How to Write a Dissertation: Step-by-Step Guide

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  • Doctoral students write and defend dissertations to earn their degrees.
  • Most dissertations range from 100-300 pages, depending on the field.
  • Taking a step-by-step approach can help students write their dissertations.

Whether you're considering a doctoral program or you recently passed your comprehensive exams, you've probably wondered how to write a dissertation. Researching, writing, and defending a dissertation represents a major step in earning a doctorate.

But what is a dissertation exactly? A dissertation is an original work of scholarship that contributes to the field. Doctoral candidates often spend 1-3 years working on their dissertations. And many dissertations top 200 or more pages.

Starting the process on the right foot can help you complete a successful dissertation. Breaking down the process into steps may also make it easier to finish your dissertation.

How to Write a Dissertation in 12 Steps

A dissertation demonstrates mastery in a subject. But how do you write a dissertation? Here are 12 steps to successfully complete a dissertation.

Choose a Topic

It sounds like an easy step, but choosing a topic will play an enormous role in the success of your dissertation. In some fields, your dissertation advisor will recommend a topic. In other fields, you'll develop a topic on your own.

Read recent work in your field to identify areas for additional scholarship. Look for holes in the literature or questions that remain unanswered.

After coming up with a few areas for research or questions, carefully consider what's feasible with your resources. Talk to your faculty advisor about your ideas and incorporate their feedback.

Conduct Preliminary Research

Before starting a dissertation, you'll need to conduct research. Depending on your field, that might mean visiting archives, reviewing scholarly literature , or running lab tests.

Use your preliminary research to hone your question and topic. Take lots of notes, particularly on areas where you can expand your research.

Read Secondary Literature

A dissertation demonstrates your mastery of the field. That means you'll need to read a large amount of scholarship on your topic. Dissertations typically include a literature review section or chapter.

Create a list of books, articles, and other scholarly works early in the process, and continue to add to your list. Refer to the works cited to identify key literature. And take detailed notes to make the writing process easier.

Write a Research Proposal

In most doctoral programs, you'll need to write and defend a research proposal before starting your dissertation.

The length and format of your proposal depend on your field. In many fields, the proposal will run 10-20 pages and include a detailed discussion of the research topic, methodology, and secondary literature.

Your faculty advisor will provide valuable feedback on turning your proposal into a dissertation.

Research, Research, Research

Doctoral dissertations make an original contribution to the field, and your research will be the basis of that contribution.

The form your research takes will depend on your academic discipline. In computer science, you might analyze a complex dataset to understand machine learning. In English, you might read the unpublished papers of a poet or author. In psychology, you might design a study to test stress responses. And in education, you might create surveys to measure student experiences.

Work closely with your faculty advisor as you conduct research. Your advisor can often point you toward useful resources or recommend areas for further exploration.

Look for Dissertation Examples

Writing a dissertation can feel overwhelming. Most graduate students have written seminar papers or a master's thesis. But a dissertation is essentially like writing a book.

Looking at examples of dissertations can help you set realistic expectations and understand what your discipline wants in a successful dissertation. Ask your advisor if the department has recent dissertation examples. Or use a resource like ProQuest Dissertations to find examples.

Doctoral candidates read a lot of monographs and articles, but they often do not read dissertations. Reading polished scholarly work, particularly critical scholarship in your field, can give you an unrealistic standard for writing a dissertation.

Write Your Body Chapters

By the time you sit down to write your dissertation, you've already accomplished a great deal. You've chosen a topic, defended your proposal, and conducted research. Now it's time to organize your work into chapters.

As with research, the format of your dissertation depends on your field. Your department will likely provide dissertation guidelines to structure your work. In many disciplines, dissertations include chapters on the literature review, methodology, and results. In other disciplines, each chapter functions like an article that builds to your overall argument.

Start with the chapter you feel most confident in writing. Expand on the literature review in your proposal to provide an overview of the field. Describe your research process and analyze the results.

Meet With Your Advisor

Throughout the dissertation process, you should meet regularly with your advisor. As you write chapters, send them to your advisor for feedback. Your advisor can help identify issues and suggest ways to strengthen your dissertation.

Staying in close communication with your advisor will also boost your confidence for your dissertation defense. Consider sharing material with other members of your committee as well.

Write Your Introduction and Conclusion

It seems counterintuitive, but it's a good idea to write your introduction and conclusion last . Your introduction should describe the scope of your project and your intervention in the field.

Many doctoral candidates find it useful to return to their dissertation proposal to write the introduction. If your project evolved significantly, you will need to reframe the introduction. Make sure you provide background information to set the scene for your dissertation. And preview your methodology, research aims, and results.

The conclusion is often the shortest section. In your conclusion, sum up what you've demonstrated, and explain how your dissertation contributes to the field.

Edit Your Draft

You've completed a draft of your dissertation. Now, it's time to edit that draft.

For some doctoral candidates, the editing process can feel more challenging than researching or writing the dissertation. Most dissertations run a minimum of 100-200 pages , with some hitting 300 pages or more.

When editing your dissertation, break it down chapter by chapter. Go beyond grammar and spelling to make sure you communicate clearly and efficiently. Identify repetitive areas and shore up weaknesses in your argument.

Incorporate Feedback

Writing a dissertation can feel very isolating. You're focused on one topic for months or years, and you're often working alone. But feedback will strengthen your dissertation.

You will receive feedback as you write your dissertation, both from your advisor and other committee members. In many departments, doctoral candidates also participate in peer review groups to provide feedback.

Outside readers will note confusing sections and recommend changes. Make sure you incorporate the feedback throughout the writing and editing process.

Defend Your Dissertation

Congratulations — you made it to the dissertation defense! Typically, your advisor will not let you schedule the defense unless they believe you will pass. So consider the defense a culmination of your dissertation process rather than a high-stakes examination.

The format of your defense depends on the department. In some fields, you'll present your research. In other fields, the defense will consist of an in-depth discussion with your committee.

Walk into your defense with confidence. You're now an expert in your topic. Answer questions concisely and address any weaknesses in your study. Once you pass the defense, you'll earn your doctorate.

Writing a dissertation isn't easy — only around 55,000 students earned a Ph.D. in 2020, according to the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. However, it is possible to successfully complete a dissertation by breaking down the process into smaller steps.

Frequently Asked Questions About Dissertations

What is a dissertation.

A dissertation is a substantial research project that contributes to your field of study. Graduate students write a dissertation to earn their doctorate.

The format and content of a dissertation vary widely depending on the academic discipline. Doctoral candidates work closely with their faculty advisor to complete and defend the dissertation, a process that typically takes 1-3 years.

How long is a dissertation?

The length of a dissertation varies by field. Harvard's graduate school says most dissertations fall between 100-300 pages .

Doctoral candidate Marcus Beck analyzed the length of University of Minnesota dissertations by discipline and found that history produces the longest dissertations, with an average of nearly 300 pages, while mathematics produces the shortest dissertations at just under 100 pages.

What's the difference between a dissertation vs. a thesis?

Dissertations and theses demonstrate academic mastery at different levels. In U.S. graduate education, master's students typically write theses, while doctoral students write dissertations. The terms are reversed in the British system.

In the U.S., a dissertation is longer, more in-depth, and based on more research than a thesis. Doctoral candidates write a dissertation as the culminating research project of their degree. Undergraduates and master's students may write shorter theses as part of their programs.

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  • Dissertation

How to Write a Dissertation | A Guide to Structure & Content

A dissertation or thesis is a long piece of academic writing based on original research, submitted as part of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree.

The structure of a dissertation depends on your field, but it is usually divided into at least four or five chapters (including an introduction and conclusion chapter).

The most common dissertation structure in the sciences and social sciences includes:

  • An introduction to your topic
  • A literature review that surveys relevant sources
  • An explanation of your methodology
  • An overview of the results of your research
  • A discussion of the results and their implications
  • A conclusion that shows what your research has contributed

Dissertations in the humanities are often structured more like a long essay , building an argument by analysing primary and secondary sources . Instead of the standard structure outlined here, you might organise your chapters around different themes or case studies.

Other important elements of the dissertation include the title page , abstract , and reference list . If in doubt about how your dissertation should be structured, always check your department’s guidelines and consult with your supervisor.

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Table of contents

Acknowledgements, table of contents, list of figures and tables, list of abbreviations, introduction, literature review / theoretical framework, methodology, reference list.

The very first page of your document contains your dissertation’s title, your name, department, institution, degree program, and submission date. Sometimes it also includes your student number, your supervisor’s name, and the university’s logo. Many programs have strict requirements for formatting the dissertation title page .

The title page is often used as cover when printing and binding your dissertation .

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The acknowledgements section is usually optional, and gives space for you to thank everyone who helped you in writing your dissertation. This might include your supervisors, participants in your research, and friends or family who supported you.

The abstract is a short summary of your dissertation, usually about 150-300 words long. You should write it at the very end, when you’ve completed the rest of the dissertation. In the abstract, make sure to:

  • State the main topic and aims of your research
  • Describe the methods you used
  • Summarise the main results
  • State your conclusions

Although the abstract is very short, it’s the first part (and sometimes the only part) of your dissertation that people will read, so it’s important that you get it right. If you’re struggling to write a strong abstract, read our guide on how to write an abstract .

In the table of contents, list all of your chapters and subheadings and their page numbers. The dissertation contents page gives the reader an overview of your structure and helps easily navigate the document.

All parts of your dissertation should be included in the table of contents, including the appendices. You can generate a table of contents automatically in Word.

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If you have used a lot of tables and figures in your dissertation, you should itemise them in a numbered list . You can automatically generate this list using the Insert Caption feature in Word.

If you have used a lot of abbreviations in your dissertation, you can include them in an alphabetised list of abbreviations so that the reader can easily look up their meanings.

If you have used a lot of highly specialised terms that will not be familiar to your reader, it might be a good idea to include a glossary . List the terms alphabetically and explain each term with a brief description or definition.

In the introduction, you set up your dissertation’s topic, purpose, and relevance, and tell the reader what to expect in the rest of the dissertation. The introduction should:

  • Establish your research topic , giving necessary background information to contextualise your work
  • Narrow down the focus and define the scope of the research
  • Discuss the state of existing research on the topic, showing your work’s relevance to a broader problem or debate
  • Clearly state your objectives and research questions , and indicate how you will answer them
  • Give an overview of your dissertation’s structure

Everything in the introduction should be clear, engaging, and relevant to your research. By the end, the reader should understand the what , why and how of your research. Not sure how? Read our guide on how to write a dissertation introduction .

Before you start on your research, you should have conducted a literature review to gain a thorough understanding of the academic work that already exists on your topic. This means:

  • Collecting sources (e.g. books and journal articles) and selecting the most relevant ones
  • Critically evaluating and analysing each source
  • Drawing connections between them (e.g. themes, patterns, conflicts, gaps) to make an overall point

In the dissertation literature review chapter or section, you shouldn’t just summarise existing studies, but develop a coherent structure and argument that leads to a clear basis or justification for your own research. For example, it might aim to show how your research:

  • Addresses a gap in the literature
  • Takes a new theoretical or methodological approach to the topic
  • Proposes a solution to an unresolved problem
  • Advances a theoretical debate
  • Builds on and strengthens existing knowledge with new data

The literature review often becomes the basis for a theoretical framework , in which you define and analyse the key theories, concepts and models that frame your research. In this section you can answer descriptive research questions about the relationship between concepts or variables.

The methodology chapter or section describes how you conducted your research, allowing your reader to assess its validity. You should generally include:

  • The overall approach and type of research (e.g. qualitative, quantitative, experimental, ethnographic)
  • Your methods of collecting data (e.g. interviews, surveys, archives)
  • Details of where, when, and with whom the research took place
  • Your methods of analysing data (e.g. statistical analysis, discourse analysis)
  • Tools and materials you used (e.g. computer programs, lab equipment)
  • A discussion of any obstacles you faced in conducting the research and how you overcame them
  • An evaluation or justification of your methods

Your aim in the methodology is to accurately report what you did, as well as convincing the reader that this was the best approach to answering your research questions or objectives.

Next, you report the results of your research . You can structure this section around sub-questions, hypotheses, or topics. Only report results that are relevant to your objectives and research questions. In some disciplines, the results section is strictly separated from the discussion, while in others the two are combined.

For example, for qualitative methods like in-depth interviews, the presentation of the data will often be woven together with discussion and analysis, while in quantitative and experimental research, the results should be presented separately before you discuss their meaning. If you’re unsure, consult with your supervisor and look at sample dissertations to find out the best structure for your research.

In the results section it can often be helpful to include tables, graphs and charts. Think carefully about how best to present your data, and don’t include tables or figures that just repeat what you have written  –  they should provide extra information or usefully visualise the results in a way that adds value to your text.

Full versions of your data (such as interview transcripts) can be included as an appendix .

The discussion  is where you explore the meaning and implications of your results in relation to your research questions. Here you should interpret the results in detail, discussing whether they met your expectations and how well they fit with the framework that you built in earlier chapters. If any of the results were unexpected, offer explanations for why this might be. It’s a good idea to consider alternative interpretations of your data and discuss any limitations that might have influenced the results.

The discussion should reference other scholarly work to show how your results fit with existing knowledge. You can also make recommendations for future research or practical action.

The dissertation conclusion should concisely answer the main research question, leaving the reader with a clear understanding of your central argument. Wrap up your dissertation with a final reflection on what you did and how you did it. The conclusion often also includes recommendations for research or practice.

In this section, it’s important to show how your findings contribute to knowledge in the field and why your research matters. What have you added to what was already known?

You must include full details of all sources that you have cited in a reference list (sometimes also called a works cited list or bibliography). It’s important to follow a consistent reference style . Each style has strict and specific requirements for how to format your sources in the reference list.

The most common styles used in UK universities are Harvard referencing and Vancouver referencing . Your department will often specify which referencing style you should use – for example, psychology students tend to use APA style , humanities students often use MHRA , and law students always use OSCOLA . M ake sure to check the requirements, and ask your supervisor if you’re unsure.

To save time creating the reference list and make sure your citations are correctly and consistently formatted, you can use our free APA Citation Generator .

Your dissertation itself should contain only essential information that directly contributes to answering your research question. Documents you have used that do not fit into the main body of your dissertation (such as interview transcripts, survey questions or tables with full figures) can be added as appendices .

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Thesis and Dissertation: Getting Started

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The resources in this section are designed to provide guidance for the first steps of the thesis or dissertation writing process. They offer tools to support the planning and managing of your project, including writing out your weekly schedule, outlining your goals, and organzing the various working elements of your project.

Weekly Goals Sheet (a.k.a. Life Map) [Word Doc]

This editable handout provides a place for you to fill in available time blocks on a weekly chart that will help you visualize the amount of time you have available to write. By using this chart, you will be able to work your writing goals into your schedule and put these goals into perspective with your day-to-day plans and responsibilities each week. This handout also contains a formula to help you determine the minimum number of pages you would need to write per day in order to complete your writing on time.

