Writing That Dissertation

I wrote this for WriteRighteam.com however they have yet to pay me for it and other work, not to mention promised bonuses, a regular job and all sorts of other carrots held out to try and keep me writing for them. After several weeks have passed since the last lot of promises and weeks between the promises before them I have had enough and formerly advised them I am taking back all my writing. That which was paid for included, as compensation for loss and damage to date. I won’t publish writing that may have been used as model essays by students, even if they did pass off my work as their own, contrary to the rule I wrote the work under. They paid for their model essays, even if I haven’t been paid for my work. Here is a piece I wrote for the company to use on their website as promotional material on writing dissertations and it includes info about the different style guides in use.

Writing That Dissertation


 

 

At some point in the academic journey there is no getting away from the fact that, sooner or later, that dissertation must be written. You can do all the research you need and collect enormous amounts of evidence to support your thesis but the fact remains, none of this is worth the time and effort expended to date unless and until you can beat it into some sort of shape. The sad truth is that ‘beat it into shape’ is often the mindset of the dissertation writer. It is not so much a labor of love following an academic courtship of weeks, months and in the case of post graduate and PhD dissertations often years of work, but an obligation. A stone around one’s neck, an albatross you wish you had never taken aim at. The thing is, as educated as you now may be, this kind of thinking isn’t going to make the job any easier. That said, you have two choices.

You can outsource the compilation and drafting of your dissertation to those who make it their business to do this work, or you can change your thinking. Let us look at the latter first, as that is relatively inexpensive and something you can take with you for the rest of your academic career and even your life.

A large part of the problem that causes the angst and ill will towards the dissertation is that at this level of academic writing, there are rules that must be obeyed and these rules are many and often confusing, sometimes even contradictory at first glance. By this time in your academic journey you should be familiar with terms such as ‘citation’, ‘style guide’ and so forth. If one were to toss terms like ‘MLA’, ‘APA’, ‘CMOS’ and words like ‘Harvard’ or ‘Turabian’, they should make some sense. These are, of course, different types of citation or referencing system. They are style guides that ensure everyone writing anything for the course, college or class adheres to the same set of rules as to how to cite, or refer to, works used to support one’s dissertation. Of course there is far more to a citation type or style of reference than just whether the author’s family name comes before their given name or is the title in quotation marks or italics and so on.

If that were not enough to have you staying awake nights, the dissertation itself comes in several variations, depending for the most part on what the document is about. Are you a student of the Humanities? Arts? Literature? History? Or a scientific type writing about your experiments in chemistry, physics or biology? Or are you a social scientist? The nature of your research and supporting work will dictate the style used, but only because the institution will have decided in their wisdom that they will insist upon APA or MLA or they like what Turabian has to offer.

It gets a little more complicated when we have to remember how to cite within the text. Do we use a parenthetical style as they did in ‘Fields of Fire’ (Smith 2002) or a note system, which is something with numbers linking to footnotes or endnotes? What you need is a simple guide to what you have to use, why and when. The ‘how’ is self evident as you simply copy the examples given in the relevant style guide and away you go.

 

Types Of Dissertation

 

Putting citation types aside for a moment, let us take a brief look at the types of dissertation you may be tasked to render. Understanding the dissertation type will often allow the citation style required to make a little more sense. First of all, consider that there are two basic divisions of study; People or Things. As overly simple as that is, it is accurate.

People: includes social, religious, political, medical, historical, artistic topics and looks at how we humans behave, react and affect our world.

Things: All topics relating to science, engineering, architecture, biology, geology, chemistry and so on. If it relates to something tangible then it will usually fall within this category.

The research for the dissertation will then follow one of three main streams, either;

Records – The study of archives, historical documents, reports, recordings, archaeological remains and even works of art, music manuscripts and so on.

Thoughts – Thought and ideas such as philosophy and religion, political theories, language, semiotics, semantics and anything that has anything to do with human argument and intercourse.

Dynamics – Energy and the causes and effects in areas such as astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, sociology, politics, commerce, military studies, in fact any discipline where ‘things happen’.

