Never Finished Dissertation Outline

In this blog post, you’ll learn exactly how to write the last chapter of your doctoral dissertation. In particular, you will get oriented with the overall goals of the conclusion chapter. Then, you’ll be taught on how to go about writing the chapter itself. Finally, you will be given guidance on what things to avoid in the ever-important final chapter of your dissertation.

The Main Goals of your Dissertation Conclusion

Before going into how to actually write the conclusion chapter of your dissertation, it’s important to review its purpose. Regardless of what discipline you are in, there are certain messages you always want your readers to absorb after reading your conclusion chapter. Basically, your conclusion should always:
Give a general overview of the important contributions of your work –  Make it absolutely clear for your committee and the general reader the original contributions of your work and where they are situated with respect to the rest of your research field. A good way to do this is to simply display your contributions in a bulleted list.

Summarize the main points of your various chapters – Especially if you aim to get your work published, your conclusion should always strive to be an ‘executive summary’ of your work. Not every reader will be interested in reading your entire work. This way, you will have this chapter ready to give them a brief (yet comprehensive) overview of the dissertation.

Recommendations – You should always include at least a paragraph on the practical implications resulting from your findings. This is extremely valuable for yourself, the committee, and the general reader. You can be rather flexible with your recommendations as long as they are relevant and derived from the findings of your dissertation research. For example, you can list highly-specific recommendations and steps to be followed or you can list more general recommendations guiding the reader towards certain ideas and principles to follow.

Future Work – No matter how much you have done with your dissertation research, it will never truly be finished. There will always be lingering question marks and open ends. By no means does this indicate your work is incomplete On the contrary, no PhD work is ever complete and, in fact, a good dissertation is one that sparks a high level of general interest and motivates further research in a particular discipline.

How to Actually Write the Dissertation Conclusion Chapter

Now that you have a good grasp of what the general outline should be of your conclusion, it is important to look at how to actually write it. The most important principle to keep in mind while writing your dissertation conclusion is reflection. To illustrate:

  • If readers were to go over nothing in your work except your conclusion, what message(s) would you want to leave them with?
  • What would your ‘take-home’ message be to your audience? What idea, question, call-to-action, etc., would you want them to have as they finish reading your work and walk away?

These are what you must constantly ask yourself while you are writing your dissertation conclusion.

Usually, you should start writing your conclusion by first taking notes, and you should do this while proofreading the initial draft of your work. In general, you should use the following approach:

  • Use an approach where you would 1) proofread, 2) take notes, and 3) summarize every single chapter of your work. This will pave the way and give you the structure you need for your dissertation conclusion.
  • After you do this, simply copy & paste these mini chapter summaries and combine them into your conclusion.
  • Now you have the ‘raw material’ and with this, you can start to modify and weave together the main ideas of your general summary.
  • After that, simply add the sections on practical implications, contributions, and future work/research.
  • As a final step, re-read the draft of your conclusion and ask yourself, “Does my conclusion really grasp the essence of my work?”

Pitfalls to Avoid for your Dissertation Conclusion

In general, there are three main pitfalls you should always avoid when writing the conclusion for your dissertation.

Protracted and Rambling Conclusion – A long and protracted conclusion is when you repeat yourself unnecessarily (without adding anything to what you are mentioning) about points you already mentioned in your previous chapters before the conclusion.

Short Conclusion – This is actually an improvement to a long and rambling conclusion, which wastes valuable time on the part of your audience. However, a conclusion that is too short also rambles about facts without coming to a logical conclusion, and does all this using less words and missing vital points/arguments.

Implausible Conclusion – Often times, doctoral students can come to wild conclusions that boggle the mind. They make claims that have absolutely no logical link to the evidence in their research, or that link is very weak. For example, many PhD students (in their very limited small-scale study) make wild assertions that the results of their study should be adopted by public policy-makers, governmental officials, and the like. If you make a list of unsubstantiated claims, you will be wasting a lot of hard work for nothing. Simply stay humble and avoid doing this!

Filed Under: Dissertation Tips, FeaturedTagged With: Writer's Block, Writing

Many PhD students are now in the final throes of writing their thesis. Turning years of research into a single, coherent piece of work can be tough, so we asked for tips from supervisors and recent PhD graduates. We were inundated with tweets and emails and @AcademiaObscura helpfully created a Storify of the tweets. Below is a selection of the best tips.

