A doctoral thesis, often called a dissertation, is the most important project of one’s doctoral coursework. In fact, it is the crowning achievement of one’s education, and in most degree programs it is a prerequisite to receiving the distinction of “doctor”. A doctoral thesis is a major writing project that one undertakes in order to receive one’s doctoral degree. A doctoral thesis consists of two primary parts: the development of an idea and the defense of that idea.
The goal of any dissertation is to say something new and worthwhile on a topic within the candidate’s field of study. The chosen topic should interest the candidate greatly, because doctoral thesis often create a professional trajectory for their writers that only a complete career change will alter. By selecting a doctoral thesis topic, the candidate decides to become an expert on that topic and agrees to defend his or her thoughts against the thoughts of any other scholar in the field.
Idea development includes not only topic selection but also all research. Doctoral thesis serve as an opportunity for candidates to make a meaningful contribution to their academic fields. As a consequence, the candidate may spend a great deal of time and effort on selecting a topic that is unique and viable, and, because the topic is unique, the student may perform a great deal of primary research in order to create support for the idea. Primary research will demand different things depending on the academic discipline, but it can include inventing one’s own equipment for conducting a particular experiment, traveling to the British museum or to archaeological digs, or becoming proficient in dead languages in order to read ancient manuscripts.
Candidates perform the defense portion of their doctoral thesis in two arenas: the written dissertation and the oral defense in front of a panel of experts. One should learn everything available about the subject before sitting down to write, and one should write his or her opinions on that subject in a competent, compelling way that persuades readers to regard those opinions as fact. Then, the candidate goes before a group of experts, who have read the thesis and are often skeptical about the candidate’s ideas, and convincingly answers any questions the experts may have. This oral defense requires the candidate to know unwaveringly every detail of the doctoral thesis and of its research, because the experts may ask any question that is even remotely relevant to the subject at hand.
If the student successfully develops an idea that contributes to the academic field and convincingly defends the viability of that idea in both the written and oral portions of the doctoral thesis process, he or she will receive a doctoral degree.
Whereas the student takes one term to write a term paper and perhaps one year to write a master’s thesis, the doctoral candidate may spend several years writing a doctoral thesis. These years must be highly productive and efficient in both research and writing; one must not procrastinate at all. The candidate who does not proceed efficiently may have difficulty completing the doctoral thesis before its statute of limitations runs out.
In most universities, candidates must defend their doctoral thesis in front of a panel of experts. Therefore, although the candidate should choose an original, manageably narrow topic, he or she must learn everything available about that topic’s general area. Moreover, the candidate must be able to recall that information. The student should make careful notes of all research and review those notes from time to time, lest he or she forget the material during the writing process. The candidate should be aware that a writing project that takes several years and fills several hundred pages can overwhelm the brain at the last minute before defense; therefore, the candidate should review the information steadily throughout the years of the development of the thesis.