Setting a Production Schedule (Word Doc)

This editable handout can help you make sense of the various steps involved in the production of your thesis or dissertation and determine how long each step might take. A large part of this process involves (1) seeking out the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding specific document formatting requirements, (2) understanding research protocol limitations, (3) making note of deadlines, and (4) understanding your personal writing habits.

Creating a Roadmap (PDF)

Part of organizing your writing involves having a clear sense of how the different working parts relate to one another. Creating a roadmap for your dissertation early on can help you determine what the final document will include and how all the pieces are connected. This resource offers guidance on several approaches to creating a roadmap, including creating lists, maps, nut-shells, visuals, and different methods for outlining. It is important to remember that you can create more than one roadmap (or more than one type of roadmap) depending on how the different approaches discussed here meet your needs.

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Dissertation Strategies

What this handout is about.

This handout suggests strategies for developing healthy writing habits during your dissertation journey. These habits can help you maintain your writing momentum, overcome anxiety and procrastination, and foster wellbeing during one of the most challenging times in graduate school.

Tackling a giant project

Because dissertations are, of course, big projects, it’s no surprise that planning, writing, and revising one can pose some challenges! It can help to think of your dissertation as an expanded version of a long essay: at the end of the day, it is simply another piece of writing. You’ve written your way this far into your degree, so you’ve got the skills! You’ll develop a great deal of expertise on your topic, but you may still be a novice with this genre and writing at this length. Remember to give yourself some grace throughout the project. As you begin, it’s helpful to consider two overarching strategies throughout the process.

First, take stock of how you learn and your own writing processes. What strategies have worked and have not worked for you? Why? What kind of learner and writer are you? Capitalize on what’s working and experiment with new strategies when something’s not working. Keep in mind that trying out new strategies can take some trial-and-error, and it’s okay if a new strategy that you try doesn’t work for you. Consider why it may not have been the best for you, and use that reflection to consider other strategies that might be helpful to you.

Second, break the project into manageable chunks. At every stage of the process, try to identify specific tasks, set small, feasible goals, and have clear, concrete strategies for achieving each goal. Small victories can help you establish and maintain the momentum you need to keep yourself going.

Below, we discuss some possible strategies to keep you moving forward in the dissertation process.

Pre-dissertation planning strategies

Get familiar with the Graduate School’s Thesis and Dissertation Resources .

Create a template that’s properly formatted. The Grad School offers workshops on formatting in Word for PC and formatting in Word for Mac . There are online templates for LaTeX users, but if you use a template, save your work where you can recover it if the template has corrruption issues.

Learn how to use a citation-manager and a synthesis matrix to keep track of all of your source information.

Skim other dissertations from your department, program, and advisor. Enlist the help of a librarian or ask your advisor for a list of recent graduates whose work you can look up. Seeing what other people have done to earn their PhD can make the project much less abstract and daunting. A concrete sense of expectations will help you envision and plan. When you know what you’ll be doing, try to find a dissertation from your department that is similar enough that you can use it as a reference model when you run into concerns about formatting, structure, level of detail, etc.

Think carefully about your committee . Ideally, you’ll be able to select a group of people who work well with you and with each other. Consult with your advisor about who might be good collaborators for your project and who might not be the best fit. Consider what classes you’ve taken and how you “vibe” with those professors or those you’ve met outside of class. Try to learn what you can about how they’ve worked with other students. Ask about feedback style, turnaround time, level of involvement, etc., and imagine how that would work for you.

Sketch out a sensible drafting order for your project. Be open to writing chapters in “the wrong order” if it makes sense to start somewhere other than the beginning. You could begin with the section that seems easiest for you to write to gain momentum.

Design a productivity alliance with your advisor . Talk with them about potential projects and a reasonable timeline. Discuss how you’ll work together to keep your work moving forward. You might discuss having a standing meeting to discuss ideas or drafts or issues (bi-weekly? monthly?), your advisor’s preferences for drafts (rough? polished?), your preferences for what you’d like feedback on (early or late drafts?), reasonable turnaround time for feedback (a week? two?), and anything else you can think of to enter the collaboration mindfully.

Design a productivity alliance with your colleagues . Dissertation writing can be lonely, but writing with friends, meeting for updates over your beverage of choice, and scheduling non-working social times can help you maintain healthy energy. See our tips on accountability strategies for ideas to support each other.

Productivity strategies

Write when you’re most productive. When do you have the most energy? Focus? Creativity? When are you most able to concentrate, either because of your body rhythms or because there are fewer demands on your time? Once you determine the hours that are most productive for you (you may need to experiment at first), try to schedule those hours for dissertation work. See the collection of time management tools and planning calendars on the Learning Center’s Tips & Tools page to help you think through the possibilities. If at all possible, plan your work schedule, errands and chores so that you reserve your productive hours for the dissertation.

Put your writing time firmly on your calendar . Guard your writing time diligently. You’ll probably be invited to do other things during your productive writing times, but do your absolute best to say no and to offer alternatives. No one would hold it against you if you said no because you’re teaching a class at that time—and you wouldn’t feel guilty about saying no. Cultivating the same hard, guilt-free boundaries around your writing time will allow you preserve the time you need to get this thing done!

Develop habits that foster balance . You’ll have to work very hard to get this dissertation finished, but you can do that without sacrificing your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Think about how you can structure your work hours most efficiently so that you have time for a healthy non-work life. It can be something as small as limiting the time you spend chatting with fellow students to a few minutes instead of treating the office or lab as a space for extensive socializing. Also see above for protecting your time.

Write in spaces where you can be productive. Figure out where you work well and plan to be there during your dissertation work hours. Do you get more done on campus or at home? Do you prefer quiet and solitude, like in a library carrel? Do you prefer the buzz of background noise, like in a coffee shop? Are you aware of the UNC Libraries’ list of places to study ? If you get “stuck,” don’t be afraid to try a change of scenery. The variety may be just enough to get your brain going again.

Work where you feel comfortable . Wherever you work, make sure you have whatever lighting, furniture, and accessories you need to keep your posture and health in good order. The University Health and Safety office offers guidelines for healthy computer work . You’re more likely to spend time working in a space that doesn’t physically hurt you. Also consider how you could make your work space as inviting as possible. Some people find that it helps to have pictures of family and friends on their desk—sort of a silent “cheering section.” Some people work well with neutral colors around them, and others prefer bright colors that perk up the space. Some people like to put inspirational quotations in their workspace or encouraging notes from friends and family. You might try reconfiguring your work space to find a décor that helps you be productive.

Elicit helpful feedback from various people at various stages . You might be tempted to keep your writing to yourself until you think it’s brilliant, but you can lower the stakes tremendously if you make eliciting feedback a regular part of your writing process. Your friends can feel like a safer audience for ideas or drafts in their early stages. Someone outside your department may provide interesting perspectives from their discipline that spark your own thinking. See this handout on getting feedback for productive moments for feedback, the value of different kinds of feedback providers, and strategies for eliciting what’s most helpful to you. Make this a recurring part of your writing process. Schedule it to help you hit deadlines.

Change the writing task . When you don’t feel like writing, you can do something different or you can do something differently. Make a list of all the little things you need to do for a given section of the dissertation, no matter how small. Choose a task based on your energy level. Work on Grad School requirements: reformat margins, work on bibliography, and all that. Work on your acknowledgements. Remember all the people who have helped you and the great ideas they’ve helped you develop. You may feel more like working afterward. Write a part of your dissertation as a letter or email to a good friend who would care. Sometimes setting aside the academic prose and just writing it to a buddy can be liberating and help you get the ideas out there. You can make it sound smart later. Free-write about why you’re stuck, and perhaps even about how sick and tired you are of your dissertation/advisor/committee/etc. Venting can sometimes get you past the emotions of writer’s block and move you toward creative solutions. Open a separate document and write your thoughts on various things you’ve read. These may or may note be coherent, connected ideas, and they may or may not make it into your dissertation. They’re just notes that allow you to think things through and/or note what you want to revisit later, so it’s perfectly fine to have mistakes, weird organization, etc. Just let your mind wander on paper.

Develop habits that foster productivity and may help you develop a productive writing model for post-dissertation writing . Since dissertations are very long projects, cultivating habits that will help support your work is important. You might check out Helen Sword’s work on behavioral, artisanal, social, and emotional habits to help you get a sense of where you are in your current habits. You might try developing “rituals” of work that could help you get more done. Lighting incense, brewing a pot of a particular kind of tea, pulling out a favorite pen, and other ritualistic behaviors can signal your brain that “it is time to get down to business.” You can critically think about your work methods—not only about what you like to do, but also what actually helps you be productive. You may LOVE to listen to your favorite band while you write, for example, but if you wind up playing air guitar half the time instead of writing, it isn’t a habit worth keeping.

The point is, figure out what works for you and try to do it consistently. Your productive habits will reinforce themselves over time. If you find yourself in a situation, however, that doesn’t match your preferences, don’t let it stop you from working on your dissertation. Try to be flexible and open to experimenting. You might find some new favorites!

Motivational strategies

Schedule a regular activity with other people that involves your dissertation. Set up a coworking date with your accountability buddies so you can sit and write together. Organize a chapter swap. Make regular appointments with your advisor. Whatever you do, make sure it’s something that you’ll feel good about showing up for–and will make you feel good about showing up for others.

Try writing in sprints . Many writers have discovered that the “Pomodoro technique” (writing for 25 minutes and taking a 5 minute break) boosts their productivity by helping them set small writing goals, focus intently for short periods, and give their brains frequent rests. See how one dissertation writer describes it in this blog post on the Pomodoro technique .

Quit while you’re ahead . Sometimes it helps to stop for the day when you’re on a roll. If you’ve got a great idea that you’re developing and you know where you want to go next, write “Next, I want to introduce x, y, and z and explain how they’re related—they all have the same characteristics of 1 and 2, and that clinches my theory of Q.” Then save the file and turn off the computer, or put down the notepad. When you come back tomorrow, you will already know what to say next–and all that will be left is to say it. Hopefully, the momentum will carry you forward.

Write your dissertation in single-space . When you need a boost, double space it and be impressed with how many pages you’ve written.

Set feasible goals–and celebrate the achievements! Setting and achieving smaller, more reasonable goals ( SMART goals ) gives you success, and that success can motivate you to focus on the next small step…and the next one.

Give yourself rewards along the way . When you meet a writing goal, reward yourself with something you normally wouldn’t have or do–this can be anything that will make you feel good about your accomplishment.

Make the act of writing be its own reward . For example, if you love a particular coffee drink from your favorite shop, save it as a special drink to enjoy during your writing time.

Try giving yourself “pre-wards” —positive experiences that help you feel refreshed and recharged for the next time you write. You don’t have to “earn” these with prior work, but you do have to commit to doing the work afterward.

Commit to doing something you don’t want to do if you don’t achieve your goal. Some people find themselves motivated to work harder when there’s a negative incentive. What would you most like to avoid? Watching a movie you hate? Donating to a cause you don’t support? Whatever it is, how can you ensure enforcement? Who can help you stay accountable?

Affective strategies

Build your confidence . It is not uncommon to feel “imposter phenomenon” during the course of writing your dissertation. If you start to feel this way, it can help to take a few minutes to remember every success you’ve had along the way. You’ve earned your place, and people have confidence in you for good reasons. It’s also helpful to remember that every one of the brilliant people around you is experiencing the same lack of confidence because you’re all in a new context with new tasks and new expectations. You’re not supposed to have it all figured out. You’re supposed to have uncertainties and questions and things to learn. Remember that they wouldn’t have accepted you to the program if they weren’t confident that you’d succeed. See our self-scripting handout for strategies to turn these affirmations into a self-script that you repeat whenever you’re experiencing doubts or other negative thoughts. You can do it!

Appreciate your successes . Not meeting a goal isn’t a failure–and it certainly doesn’t make you a failure. It’s an opportunity to figure out why you didn’t meet the goal. It might simply be that the goal wasn’t achievable in the first place. See the SMART goal handout and think through what you can adjust. Even if you meant to write 1500 words, focus on the success of writing 250 or 500 words that you didn’t have before.

Remember your “why.” There are a whole host of reasons why someone might decide to pursue a PhD, both personally and professionally. Reflecting on what is motivating to you can rekindle your sense of purpose and direction.

Get outside support . Sometimes it can be really helpful to get an outside perspective on your work and anxieties as a way of grounding yourself. Participating in groups like the Dissertation Support group through CAPS and the Dissertation Boot Camp can help you see that you’re not alone in the challenges. You might also choose to form your own writing support group with colleagues inside or outside your department.

Understand and manage your procrastination . When you’re writing a long dissertation, it can be easy to procrastinate! For instance, you might put off writing because the house “isn’t clean enough” or because you’re not in the right “space” (mentally or physically) to write, so you put off writing until the house is cleaned and everything is in its right place. You may have other ways of procrastinating. It can be helpful to be self-aware of when you’re procrastinating and to consider why you are procrastinating. It may be that you’re anxious about writing the perfect draft, for example, in which case you might consider: how can I focus on writing something that just makes progress as opposed to being “perfect”? There are lots of different ways of managing procrastination; one way is to make a schedule of all the things you already have to do (when you absolutely can’t write) to help you visualize those chunks of time when you can. See this handout on procrastination for more strategies and tools for managing procrastination.

Your topic, your advisor, and your committee: Making them work for you

By the time you’ve reached this stage, you have probably already defended a dissertation proposal, chosen an advisor, and begun working with a committee. Sometimes, however, those three elements can prove to be major external sources of frustration. So how can you manage them to help yourself be as productive as possible?

Managing your topic

Remember that your topic is not carved in stone . The research and writing plan suggested in your dissertation proposal was your best vision of the project at that time, but topics evolve as the research and writing progress. You might need to tweak your research question a bit to reduce or adjust the scope, you might pare down certain parts of the project or add others. You can discuss your thoughts on these adjustments with your advisor at your check ins.

Think about variables that could be cut down and how changes would affect the length, depth, breadth, and scholarly value of your study. Could you cut one or two experiments, case studies, regions, years, theorists, or chapters and still make a valuable contribution or, even more simply, just finish?

Talk to your advisor about any changes you might make . They may be quite sympathetic to your desire to shorten an unwieldy project and may offer suggestions.

Look at other dissertations from your department to get a sense of what the chapters should look like. Reverse-outline a few chapters so you can see if there’s a pattern of typical components and how information is sequenced. These can serve as models for your own dissertation. See this video on reverse outlining to see the technique.

Managing your advisor

Embrace your evolving status . At this stage in your graduate career, you should expect to assume some independence. By the time you finish your project, you will know more about your subject than your committee does. The student/teacher relationship you have with your advisor will necessarily change as you take this big step toward becoming their colleague.

