There is no standard format for the submission of a dissertation or thesis: formatting is at the candidate’s discretion, but using A4 paper is the expected norm. Reasonable width margins (2 – 2.5 cm) are desirable to ensure that binding does not impede reading of the text. However, candidates should consult their supervisor early on in the process. The contents must be printed in either double or one and a half spacing using a common font throughout. Printing on both sides of the page is allowed, but a reasonable weight paper must then be used. Although it is expected that the dissertation/thesis be written in English, it is possible with prior support of the supervisor and prior permission from the Doctoral Degrees Board, to submit a PhD in another language.
It is acceptable for a Masters dissertation or PhD thesis to include published papers, provided that:
- where published papers are included as separate chapters, the dissertation/thesis must nonetheless show acceptable academic style, constant formatting, scholarly content and coherence as a connected account with a satisfactory general introduction, statement of thesis and a final discussion chapter. The latter should not duplicate material that is already contained in the discussion sections of the various chapters/papers, but integrate the results from the various chapters and place them in a broader context;
- where multi-authored papers are included, the contribution of the candidate can be distinguished and is clearly stated; and
- in the case of PhDs the candidate‟s plan to include published papers has had the annual written support of the Dean and the written approval of the Doctoral Degrees Board prior to submission (see DDB rules for further details).
For Masters degrees a candidate must submit either three hard copies (degree by dissertation only) or TWO hard copies (degree by coursework plus dissertation) of the dissertation in temporary binding to the Postgraduate Officer in the Science Faculty Office. Once the dissertation has been finally accepted, one unbound hard copy and one electronic copy (in pdf format on a labelled, read-only CD packed in a hard „jewel‟ case) of the final, corrected dissertation must be lodged with the Faculty Office.
For a PhD, a candidate must submit to the Doctoral Degrees Board Officer THREE hard copies of the thesis in temporary binding for the examiners and one unbound hard copy and one electronic copy (in pdf format on a labelled,read-only CD packed in a hard „jewel‟ case) for the library.
In the case of a PhD, the thesis may not exceed 80,000 words. If it is felt that it is essential to exceed this length, special permission must be obtained from the Dean. It is the expectation that Masters degrees should be substantially shorter than this with a maximum of 50,000 words allowed; on the order of 35,000 words (~100 pages) would be the expected norm.
There must be a title page on which should appear the thesis title, name of candidate (plus qualifications if you wish), name of Department, University and the month and year of submission. The following is the recommended wording used after the thesis title and name of the candidate:
Dissertation (or Thesis) presented for the degree of Master of Science (or Doctor of Philosophy)
in the Department of …
University of Cape Town
Month and Year
For a coursework Masters minor dissertation the wording should read „Dissertation presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of…‟.
Following the title page there should be a page containing the following signed statement by the candidate:
„I know the meaning of plagiarism and declare that all of the work in the dissertation (or thesis), save for that which is properly acknowledged, is my own‟.
When a candidate submits a thesis he/she shall be deemed to have granted the University free license to publish it in whole or part in any format the University deems fit.
Forms of referencing must be standard for the discipline and must adhere to a recognised international convention, agreed to with the supervisor.
Due Dates and Process of Submission
At the conclusion of research, the candidate must submit a dissertation or thesis for examination. This normally occurs after receiving an indication from the supervisor that the product is in a form which is acceptable for submission. However, a candidate is not prevented from submitting without the supervisor’s approval.
If a candidate intends submitting a Masters dissertation for examination he/she must inform the Head of Department in writing, with a copy to the Dean, of such an intention two weeks in advance of planned submission date. The Head of Department, with input from the supervisor, will then nominate suitable examiners for approval by the Dean. If submitting a PhD thesis, the candidate must inform the Doctoral Degrees Board Officer (New Student Administration Building) in writing of such intention one month prior to planned submission.
The dates for submission of dissertations and theses are:
Third week in February for persons hoping to graduate in June;
Third week in August for persons hoping to graduate in December
Please refer to the University Fees Booklet for submission dates with respect to fee rebates.
Candidates who submit their thesis/dissertation before the beginning of the start of the first term are not required to register. If submitted after the start of the first term a candidate must register for that year, and a pro-rata fee will be charged, depending on the date of submission. Where a student who submitted prior to the start of term is required to revise and resubmit a dissertation/thesis, they must register and pay the academic fee for that year. Further information can be found at www.uct.ac.za/students/postgraduates/fees/handbook/
How to Write Your Best Dissertation: Step-by-Step Guide
When you get to the point of writing a dissertation, you're clearly near the end of an important stage of your educational journey. The point of this paper is to showcase your skills and capacity to conduct research in your chosen discipline, and present the results through an original piece of content that will provide value for the academic and scientific community.
Before we get any further, let's clarify one main thing: what is a dissertation?
This term is usually used to present the final result of independent work and research for an undergraduate program. A thesis, on the other hand, is crafted for the completion of a Master's degree.