These types of dissertation carry across the different academic disciplines which we could, for ease of understanding, categorize as Humanities, Science, Law and Social Sciences. The type of dissertation and the method by which the research was conducted is often dictated to the student by the institution. Field work, lab work, surveys, interviews, reading and interpretation of records and other methods are merely the tools with which the job is done. Once the work has been completed, the report must be written to present the work and the findings to whoever must assess it for the award of a degree or a mark towards the successful completion of a course or subject.

Some also argue that ‘dissertation types’ refers to the style of the dissertation. Is it expository, analytical or argumentative? That can be a matter of writing style and voice and a dissertation can include all three elements. In places it can be expository, then it analyses what has been discovered and argues one aspect or another as indicative of this or that. In some cases, of course, the student maybe asked for a dissertation that is specifically one or the other.

 

Citation Styles

 

Which brings us to the point where we are about to start writing. Anyone who has done all the work up to this point will be well aware of the citation style required by the institution. So what styles are there for the powers that be to choose from and what can one expect?

If you are a Humanities student then the three most likely candidates will be the Chicago Style, Harvard or MLA (Modern Language Association). They are actually more alike than dissimilar.

The CMOS, or Chicago Manual Of Style is mostly used in history, economics and some social sciences. It is used by universities that follow the American way of writing dissertations and was one of the first style guides published in the United States. Originally published in 1906 to define the style rules (especially references) used by the University of Chicago Press, the CMOS is now in its 16th edition and is considered the ‘bible’ of American English usage.

The CMOS allows the mixing of formats and permits both in-text citation systems and/or footnotes and endnotes. It will also allow in-text citation by page number (MLA style) or  by year of publication (APA style). This flexibility makes it popular with many who must adhere to it but it can lead to some confusion, particularly among those familiar with a different set of rules as an undergraduate, who then has to adjust to CMOS for their post graduate papers.

A modern derivative of CMOS that is even more relaxed is Turabian, actually published by the University of Chicago Press. Turabian is more relaxed because it is a style that was developed for papers that will be presented in class rather than peer reviewed and published officially.

Harvard referencing uses parenthetical referencing in-text instead of footnotes or end notes. This citation style was developed around 1896 by Charles Sedgwick Minor of Harvard Medical School, hence the name Harvard. He may have copied it from an earlier 1881 zoological faculty paper on garden slugs by Edward Laurens Mark. The main point to note is that some consistency of referencing was being sought as the vagaries of who wrote what up till then had caused all sorts of academic angst on both sides of the Atlantic.

Whenever the exact origin, Harvard referencing follows the Author-Date model (Smith 2002, p23). Other parenthetical referencing styles such as APA and ACS also use this version while MLA, primarily used in the arts and humanities, believes the Author-Page (also known as Author –Title) is preferable, as in (Smith, Fear of Fire, 23) without the p. or pp. before the page number.

Fast overtaking both of these citation styles in the humanities, particularly the study of English and especially in literature, literary criticism and media studies, is MLA. The Modern Language Association of America published the first edition of The MLA Style Manual in 1985 and it is widely used across academia in the United States and Canada and becoming more common overseas in countries where English is not the native language, such as Brazil, China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea.

There are two style guides published. The first, The MLA Style Manual, is aimed at professional writers, graduate students, academics, professors and editors. There is also The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers which is aimed at secondary students, undergraduates and their teachers.

MLA allows parenthetical referencing in-text but it doesn’t use dates of publication and it also allows the use of footnotes or endnotes. The reasoning behind this is that when it comes to literature and the study of literary topics, the date is not that vital. Referring to ‘Othello’ (Shakespeare, 2003) is of little value given it was actually written around 1603 and only the edition the author is referencing was published in 2003, but so what? On the other hand, a science related paper that refers to there being ‘just 100 left in the wild’ (Smith, 1999) is relevant as there may be more or less than that number in existence today.

Which is why when it comes to the sciences, mathematics and medicine, the citation styles preferred are more likely to be more technical in bias, like the ACS (American Chemical Society style), AIP (American Institute of Physics style), or the AMS (American Mathematical Society style). AMS has several styles depending on the specific discipline. For example, AMS-LaTex is a typesetting tool to help with formulas and such data and BibTex does magical things for the formatting of lists of references.