Revisit the alliance . If the interaction with your advisor isn’t matching the original agreement or the original plan isn’t working as well as it could, schedule a conversation to revisit and redesign your working relationship in a way that could work for both of you.

Be specific in your feedback requests . Tell your advisor what kind of feedback would be most helpful to you. Sometimes an advisor can be giving unhelpful or discouraging feedback without realizing it. They might make extensive sentence-level edits when you really need conceptual feedback, or vice-versa, if you only ask generally for feedback. Letting your advisor know, very specifically, what kinds of responses will be helpful to you at different stages of the writing process can help your advisor know how to help you.

Don’t hide . Advisors can be most helpful if they know what you are working on, what problems you are experiencing, and what progress you have made. If you haven’t made the progress you were hoping for, it only makes it worse if you avoid talking to them. You rob yourself of their expertise and support, and you might start a spiral of guilt, shame, and avoidance. Even if it’s difficult, it may be better to be candid about your struggles.

Talk to other students who have the same advisor . You may find that they have developed strategies for working with your advisor that could help you communicate more effectively with them.

If you have recurring problems communicating with your advisor , you can make a change. You could change advisors completely, but a less dramatic option might be to find another committee member who might be willing to serve as a “secondary advisor” and give you the kinds of feedback and support that you may need.

Managing your committee

Design the alliance . Talk with your committee members about how much they’d like to be involved in your writing process, whether they’d like to see chapter drafts or the complete draft, how frequently they’d like to meet (or not), etc. Your advisor can guide you on how committees usually work, but think carefully about how you’d like the relationship to function too.

Keep in regular contact with your committee , even if they don’t want to see your work until it has been approved by your advisor. Let them know about fellowships you receive, fruitful research excursions, the directions your thinking is taking, and the plans you have for completion. In short, keep them aware that you are working hard and making progress. Also, look for other ways to get facetime with your committee even if it’s not a one-on-one meeting. Things like speaking with them at department events, going to colloquiums or other events they organize and/or attend regularly can help you develop a relationship that could lead to other introductions and collaborations as your career progresses.

Share your struggles . Too often, we only talk to our professors when we’re making progress and hide from them the rest of the time. If you share your frustrations or setbacks with a knowledgeable committee member, they might offer some very helpful suggestions for overcoming the obstacles you face—after all, your committee members have all written major research projects before, and they have probably solved similar problems in their own work.

Stay true to yourself . Sometimes, you just don’t entirely gel with your committee, but that’s okay. It’s important not to get too hung up on how your committee does (or doesn’t) relate to you. Keep your eye on the finish line and keep moving forward.

Helpful websites:

Graduate School Diversity Initiatives : Groups and events to support the success of students identifying with an affinity group.

Graduate School Career Well : Extensive professional development resources related to writing, research, networking, job search, etc.

CAPS Therapy Groups : CAPS offers a variety of support groups, including a dissertation support group.

Advice on Research and Writing : Lots of links on writing, public speaking, dissertation management, burnout, and more.

How to be a Good Graduate Student: Marie DesJardins’ essay talks about several phases of the graduate experience, including the dissertation. She discusses some helpful hints for staying motivated and doing consistent work.

Preparing Future Faculty : This page, a joint project of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, the Council of Graduate Schools, and the Pew Charitable Trusts, explains the Preparing Future Faculty Programs and includes links and suggestions that may help graduate students and their advisors think constructively about the process of graduate education as a step toward faculty responsibilities.

Dissertation Tips : Kjell Erik Rudestam, Ph.D. and Rae Newton, Ph.D., authors of Surviving Your Dissertation: A Comprehensive Guide to Content and Process.

The ABD Survival Guide Newsletter : Information about the ABD Survival Guide newsletter (which is free) and other services from E-Coach (many of which are not free).

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Essay and dissertation writing skills

Planning your essay

Writing your introduction

Structuring your essay

  • Writing essays in science subjects
  • Brief video guides to support essay planning and writing
  • Writing extended essays and dissertations
  • Planning your dissertation writing time

Structuring your dissertation

  • Top tips for writing longer pieces of work

Advice on planning and writing essays and dissertations

University essays differ from school essays in that they are less concerned with what you know and more concerned with how you construct an argument to answer the question. This means that the starting point for writing a strong essay is to first unpick the question and to then use this to plan your essay before you start putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard).

A really good starting point for you are these short, downloadable Tips for Successful Essay Writing and Answering the Question resources. Both resources will help you to plan your essay, as well as giving you guidance on how to distinguish between different sorts of essay questions. 

You may find it helpful to watch this seven-minute video on six tips for essay writing which outlines how to interpret essay questions, as well as giving advice on planning and structuring your writing:

Different disciplines will have different expectations for essay structure and you should always refer to your Faculty or Department student handbook or course Canvas site for more specific guidance.

However, broadly speaking, all essays share the following features:

Essays need an introduction to establish and focus the parameters of the discussion that will follow. You may find it helpful to divide the introduction into areas to demonstrate your breadth and engagement with the essay question. You might define specific terms in the introduction to show your engagement with the essay question; for example, ‘This is a large topic which has been variously discussed by many scientists and commentators. The principle tension is between the views of X and Y who define the main issues as…’ Breadth might be demonstrated by showing the range of viewpoints from which the essay question could be considered; for example, ‘A variety of factors including economic, social and political, influence A and B. This essay will focus on the social and economic aspects, with particular emphasis on…..’

Watch this two-minute video to learn more about how to plan and structure an introduction:

The main body of the essay should elaborate on the issues raised in the introduction and develop an argument(s) that answers the question. It should consist of a number of self-contained paragraphs each of which makes a specific point and provides some form of evidence to support the argument being made. Remember that a clear argument requires that each paragraph explicitly relates back to the essay question or the developing argument.

  • Conclusion: An essay should end with a conclusion that reiterates the argument in light of the evidence you have provided; you shouldn’t use the conclusion to introduce new information.
  • References: You need to include references to the materials you’ve used to write your essay. These might be in the form of footnotes, in-text citations, or a bibliography at the end. Different systems exist for citing references and different disciplines will use various approaches to citation. Ask your tutor which method(s) you should be using for your essay and also consult your Department or Faculty webpages for specific guidance in your discipline. 

Essay writing in science subjects

If you are writing an essay for a science subject you may need to consider additional areas, such as how to present data or diagrams. This five-minute video gives you some advice on how to approach your reading list, planning which information to include in your answer and how to write for your scientific audience – the video is available here:

A PDF providing further guidance on writing science essays for tutorials is available to download.

Short videos to support your essay writing skills

There are many other resources at Oxford that can help support your essay writing skills and if you are short on time, the Oxford Study Skills Centre has produced a number of short (2-minute) videos covering different aspects of essay writing, including:

  • Approaching different types of essay questions  
  • Structuring your essay  
  • Writing an introduction  
  • Making use of evidence in your essay writing  
  • Writing your conclusion

Extended essays and dissertations

Longer pieces of writing like extended essays and dissertations may seem like quite a challenge from your regular essay writing. The important point is to start with a plan and to focus on what the question is asking. A PDF providing further guidance on planning Humanities and Social Science dissertations is available to download.

Planning your time effectively

Try not to leave the writing until close to your deadline, instead start as soon as you have some ideas to put down onto paper. Your early drafts may never end up in the final work, but the work of committing your ideas to paper helps to formulate not only your ideas, but the method of structuring your writing to read well and conclude firmly.

Although many students and tutors will say that the introduction is often written last, it is a good idea to begin to think about what will go into it early on. For example, the first draft of your introduction should set out your argument, the information you have, and your methods, and it should give a structure to the chapters and sections you will write. Your introduction will probably change as time goes on but it will stand as a guide to your entire extended essay or dissertation and it will help you to keep focused.

The structure of  extended essays or dissertations will vary depending on the question and discipline, but may include some or all of the following:

  • The background information to - and context for - your research. This often takes the form of a literature review.
  • Explanation of the focus of your work.
  • Explanation of the value of this work to scholarship on the topic.
  • List of the aims and objectives of the work and also the issues which will not be covered because they are outside its scope.

The main body of your extended essay or dissertation will probably include your methodology, the results of research, and your argument(s) based on your findings.

The conclusion is to summarise the value your research has added to the topic, and any further lines of research you would undertake given more time or resources. 

Tips on writing longer pieces of work

Approaching each chapter of a dissertation as a shorter essay can make the task of writing a dissertation seem less overwhelming. Each chapter will have an introduction, a main body where the argument is developed and substantiated with evidence, and a conclusion to tie things together. Unlike in a regular essay, chapter conclusions may also introduce the chapter that will follow, indicating how the chapters are connected to one another and how the argument will develop through your dissertation.

For further guidance, watch this two-minute video on writing longer pieces of work . 

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Dissertation Structure & Layout 101: How to structure your dissertation, thesis or research project.

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) Reviewed By: David Phair (PhD) | July 2019

So, you’ve got a decent understanding of what a dissertation is , you’ve chosen your topic and hopefully you’ve received approval for your research proposal . Awesome! Now its time to start the actual dissertation or thesis writing journey.

To craft a high-quality document, the very first thing you need to understand is dissertation structure . In this post, we’ll walk you through the generic dissertation structure and layout, step by step. We’ll start with the big picture, and then zoom into each chapter to briefly discuss the core contents. If you’re just starting out on your research journey, you should start with this post, which covers the big-picture process of how to write a dissertation or thesis .

Dissertation structure and layout - the basics

*The Caveat *

In this post, we’ll be discussing a traditional dissertation/thesis structure and layout, which is generally used for social science research across universities, whether in the US, UK, Europe or Australia. However, some universities may have small variations on this structure (extra chapters, merged chapters, slightly different ordering, etc).

So, always check with your university if they have a prescribed structure or layout that they expect you to work with. If not, it’s safe to assume the structure we’ll discuss here is suitable. And even if they do have a prescribed structure, you’ll still get value from this post as we’ll explain the core contents of each section.  

Overview: S tructuring a dissertation or thesis

  • Acknowledgements page
  • Abstract (or executive summary)
  • Table of contents , list of figures and tables
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: Literature review
  • Chapter 3: Methodology
  • Chapter 4: Results
  • Chapter 5: Discussion
  • Chapter 6: Conclusion
  • Reference list

As I mentioned, some universities will have slight variations on this structure. For example, they want an additional “personal reflection chapter”, or they might prefer the results and discussion chapter to be merged into one. Regardless, the overarching flow will always be the same, as this flow reflects the research process , which we discussed here – i.e.:

  • The introduction chapter presents the core research question and aims .
  • The literature review chapter assesses what the current research says about this question.
  • The methodology, results and discussion chapters go about undertaking new research about this question.
  • The conclusion chapter (attempts to) answer the core research question .

In other words, the dissertation structure and layout reflect the research process of asking a well-defined question(s), investigating, and then answering the question – see below.

A dissertation's structure reflect the research process

To restate that – the structure and layout of a dissertation reflect the flow of the overall research process . This is essential to understand, as each chapter will make a lot more sense if you “get” this concept. If you’re not familiar with the research process, read this post before going further.

Right. Now that we’ve covered the big picture, let’s dive a little deeper into the details of each section and chapter. Oh and by the way, you can also grab our free dissertation/thesis template here to help speed things up.

The title page of your dissertation is the very first impression the marker will get of your work, so it pays to invest some time thinking about your title. But what makes for a good title? A strong title needs to be 3 things:

  • Succinct (not overly lengthy or verbose)
  • Specific (not vague or ambiguous)
  • Representative of the research you’re undertaking (clearly linked to your research questions)

Typically, a good title includes mention of the following:

  • The broader area of the research (i.e. the overarching topic)
  • The specific focus of your research (i.e. your specific context)
  • Indication of research design (e.g. quantitative , qualitative , or  mixed methods ).

For example:

A quantitative investigation [research design] into the antecedents of organisational trust [broader area] in the UK retail forex trading market [specific context/area of focus].

Again, some universities may have specific requirements regarding the format and structure of the title, so it’s worth double-checking expectations with your institution (if there’s no mention in the brief or study material).

Dissertations stacked up

Acknowledgements

This page provides you with an opportunity to say thank you to those who helped you along your research journey. Generally, it’s optional (and won’t count towards your marks), but it is academic best practice to include this.

So, who do you say thanks to? Well, there’s no prescribed requirements, but it’s common to mention the following people:

  • Your dissertation supervisor or committee.
  • Any professors, lecturers or academics that helped you understand the topic or methodologies.
  • Any tutors, mentors or advisors.
  • Your family and friends, especially spouse (for adult learners studying part-time).

There’s no need for lengthy rambling. Just state who you’re thankful to and for what (e.g. thank you to my supervisor, John Doe, for his endless patience and attentiveness) – be sincere. In terms of length, you should keep this to a page or less.

Abstract or executive summary

The dissertation abstract (or executive summary for some degrees) serves to provide the first-time reader (and marker or moderator) with a big-picture view of your research project. It should give them an understanding of the key insights and findings from the research, without them needing to read the rest of the report – in other words, it should be able to stand alone .

For it to stand alone, your abstract should cover the following key points (at a minimum):

  • Your research questions and aims – what key question(s) did your research aim to answer?
  • Your methodology – how did you go about investigating the topic and finding answers to your research question(s)?
  • Your findings – following your own research, what did do you discover?
  • Your conclusions – based on your findings, what conclusions did you draw? What answers did you find to your research question(s)?

So, in much the same way the dissertation structure mimics the research process, your abstract or executive summary should reflect the research process, from the initial stage of asking the original question to the final stage of answering that question.

In practical terms, it’s a good idea to write this section up last , once all your core chapters are complete. Otherwise, you’ll end up writing and rewriting this section multiple times (just wasting time). For a step by step guide on how to write a strong executive summary, check out this post .

Need a helping hand?

essays and dissertations help

Table of contents

This section is straightforward. You’ll typically present your table of contents (TOC) first, followed by the two lists – figures and tables. I recommend that you use Microsoft Word’s automatic table of contents generator to generate your TOC. If you’re not familiar with this functionality, the video below explains it simply:

If you find that your table of contents is overly lengthy, consider removing one level of depth. Oftentimes, this can be done without detracting from the usefulness of the TOC.

Right, now that the “admin” sections are out of the way, its time to move on to your core chapters. These chapters are the heart of your dissertation and are where you’ll earn the marks. The first chapter is the introduction chapter – as you would expect, this is the time to introduce your research…

It’s important to understand that even though you’ve provided an overview of your research in your abstract, your introduction needs to be written as if the reader has not read that (remember, the abstract is essentially a standalone document). So, your introduction chapter needs to start from the very beginning, and should address the following questions:

  • What will you be investigating (in plain-language, big picture-level)?
  • Why is that worth investigating? How is it important to academia or business? How is it sufficiently original?
  • What are your research aims and research question(s)? Note that the research questions can sometimes be presented at the end of the literature review (next chapter).
  • What is the scope of your study? In other words, what will and won’t you cover ?
  • How will you approach your research? In other words, what methodology will you adopt?
  • How will you structure your dissertation? What are the core chapters and what will you do in each of them?

