Writing Tips

Writing Your Dissertation Acknowledgement: Personal Gratitude

Most of your thesis or dissertation will contain technical, scientific, and heady language, but your dissertation acknowledgement will probably contain the exact opposite. Acknowledgements for papers are typically found before the first chapter and should be very easy for you to write. You can write your acknowledgements in simple, everyday language that reads quite smoothly; this doesn’t have to be the identical to your typical academic writing for graduate students. Even though you can write your dissertation acknowledgement in a short amount of time, you should make sure that your writing style remains heartfelt and pure; you should avoid coming across as smug or arrogant. Though you can include several names in your acknowledgements, you should only include names of people who actually did help you during your dissertation or thesis journey because of limited space and reader patience. In general, you should keep your acknowledgements on one full, double-spaced page of the same font type and size that you are using throughout the rest of your paper. Acknowledgements that are much longer than this will wear on your professional readers and review board, and the last thing you want to do is annoy the people to whom you will be defending your paper. Below you will find more information about whom you can include when you write acknowledgements for you dissertation or thesis.

Personal Acknowledgements

Before you even begin writing your dissertation acknowledgement, take time to make a list of people who are linked to your dissertation or thesis in any way. These people may have read or edited your paper or may have encouraged you or listened to your academic woes. In terms of family or friends to include, only list people who were active in your graduate studies. You really don’t have the space to include the cousins you haven’t seen or talked to since Grandma’s funeral ten years ago. However, if there were people who inspired your work, do not forget to include these people on your list of names. For example, you might want to include a grandfather whom you never met but who was the first member of your family to graduate from high school or college, maybe even under less than ideal circumstances. When you mention these people in your acknowledgements, remember to state specifically how they helped you. This will mean a lot to these people, and they will be grateful that you remembered exactly what they did for you along the way.

Professional Acknowledgements

Take a look back at your list of contributors, and be sure to mention the members of academia who helped you complete your dissertation or thesis. Again, you only have room for major contributors, not your freshman biology professor. Professionals to include could be advisors, upper-level professors, lab assistants, librarians, colleagues, or classmates. Anyone who assisted you in researching, conducting experiments and surveys, or writing could be a candidate for you to include in your dissertation acknowledgement. For academic contributors whom you choose to mention in your acknowledgements, you should use their full names and titles. However, if you are mentioning friends, you might consider only using first names to protect their identities. If several people within a large group assisted you, you only need to state the group name.

 
 

Writing a Dissertation Title: Combining Information and Creativity

One of the most important steps in the writing process is coming up with a dissertation title that does justice to your work. The title of a thesis or dissertation must do several things in a relatively small number of words. First and most importantly, your title must tell readers what you are about to discuss at length. Secondly, you title must also include a creative or unique element, something that lets readers know that your personality is present in your work. Classic titles for dissertations or theses typically contain a common punctuation mark used by many academics: the colon. Titles with two phrases separated by a colon allow you to express two sides of your study and to draw readers into your work through information and creativity. The most important thing to consider when writing a dissertation title is your personality. Because the body of your work reveals your writing style, you should remain true to your style in the title. Don’t try to write a title that you feel is attractive but that ultimately misleads readers in some way. Most of your colleagues who will be reading your work have professional interests that are similar to your own, so don’t worry about what will draw people outside of your academic group because most people who come across your thesis or dissertation will likely be researching a similar topic.

Divulging Descriptive Information

Your title should clearly and directly report to your readers what the following paper will contain. You do not want to ruin your dissertation or thesis with a sarcastic or misleading title! When choosing words for your title, you should avoid any words with double meanings. Consider what a person searching your title might find. Scholars should never accidentally stumble across your paper when they were looking for something else. Your title should be simple enough to make it easily accessible for someone who is looking for information regarding your topic.

Keeping Readers in Mind

Always remember who will be reading your dissertation or thesis. If yours is a work that will only be read by academics, you will need to consider your audience before choosing catchy or humorous title. For example, a humorous or ironic title might not appeal to the scientific colleagues of a nuclear engineer. However, professors of the arts and humanities might appreciate or even encourage humorous or ironic titles. Lastly, you should never include any terms in your dissertation title that could be offensive to any group of people for any reason.

 

Writing a Literature Review: Examining Relevant Works

A literature review can be loosely defined as an overview of all relevant research findings related to the topic of your dissertation or thesis. In other words, writing a literature review sets the stage for the rest of your thesis or dissertation and should include both what is known and what is unknown about your topic. Before you begin writing a literature review, you need to have a good idea about what makes your study relevant to know what your literature review should include.

Finding Literature for the Literature Review

The first step to writing a literature review is fully examining your own topic. Obviously, there will be few (if any) studies already available or published that are identical to your own. Therefore, you need to imagine any subjects that could possibly be related to your own. Then, you should begin searching articles and databases for relevant works. Remember that a literature review for your thesis or dissertation should be comprehensive, so you may need to pull primary sources of seminal work, which may require interlibrary loans. Your literature search should include studies that are both slightly broader and more specific than is your own study but that have similar subject matter to that of your study. Also, relevant studies could include similar experiments that were conducted on different subjects other than that of your study. Some universities may require you to include a certain number of studies in your literature review. Some universities may even have more specific requirements about maximum or minimum limits on using studies conducted before or after certain years (often within the past 5–10 years). Make sure that you are aware of your graduate school’s guidelines for literature reviews. After you have collected a plethora of literature, narrow it down to only literature that will make a significant contribution to the understanding of your research. Now you are ready to write about the findings and conclusions of the works that you have chosen for you literature review.

