Tips on writing thesis or dissertation


It is often asked what is the difference between a thesis and a dissertation, or even what is the difference between an essay, a thesis, and a dissertation. There is clearly much common ground in defining all three. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘essay’ as ‘a short piece of writing on a particular subject, whereas it defines ‘thesis’ as ‘ a long essay or dissertation involving personal research written by a candidate for a university degree’. Furthermore, the OED defines ‘dissertation’ as ‘a long essay on a particular subject, especially one written for a university degree or diploma’. The difference between ‘thesis’ and ‘dissertation’ can be somewhat complex, and that fact that the terms are described differently in different countries, and even in different universities, complicates the matter further. Therefore, no attempt is made in this article to define the difference, but rather some tips are given about writing a thesis or dissertation. Although the word ‘thesis’ will be used throughout, it generally applies also to ‘dissertation’. 

What exactly is a thesis?

Basically, a thesis is your own work as a result of research you have conducted. You should present your arguments based on your research and present your own ideas and suggestions. These should be summarised in a conclusion and possibly a recommendation. 


Preparing and writing a thesis involves much hard work. The first step is to discuss the project with your tutor or supervisor who will set the topic for you. You should then conduct your research, which of course will involve much reading. Writing a thesis is time-consuming; therefore, you should make a plan and time table from the start. This should allow for the research, the writing of the thesis which may involve several drafts, getting it proofread, edited or paraphrased as required, and then getting it printed and bound to a professional standard.  The work will probably take more time than you anticipate, particularly due to various delays and unexpected interruptions. Therefore, you should allow for this in your plan in order to avoid any panic on the submission deadline. 

The writing of the thesis

Once you have decided on your topic and completed your research, it is time to begin writing the thesis. Firstly, familiarise yourself with the style guide and other requirements of your university. This will include the font type and size, the referencing system, the number of words required and other factors. You then need to plan the layout of your thesis; the title, list of contents, abstract, introduction, main body (which will involve several chapters), conclusion, recommendations and a bibliography. The thesis may also include pictures, diagrams and tables. 

Developing your argument

The thesis must present original arguments and be your own work, and you must demonstrate to the examiner that you have used your analytical skills to present your arguments by citing evidence. You should not repeat any material that you have used in previous pieces of work. The work should be well written, without spelling, grammar or typing errors. It is important that your thesis is clear, concise and logical, and that sentences are neither too long nor too short. 

Some pitfalls to avoid 

 1.Failiure to present an argument

You may have researched your topic well, given all required citations and written your thesis in perfect language. However, if you have not presented your argument or included original writing, you will have done no more that repeat the information obtained from the research.  

2.Lack of evidence

When presenting your argument, it can be easy to state your own opinion without the backing of evidence or justification. Therefore, you need to back up your arguments with evidence. 


Universities are very strict on the use of plagiarism, which could have serious consequences. You should never make the work of others appear to be your own. The work and opinions of others should be presented in your own words and always be cited. 


Sometimes you will need to give direct quotations from other scholars. These should always be in quotation marks and the source cited. Do not attempt to paraphrase or edit such quotations as this will be regarded as a misquotation. For this reason you should ensure that you make the quotation accurately without any typographical errors. 

5.Reporting figures and statistics inaccurately

If your thesis contains tables and statistics, you should ensure that the figures are accurate. 

Style Guides

All universities issue style guides and general advice for writing theses. Links to some of these are shown below.

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The University of Edinburgh, Institute for Academic Development.

Writing up your PhD and Preparing for the Viva. [Accessed 22.08.20].


Harvard University, Guidelines for the PhD Dissertation. [Accessed 22.08.20].


University of Oxford, General Guidelines for Thesis Writers. [Accessed 22.08.20].