These are just the bare basic requirements for your intro chapter. Some universities will want additional bells and whistles in the intro chapter, so be sure to carefully read your brief or consult your research supervisor.

If done right, your introduction chapter will set a clear direction for the rest of your dissertation. Specifically, it will make it clear to the reader (and marker) exactly what you’ll be investigating, why that’s important, and how you’ll be going about the investigation. Conversely, if your introduction chapter leaves a first-time reader wondering what exactly you’ll be researching, you’ve still got some work to do.

Now that you’ve set a clear direction with your introduction chapter, the next step is the literature review . In this section, you will analyse the existing research (typically academic journal articles and high-quality industry publications), with a view to understanding the following questions:

  • What does the literature currently say about the topic you’re investigating?
  • Is the literature lacking or well established? Is it divided or in disagreement?
  • How does your research fit into the bigger picture?
  • How does your research contribute something original?
  • How does the methodology of previous studies help you develop your own?

Depending on the nature of your study, you may also present a conceptual framework towards the end of your literature review, which you will then test in your actual research.

Again, some universities will want you to focus on some of these areas more than others, some will have additional or fewer requirements, and so on. Therefore, as always, its important to review your brief and/or discuss with your supervisor, so that you know exactly what’s expected of your literature review chapter.

Dissertation writing

Now that you’ve investigated the current state of knowledge in your literature review chapter and are familiar with the existing key theories, models and frameworks, its time to design your own research. Enter the methodology chapter – the most “science-ey” of the chapters…

In this chapter, you need to address two critical questions:

  • Exactly HOW will you carry out your research (i.e. what is your intended research design)?
  • Exactly WHY have you chosen to do things this way (i.e. how do you justify your design)?

Remember, the dissertation part of your degree is first and foremost about developing and demonstrating research skills . Therefore, the markers want to see that you know which methods to use, can clearly articulate why you’ve chosen then, and know how to deploy them effectively.

Importantly, this chapter requires detail – don’t hold back on the specifics. State exactly what you’ll be doing, with who, when, for how long, etc. Moreover, for every design choice you make, make sure you justify it.

In practice, you will likely end up coming back to this chapter once you’ve undertaken all your data collection and analysis, and revise it based on changes you made during the analysis phase. This is perfectly fine. Its natural for you to add an additional analysis technique, scrap an old one, etc based on where your data lead you. Of course, I’m talking about small changes here – not a fundamental switch from qualitative to quantitative, which will likely send your supervisor in a spin!

You’ve now collected your data and undertaken your analysis, whether qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods. In this chapter, you’ll present the raw results of your analysis . For example, in the case of a quant study, you’ll present the demographic data, descriptive statistics, inferential statistics , etc.

Typically, Chapter 4 is simply a presentation and description of the data, not a discussion of the meaning of the data. In other words, it’s descriptive, rather than analytical – the meaning is discussed in Chapter 5. However, some universities will want you to combine chapters 4 and 5, so that you both present and interpret the meaning of the data at the same time. Check with your institution what their preference is.

Now that you’ve presented the data analysis results, its time to interpret and analyse them. In other words, its time to discuss what they mean, especially in relation to your research question(s).

What you discuss here will depend largely on your chosen methodology. For example, if you’ve gone the quantitative route, you might discuss the relationships between variables . If you’ve gone the qualitative route, you might discuss key themes and the meanings thereof. It all depends on what your research design choices were.

Most importantly, you need to discuss your results in relation to your research questions and aims, as well as the existing literature. What do the results tell you about your research questions? Are they aligned with the existing research or at odds? If so, why might this be? Dig deep into your findings and explain what the findings suggest, in plain English.

The final chapter – you’ve made it! Now that you’ve discussed your interpretation of the results, its time to bring it back to the beginning with the conclusion chapter . In other words, its time to (attempt to) answer your original research question s (from way back in chapter 1). Clearly state what your conclusions are in terms of your research questions. This might feel a bit repetitive, as you would have touched on this in the previous chapter, but its important to bring the discussion full circle and explicitly state your answer(s) to the research question(s).

Dissertation and thesis prep

Next, you’ll typically discuss the implications of your findings . In other words, you’ve answered your research questions – but what does this mean for the real world (or even for academia)? What should now be done differently, given the new insight you’ve generated?

Lastly, you should discuss the limitations of your research, as well as what this means for future research in the area. No study is perfect, especially not a Masters-level. Discuss the shortcomings of your research. Perhaps your methodology was limited, perhaps your sample size was small or not representative, etc, etc. Don’t be afraid to critique your work – the markers want to see that you can identify the limitations of your work. This is a strength, not a weakness. Be brutal!

This marks the end of your core chapters – woohoo! From here on out, it’s pretty smooth sailing.

The reference list is straightforward. It should contain a list of all resources cited in your dissertation, in the required format, e.g. APA , Harvard, etc.

It’s essential that you use reference management software for your dissertation. Do NOT try handle your referencing manually – its far too error prone. On a reference list of multiple pages, you’re going to make mistake. To this end, I suggest considering either Mendeley or Zotero. Both are free and provide a very straightforward interface to ensure that your referencing is 100% on point. I’ve included a simple how-to video for the Mendeley software (my personal favourite) below:

Some universities may ask you to include a bibliography, as opposed to a reference list. These two things are not the same . A bibliography is similar to a reference list, except that it also includes resources which informed your thinking but were not directly cited in your dissertation. So, double-check your brief and make sure you use the right one.

The very last piece of the puzzle is the appendix or set of appendices. This is where you’ll include any supporting data and evidence. Importantly, supporting is the keyword here.

Your appendices should provide additional “nice to know”, depth-adding information, which is not critical to the core analysis. Appendices should not be used as a way to cut down word count (see this post which covers how to reduce word count ). In other words, don’t place content that is critical to the core analysis here, just to save word count. You will not earn marks on any content in the appendices, so don’t try to play the system!

Time to recap…

And there you have it – the traditional dissertation structure and layout, from A-Z. To recap, the core structure for a dissertation or thesis is (typically) as follows:

  • Acknowledgments page

Most importantly, the core chapters should reflect the research process (asking, investigating and answering your research question). Moreover, the research question(s) should form the golden thread throughout your dissertation structure. Everything should revolve around the research questions, and as you’ve seen, they should form both the start point (i.e. introduction chapter) and the endpoint (i.e. conclusion chapter).

I hope this post has provided you with clarity about the traditional dissertation/thesis structure and layout. If you have any questions or comments, please leave a comment below, or feel free to get in touch with us. Also, be sure to check out the rest of the  Grad Coach Blog .

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Psst... there’s more!

This post was based on one of our popular Research Bootcamps . If you're working on a research project, you'll definitely want to check this out ...

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The acknowledgements section of a thesis/dissertation

36 Comments

ARUN kumar SHARMA

many thanks i found it very useful

Derek Jansen

Glad to hear that, Arun. Good luck writing your dissertation.

Sue

Such clear practical logical advice. I very much needed to read this to keep me focused in stead of fretting.. Perfect now ready to start my research!

hayder

what about scientific fields like computer or engineering thesis what is the difference in the structure? thank you very much

Tim

Thanks so much this helped me a lot!

Ade Adeniyi

Very helpful and accessible. What I like most is how practical the advice is along with helpful tools/ links.

Thanks Ade!

Aswathi

Thank you so much sir.. It was really helpful..

You’re welcome!

Jp Raimundo

Hi! How many words maximum should contain the abstract?

Karmelia Renatee

Thank you so much 😊 Find this at the right moment

You’re most welcome. Good luck with your dissertation.

moha

best ever benefit i got on right time thank you

Krishnan iyer

Many times Clarity and vision of destination of dissertation is what makes the difference between good ,average and great researchers the same way a great automobile driver is fast with clarity of address and Clear weather conditions .

I guess Great researcher = great ideas + knowledge + great and fast data collection and modeling + great writing + high clarity on all these

You have given immense clarity from start to end.

Alwyn Malan

Morning. Where will I write the definitions of what I’m referring to in my report?

Rose

Thank you so much Derek, I was almost lost! Thanks a tonnnn! Have a great day!

yemi Amos

Thanks ! so concise and valuable

Kgomotso Siwelane

This was very helpful. Clear and concise. I know exactly what to do now.

dauda sesay

Thank you for allowing me to go through briefly. I hope to find time to continue.

Patrick Mwathi

Really useful to me. Thanks a thousand times

Adao Bundi

Very interesting! It will definitely set me and many more for success. highly recommended.

SAIKUMAR NALUMASU

Thank you soo much sir, for the opportunity to express my skills

mwepu Ilunga

Usefull, thanks a lot. Really clear

Rami

Very nice and easy to understand. Thank you .

Chrisogonas Odhiambo

That was incredibly useful. Thanks Grad Coach Crew!

Luke

My stress level just dropped at least 15 points after watching this. Just starting my thesis for my grad program and I feel a lot more capable now! Thanks for such a clear and helpful video, Emma and the GradCoach team!

Judy

Do we need to mention the number of words the dissertation contains in the main document?

It depends on your university’s requirements, so it would be best to check with them 🙂

Christine

Such a helpful post to help me get started with structuring my masters dissertation, thank you!

Simon Le

Great video; I appreciate that helpful information

Brhane Kidane

It is so necessary or avital course

johnson

This blog is very informative for my research. Thank you

avc

Doctoral students are required to fill out the National Research Council’s Survey of Earned Doctorates

Emmanuel Manjolo

wow this is an amazing gain in my life

Paul I Thoronka

This is so good

Tesfay haftu

How can i arrange my specific objectives in my dissertation?

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While Sandel argues that pursuing perfection through genetic engineering would decrease our sense of humility, he claims that the sense of solidarity we would lose is also important.

This thesis summarizes several points in Sandel’s argument, but it does not make a claim about how we should understand his argument. A reader who read Sandel’s argument would not also need to read an essay based on this descriptive thesis.  

Broad thesis (arguable, but difficult to support with evidence) 

Michael Sandel’s arguments about genetic engineering do not take into consideration all the relevant issues.

This is an arguable claim because it would be possible to argue against it by saying that Michael Sandel’s arguments do take all of the relevant issues into consideration. But the claim is too broad. Because the thesis does not specify which “issues” it is focused on—or why it matters if they are considered—readers won’t know what the rest of the essay will argue, and the writer won’t know what to focus on. If there is a particular issue that Sandel does not address, then a more specific version of the thesis would include that issue—hand an explanation of why it is important.  

Arguable thesis with analytical claim 

While Sandel argues persuasively that our instinct to “remake” (54) ourselves into something ever more perfect is a problem, his belief that we can always draw a line between what is medically necessary and what makes us simply “better than well” (51) is less convincing.

This is an arguable analytical claim. To argue for this claim, the essay writer will need to show how evidence from the article itself points to this interpretation. It’s also a reasonable scope for a thesis because it can be supported with evidence available in the text and is neither too broad nor too narrow.  

Arguable thesis with normative claim 

Given Sandel’s argument against genetic enhancement, we should not allow parents to decide on using Human Growth Hormone for their children.

This thesis tells us what we should do about a particular issue discussed in Sandel’s article, but it does not tell us how we should understand Sandel’s argument.  

Questions to ask about your thesis 

  • Is the thesis truly arguable? Does it speak to a genuine dilemma in the source, or would most readers automatically agree with it?  
  • Is the thesis too obvious? Again, would most or all readers agree with it without needing to see your argument?  
  • Is the thesis complex enough to require a whole essay's worth of argument?  
  • Is the thesis supportable with evidence from the text rather than with generalizations or outside research?  
  • Would anyone want to read a paper in which this thesis was developed? That is, can you explain what this paper is adding to our understanding of a problem, question, or topic?
  • picture_as_pdf Thesis

person writing on the desk

May 15, 2024

Tips and Resources for a Successful Summer of Dissertation Writing

By Yana Zlochistaya

Summer can be a strange time for graduate students. Gone are the seminars and workshops, the student clubs, and the working group, that structured the semester and provided us with a sense of community. Instead, we’re faced with a three-month expanse of time that can feel equal parts liberating and intimidating. This double-edged freedom is only exacerbated for those of us in the writing stage of our dissertation, when isolation and a lack of discipline can have a particularly big impact. For those hoping not to enter another summer with lofty plans, only to blink and find ourselves in August disappointed with our progress, we’ve compiled some tips and resources that can help.

According to Graduate Writing Center Director Sabrina Soracco, the most important thing you can do to set yourself up for writing success is to clarify your goals. She recommends starting this process by looking at departmental requirements for a completed dissertation. Consider when you would like to file and work backwards from that point, determining what you have to get done in order to hit that target. Next, check in with your dissertation committee members to set up an accountability structure. Would they prefer an end-of-summer update to the whole committee? A monthly check-in with your chair or one of your readers? Setting up explicit expectations that work for you and your committee can cut through the aimlessness that comes with a major writing project.

For those early on in their dissertation-writing process, a committee meeting is also a valuable opportunity to set parameters. “One of the problems with the excitement for the discipline that happens post-quals is that it results in too many ideas,” says Director Soracco. Your committee members should give you input on productive research directions so that you can begin to hone in on your project. It is also important to remember that your dissertation does not have to be the end-all-and-be-all of your academic research. Ideas that do not fit into its scope can end up becoming conference papers or even book chapters.

Once you have a clear goal that you have discussed with your committee, the hard part begins: you have to actually write. The Graduate Writing Center offers several resources to make that process easier:

  • The Graduate Writing Community. This is a totally remote, two-month program that is based on a model of “gentle accountability.” When you sign up, you are added to a bCourses site moderated by a Graduate Writing Consultant. At the beginning of the week, everyone sets their goals in a discussion post, and by the end of the week, everyone checks in with progress updates. During the week, the writing consultants offer nine hours of remote synchronous writing sessions. As a writing community member, you can attend whichever sessions work best for your schedule. All that’s required is that you show up, set a goal for that hour, and work towards that goal for the length of two 25-minute Pomodoro sessions . This year’s summer writing community will begin in June. Keep your eye on your email for the registration link!
  • Writing Consultations : As a graduate student, you can sign up for an individual meeting with a Graduate Writing Consultant. They can give you feedback on your work, help you figure out the structure of a chapter, or just talk through how to get started on a writing project. 
  • Independent Writing Groups: If you would prefer to write with specific friends or colleagues, you can contact Graduate Writing Center Director Sabrina Soracco at [email protected] so that she can help you set up your own writing group. The structure and length of these groups can differ; often, members will send each other one to five pages of writing weekly and meet the next day for two hours to provide feedback and get advice. Sometimes, groups will meet up not only to share writing, but to work in a common space before coming together to debrief. Regardless of what the groups look like, the important thing is to create a guilt-free space. Some weeks, you might submit an outline; other weeks, it might be the roughest of rough drafts; sometimes, you might come to a session without having submitted anything. As long as we continue to make progress (and show up even when we don’t), we’re doing what we need to. As Director Soracco puts it, “it often takes slogging through a lot of stuff to get to that great epiphany.”

