvantages, e.g. the advantages of random sampling are as follows:


Here the focus is on the tools of the research. E.g. questionnaire, interview, focus group discussion etc. If you are using a survey instrument that was designed by someone else, state the source of the survey. Describe the theoretical variables that the survey is attempting to measure. Including a copy of the actual survey, e.g. questionnaire in the appendix.

Method of Data Analysis.

The analysis plan should be described in detail. Explain how each research question, objectives or hypothesis will be analyzed. Describe the type of statistical tests that will be performed to answer the hypothesis.

State what variables will be included in the analyses and identify the dependent and dependent variables if such relationships exist. The researcher may also use techniques beginning with simple frequency analysis and ultimately culminating in complex multivariate techniques.

Abdul Karim Noah is a professional marketing consultant helping students to accomplish their educational projects, and research. He has vast experience in his field and is ready to help students with his skills and knowledge. He is currently the Managing Director of Zenith Marketing and Research Agency.



1)      Elements of a research proposal and report. By David S.Walonick,Phd

2)      How to write a dissertation. http:www.how

3)      Dissertation format and notes Ipam

4)      How to write a problem statement for Research. Associated content inc.2008

5)      2008, mike Newton ward. Write a problem statement.