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How do I Write a Master's Dissertation?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 March 2019
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Students in master’s programs don’t always write a dissertation. This term is used in the UK, but in countries like the US, students compose a master’s thesis. To be clear, whether the research project is called a thesis or master’s dissertation, it’s usually a written work of about 60-100 typed pages that depends on the research of others to explore or argue an issue. It’s differentiated from the PhD dissertation, a project that is usually book length and features original research by the student. The master’s dissertation or thesis is a well-researched, shorter exploration of a topic in the student’s area of study.

The first goal in writing a master’s dissertation or thesis is to generate topics of interest. When brainstorming these topics, students should play to their strengths, passions, and interests. Many students have thesis advisors who may help them formulate or narrow down topics. Some schools require students to submit a proposal before proceeding with the dissertation. A number of universities require that students take three to six thesis units over one to two semesters. During this time, the dissertation is researched and written, often with the assistance of a thesis committee made up of faculty members that help critique the student's work.

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Once a topic for the master’s dissertation or thesis is derived, students begin research, which may be extensive. They should find and become familiar with virtually all relevant writing on all aspects of their topic so they can present a full picture of historical and current research. This means reading books, periodicals and other material that is relevant. The good topic is refined enough that there is excellent available research, but not too much, or the research becomes unwieldy and impossible.

As research is ongoing, students decide how to organize their material and present it, and how to use research to prove or argue for specific points of view. It’s a good idea to write down quotes and citations on note cards, so these are easily accessed for use in the thesis. Many theses first discuss the topic, the relevant research on it, and then veer into discussion of personal viewpoints based on the research. Some schools have specific organizational strategies for a master’s dissertation, to which writers will need to adhere.

The actual writing of a master’s dissertation or thesis can seem overwhelming at first, but it can help to create sections so that each part is almost a single paper. Most graduate students at this point have written 15-20 page papers with ease, and if they can think of the dissertation as a collection of four to five of these papers, the work becomes less daunting. Students will naturally start with rough drafts and continue to work on their papers for while, editing and improving until they feel the work is finished.

One thing students must do as they write is make sure citations are accurate. Different fields of study have different style guidelines. Students will help themselves by adhering strictly to the guides (such as MLA or APA) for their discipline. Failure to cite accurately can result in rejection of a master’s dissertation and a mandate to rewrite it.

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