Yana Zlochistaya is a fifth-year graduate student in the Department of Comparative Literature and a Professional Development Liaison with the Graduate Division. She previously served as a co-director for Beyond Academia.

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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, getting college essay help: important do's and don’ts.

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College Essays

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If you grow up to be a professional writer, everything you write will first go through an editor before being published. This is because the process of writing is really a process of re-writing —of rethinking and reexamining your work, usually with the help of someone else. So what does this mean for your student writing? And in particular, what does it mean for very important, but nonprofessional writing like your college essay? Should you ask your parents to look at your essay? Pay for an essay service?

If you are wondering what kind of help you can, and should, get with your personal statement, you've come to the right place! In this article, I'll talk about what kind of writing help is useful, ethical, and even expected for your college admission essay . I'll also point out who would make a good editor, what the differences between editing and proofreading are, what to expect from a good editor, and how to spot and stay away from a bad one.

Table of Contents

What Kind of Help for Your Essay Can You Get?

What's Good Editing?

What should an editor do for you, what kind of editing should you avoid, proofreading, what's good proofreading, what kind of proofreading should you avoid.

What Do Colleges Think Of You Getting Help With Your Essay?

Who Can/Should Help You?

Advice for editors.

Should You Pay Money For Essay Editing?

The Bottom Line

What's next, what kind of help with your essay can you get.

Rather than talking in general terms about "help," let's first clarify the two different ways that someone else can improve your writing . There is editing, which is the more intensive kind of assistance that you can use throughout the whole process. And then there's proofreading, which is the last step of really polishing your final product.

Let me go into some more detail about editing and proofreading, and then explain how good editors and proofreaders can help you."

Editing is helping the author (in this case, you) go from a rough draft to a finished work . Editing is the process of asking questions about what you're saying, how you're saying it, and how you're organizing your ideas. But not all editing is good editing . In fact, it's very easy for an editor to cross the line from supportive to overbearing and over-involved.

Ability to clarify assignments. A good editor is usually a good writer, and certainly has to be a good reader. For example, in this case, a good editor should make sure you understand the actual essay prompt you're supposed to be answering.

Open-endedness. Good editing is all about asking questions about your ideas and work, but without providing answers. It's about letting you stick to your story and message, and doesn't alter your point of view.

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Think of an editor as a great travel guide. It can show you the many different places your trip could take you. It should explain any parts of the trip that could derail your trip or confuse the traveler. But it never dictates your path, never forces you to go somewhere you don't want to go, and never ignores your interests so that the trip no longer seems like it's your own. So what should good editors do?

Help Brainstorm Topics

Sometimes it's easier to bounce thoughts off of someone else. This doesn't mean that your editor gets to come up with ideas, but they can certainly respond to the various topic options you've come up with. This way, you're less likely to write about the most boring of your ideas, or to write about something that isn't actually important to you.

If you're wondering how to come up with options for your editor to consider, check out our guide to brainstorming topics for your college essay .

Help Revise Your Drafts

Here, your editor can't upset the delicate balance of not intervening too much or too little. It's tricky, but a great way to think about it is to remember: editing is about asking questions, not giving answers .

Revision questions should point out:

  • Places where more detail or more description would help the reader connect with your essay
  • Places where structure and logic don't flow, losing the reader's attention
  • Places where there aren't transitions between paragraphs, confusing the reader
  • Moments where your narrative or the arguments you're making are unclear

But pointing to potential problems is not the same as actually rewriting—editors let authors fix the problems themselves.

Want to write the perfect college application essay?   We can help.   Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will help you craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay to proudly submit to colleges.   Don't leave your college application to chance. Find out more about PrepScholar Admissions now:

Bad editing is usually very heavy-handed editing. Instead of helping you find your best voice and ideas, a bad editor changes your writing into their own vision.

You may be dealing with a bad editor if they:

  • Add material (examples, descriptions) that doesn't come from you
  • Use a thesaurus to make your college essay sound "more mature"
  • Add meaning or insight to the essay that doesn't come from you
  • Tell you what to say and how to say it
  • Write sentences, phrases, and paragraphs for you
  • Change your voice in the essay so it no longer sounds like it was written by a teenager

Colleges can tell the difference between a 17-year-old's writing and a 50-year-old's writing. Not only that, they have access to your SAT or ACT Writing section, so they can compare your essay to something else you wrote. Writing that's a little more polished is great and expected. But a totally different voice and style will raise questions.

Where's the Line Between Helpful Editing and Unethical Over-Editing?

Sometimes it's hard to tell whether your college essay editor is doing the right thing. Here are some guidelines for staying on the ethical side of the line.

  • An editor should say that the opening paragraph is kind of boring, and explain what exactly is making it drag. But it's overstepping for an editor to tell you exactly how to change it.
  • An editor should point out where your prose is unclear or vague. But it's completely inappropriate for the editor to rewrite that section of your essay.
  • An editor should let you know that a section is light on detail or description. But giving you similes and metaphors to beef up that description is a no-go.

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Proofreading (also called copy-editing) is checking for errors in the last draft of a written work. It happens at the end of the process and is meant as the final polishing touch. Proofreading is meticulous and detail-oriented, focusing on small corrections. It sands off all the surface rough spots that could alienate the reader.

Because proofreading is usually concerned with making fixes on the word or sentence level, this is the only process where someone else can actually add to or take away things from your essay . This is because what they are adding or taking away tends to be one or two misplaced letters.

Laser focus. Proofreading is all about the tiny details, so the ability to really concentrate on finding small slip-ups is a must.

Excellent grammar and spelling skills. Proofreaders need to dot every "i" and cross every "t." Good proofreaders should correct spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar. They should put foreign words in italics and surround quotations with quotation marks. They should check that you used the correct college's name, and that you adhered to any formatting requirements (name and date at the top of the page, uniform font and size, uniform spacing).

Limited interference. A proofreader needs to make sure that you followed any word limits. But if cuts need to be made to shorten the essay, that's your job and not the proofreader's.

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A bad proofreader either tries to turn into an editor, or just lacks the skills and knowledge necessary to do the job.

Some signs that you're working with a bad proofreader are:

  • If they suggest making major changes to the final draft of your essay. Proofreading happens when editing is already finished.
  • If they aren't particularly good at spelling, or don't know grammar, or aren't detail-oriented enough to find someone else's small mistakes.
  • If they start swapping out your words for fancier-sounding synonyms, or changing the voice and sound of your essay in other ways. A proofreader is there to check for errors, not to take the 17-year-old out of your writing.

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What Do Colleges Think of Your Getting Help With Your Essay?

Admissions officers agree: light editing and proofreading are good—even required ! But they also want to make sure you're the one doing the work on your essay. They want essays with stories, voice, and themes that come from you. They want to see work that reflects your actual writing ability, and that focuses on what you find important.

On the Importance of Editing

Get feedback. Have a fresh pair of eyes give you some feedback. Don't allow someone else to rewrite your essay, but do take advantage of others' edits and opinions when they seem helpful. ( Bates College )

Read your essay aloud to someone. Reading the essay out loud offers a chance to hear how your essay sounds outside your head. This exercise reveals flaws in the essay's flow, highlights grammatical errors and helps you ensure that you are communicating the exact message you intended. ( Dickinson College )

On the Value of Proofreading

Share your essays with at least one or two people who know you well—such as a parent, teacher, counselor, or friend—and ask for feedback. Remember that you ultimately have control over your essays, and your essays should retain your own voice, but others may be able to catch mistakes that you missed and help suggest areas to cut if you are over the word limit. ( Yale University )

Proofread and then ask someone else to proofread for you. Although we want substance, we also want to be able to see that you can write a paper for our professors and avoid careless mistakes that would drive them crazy. ( Oberlin College )

On Watching Out for Too Much Outside Influence

Limit the number of people who review your essay. Too much input usually means your voice is lost in the writing style. ( Carleton College )

Ask for input (but not too much). Your parents, friends, guidance counselors, coaches, and teachers are great people to bounce ideas off of for your essay. They know how unique and spectacular you are, and they can help you decide how to articulate it. Keep in mind, however, that a 45-year-old lawyer writes quite differently from an 18-year-old student, so if your dad ends up writing the bulk of your essay, we're probably going to notice. ( Vanderbilt University )

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Now let's talk about some potential people to approach for your college essay editing and proofreading needs. It's best to start close to home and slowly expand outward. Not only are your family and friends more invested in your success than strangers, but they also have a better handle on your interests and personality. This knowledge is key for judging whether your essay is expressing your true self.

Parents or Close Relatives

Your family may be full of potentially excellent editors! Parents are deeply committed to your well-being, and family members know you and your life well enough to offer details or incidents that can be included in your essay. On the other hand, the rewriting process necessarily involves criticism, which is sometimes hard to hear from someone very close to you.

A parent or close family member is a great choice for an editor if you can answer "yes" to the following questions. Is your parent or close relative a good writer or reader? Do you have a relationship where editing your essay won't create conflict? Are you able to constructively listen to criticism and suggestion from the parent?

One suggestion for defusing face-to-face discussions is to try working on the essay over email. Send your parent a draft, have them write you back some comments, and then you can pick which of their suggestions you want to use and which to discard.

Teachers or Tutors

A humanities teacher that you have a good relationship with is a great choice. I am purposefully saying humanities, and not just English, because teachers of Philosophy, History, Anthropology, and any other classes where you do a lot of writing, are all used to reviewing student work.

Moreover, any teacher or tutor that has been working with you for some time, knows you very well and can vet the essay to make sure it "sounds like you."

If your teacher or tutor has some experience with what college essays are supposed to be like, ask them to be your editor. If not, then ask whether they have time to proofread your final draft.

Guidance or College Counselor at Your School

The best thing about asking your counselor to edit your work is that this is their job. This means that they have a very good sense of what colleges are looking for in an application essay.

At the same time, school counselors tend to have relationships with admissions officers in many colleges, which again gives them insight into what works and which college is focused on what aspect of the application.

Unfortunately, in many schools the guidance counselor tends to be way overextended. If your ratio is 300 students to 1 college counselor, you're unlikely to get that person's undivided attention and focus. It is still useful to ask them for general advice about your potential topics, but don't expect them to be able to stay with your essay from first draft to final version.

Friends, Siblings, or Classmates

Although they most likely don't have much experience with what colleges are hoping to see, your peers are excellent sources for checking that your essay is you .

Friends and siblings are perfect for the read-aloud edit. Read your essay to them so they can listen for words and phrases that are stilted, pompous, or phrases that just don't sound like you.

You can even trade essays and give helpful advice on each other's work.

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If your editor hasn't worked with college admissions essays very much, no worries! Any astute and attentive reader can still greatly help with your process. But, as in all things, beginners do better with some preparation.

First, your editor should read our advice about how to write a college essay introduction , how to spot and fix a bad college essay , and get a sense of what other students have written by going through some admissions essays that worked .

Then, as they read your essay, they can work through the following series of questions that will help them to guide you.

Introduction Questions

  • Is the first sentence a killer opening line? Why or why not?
  • Does the introduction hook the reader? Does it have a colorful, detailed, and interesting narrative? Or does it propose a compelling or surprising idea?
  • Can you feel the author's voice in the introduction, or is the tone dry, dull, or overly formal? Show the places where the voice comes through.

Essay Body Questions

  • Does the essay have a through-line? Is it built around a central argument, thought, idea, or focus? Can you put this idea into your own words?
  • How is the essay organized? By logical progression? Chronologically? Do you feel order when you read it, or are there moments where you are confused or lose the thread of the essay?
  • Does the essay have both narratives about the author's life and explanations and insight into what these stories reveal about the author's character, personality, goals, or dreams? If not, which is missing?
  • Does the essay flow? Are there smooth transitions/clever links between paragraphs? Between the narrative and moments of insight?

Reader Response Questions

  • Does the writer's personality come through? Do we know what the speaker cares about? Do we get a sense of "who he or she is"?
  • Where did you feel most connected to the essay? Which parts of the essay gave you a "you are there" sensation by invoking your senses? What moments could you picture in your head well?
  • Where are the details and examples vague and not specific enough?
  • Did you get an "a-ha!" feeling anywhere in the essay? Is there a moment of insight that connected all the dots for you? Is there a good reveal or "twist" anywhere in the essay?
  • What are the strengths of this essay? What needs the most improvement?

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Should You Pay Money for Essay Editing?

One alternative to asking someone you know to help you with your college essay is the paid editor route. There are two different ways to pay for essay help: a private essay coach or a less personal editing service , like the many proliferating on the internet.

My advice is to think of these options as a last resort rather than your go-to first choice. I'll first go through the reasons why. Then, if you do decide to go with a paid editor, I'll help you decide between a coach and a service.

When to Consider a Paid Editor

In general, I think hiring someone to work on your essay makes a lot of sense if none of the people I discussed above are a possibility for you.

If you can't ask your parents. For example, if your parents aren't good writers, or if English isn't their first language. Or if you think getting your parents to help is going create unnecessary extra conflict in your relationship with them (applying to college is stressful as it is!)

If you can't ask your teacher or tutor. Maybe you don't have a trusted teacher or tutor that has time to look over your essay with focus. Or, for instance, your favorite humanities teacher has very limited experience with college essays and so won't know what admissions officers want to see.

If you can't ask your guidance counselor. This could be because your guidance counselor is way overwhelmed with other students.

If you can't share your essay with those who know you. It might be that your essay is on a very personal topic that you're unwilling to share with parents, teachers, or peers. Just make sure it doesn't fall into one of the bad-idea topics in our article on bad college essays .

If the cost isn't a consideration. Many of these services are quite expensive, and private coaches even more so. If you have finite resources, I'd say that hiring an SAT or ACT tutor (whether it's PrepScholar or someone else) is better way to spend your money . This is because there's no guarantee that a slightly better essay will sufficiently elevate the rest of your application, but a significantly higher SAT score will definitely raise your applicant profile much more.

Should You Hire an Essay Coach?

On the plus side, essay coaches have read dozens or even hundreds of college essays, so they have experience with the format. Also, because you'll be working closely with a specific person, it's more personal than sending your essay to a service, which will know even less about you.

But, on the minus side, you'll still be bouncing ideas off of someone who doesn't know that much about you . In general, if you can adequately get the help from someone you know, there is no advantage to paying someone to help you.

If you do decide to hire a coach, ask your school counselor, or older students that have used the service for recommendations. If you can't afford the coach's fees, ask whether they can work on a sliding scale —many do. And finally, beware those who guarantee admission to your school of choice—essay coaches don't have any special magic that can back up those promises.

