The term dissertation refers to an in-depth paper written by a graduate student that adds to the subject area's collective body of knowledge. Dissertations are written by students seeking a doctoral degree from a university.
Graduate-level students seeking a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree are typically required to complete coursework, maintain a minimum grade point average, conduct research, and contribute to a body of knowledge through a written dissertation. The document will then go through a review by university professors. Finally, the candidate will usually participate in an oral examination, during which university professors will challenge the conclusions drawn in the dissertation.
The dissertation will usually involve a research project or extensive analysis of a very specific topic. Universities oftentimes are very prescriptive with respect to the content and style of the dissertation. Generally, the document will include the following sections:
- Introduction: provides an overview of the problem, its importance to the subject area, and a statement of the student's hypothesis.
- Definitions: includes terms referenced in the dissertation that may not be well understood or ambiguous without a clarifying definition.
- Conceptual Theme: describes the concepts that are the building blocks of the research, while providing additional information about the problem to be solved or analysis conducted.
- Experimental Observations: methods and techniques used, measurements taken, and calculations performed.
- Corollaries and Implications: extensions of the conceptual theme, additional applications of the experimental findings, variability in the data, as well as possible repercussions of the student's findings.
- Conclusion: summarizes what the student learned and how the information gained may help solve existing and future problems.
- Abstract: a brief summary of the dissertation, describing the problem, conceptual theme, and the research effort.
When a student completes all of their Ph.D. requirements except for a dissertation, the student may indicate on their resume or curriculum vitae the name of the degree followed by ABD (All But Dissertation). Statistics indicate that as many as 50% of Ph.D. students do not complete their dissertation.