Writing a Literature Review

Your literature review should include the following elements:

  • A brief overview of the subject matter of your study and of the objectives that you hope to accomplish in conducting your study,
  • Some categories of literature that are relevant to your study (e.g., studies that include the same tests and surveys to collect data, studies that support or refute the hypotheses of your study, and studies that have already been conducted but that might lack current technology or theories),
  • A clear explanation of how the literature that you have chosen relates to yours and to other studies, and
  • A conclusion in which you synthesize the findings of studies that are most convincing and that make the greatest contribution to your study.

While you are writing these elements of your literature review, you should keep in mind several considerations regarding the authors and viewpoints of the literature: Are the authors reliable? What other studies have the authors conducted? Are the perspectives of the studies objective or subjective? Are all sides of the topics represented in the studies? Do the studies significantly contribute to the broader field of study? For your review to successfully provide readers with relevant understanding of your topic, you should try to achieve some of the following goals: to identify new ways to interpret data or to understand research, to resolve conflicts among contradictory studies, to emphasize the need for further research about your topic, and to place your study in the context of discussed works.

 

Understanding Abbreviations: e.g. or i.e.

You need to understand the difference between e.g. or i.e. before you begin writing research papers and other pieces of written work. Writers will often use e.g. or i.e. as if they are interchangeable, but there are several differences between the two. Here we discuss the difference between the two abbreviations, including: their Latin and English translations, examples of appropriate uses, and how to present these in terms of parentheses and punctuation.

e.g.

This is the Latin abbreviation for “exempli gratia,” meaning “for example.” Use e.g. when you want to give several examples relating to a previous statement: “I like many TV shows (e.g., The Office, Survivor, Dallas).”

i.e.

This is the Latin abbreviation for “id est,” meaning “that is.” Use i.e. when you want to further explain or rephrase a previous statement: “I like many TV shows (i.e., I’ll watch pretty much anything).”

These abbreviations definitely do not mean the same thing, so be careful when you are selecting e.g. or i.e. in your writing. However, there are some similarities when it comes to the punctuation and presentation of both abbreviations. Both abbreviations can be used inside or outside parentheses, but it is strongly encouraged that you use e.g. or i.e. in parentheses for professional and technical writing (e.g., your thesis or dissertation, future journal articles, etc.). Always use lowercase letters for these abbreviations even if the abbreviations begin a sentence, and always punctuate abbreviations with appropriately placed periods without spaces and with commas after the second periods (i.e., see the previous examples).

 

 
 
 

APA Writing Style: Staying True to Yourself

You’ve started putting together a draft to present your research paper to your review board. You have outlined several points already, including your hypothesis and other introductory pieces. However, you’re struggling to figure out a specific writing style to use for your dissertation or thesis. The American Psychological Association (APA) suggests a preferred technical writing style, but you could choose to follow a different style guide, or be required to use something other than the APA writing style guide. While the APA writing style guide is used by most universities, some choose not to. According to APA, “[t]he prime objective of scientific reporting is clear communication. You can achieve this by presenting ideas in an orderly manner and by expressing yourself smoothly and precisely” (APA, 2010, p. 65). As long as you follow these guidelines, then you can choose whatever writing style suits you personally.

Things to Remember

One important thing to remember as you are writing your thesis or dissertation is continuity. While you are writing, you should always consider your main subject to keep from going on an off-topic tangent. As you are writing a paragraph, ask yourself how the content of that paragraph relates to the current chapter or subheading that you are writing about. Another important thing to remember as you are writing is smoothness and flow. Proper punctuation can help you establish smoothness and flow in your writing because correctly placed commas and colons let readers see your train of thought in communicating your idea. When in doubt refer to the APA writing style guide to help you with obscure punctuation rules. Another very important thing to remember as you are writing your thesis or dissertation is to find peers to help you in the writing process. Pair with a colleague, and read each other’s work so that you have another perspective on your writing. Finally, set a tone early on in your work, and maintain that tone throughout your paper. Make sure your writing style is similar to your personality so that writing will come easily to you, and you won’t have to worry about sounding a certain way and writing in a style that isn’t yours.

Things to Avoid

You should try to avoid several things while you are writing. For example, do not try to impress other professionals because they will not be the people studying your work. Do not try to use too many large words and too much technical jargon because wordiness can detract from the main idea of a sentence or paragraph. Avoid being redundant or continuously repeating yourself, even if you use different words in each repetition. Avoid anthropomorphism or “attribut[ing] human characteristics to animals or to inanimate sources” (APA, 2010, p. 69). For example, do not use phrases such as “this study attempted,” or “the research presented.” Avoid employing several consecutive long or short sentences; instead mix up sentence length to keep readers alert and attune to your message. The APA writing style guide strongly encourages writers to avoid using bias in their writing by considering your argument from all perspectives and viewpoints. Even if the bias is popular opinion, bias can often offend readers who believe differently.

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