Writing a university report is often considered the most difficult aspect of completing a Ph.D. A dissertation is an extensive, original research project written to demonstrate a student's expertise in his or her area of study. Writing a dissertation typically takes a year or more, depending on the student's field and topic of data collection. Writing dissertations is very different from writing research papers because a dissertation does not synthesize what other researchers have said on a specific topic, but rather reports on the student's own, original research. In other words, the answers to the student's research questions are as yet unknown; the process of the report will reveal them.
Because it is such a lengthy and complex undertaking, it is necessary that the writing process be well-planned. This process begins with the selection of a topic. Selecting the topic for a dissertation can sometimes take months. This is because a student must undertake extensive research in his or her area of interest in order to determine what has already been done and what types of information have yet to be contributed. An overview of the student's research will typically be reported in the section of the report known as the literature review.
Once the topic has been determined, the student should discuss the topic with his or her assignment committee, or select a committee if he or she has not already done so. A dissertation committee is comprised of several advanced faculty members in the student's area of study. The committee members should be selected based on their expertise and interest in the student's proposed research.
Once a student has discussed his or her topic with the committee, he or she is ready for the first formal step of the writing process: writing the report. A proposal is a document that outlines the student's topic, why the topic is relevant, what other researchers have said about the topic, and how the student plans to research the topic in order to add an original and significant insight to knowledge on that topic. The proposal is essentially a blueprint of the researcher's study. It is submitted to the student's committee, department, and sometimes graduate school for approval.
Once the report is approved, the student is ready to perform the study itself. This is an involved process that should be done under the guidance of the student's committee. Students should keep detailed records of their observations, practices, and procedures in order to present all of this information in the project itself. The report of this procedure will be presented in the method section.
After performing the study, the next step to writing a university report is analyzing the results of the study. If the student's dissertation is scientific, this will require statistical analysis. The results should be reported following the method section.
Following the results section, it should conclude by pointing to the study's impact on the student's field. This should suggest areas for future study, if appropriate, and ways the study can be used to further the field or topic.
Many students writing dissertations will find the process difficult and frustrating. Therefore, the student should enlist the support of his or her academic community throughout the process. This goes beyond the report committee to include other students who are writing dissertations and any services offered by the university or department for guidance in the composition process.
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