Should You Send Your Essay to a Service?

On the plus side, essay editing services provide a similar product to essay coaches, and they cost significantly less . If you have some assurance that you'll be working with a good editor, the lack of face-to-face interaction won't prevent great results.

On the minus side, however, it can be difficult to gauge the quality of the service before working with them . If they are churning through many application essays without getting to know the students they are helping, you could end up with an over-edited essay that sounds just like everyone else's. In the worst case scenario, an unscrupulous service could send you back a plagiarized essay.

Getting recommendations from friends or a school counselor for reputable services is key to avoiding heavy-handed editing that writes essays for you or does too much to change your essay. Including a badly-edited essay like this in your application could cause problems if there are inconsistencies. For example, in interviews it might be clear you didn't write the essay, or the skill of the essay might not be reflected in your schoolwork and test scores.

Should You Buy an Essay Written by Someone Else?

Let me elaborate. There are super sketchy places on the internet where you can simply buy a pre-written essay. Don't do this!

For one thing, you'll be lying on an official, signed document. All college applications make you sign a statement saying something like this:

I certify that all information submitted in the admission process—including the application, the personal essay, any supplements, and any other supporting materials—is my own work, factually true, and honestly presented... I understand that I may be subject to a range of possible disciplinary actions, including admission revocation, expulsion, or revocation of course credit, grades, and degree, should the information I have certified be false. (From the Common Application )

For another thing, if your academic record doesn't match the essay's quality, the admissions officer will start thinking your whole application is riddled with lies.

Admission officers have full access to your writing portion of the SAT or ACT so that they can compare work that was done in proctored conditions with that done at home. They can tell if these were written by different people. Not only that, but there are now a number of search engines that faculty and admission officers can use to see if an essay contains strings of words that have appeared in other essays—you have no guarantee that the essay you bought wasn't also bought by 50 other students.

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  • You should get college essay help with both editing and proofreading
  • A good editor will ask questions about your idea, logic, and structure, and will point out places where clarity is needed
  • A good editor will absolutely not answer these questions, give you their own ideas, or write the essay or parts of the essay for you
  • A good proofreader will find typos and check your formatting
  • All of them agree that getting light editing and proofreading is necessary
  • Parents, teachers, guidance or college counselor, and peers or siblings
  • If you can't ask any of those, you can pay for college essay help, but watch out for services or coaches who over-edit you work
  • Don't buy a pre-written essay! Colleges can tell, and it'll make your whole application sound false.

Ready to start working on your essay? Check out our explanation of the point of the personal essay and the role it plays on your applications and then explore our step-by-step guide to writing a great college essay .

Using the Common Application for your college applications? We have an excellent guide to the Common App essay prompts and useful advice on how to pick the Common App prompt that's right for you . Wondering how other people tackled these prompts? Then work through our roundup of over 130 real college essay examples published by colleges .

Stressed about whether to take the SAT again before submitting your application? Let us help you decide how many times to take this test . If you choose to go for it, we have the ultimate guide to studying for the SAT to give you the ins and outs of the best ways to study.

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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What Is a Capstone Project vs. Thesis

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As students near the end of their academic journey, they encounter a crucial project called the capstone – a culmination of all they've learned. But what exactly is a capstone project? 

This article aims to demystify capstone projects, explaining what they are, why they matter, and what you can expect when you embark on this final academic endeavor.

Capstone Project Meaning

A capstone project is a comprehensive, culminating academic endeavor undertaken by students typically in their final year of study. 

It synthesizes their learning experiences, requiring students to apply the knowledge, skills, and competencies gained throughout their academic journey. A capstone project aims to address a real-world problem or explore a topic of interest in depth. 

As interdisciplinary papers, capstone projects encourage critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity. They allow students to showcase their mastery of their field of study and demonstrate their readiness for future academic or professional pursuits.

Now that we’ve defined what is a capstone project, let’s discuss its importance in the academic landscape. In case you have short-form compositions to handle, simply say, ‘ do my essay for me ,’ and our writers will take care of your workload.

Why Is a Capstone Project Important

A capstone project is crucial because it allows students to combine everything they've learned in school and apply it to real-life situations or big problems. 

It's like the ultimate test of what they know and can do. By working on these projects, students get hands-on experience, learn to think critically and figure out how to solve tough problems. 

Plus, it's a chance to show off their skills and prove they're ready for whatever comes next, whether that's starting a career or going on to more schooling.

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What Is the Purpose of a Capstone Project

Here are three key purposes of a capstone project:

What Is the Purpose of a Capstone Project

Integration of Knowledge and Skills

Capstones often require students to draw upon the knowledge and skills they have acquired throughout their academic program. The importance of capstone project lies in helping students synthesize what they have learned and apply it to a real-world problem or project. 

This integration helps students demonstrate their proficiency and readiness for graduation or entry into their chosen profession.

Culmination of Learning

Capstone projects culminate a student's academic journey, allowing them to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world scenarios. 

tackling a significant project or problem, students demonstrate their understanding of concepts and their ability to translate them into practical solutions, reinforcing their learning journey.

Professional Development

Capstone projects allow students to develop skills relevant to their future careers. These projects can also be tangible examples of their capabilities to potential employers or graduate programs.

Whether it's conducting research, presenting findings, or collaborating with peers, students gain valuable experience that enhances their professional readiness. 

Types of Capstone Projects

Capstones vary widely depending on the academic discipline, institution, and specific program requirements. Here are some common types:

What Is the Difference Between a Thesis and a Capstone Project

Here's a breakdown of the key differences between a thesis and a capstone project:

How to Write a Capstone Project

Let's dive into the specifics with actionable and meaningful steps for writing a capstone project:

1. Select a Pertinent Topic

Identify a topic that aligns with your academic interests, program requirements, and real-world relevance. Consider issues or challenges within your field that merit further exploration or solution. 

Conduct thorough research to ensure the topic is both feasible and significant. Here are some brilliant capstone ideas for your inspiration.

2. Define Clear Objectives

Clearly articulate the objectives of your capstone project. What specific outcomes do you aim to achieve? 

Whether it's solving a problem, answering a research question, or developing a product, ensure your objectives are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

3. Conduct Comprehensive Research

Dive deep into existing literature, theories, and empirical evidence related to your chosen topic. Identify gaps, controversies, or areas for further investigation. 

Synthesize relevant findings and insights to inform the development of your project and provide a solid foundation for your analysis or implementation.

4. Develop a Structured Plan

What is a capstone project in college without a rigid structure? Outline a comprehensive plan for your capstone project, including key milestones, tasks, and deadlines. 

Break down the project into manageable phases, such as literature review, data collection, analysis, and presentation. Establish clear criteria for success and regularly monitor progress to stay on track.

5. Implement Methodological Rigor

If your project involves research, ensure methodological rigor by selecting appropriate research methods, tools, and techniques. 

Develop a detailed research design or project plan that addresses key methodological considerations, such as sampling, data collection, analysis, and validity. Adhere to ethical guidelines and best practices throughout the research process.

6. Analyze and Interpret Findings

Analyze your data or findings using appropriate analytical techniques and tools. Interpret the results in relation to your research questions or objectives, highlighting key patterns, trends, or insights. 

Critically evaluate the significance and implications of your findings within the broader context of your field or industry.

7. Communicate Effectively

Present your capstone project clearly, concisely, and compellingly. Whether it's a written report, presentation, or multimedia deliverable, tailor your communication style to your target audience. Clearly articulate your research questions, methodology, findings, and conclusions. 

Use visuals, examples, and real-world applications to enhance understanding and engagement. Be prepared to defend your project and answer questions from peers, faculty, or stakeholders.

In wrapping up, what is a capstone project? It’s like the grand finale of your academic journey, where all the knowledge and skills you've acquired come together in one big project. 

It's not just about passing a test or getting a grade – it's about proving you've got what it takes to make a real difference in the world. So, if you ever need capstone project help , our writers will gladly lend you a hand in no time.

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Annie Lambert

Annie Lambert

specializes in creating authoritative content on marketing, business, and finance, with a versatile ability to handle any essay type and dissertations. With a Master’s degree in Business Administration and a passion for social issues, her writing not only educates but also inspires action. On EssayPro blog, Annie delivers detailed guides and thought-provoking discussions on pressing economic and social topics. When not writing, she’s a guest speaker at various business seminars.

essays and dissertations help

is an expert in nursing and healthcare, with a strong background in history, law, and literature. Holding advanced degrees in nursing and public health, his analytical approach and comprehensive knowledge help students navigate complex topics. On EssayPro blog, Adam provides insightful articles on everything from historical analysis to the intricacies of healthcare policies. In his downtime, he enjoys historical documentaries and volunteering at local clinics.

  • T. (2023, June 16). What Is a Capstone Project? National University. https://www.nu.edu/blog/what-is-a-capstone-project/
  • Lukins, S. (2024, May 12). What is a capstone project? And why is it important? Top Universities. https://www.topuniversities.com/student-info/careers-advice-articles/what-capstone-project-why-it-important
  • Capstone Project vs. Thesis: What’s the Difference? (2021, December 9). UAGC. https://www.uagc.edu/blog/capstone-project-vs-thesis-whats-difference

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Summer Groups and Clinics — The Writing Center

Summer Dissertation and Thesis Writing Clinics

This summer break, The Writing Center is running 3 week-long clinics for dissertation and thesis writers. Conducted remotely, each clinic will bring participants together in a community of support aimed at recalibrating one’s relationship to self-structured writing time. Participants will convene at 10 AM each morning for a brief information session, work independently during the day, then reconvene at 5 PM for a group debrief and reflection. Participants will gain increased process-awareness of the daily habits and practices that support (and undermine) writing productivity.

NOTE:  Due to limited availability, students can only register for 1 clinic.

Clinic 1, June 3-7, facilitated by Malkah Bressler; register here .

Clinic 2, July 15—19, facilitated by Emily Price; register here .

Clinic 3, August 12-16, facilitated by Daniel Hengel; register here .

Writing Cohort

Are you struggling to maintain momentum on your writing project? Give yourself a boost by joining a writing cohort. The cohort will meet on Zoom once a week for about one hour. Sessions will begin with a brief check-in, followed by 50 minutes of focused writing time. Participants will stay on Zoom while they write in order to experience solidarity of purpose with their cohort.

Tuesdays @ 10 AM with Emily Price, June 4 – August 13, register here.

Accountability Group

Are you looking for a community of support to help you meet your writing goals? This summer, The Writing Center is running three accountability groups that meet once a week. During each Zoom session of one hour or less, participants will share weekly goals, accomplishments, and setbacks. Throughout this process, members of the group will offer each other support, encouragement, and practical advice.

Thursdays @ 4 PM with Daniel Hengel, June 6 – August 8, register here.

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Top 7 Dissertation Editors to Consider in 2024 – The Ultimate List

Writing a dissertation is complicated, but editing your work when you have finished the writing part is even more challenging. Academic editing requires the students to check the papers for style checks, grammatical issues, structural clarity, formatting requirements and tone inconsistencies. That is why dissertation editors are required to do the job for the researchers and PhD scholars.

In this age, multiple AI thesis editors can quickly scan your papers for mistakes and fix all types of errors in them. Also, there exist plenty of editing and proofreading services which can make the online dissertations error-free within the deadlines you give them.

So, no matter if you are looking for AI editors or professional dissertation proofreading services , we have covered all in this article. Let’s explore the list of helpful dissertation editors online without wasting further time.

The Ultimate List of Top 7 Dissertation Editors in 2024

Choosing the best online dissertation editor starts with defining what you want the tool to accomplish. Do you want general proofreading or adjust the tone of your work?  Consider the type of professional help you need and then choose the editor for dissertations. Here is a list of the top 7 best dissertation proofreading and editing resources for you:

Let’s explore these dissertation editors’ tools and resources in further depth now.

Writer is a robust AI editing and proofreading tool that is designed to help students enhance their academic writing process. It is one of the professional dissertation editors available online because it can support the writing, editing, and refining process of written material. Not only that, but it also provides users with a comprehensive set of tools for improving their style, writing quality, and grammatical style. You can use this resource to enhance the vocabulary you used in different sections of your dissertation.

Best Features

  • Provides the clients with a readability analysis
  • Can help users with plagiarism detection
  • Performs quick spelling and grammar checks
  • It also offers assistance with the clarity and style enhancement of a dissertation.

The basic plan starts at $18 per user per month (up to 5 users).

2. The Academic Papers UK

The Academic Papers UK is another dissertation editing powerhouse that has been providing services to clients since 2003. Their dissertation editors strengthen your doctoral papers by assisting you in avoiding too much jargon, slipping into passive voice, writing over-complicated sentences and more. Unlike an AI proofreading tool, they do not provide you with mere suggestions but make corrections in your papers wherever necessary. This way, this writing agency not only makes your writing perfect but it makes your work more effective for the readers as well.

  • 100% safe and secure
  • Provides the readers with a comprehensive report of changes
  • Secure payment gateways
  • Has a 3X revision policy of papers

The price per page for an undergraduate dissertation starts from £12.95 only.

3. Grammarly

Grammarly is one of the most popular editor dissertation tools available online, and it has 30+ active users. You can integrate this platform seamlessly with MS Word or Google Docs. It has a user-friendly interface. What sets Grammarly apart from other dissertation editors is that it can detect and correct grammar and spelling errors in real time. Not only this, it also offers helpful insights to the readers for the improvement of their writing skills. You can also get different word suggestions to replace the original text and make your writing more varied and unique.

  • The free version has an efficient suite of features
  • It can be adjusted to various formality levels
  • The premium version comes with a plagiarism checker
  • Easy to use with MS Word, online browsers, and websites

It has a free version. The prices of the paid version start from $12 per month.

4. Affordable Dissertation UK

Serving in the world of academia for 20+ years, Affordable Dissertation UK is an agency that offers excellent editing and proofreading services to clients around the globe. Their seasoned dissertation writers have a knack for refining papers in multiple academic styles, and they provide a guarantee of top grades to their clients. All that you need to do is to submit your initial drafts to them and make the payment. Within the given time, they will come back to you with refined papers. The best thing about Affordable Dissertation UK is that they have reasonable prices and also offer a 100% money-back guarantee.

  • Offers AI detection along with plagiarism checking
  • Boasts 97% client satisfaction rate
  • Available round the clock
  • Editors have 20 years of experience

The price per page for a graduate dissertation starts from £13.95 only.

The recent updates of Ginger have made it one of the best proofreading tools online in the market. It is especially best to be used by an audience whose first language is not English. The most useful of its features is that it can read text aloud from MS Word, Outlook emails, PowerPoint, and some other websites that can be opened with Firefox, Edge, and Chrome. It lets you hear how your dissertation sounds and helps you find opportunities to strengthen your word choice and syntax. The premium version has even more features, which make it one of the best dissertation editors out there.

