A Ph.D. represents the highest level of education in most fields. People who earn this degree earn the honorific of “doctor” and are considered experts in their field. A doctoral degree is often a prerequisite for teaching at the highest levels in academia or ascending career ladders in education, the government and the nonprofit space.
In 2020, doctoral degree holders had median weekly earnings of $1,885 and an unemployment rate of 2.5%—lower than any other group. And yet, the dissertation is often a major barrier to completing a doctorate and realizing its many financial and personal benefits.
So what is a dissertation, and what role does it play in your educational trajectory? At SNU, we value exceptional dissertations and integrate the writing process into your coursework. Here are the most common questions we hear about writing dissertations and earning your doctorate.
1. What is a dissertation?
A dissertation is a published piece of academic research. Through your dissertation research, you become an expert in a specific academic niche. After writing your dissertation, you then defend it to a committee of experts in the field. A dissertation is integral to the process of earning a doctoral degree, contributing innovative ideas to your chosen field. Until you have written, published and defended a dissertation, you can’t graduate from a doctoral-level program.
2. Why are dissertations so important?
Dissertations are the crucial piece of research in most doctoral-level programs. The process of writing, researching and amending the dissertation serves several important goals:
- It contributes novel research to the field, supporting innovation, growth and ongoing scholarship.
- It requires students to write a substantive piece of academic research across many semesters, sharpening research skills and expertise.
- It demands that students defend their research, ensuring strong communication and critical thinking skills.
- It requires deep, comprehensive research—including a literature review—improving reading comprehension and writing skills.
- It is a challenging project that serves as a test of the skills you might use as an academic professional in your chosen field.
- It helps establish new members of an academic discipline as contributors to the field.
- It fosters academic connections as you interview sources and defend your work.
3. Why do so many students struggle with the dissertation?
The dissertation process is difficult. However, this difficulty establishes the credibility of doctoral degrees, proving that the student can commit to long-term, intensive research and become a true subject-matter expert.
However, for many adult learners, the dissertation proves especially challenging thanks to work-life balance difficulties, financial constraints and lack of family or institutional support. At SNU, we know that a dissertation is critical to your growth as an academic. But we also know that institutional support can make a big difference in your ability to finish this impressive work. That’s why we integrate dissertation writing into our curriculum, rather than leaving you to do it all on your own time.
One study suggests that more than half of students never complete their dissertation. Other research indicates that academic reforms that help students with their work reduce dropout rates, ensuring more students complete their dissertation and earn the coveted title of doctor.
4. How long is a dissertation?
Most dissertations are 100 pages or longer — roughly the length of a book. The specific length of your dissertation depends on the type of research, how much research exists in the field and similar factors. The goal of dissertation writing is not to attain a specific length, but to be comprehensive and thoughtful. It anticipates and answers potential objections, gives appropriate credit to the source materials and reviews prior work in the field.
Your dissertation review committee is more interested in a comprehensive dissertation that displays your critical thinking and research skills than they are in a dissertation of a specific length. Excessive wordiness without value wastes a reader’s time.
The right length for a dissertation depends on several factors:
- How much research already exists in the field?
- What field are you publishing in?
- What type of research are you doing?
- Is your research controversial?
- How much space do you need to explain your research and address objections?
Put simply: A dissertation should be long enough to comprehensively cover the subject, but no longer.
5. How do you write a dissertation?
In general, the dissertation process follows this schedule:
- Research the field and identify potential topics.
- Meet with an advisor to choose and improve a topic.
- Perform a literature review.
- Conduct new research.
- Write the dissertation.
- Edit the dissertation.
- Defend the dissertation.
Each step involves weeks to months of work and many phases of revision, reevaluation and research. At SNU, we incorporate many phases of the writing and research process into your coursework. This ensures you are on track to graduate and addresses dissertation writing challenges before they snowball into a serious problem.
6. When should you start writing a dissertation?
The dissertation writing process should begin almost as soon as you enroll in school. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have content written on your first day of class. Instead, you will need to engage in substantive pre-writing that includes:
- Familiarizing yourself with relevant research in the field.
- Developing an opinion on recent research.
- Designing your research to address a clear and narrowly defined topic.
As you hone in on your topic, you can begin the writing and research portion of the project. In most cases, this starts within a semester or two of enrollment. A dissertation is not something you can leave until the last semester or shortly before graduation. SNU ensures this doesn’t happen by integrating the writing process into your coursework. You will start working on your dissertation early, preventing you from becoming overwhelmed.
7. How do you cite a dissertation?
A dissertation is a published scholarly work. Each style manual has specific instructions for citing a dissertation, so be sure to consult the style manual you’re using.
You can cite other dissertations in your dissertation. In many cases, dissertations can provide useful starting points for your research. The literature reviews they contain may also help with your literature review.
8. How do you choose a school for your dissertation?
Choosing the right school for your dissertation can mean the difference between finishing this scholarly work and languishing at the dreaded “all-but-dissertation” (ABD) stage. SNU specializes in supporting adult learners by encouraging intensive research and protecting your work-life balance.
At SNU, your dissertation is a part of your coursework. You will get support from start to finish, including a dissertation advisor who is an expert in your chosen field. We are here for you, and we want to see you succeed.