Other science oriented citation styles include the Vancouver system as recommended by the Council of Science Editors for use in medical and scientific research papers. This style came about after a meeting of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors in Vancouver in 1978. Similarly, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has their own IEEE style and there are other, lesser known styles but it is unlikely a student will have to use them until they enter the workforce.

The Law has a language of its own and so it should come as no surprise they have their own preferences when it comes to citations. In the United States it is the Bluebook. While academic legal articles are footnoted, in-text or inline citation’s are used for motions, decisions and opinions. In Canada there is a different system preferred, the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation, also called the McGill Guide as it is published by the McGill Law Journal. The British and many Commonwealth countries use the OSCOLA (Oxford Standard for Citation of Legal Authorities) system developed by Oxford University.

The social sciences have their own preferences which include the APA (American Psychological Association style) which is published by the APA in their Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. APA uses Harvard referencing within the text, listing author’s name and the year of publication, all keyed to an alphabetical listing of quoted works on a References page. In this case the date of publication is relevant as there may be newer editions that correct previous statements or new data gathered by more recent surveys and so on.

As varied as the subjects of social studies are, so too the various authorities and their preferred style of citing work. There is also APSA (American Political Science Association) with their own style guide which closely follows the CMOS. The AAA (American Anthropological Association) also uses a modified version of the Chicago Style, while the ASA (American Sociological Association style) is the preferred style used in sociological publications.

That covers the major citation styles used in dissertations today. It should be noted that most universities will want MLA, Chicago or APA and these are the three to be most familiar with. The good news in this day and age is that you can find these style guides online and of course every university will have their own publication setting out the style they expect to be used. These are often available for free in booklet form from the school library or as a download.

There are other styles such as the New York Times, The L.A. Times and the Washington Post style guides which are used by the journalists and editors of those publications. Unless you are doing a journalism course it is unlikely you will have to use such a style with your dissertation.

Which brings us to the first option, outsourcing the draft of your dissertation. Simply paying someone to write the dissertation for you is unethical and in most colleges will result in dismissal or some other severe penalty. Having someone prepare a model dissertation, using the required style to reference the work you have used in your research, is another matter altogether. From that model dissertation you can re-write the document knowing your citations are correct and as required. There is more to style guides than just referencing though and that includes the layout of the paper. Font size and type as well as spacing and indentation must adhere to the relevant style guide. As an illustration, MLA requires 12pt Times New Roman, double spaced with indented first paragraphs of half an inch and using the Tab key and note five strikes of the space bar on 11’x8.5’ paper. Don’t forget the one inch margin all around and many more little traps to trip you up over. As if you haven’t enough to think about just collating and presenting all your work.

Outsourcing to a reputable firm, such as the time tested and proven ‘The Essayist’ will provide the student with a model dissertation they can rely on to provide them with a coherent collation of their research and references, laid out as required and referenced according to the rules. It can save considerable time and expense, not to mention frustration and the risk of poor marks and perhaps even failure at the final hurdle.

Dissertations are, as already stated, the proof that the work has been done, the knowledge acquired and more importantly, understood. A properly written dissertation makes it clear the student has done the work required and can demonstrate that, in writing. Because they have either mastered the citation style asked for, or made use of an ethical outsourcing writer to provide a reliable model from which they write their own final paper, they are confident the work is 100% original and constructed how it must be to be accepted and, most importantly, marked highly.

 

 

Perry Gamsby, MA(Writing)

 

Bibliography

Leedy, P., Practical Research, Macmillan, New York. 1989

Modern Language Association, The MLA Style Guide, Online Edition retrieved 6 October 2011

Purdue OWL Citation Comparison Chart, 6 October 2011

Strunk, William, Jr.; White, E.B. The Elements of Style (5th ed. ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon. 2009

“The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage : The Official Style Guide Used by the Writers and Editors of the World’s Most Authoritative Newspaper”. Amazon.com. Retrieved 6 October 2011.

University of Chicago Press  “The History of the Chicago Manual of Style”. University of Chicago Press, 2010. Retrieved 6 October 2011

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