  • Good for catching grammar and spelling errors
  • It can be used with multiple browsers
  • Facilitates more than 60 languages in the premium version
  • Available on Android, Mac, Windows and iOS

Ginger has a free trial mode, and no credit card is required. It also offers a subscription plan with prices starting from $13.99/month.

6. Dissertation Writers UK

Dissertation Writers UK is another academic writing company that also provides paper editing services to clients. Their dissertation editors have worked on millions of academic documents, dissertation or thesis papers, and homework so that they know the methods for refining the work of clients. Not only this, they also provide a plagiarism check and detect AI-written content. If you buy dissertation online from them after reviewing their free samples, they can edit and proofread your papers for free. Also, all the revisions on this platform are free and there are no hidden costs.

  • A quick turnaround time, i.e., up to 3 hours
  • Multiple freebies in the dissertation editor cost
  • Best for scanning and editing documents having long word count
  • It provides you with a Turnitin plagiarism and AI report

The price per page for a Master’s dissertation starts from £12.95 only.

7. ProWriting Aid

This tool, ProWriting Aid, looks for punctuation and grammatical mistakes in the dissertations you submit to it. One impressive thing about this tool is its ability to check for structural issues like clichés, repetition and a lack of diversification in the sentences. The browser extensions of this tool are free. The dissertation editor services of this tool also come with a detailed report which outlines the vocabulary comparisons, big-picture feedback, and a graph of sentence lengths. Apart from this, it also provides the users with a list of the most used words in their papers.

  • Helps you find how dynamic your vocab is
  • Assists you in reducing repetition in your work
  • Like efficient dissertation proof readers, it provides style suggestions
  • Works well with Windows and Mac

The basic plan is free. The price of the premium plan starts from $10 per month.

So, these 7 are the best dissertation editors in 2024 that you can use to make your dissertation free of all kinds of errors and mistakes. Every researcher needs to get their work edited by professional helpers before it is released to the public. You can use any of the thesis proofreading resources we have mentioned in this article. Some of them are free and others provide you with value for money.

It is a fact that AI proof readers and content checkers cannot replace human dissertation editors. So, for complete peace of mind, you should acquire professional dissertation editing services online , and rest assured that seasoned proof readers will refine your doctoral papers to perfection.

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What I’ve Learned From My Students’ College Essays

The genre is often maligned for being formulaic and melodramatic, but it’s more important than you think.

An illustration of a high school student with blue hair, dreaming of what to write in their college essay.

By Nell Freudenberger

Most high school seniors approach the college essay with dread. Either their upbringing hasn’t supplied them with several hundred words of adversity, or worse, they’re afraid that packaging the genuine trauma they’ve experienced is the only way to secure their future. The college counselor at the Brooklyn high school where I’m a writing tutor advises against trauma porn. “Keep it brief , ” she says, “and show how you rose above it.”

I started volunteering in New York City schools in my 20s, before I had kids of my own. At the time, I liked hanging out with teenagers, whom I sometimes had more interesting conversations with than I did my peers. Often I worked with students who spoke English as a second language or who used slang in their writing, and at first I was hung up on grammar. Should I correct any deviation from “standard English” to appeal to some Wizard of Oz behind the curtains of a college admissions office? Or should I encourage students to write the way they speak, in pursuit of an authentic voice, that most elusive of literary qualities?

In fact, I was missing the point. One of many lessons the students have taught me is to let the story dictate the voice of the essay. A few years ago, I worked with a boy who claimed to have nothing to write about. His life had been ordinary, he said; nothing had happened to him. I asked if he wanted to try writing about a family member, his favorite school subject, a summer job? He glanced at his phone, his posture and expression suggesting that he’d rather be anywhere but in front of a computer with me. “Hobbies?” I suggested, without much hope. He gave me a shy glance. “I like to box,” he said.

I’ve had this experience with reluctant writers again and again — when a topic clicks with a student, an essay can unfurl spontaneously. Of course the primary goal of a college essay is to help its author get an education that leads to a career. Changes in testing policies and financial aid have made applying to college more confusing than ever, but essays have remained basically the same. I would argue that they’re much more than an onerous task or rote exercise, and that unlike standardized tests they are infinitely variable and sometimes beautiful. College essays also provide an opportunity to learn precision, clarity and the process of working toward the truth through multiple revisions.

When a topic clicks with a student, an essay can unfurl spontaneously.

Even if writing doesn’t end up being fundamental to their future professions, students learn to choose language carefully and to be suspicious of the first words that come to mind. Especially now, as college students shoulder so much of the country’s ethical responsibility for war with their protest movement, essay writing teaches prospective students an increasingly urgent lesson: that choosing their own words over ready-made phrases is the only reliable way to ensure they’re thinking for themselves.

Teenagers are ideal writers for several reasons. They’re usually free of preconceptions about writing, and they tend not to use self-consciously ‘‘literary’’ language. They’re allergic to hypocrisy and are generally unfiltered: They overshare, ask personal questions and call you out for microaggressions as well as less egregious (but still mortifying) verbal errors, such as referring to weed as ‘‘pot.’’ Most important, they have yet to put down their best stories in a finished form.

I can imagine an essay taking a risk and distinguishing itself formally — a poem or a one-act play — but most kids use a more straightforward model: a hook followed by a narrative built around “small moments” that lead to a concluding lesson or aspiration for the future. I never get tired of working with students on these essays because each one is different, and the short, rigid form sometimes makes an emotional story even more powerful. Before I read Javier Zamora’s wrenching “Solito,” I worked with a student who had been transported by a coyote into the U.S. and was reunited with his mother in the parking lot of a big-box store. I don’t remember whether this essay focused on specific skills or coping mechanisms that he gained from his ordeal. I remember only the bliss of the parent-and-child reunion in that uninspiring setting. If I were making a case to an admissions officer, I would suggest that simply being able to convey that experience demonstrates the kind of resilience that any college should admire.

The essays that have stayed with me over the years don’t follow a pattern. There are some narratives on very predictable topics — living up to the expectations of immigrant parents, or suffering from depression in 2020 — that are moving because of the attention with which the student describes the experience. One girl determined to become an engineer while watching her father build furniture from scraps after work; a boy, grieving for his mother during lockdown, began taking pictures of the sky.

If, as Lorrie Moore said, “a short story is a love affair; a novel is a marriage,” what is a college essay? Every once in a while I sit down next to a student and start reading, and I have to suppress my excitement, because there on the Google Doc in front of me is a real writer’s voice. One of the first students I ever worked with wrote about falling in love with another girl in dance class, the absolute magic of watching her move and the terror in the conflict between her feelings and the instruction of her religious middle school. She made me think that college essays are less like love than limerence: one-sided, obsessive, idiosyncratic but profound, the first draft of the most personal story their writers will ever tell.

Nell Freudenberger’s novel “The Limits” was published by Knopf last month. She volunteers through the PEN America Writers in the Schools program.

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Why writing by hand beats typing for thinking and learning

Jonathan Lambert

A close-up of a woman's hand writing in a notebook.

If you're like many digitally savvy Americans, it has likely been a while since you've spent much time writing by hand.

The laborious process of tracing out our thoughts, letter by letter, on the page is becoming a relic of the past in our screen-dominated world, where text messages and thumb-typed grocery lists have replaced handwritten letters and sticky notes. Electronic keyboards offer obvious efficiency benefits that have undoubtedly boosted our productivity — imagine having to write all your emails longhand.

To keep up, many schools are introducing computers as early as preschool, meaning some kids may learn the basics of typing before writing by hand.

But giving up this slower, more tactile way of expressing ourselves may come at a significant cost, according to a growing body of research that's uncovering the surprising cognitive benefits of taking pen to paper, or even stylus to iPad — for both children and adults.

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In kids, studies show that tracing out ABCs, as opposed to typing them, leads to better and longer-lasting recognition and understanding of letters. Writing by hand also improves memory and recall of words, laying down the foundations of literacy and learning. In adults, taking notes by hand during a lecture, instead of typing, can lead to better conceptual understanding of material.

"There's actually some very important things going on during the embodied experience of writing by hand," says Ramesh Balasubramaniam , a neuroscientist at the University of California, Merced. "It has important cognitive benefits."

While those benefits have long been recognized by some (for instance, many authors, including Jennifer Egan and Neil Gaiman , draft their stories by hand to stoke creativity), scientists have only recently started investigating why writing by hand has these effects.

A slew of recent brain imaging research suggests handwriting's power stems from the relative complexity of the process and how it forces different brain systems to work together to reproduce the shapes of letters in our heads onto the page.

Your brain on handwriting

Both handwriting and typing involve moving our hands and fingers to create words on a page. But handwriting, it turns out, requires a lot more fine-tuned coordination between the motor and visual systems. This seems to more deeply engage the brain in ways that support learning.

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"Handwriting is probably among the most complex motor skills that the brain is capable of," says Marieke Longcamp , a cognitive neuroscientist at Aix-Marseille Université.

Gripping a pen nimbly enough to write is a complicated task, as it requires your brain to continuously monitor the pressure that each finger exerts on the pen. Then, your motor system has to delicately modify that pressure to re-create each letter of the words in your head on the page.

"Your fingers have to each do something different to produce a recognizable letter," says Sophia Vinci-Booher , an educational neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University. Adding to the complexity, your visual system must continuously process that letter as it's formed. With each stroke, your brain compares the unfolding script with mental models of the letters and words, making adjustments to fingers in real time to create the letters' shapes, says Vinci-Booher.

That's not true for typing.

To type "tap" your fingers don't have to trace out the form of the letters — they just make three relatively simple and uniform movements. In comparison, it takes a lot more brainpower, as well as cross-talk between brain areas, to write than type.

Recent brain imaging studies bolster this idea. A study published in January found that when students write by hand, brain areas involved in motor and visual information processing " sync up " with areas crucial to memory formation, firing at frequencies associated with learning.

"We don't see that [synchronized activity] in typewriting at all," says Audrey van der Meer , a psychologist and study co-author at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. She suggests that writing by hand is a neurobiologically richer process and that this richness may confer some cognitive benefits.

Other experts agree. "There seems to be something fundamental about engaging your body to produce these shapes," says Robert Wiley , a cognitive psychologist at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. "It lets you make associations between your body and what you're seeing and hearing," he says, which might give the mind more footholds for accessing a given concept or idea.

Those extra footholds are especially important for learning in kids, but they may give adults a leg up too. Wiley and others worry that ditching handwriting for typing could have serious consequences for how we all learn and think.

What might be lost as handwriting wanes

The clearest consequence of screens and keyboards replacing pen and paper might be on kids' ability to learn the building blocks of literacy — letters.

"Letter recognition in early childhood is actually one of the best predictors of later reading and math attainment," says Vinci-Booher. Her work suggests the process of learning to write letters by hand is crucial for learning to read them.

"When kids write letters, they're just messy," she says. As kids practice writing "A," each iteration is different, and that variability helps solidify their conceptual understanding of the letter.

Research suggests kids learn to recognize letters better when seeing variable handwritten examples, compared with uniform typed examples.

This helps develop areas of the brain used during reading in older children and adults, Vinci-Booher found.

"This could be one of the ways that early experiences actually translate to long-term life outcomes," she says. "These visually demanding, fine motor actions bake in neural communication patterns that are really important for learning later on."

Ditching handwriting instruction could mean that those skills don't get developed as well, which could impair kids' ability to learn down the road.

"If young children are not receiving any handwriting training, which is very good brain stimulation, then their brains simply won't reach their full potential," says van der Meer. "It's scary to think of the potential consequences."

Many states are trying to avoid these risks by mandating cursive instruction. This year, California started requiring elementary school students to learn cursive , and similar bills are moving through state legislatures in several states, including Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina and Wisconsin. (So far, evidence suggests that it's the writing by hand that matters, not whether it's print or cursive.)

Slowing down and processing information

For adults, one of the main benefits of writing by hand is that it simply forces us to slow down.

During a meeting or lecture, it's possible to type what you're hearing verbatim. But often, "you're not actually processing that information — you're just typing in the blind," says van der Meer. "If you take notes by hand, you can't write everything down," she says.

The relative slowness of the medium forces you to process the information, writing key words or phrases and using drawing or arrows to work through ideas, she says. "You make the information your own," she says, which helps it stick in the brain.

Such connections and integration are still possible when typing, but they need to be made more intentionally. And sometimes, efficiency wins out. "When you're writing a long essay, it's obviously much more practical to use a keyboard," says van der Meer.

Still, given our long history of using our hands to mark meaning in the world, some scientists worry about the more diffuse consequences of offloading our thinking to computers.

"We're foisting a lot of our knowledge, extending our cognition, to other devices, so it's only natural that we've started using these other agents to do our writing for us," says Balasubramaniam.

It's possible that this might free up our minds to do other kinds of hard thinking, he says. Or we might be sacrificing a fundamental process that's crucial for the kinds of immersive cognitive experiences that enable us to learn and think at our full potential.

Balasubramaniam stresses, however, that we don't have to ditch digital tools to harness the power of handwriting. So far, research suggests that scribbling with a stylus on a screen activates the same brain pathways as etching ink on paper. It's the movement that counts, he says, not its final form.

Jonathan Lambert is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance journalist who covers science, health and policy.

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How rap and writing help heal a family’s old wounds

M.K. Asante

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Book Review

Nephew: A Memoir in 4-Part Harmony

By M.K. Asante Amistad: 208 pages, $26.99 If you buy books linked on our site, The Times may earn a commission from Bookshop.org , whose fees support independent bookstores.

In his new book, M.K. Asante, a recording artist and bestselling author of the 2013 memoir “ Buck ,” details the history of his older half-brother Uzi. Asante’s latest memoir, “Nephew,” is framed as a letter to Asante’s nephew Nasir, who is on the verge of death in a Philadelphia hospital after being shot nine times. Asante’s intent is to tell his nephew the story of Uzi, the estranged father whom Nasir never knew. What follows is an emotionally powerful family history that explores the essential role of music and language in healing old wounds.

“ Nephew” bears the intriguing subtitle “ A Memoir in 4-Part Harmony, ” which points to the book’s strongest element: the layering of multiple first-person voices to create a compelling rhythm and flow. In addition to Asante’s voice, which combines an emotional directness with insightful reflections on Black history and music, the book features letters and writings from several of Asante’s family members, including Uzi, their mother, Nna, and Uzi’s father, Bob. These direct first-person accounts not only create the narrative’s complex harmony but also add a raw authenticity. A fifth voice, meanwhile, is Nasir, whose rap lyrics are interspersed throughout the text, providing additional commentary on the story.

These voices, each of them rhythmically distinct, are brilliant in how they play off one another, but it is in Bob’s letters, which begin to appear halfway through the book , that the raw emotion reaches a perfect pitch. Bob, Uzi’s estranged father, is a heroin addict desperate for salvation who begins writing letters to God. “Dear God,” the first letter begins, “here’s my situation as it stands now.” Such directness makes these confessions beautiful and achingly vulnerable, and they provide a wonderful complement to the other voices in the memoir.