Dissertation - the final project that PhD candidates present before gaining their doctoral degree.
However, the term dissertation is also used for the final project that PhD candidates present before gaining their doctoral degree. It doesn't matter whether we are talking about an undergraduate or PhD dissertation; the form of the assignment is very similar, although the PhD project is much more serious.
This guide will be useful both for undergraduate and PhD students, who are working on their dissertation projects, as well as for students developing theses for MA programs.
It's not easy to write the best dissertation.
Most candidates usually start with great enthusiasm, but this intimidating project can throw them to despair. The process of planning, research, and writing will be the longest and most complex challenge you've ever committed to. The end result will be very rewarding, but you might go through several obstacles to get to that point. These are some of the most common problems students have when writing their dissertations:
- Procrastination. They think there is plenty of time to work on the project, and they keep delaying the starting point. This is a big problem, since these students usually find themselves in frantic stress when the deadline approaches. Check out article ”7 Signs You Might Need Academic Writing Help” and find the best solution
- Lack of research skills. Students who don't have enough experience with academic writing think they just need to collect few relevant resources and extract relevant quotes from them. That's far from the truth. You need to analyze those materials thoroughly and discuss them in the paper.
- Lack of writing skills. The dissertation paper should follow the strict rules of academic writing. You should write in proper form, style, and language; and you should make sure to implement the correct citation guidelines.
Although the challenge seems overwhelming, the important thing is to start from the beginning and complete each stage step by step. We have a guide that will show you the right direction.
Step 1: Write a winning dissertation proposal
We already explained what a dissertation paper is, but what is a dissertation proposal?
As the term itself suggests, this is a proposal for the final dissertation project, which should persuade the committee members that you're going to commit to a valuable, interesting, and complex questions. This is a shorter paper than the final dissertation, but it's equally as important because this is the point when you'll think of a significant question and you'll set up a plan for assembling information and writing the paper. Even if the proposal is not mandatory in your university, you should still write it and discuss the points with your mentor.
These are the main points to pay attention to when wondering how to write a dissertation proposal:
Choose the theme, question, and title
- What problem is your dissertation going to tackle?
- Why is it a problem for the research, academic, and scientific community you'll belong to?
- Why is it important for you to find a solution?
- How are you going to search for the answers?
Do you want to find out more about choosing your dissertation topic? Check out our article.
“How to Come up with a Topic for Your Dissertation”
All these questions are important for making the final commitment. Make sure to brainstorm and choose a theme that will be valuable, unique, and reasonable. You don't want to end up with a too complex question that would trick you in a dead end. The question you choose should lead you to a testable hypothesis that you can prove with strong arguments.
Discuss few alternatives of the dissertation title with your mentor before you start writing the proposal.
Structure of the dissertation proposal
If you want to make the proposal convincing, its format has to be clean and easy to follow. Here are the points you should include in the proposal:
- Dissertation title
- Objectives - Aim for up to three objectives. If you're too extensive at this point, it will seem like your plan doesn't have a focus, so you'll need to narrow it down.
- Literature - Ask your mentor if you're expected to list some specific references in this section. If that's not the case, you'll at least need to mention the areas of study, schools of thought, and other sources of information you're going to use during the research stage.
- Research - This is the main section, where you'll elaborate the ideas of your research question. You will clearly outline the area of research.
- Methodology - The dissertation project can be non-empirical (if the resources come from previously published projects) or empirical (if you collect data through questionnaires or other methods). In this section, you need to explain the methods of collecting data.
- Potential outcomes - Where do you think you'll end up after all the research and analyzing? Explain the outcome you expect to come down to.
- Timeframe - Create a schedule that explains how you will manage all stages of dissertation writing within a specific timeframe.
- List of references - Ask your mentor if you're supposed to include this part, and he'll provide you with the instructions.
Step 2: Conduct an effective research
The dissertation research stage is going to determine the overall development of your project. It has to be methodical and effective, since you don't want to waste your time reading and analyzing irrelevant resources. Here are a few tips that will help you go through it:
- Make a timeline for the research stage
- Find the right places to look for sources
- Organize your resources
It's important to find enough resources to fully understand the phenomenon you're focused on, but you'll need to stop researching at one point or another.
Many students fall into a trap: they think they have to read everything that was ever written regarding the dissertation question they are about to elaborate. How much time do you plan to spend in the research stage? Make a timeline and stay committed to it.
The point of the research stage is to show you have read around the topic and you understand the previous research that has been conducted, but you've also understood its limitations.
The Internet is a good starting place during the research stage. However, you have to realize that not everything you read on the Internet is absolutely true. Double-check the information you find and make sure it comes from a trustworthy resource. Use Google Scholar to locate reliable academic sources. Wikipedia is not a reliable source, but it can take you to some great publication if you check out the list of references on the pages of your interest.
