How to Write a Psychology Dissertation

Defending one's dissertation is the final step in a process that takes years.
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The psychology dissertation is the final phase of doctoral study, produced after years of research on a particular subject within the discipline. They are written in a formal academic voice, most generally using the American Psychological Association style guide, and they include review of current academic literature, as well as independent research. Most often associated with doctoral programs, some colleges also require dissertations or theses for undergraduate and graduate degree completion.

1 Choose a Topic

Before students can write their dissertations, they must consider and choose topics worthwhile of in-depth study. Since a dissertation project can last more than a year, it’s imperative that students have true passion for their topics. They can choose from areas they have already studied or look to work that holds particular interest to them. A student who has studied autism might choose to focus on effective teaching strategies of students on the autism spectrum. Someone who volunteers at a women’s shelter might consider topics related to domestic violence in American society.

2 Review Existing Literature

An important component of a dissertation is the review of literature already written and published by others. Such a review also helps students better focus their topics. By looking at existing bodies of work, students might better be able to find gaps, limitations and areas worthy of further research. Looking at the resources of others also gives students books, journals and other publications that may aid in their own investigations. The written lit review must have a clear thesis, well-developed body and thoughtful conclusion that naturally leads to the student area of study.

3 Develop Research Questions and Process

Conducting literature reviews fully immerses student into their chosen topic,s and they become experts capable of honing in on appropriate research questions. In the case of the student working at the shelter, she might look for patterns connecting patriarchy to gender roles and consider whether such a link has an impact on incidences of abuse. Students are often paired with mentoring faculty throughout the dissertation process, but consulting an advisor is particularly helpful as students formulate their plans for research.

4 Conduct Research and Analyze Results

Whether they choose to perform experiments, take oral histories or conduct surveys, student research must be thorough and objective, following sound principles of the academic inquiry and research methods. Once the data is collected and analyzed, students can then begin to create mind maps or outlines that will help organize the structure of their papers.

5 Write Paper

The broad components of the dissertation include an introduction, body, conclusion and references. However, dissertations must adhere to the strict guidelines of a discipline and institution and are often divided into several subsets. At Gallaudet University, students are instructed to begin papers with their title and a signature page that includes the student’s name and the approval signatures of dissertation committee members. Other components include an acknowledgement page, abstract, table of contents, statement of problem, review of literature, research methodology and results, discussion, references and appendices.

Linda Emma is a long-standing writer and editor. She is also a digital marketing professional and published author with more than 20 years experience in media and business. She works as a content manager and professional writing tutor at a private New England college. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northeastern University.