Doctoral Thesis Style and Organization
In the United States, the culminating project of a Ph.D. is typically called a "Doctoral Thesis." In some countries, including Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, this project is sometimes referred to as a doctoral dissertation. A doctoral thesis is the equivalent of a doctoral dissertation in that it represents a writer's expertise in his or her field, presenting an original study that advances the field. Doctoral theses are not the same as research papers. A research paper draws conclusions about a specific topic by presenting and synthesizing the work of other scholars. A doctoral thesis also requires extensive research, but uses that information to create a research study of its own.A doctoral thesis should follow the specific guidelines outlined by the student's department, university, and/or field. However, like most dissertations, a doctoral thesis will typically be organized in the following manner:
- a few pages of front matter, including a title page, abstract, table of contents, and any other pages deemed necessary by a student's department;
- introduction chapter;
- literature review chapter;
- methodology chapter;
- results chapter;
- conclusion chapter;
- list of references;
- appendix, if necessary.
The most important element of the front matter is the abstract. An abstract is a summary of the doctoral thesis. It should succinctly present the purpose of the study, the method of the study, the results, and the study's implications.
The introduction of a doctoral thesis presents the subject of the thesis, an explanation of that subject, the reasons why the subject is worth examining, and the research problems or questions the thesis will investigate.
The second chapter of most doctoral theses is the literature review. The literature review serves to suggest the validity of the research subject by pointing to its importance to other scholars. This requires the researcher to present a survey of research relevant to his or her study's problems or questions. Each study discussed should be clearly and thoroughly explained in its own paragraph or set of paragraphs, and should give a complete description of the study's findings. The literature review should conclude by pointing to holes in the research that the doctoral thesis will seek to fill.
The third chapter of a doctoral thesis is a detailed explanation of the methodology of the researcher's study—the procedure. This should include information about the participants of the study (if there are participants), the instruments used for measurement, and the researcher's methods of data collection and analysis.
The fourth chapter is a presentation of the study's results. This chapter reports on the outcomes of the study and presents the results of the analyzed data. In some doctoral theses, this section is also the place for a discussion of the implications of those results and how they may be applied in the field. In other doctoral theses, this discussion is presented in the final chapter.
As noted, sometimes a discussion of the implications of the study's results is presented in chapter four. If not, that information belongs in the final chapter of the study, which is often titled "Discussion" or "Conclusion." If the implications are discussed in the fourth chapter, then the final chapter of the document should suggest places for further areas of research regarding the subject at hand, and outline any additional conclusions the researcher may have drawn throughout the course of the study.
All doctoral theses should include a detailed references section that lists all studies cited in the text. In addition, some theses may benefit from the inclusion of an appendix presenting supplementary information regarding the study.
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