Librarians are really helpful at this point of the project development. Don't avoid the actual library and ask the librarian to provide you with some interesting publications.
You have to take notes; otherwise you'll end up seriously confused and you won't know where you located a certain important argument that you plan to use. Use Evernote, Penzu, or another online tool to write down notes about your impressions, as well as the sources you plan to reference.
The point of the research stage is to show you have read around the topic and you understand the previous research that has been conducted, but you've also understood its limitations.
Step 3: Write a mind-blowing dissertation
Now, you're left with the most important stage of the dissertation writing process: composing the actual project, which will be the final product of all your efforts.
It's surprising to see that many students have some level of confidence during the previous two stages of the process, but they crack when they realize they don't really know how to write a dissertation. Remember: you already did a great job up to this point, so you have to proceed. Everything is easier when you have a plan.
- Make an outline
- Literature Review
- Manage your time
- Write the first draft
You already have the dissertation proposal, which is a preliminary outline for the actual dissertation. However, you still need a more detailed outline for the large project. Did the research stage lead you in an unexpected direction? Make sure to include the new points in your outline.
This is a basic outline that will make it easier for you to write the dissertation:
The first chapter should include a background of the problem, and a statement of the issue. Then, you'll clarify the purpose of the study, as well as the research question. Next, you'll need to provide clear definitions of the terms related to the project. You will also expose your assumptions and expectations of the final results.
In this chapter of the dissertation, you will review the research process and the most important acknowledgements you've come down to.
This part of the dissertation is focused on the way you located the resources and the methods of implementation of the results. If you're writing a qualitative dissertation, you will expose the research questions, setting, participants, data collection, and data analysis processes. If, on the other hand, you're writing a quantitative dissertation, you will focus this chapter on the research questions and hypotheses, information about the population and sample, instrumentation, collection of data, and analysis of data.
This is the most important stage in the whole process of dissertation writing, since it showcases your intellectual capacity. At this point, you'll restate the research questions and you will discuss the results you found, explaining the direction they led you to. In other words, you'll answer those questions.
In the final chapter of the dissertation, you will summarize the study and you'll briefly report the results. Don't forget that you have to explain how your findings make a difference in the academic community and how they are implied in practice.
At the end of this chapter, include a "Recommendations for future research" section, where you'll propose future research that will clarify the issue further. Explain why you suggest this research and what form it should take.
Use the recommended citation style for your field of study, and make sure to include all sources you used during the research and writing stages.
You'll need another timeline, but this one will be focused on the writing process. Plan how to complete your dissertation chapter by chapter. When you have attainable goals, it will be easier for you to write the project without getting overwhelmed by its length and complexity.
There is no life-changing advice to give at this point. You just need to stay away from distractions, stick to your timeline, follow the outline, and complete the first draft. You already have what it takes; now you're ready to do the real work.
Findings stage is the most important in the whole process of dissertation writing, since it showcases your intellectual capacity.
Step 4: Edit and Proofread the Dissertation like a Pro
Now that you've completed the first draft of the paper, you can relax. Don't even think about dissertation editing as soon as you finish writing the last sentence. You need to take some time away from the project, so make sure to leave space of at least few days between the writing and editing stage. When you come back to it, you'll be able to notice most of its flaws.
- Start editing
There is a substantial difference between editing and proofreading: editing is focused on the essence, and proofreading is focused on the form of the paper. You need to deal with the essence first, since it would be silly to proofread the dissertation to perfection and then start getting rid of unnecessary parts and adding more details.
Pay attention to the logical connection between each argument. Are there any gaps in information? Fill them in with more details you collected through the research stage. Maybe you got carried away with the explanations at some point? Make sure to reduce the volume of those parts and clarify them as much as possible. The point is not in quantity; it's in quality and clarity.
Finally, it's time to do the final few readings and catch all spelling, grammar, and style errors you made. Read word by word, sentence by sentence, and consult a dictionary or thesaurus if you have any doubts.
If you notice that you're struggling through the stages of editing and proofreading, you should know you're not the only one with such problem. You are too attached to this project and it's difficult for you to see the flaws in it. That's why it's recommended for students to use an editing service that will bring their projects to perfection. This is a smart investment that will save you from embarrassment after all that effort and stress you went through.
Editing is focused on the essence, and proofreading is focused on the form of the paper.
Step 5: Get feedback
Before you can submit the dissertation project to the committee, you need to get some feedback.
Start with a friend or colleague who has knowledge in this discipline. You need to trust this person, since the dissertation is your unique intellectual property. Ask about their opinions and suggestions for improvement.
Then, discuss the project with your mentor. He/she will point out any possible weak points, and you'll get instructions on how to finalize the process before getting ready for the presentation.
The dissertation writing process is a great challenge, which not all students are capable to cope with. You need to keep in mind that you've come this far in your studies, so there is no other way to go but forward. Tackle the project stage by stage, and you'll soon complete the most important paper in your whole educational journey.
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