1) Make sure you meet the PhD requirements for your institution
“PhD students and their supervisors often presume things without checking. One supervisor told his student that a PhD was about 300 pages long so he wrote 300 pages. Unfortunately the supervisor had meant double-spaced, and the student had written single-spaced. Getting rid of 40,000 extra words with two weeks to go is not recommended.” (Hannah Farrimond, lecturer in medical sociology, Exeter University)

2) Keep perspective
“Everyone wants their thesis to be amazing, their magnum opus. But your most important work will come later. Think of your PhD as an apprenticeship. Your peers are unlikely to read your thesis and judge you on it. They are more likely to read any papers (articles, chapters, books) that result from it.” (Dean D’Souza, PhD in cognitive neuroscience, Birkbeck, University of London)

3) Write the introduction last
“Writing the introduction and conclusion together will help to tie up the thesis together, so save it for the end.” (Ashish Jaiswal, PhD in business education, University of Oxford)

4) Use apps
“Trello is a project management tool (available as a smartphone app) which allows you to create ‘boards’ on which to pin all of your outstanding tasks, deadlines, and ideas. It allows you to make checklists too so you know that all of your important stuff is listed and to-hand, meaning you can focus on one thing at a time. It’s satisfying to move notes into the ‘done’ column too.” (Lucy Irving, PhD in psychology, Middlesex University)

5) Address the unanswered questions
“There will always be unanswered questions – don’t try to ignore or, even worse, obfuscate them. On the contrary, actively draw attention to them; identify them in your conclusion as areas for further investigation. Your PhD viva will go badly if you’ve attempted to disregard or evade the unresolved issues that your thesis has inevitably opened up.” (Michael Perfect, PhD in English literature, University of Cambridge)

6) Buy your own laser printer
“A basic monochrome laser printer that can print duplex (two-sided) can be bought online for less than £100, with off-brand replacement toners available for about £30 a pop. Repeatedly reprinting and editing draft thesis chapters has two very helpful functions. Firstly, it takes your work off the screen and onto paper, which is usually easier to proof. Secondly, it gives you a legitimate excuse to get away from your desk.” (James Brown, PhD in architectural education, Queen’s University Belfast)

7) Checking is important
“On days when your brain is too tired to write, check quotations, bibliography etc so you’re still making progress.” (Julia Wright, professor of English at Dalhousie University, Canada)

8) Get feedback on the whole thesis
“We often get feedback on individual chapters but plan to get feedback from your supervisor on the PhD as a whole to make sure it all hangs together nicely.” (Mel Rohse, PhD in peace studies, University of Bradford)

9) Make sure you know when it will end
“Sometimes supervisors use optimistic words such as ‘You are nearly there!’ Ask them to be specific. Are you three months away, or do you have six months’ worth of work? Or is it just a month’s load?” (Rifat Mahbub, PhD in women’s studies, University of York)

10) Prepare for the viva
“Don’t just focus on the thesis – the viva is very important too and examiners’ opinions can change following a successful viva. Remember that you are the expert in your specific field, not the examiners, and ask your supervisor to arrange a mock viva if practically possible.” (Christine Jones, head of school of Welsh and bilingual studies, University of Wales Trinity St David)

11) Develop your own style
“Take into account everything your supervisor has said, attend to their suggestions about revisions to your work but also be true to your own style of writing. What I found constructive was paying attention to the work of novelists I enjoy reading. It may seem that their style has nothing to do with your own field of research, but this does not matter. You can still absorb something of how they write and what makes it effective, compelling and believable.” (Sarah Skyrme, PhD in sociology, Newcastle University)

12) Remember that more is not always better
“A PhD thesis is not a race to the highest page count; don’t waste time padding.” (Francis Woodhouse, PhD in mathematical biology, University of Cambridge)

13) Get a buddy
“Find a colleague, your partner, a friend who is willing to support you. Share with them your milestones and goals, and agree to be accountable to them. This doesn’t mean they get to hassle or nag you, it just means someone else knows what you’re up to, and can help to check if your planning is realistic and achievable.” (Cassandra Steer, PhD in criminology, University of Amsterdam)

14) Don’t pursue perfectionism
“Remember that a PhD doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. Nothing more self-crippling than perfectionism.” (Nathan Waddell, lecturer in modernist literature, Nottingham University)

15) Look after yourself
“Go outside. Work outside if you can. Fresh air, trees and sunshine do wonders for what’s left of your sanity.” (Helen Coverdale, PhD in law, LSE)

• Do you have any tips to add? Share your advice in the comments below.

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