In an example of Asante’s insightful ability to draw connections between different generations and historical contexts, he notes that Bob’s first letter was written in 1971, just as Apollo 15 was landing on the moon. Asante links this to a song Uzi wrote called “NASA” and uses the famous saying from Neil Armstrong , who was on the moon-landing mission of 1969, to draw a thematic connection between Bob’s letters and Nasir himself. “Bob passed before you were born,” Asante writes to Nasir, “but I don’t think he ever imagined that you or anyone would one day read his words, yet here we are, two generations and nine shots later. … The letters may have been a small step for Bob, but they were a giant step for us.” In this way, Asante gives the letters a sense of historical weight, and we read in them not just the words of one man struggling for absolution but also a necessary link between the past and the present.

Throughout the book, Asante deftly contextualizes his family’s story within the larger history of the Black American experience. Every chapter is full of a wonderful mix of references that link the present and the past in a complex web of thematic relations. In the second chapter, for example, Asante analyzes the lyrics of Nasir’s music and brings up Ancient Egypt, the Greek god Apollo, Aretha Franklin, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, Assata Shakur and eventually George Moses Horton , who becomes the focus of the chapter. A poet who was born enslaved and who taught himself to read, Horton began writing poetry, which helped him eventually buy his freedom. This chapter is just one illustration of Asante’s use of history to provide an insightful thematic commentary on the present.

The story of Horton also functions as a symbol for Asante’s larger thoughts on the essential role of art and music as a path to liberation. “Horton’s poetry,” Asante writes, “is the North Star that delivered his freedom.” For Uzi and Nasir, their music and lyrics play the same role. In one of the book’s more memorable scenes, Asante describes how, when he was 10 and Uzi was incarcerated in Arizona, Asante played the rapper Nas’ “ N.Y. State of Mind ” for his brother over the phone. This is 1991, and Asante has to hold the corded phone to his boombox speaker. The music is so revelatory that the other inmates gather to listen with Uzi over the phone. They react to Nas’ “bars as if they were NBA dunks,” Asante writes. “I hear the click boom clank of Black fists beating on stone and metal. I can feel their heads nodding, their arms flying in approval and solidarity.” It is, for Asante, a mystical, magical moment, connecting with his brother via music through prison walls on the other side of the country.

The other major character in the novel is Asante’s mother, contemporary dance choreographer Kariamu Welsh Asante, whom he affectionately refers to as Nna. Her voice is once again different from the others, and the distinctive rhythms give the book its tonal and musical complexity. As with the other characters, though, hers is a story of a passion for art and music, in her case through dance. You can feel Asante’s love for his mother in the way he relays her story, and their relationship is a key emotional foundation of the book.

There are moments toward the end of the book when one might wish for more detailed scenes, and some parts of Uzi’s story can feel a little rushed. But the way Asante ends his journey is so emotionally powerful that you can easily forgive any minor flaws. It’s a gut-punch of an ending, bringing together all the threads of this complex family history that he’s been setting up, and it completes the story on the perfect note. As with a great piece of music, the emotions and rhythms of that final chapter lingered in my mind long after I’d put down the book.

Aatif Rashid is a writer in Los Angeles and author of the novel “Portrait of Sebastian Khan.”

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Can ‘forever’ chemicals become less so this senior thesis works toward smarter cleanup of pfas..

By Molly Sharlach

May 20, 2024

Student and professor having a discussion while student points at information in a notebook.

For her senior thesis, Amélie Lemay worked with Ian Bourg, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and the High Meadows Environmental Institute. She developed complex simulations of how PFAS molecules, a critical class of environmental contaminants, move and interact at the interface of water and air. Photos by Sameer A. Khan/Fotobuddy

The class of chemicals known as PFAS — used in firefighting foams, some nonstick cookware, and many other products — can resist heat and repel water. Their chemical bonds are hard to break, and they persist in water sources for decades.

Exposure to them has been associated with cancers, “impacts to the liver and heart, and immune and developmental damage to infants and children,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which recently set national limits for PFAS in drinking water.

For her thesis research, Princeton senior Amélie Lemay has crafted computer simulations that could one day help lead the way to removing PFAS pollution from the environment.

Lemay, a civil and environmental engineering major, used simulations to investigate how seven types of molecules behave above bodies of water, where the water meets the air. She modeled their tendencies to mix with water or stick to the water-air boundary, and probed how mixtures of PFAS molecules interact — mimicking the messy reality of contaminated water.

Detailed knowledge of this chemistry could be key to understanding how remediation methods will work in settings like water treatment plants. Over the next few years, utilities across the United States will need to find effective ways to remove PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) from drinking water to comply with the EPA limits.

“Most of our drinking water treatment plants are not set up to deal with these compounds,” said Lemay. “This type of research can eventually lead to better ways to be able to take PFAS out of water.”

Lemay, of Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, came to Princeton with aspirations of using engineering to address environmental challenges. But using computer simulations to understand pollution was not part of her plan.

The summer after her first year, in 2021, Lemay secured internship support from Princeton’s High Meadows Environmental Institute to conduct field work with associate professor Ian Bourg on how rocks weather in the Princeton area and in the French Alps — research with implications for soil nutrients and atmospheric CO2 forecasting.

But COVID-19 travel restrictions were still in place that summer, so Bourg worked remotely with Lemay and several other students to set up simulations exploring the behavior of pollutants ranging from PFAS to anti-inflammatory drugs to insecticides.

“I actually ended up really liking this alternative project, and I think it’s even better suited for me than the original project would have been,” said Lemay, who earned certificates in statistics and machine learning and sustainable energy .

Portrait of Amélie Lemay in an academic office with a laptop computer.

The research was an excellent opportunity for Lemay to build her computer coding skills and learn the intricacies of molecular dynamics simulation software.

“When I first started with Professor Bourg, he had to walk me through step by step how to create a file” simulating a single chemical compound, Lemay said. Over time, she learned to add more complexity, accounting for variables like salinity and surface tension. Now the work is “like second nature.”

The summer project was a new direction in the lab’s research. Bourg, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and the High Meadows Environmental Institute, said he was learning along with the students. He quickly realized that he could rely on Lemay: “She’s been thinking like a grad student since the very beginning, in terms of being super conscientious and questioning the way we do things,” said Bourg.

Lemay and Ethan Sontarp, a geosciences major, continued the project as research assistants in Bourg’s group for the next two years. Eventually, they modeled the behavior of more than 80 organic pollutants at the water-air interface.

Lemay and Sontarp were co-first authors of a 2023 paper reporting the results in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The article has been downloaded more than 2,000 times and is Bourg’s most-read research paper from last year — a testament to its value as a resource for researchers looking to improve the tracking and remediation of pollutants, said Bourg.

In her junior year, Lemay conducted independent work with Professor Barry Rand , who studies the properties of new materials for solar cells, analyzing factors that influence the adoption of rooftop solar energy. She published this analysis last year in the journal Energy Policy.

For her senior thesis with Bourg, she developed complex simulations of how multiple PFAS molecules move and interact at the interface of water and air. Her results have revealed that the contaminants’ movements are not limited only by physical space but also by complex charge interactions among neighboring PFAS molecules.

Space-filling 3D models of two types of molecules; water molecules shown in red and white and PFAS molecules shown in pink and aqua.

Lemay is now submitting this work for scientific publication. The simulations are a powerful way to understand how pollutants move in the environment, potentially helping to explain how rain interacts with contaminants, and why sea spray and lake spray aerosols are an important source of PFAS exposure in coastal communities. Lemay hopes this understanding can inform strategies to clean up PFAS pollution.

Lemay turned to engineering in high school, when she took part in a summer research program on biomolecular engineering. “In science, you’re seeking to uncover the unknown, which is very important,” she said. “But I found that the problem-solving and design aspects of engineering really appealed to me. I loved how practical and pragmatic the applications were.”

After nearly three years of research at Princeton, Lemay has gained comfort with the uncertainties of the process. “If you pursue something, and you don’t fully understand what the data are showing you at first — that used to be distressing to me,” she said. “But I’ve come to realize that it’s part of the process. You’re trying to do something that’s never been done before. No one has the right answer.”

This summer, Lemay will pursue a project advised by Professor Mark Zondlo analyzing electric vehicle use and neighborhood-level air pollution.

In the fall, she will begin a Ph.D. program in civil and environmental engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She’s interested in using computational methods to design chemicals for programmed degradation, to prevent problems with environmental contamination in the future.

“I think Princeton’s focus on undergraduate research really sets this institution apart,” said Lemay. “I’m grateful to have had the chance to work with multiple mentors who have shown me … how to design solutions and search for knowledge, and then share that with the greater community.”

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How Parents Are Helping Their Adult Children Buy Homes Today: ‘We Own 25%, Mom and Dad Own 75%’

( Courtesy of Leslie Sherman and Conrad Useldinger; Realtor.com )

How Parents Are Helping Their Adult Children Buy Homes Today: ‘We Own 25%, Mom and Dad Own 75%’

Leslie Sherman was resigned to being a renter the rest of her life.

The 33-year-old couples therapist and her husband,  Conrad Useldinger , 30, a dance academy director, live in San Jose, CA . Nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley, where Apple, Google, and Nvidia are based, it is the most expensive housing market in America, according to a Realtor.com analysis . There, the median home list price hovers around $1.46 million—and homebuyers need to earn at least $361,000.

“We didn’t have plans to buy a place because it was not going to be financially feasible for us,” she says. “So we were going to rent indefinitely.”

But, that’s when Mom and Dad stepped in.

“My husband and I started investing in Silicon Valley real estate in the early 1980s,” says Kathy Fitzgerald Sherman , a retired lawyer. “We benefited greatly from the explosion in real estate values, which also made it impossible for our kids to purchase real estate on their own. Our decision to help them was a ‘pay it forward’ kind of action.”

In February, Kathy and her husband, Michael Sherman , helped Leslie and her husband close on an $850,000 condo. All four of their names are on the deed: Leslie and her spouse own 25% of the property, while Kathy and Michael own 75%.

Here’s how this unusual deal came together, along with the pros, cons, and other considerations that homebuyers (and their parents) might want to know.

essays and dissertations help

(Leslie Sherman)

Why parents are pitching in to help their kids buy a home

While turning to Mom and Dad for help buying a home is an age-old practice, today’s high-priced housing market has made it a growing necessity.

Although San Jose’s million-plus list prices are at the high end of the spectrum, they aren’t all that unusual. The national median list price currently hovers at $424,900 , according to the latest Realtor.com data. Mortgage rates are high, too, passing the dreaded 7% threshold in April.

In a new study by Intuit and Credit Karma, 38% of Gen Z homeowners say they received financial assistance from their parents to buy a home. It also helps that boomers tend to be a wealthy generation, whereas their kids are often saddled with massive student debt, making it hard to enter the housing market.

“Even with zero-down payment programs, high home prices and interest rates can put buying a home out of reach without help,” says real estate agent and attorney Bruce Ailion , of Re/Max Town and Country in Alpharetta, GA.

The Shermans helped both of their kids purchase their first home, and see the money they’d invest as an advance on their inheritance. But in both cases, they did so carefully.

essays and dissertations help

(Leslie Sherman and Conrad Useldinger)

The two generations sat down to craft a “shared equity” deal. (You’ll sometimes hear this called, humorously enough, a “rich uncle” arrangement.) Based on their income, they figured out how much the young couple could afford to pay monthly. Next, they worked backward to determine what size mortgage the young couple could handle. The parents stood ready to pay the rest.

Once they had an estimate of what price house they could afford, they were off to the house-hunting races, which they did as a team.

“Since we’d had experience buying several properties in the area, we went with them, pointing out plusses and minuses,” says Kathy. She admits that she didn’t give them carte blanche to choose just any place.

“But we were sensitive to their feelings and wanted them to love what they purchased,” she explains.

House hunting as a family

At first, they checked out houses in the Los Gatos Mountains, but the maintenance costs seemed too much.

“They were in our budget, but I absolutely hated them,” admits Leslie. “They all required some amount of work right out the gate, and I did not want my future to be filled with endless home improvement projects. That is just not the life I had envisioned for myself.”

Their attention then turned to condos , and they found one they really liked—and that her parents liked, too. It was a two-bedroom, two-bath with a spacious kitchen, office space in the primary bedroom, and in-unit laundry (at the top of Leslie’s wish list). Also part of the package were killer amenities, including a pool, hot tub, playground, and beautiful gym.

“We decided to make an offer the very next day, before others came in,” says Leslie.

essays and dissertations help

(Realtor.com)

essays and dissertations help

The deal this couple could offer was strong: With her parents’ backing, Leslie and her husband could offer all cash if needed, with no contingencies . They snagged the property for $850,000 ($5,000 below asking price).

At closing, her parents ponied up $650,000 in cash, leaving Leslie and Conrad with a $200,000 mortgage—$1,297 a month at a 6.75% interest rate. Leslie and Conrad also pay property taxes, homeowners association fees (currently $465 a month), and maintenance.

“We pay for all repairs,” notes Leslie. “But if there are ever any major upgrades, we could split the cost. Under their arrangement, it would be in the same 75% versus 25% proportion.”

Get it in writing

All of these details were written up in a rock-solid legal agreement, which is exactly how you want to do this to protect all involved—no casual “pinky swear” kind of deals allowed. Such arrangements need guardrails.

“The best way to make sure bad feelings don’t arise is to have a contract,” explains Kathy. “If there ever is a disagreement about how to handle something, we can just look in the agreement.”

There are infinite ways to structure investing in a home for a child, Ailion notes. For instance, when the property sells, the parents might get their money back plus interest. This interest could be similar to what their funds would have earned if they had been sitting in the bank. Or, if the child is making the interest payments and maintaining the home, they might want to negotiate a bigger cut of any gains in the property’s value.

For most families executing this kind of deal, a lawyer will be necessary. Because Kathy is a retired lawyer, she jumped in, buying a boilerplate equity-sharing agreement and modifying it to suit their needs.

“In theory, anyone can do this,” she notes. “Since I am an attorney, I was particularly comfortable doing that.”

But what about that old saying “Never do business with friends or relatives”—does it apply here? Can it all backfire? Not for the Sherman clan so far.

“We haven’t had any issues,” says Leslie. “My parents are not controlling, but that’s not the case with everyone’s parents. To avoid problems, you would definitely want the contract to spell out how decisions about changes to the home will be made. That’s especially important if there are disagreements.”

And the upside of doing this kind of deal right is tremendous.

“I know that without this arrangement, we wouldn’t be able to get into the housing market in this area,” says Leslie, “so we are really very lucky.”

essays and dissertations help

Janet Siroto is a journalist, editor, and trend tracker. Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, and other publications.

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